6 John kids and parents saw parade from sidewalk


POSTED: Monday, August 17, 2009

The kids gathered on the sidewalk, plopped down on the curb, scoring front-row seats for history in the making. Congress had approved Hawaii's statehood, then the Senate, and President Eisenhower was signing it into law. Hawaii could not help itself and burst out into parties, celebrations and parades.

The biggest parade was running down King Street, and the John family transported all six kids at their Red Hill home, settling down on the street in front of the Iolani Palace bandstand. No one wanted to miss it. As members of Kawaiaha'o Church, they knew the area well.

Star-Bulletin photographer Warren Roll captured the crowd's excitement. There they are, Brenda, Ivan, Wanda, Lehua, William and Abel John, little kids at the time, today adults who have grown up with Hawaii as a state.

Fifty years later, gathered again at the same location, they remembered the thrill sweeping the crowd. Let them talk about it:

“;They were shouting, pumping their arms, jumping for joy,”; recalled Wanda Holi, now a teaching assistant at Kamehameha Schools.

“;Everyone was tired of waiting,”; said Lehua Bongo, a state government employee. “;I was in fifth grade, and I wanted to come back and tell about the parade, about the marching bands. Dad put us all in the '58 Chevy and brought us down.”;

“;Cannons!”; said William John, retired from Hawaiian Electric Co. “;There was a 21-gun salute!”;

“;Plenty of horses and beautiful pa'u riders,”; recalled Abel John, now with the state's highway department.

“;Everyone—everyone!—was there, it seemed,”; said Ivan John, Waikiki bartender.

“;I think I was 3 years old,”; said Brenda Fischer, also a government employee. “;I'd never seen a crowd that big, and I remember it to this day. I knew the day was not a usual day; it was something really, REALLY big. Cheers, excitement, everyone hyped to the max.”;

“;The only people not excited were the ladies in black, the Ka'ahumanu Society,”; said Ivan. “;They seemed to be in mourning.”;

“;As a kid you enjoyed the moment. For the adults it was a big event, a milestone,”; said Wanda.

“;It was an experience I was able to witness,”; said Brenda. “;As a child I was eager to see what was going on. I never thought my picture would be taken by Warren Roll. I was a bit nervous by so many people, but Mom said just smile. We all had lauhala hats and flags that said 'Hawaii, the Pineapple State.' They handed them out to the kids.”;

“;I remember when the principal at our school got on the PA and announced that Alaska had become the 49th state,”; said William. “;What a surprise! We all thought we'd be the 49th state.”;

“;Ah, 50 is a good number!”; laughed Wanda.

“;I guess Alaska got their paperwork processed faster,”; mused Lehua. “;We were just excited to be part of the union—finally!”;

“;As a territory, we felt like we were on the outside looking in,”; said Wanda.

“;What was it like then?”; said Brenda. “;Luaus! Plenty of luaus. Everybody wore leis. Families were always together.”;

“;Lei sellers everywhere, always happy and smiling,”; said Lehua.

“;No TV,”; said William. “;After school we played football in the park.”;

“;Aw, we just hung around, climbing trees,”; laughed Abel.

“;It seemed like we had a more trusting community,”; recalled Wanda. “;We could play on the streets at night without worrying about drugs or rape. A happy time when we weren't afraid.”;

And in the half-century since?

The sisters and brothers reflected.

“;A big change,”; ventured Abel. “;Everything, everything changed. It seemed like we were closer then.”;

Wanda said, “;When the U.S. came in, it seemed like everything became more commercialized. The simple life went away.”;

“;It's like growing up and becoming an adult,”; said Lehua. “;As an adult you have more responsibilities—and I like being an adult, although we had a good childhood.”;

“;We can't live in the past; we can only live in the future,”; said Brenda.

“;I grew up with statehood in my right pocket and the simple life in my left pocket. It's always with us.”;