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Changing Hawaii

By Diane Yukihiro Chang

Friday, December 22, 2000

Community colleges
get generous holiday gift

HERE'S a doozie of a Christmas present for the University of Hawaii system: Three local businessmen, none of whom went to UH or have children who got degrees there, have pledged $2 million to the state's community colleges because that's where they feel the need is most urgent.

Ho, ho, whoa! The three Santas are Paul S. Honda, a retired international gem broker who has lived in Hawaii since 1985, and brothers Bob and Jim Wo, who were born and raised in the isles and who made their fortune in furniture retailing, construction and development.

By Craig Kojima, Star-Bulletin
From left, Bob Wo, Jim Wo and Paul Honda.

Now they are sharing their wealth with truly appreciative recipients: students and instructors at the state's cash-strapped community colleges.

Why bestow such generosity on these seven small campuses instead of the massive public education system or larger universities at Manoa or Hilo?

Donating to the quagmire known as the Department of Education was out of the question, since the trio wanted accountability for how the money would be spent. Enough said.

As for the flagship UH-Manoa or its Big Island affiliate, the three donors believed students starting out at the community college level warranted greater support because they were often "non-traditional," required more schooling and training to get better jobs, and/or couldn't afford the higher tuition elsewhere.

Actually, Honda's appreciation for the colleges began when a big dinner he had scheduled for another venue was canceled just days before the event. Frantic, he called Chancellor Joyce Tsunoda for advice; she suggested a booking at the Ka'ikena dining room at Kapiolani Community College.

Honda was so impressed with the food and service, all provided by KCC students, that he decided they would benefit most from his investment. His $1 million pledge will be used for scholarships, sponsoring forums and seminars, and funding travel for study abroad.

This is the Wo family's first endowment to a public institution after prior gifts to private entities such as Punahou School and the Rehabilitation Hospital of the Pacific.

Like Honda, they were also wowed by their experience at the Ka'ikena dining room, especially being excellently served by young people with, ahem, weird hairdos and facial piercings.

Their $1 million pledge is the first to fund the continued educational and professional development of community college faculty and staff.

Maybe the combined $2 million contribution will do much to fight a fallacy: that the only people who attend community colleges either can't get into UH-Manoa or aren't serious about education in the first place.

This present from three Hawaii-based Santas will do much to assist all kinds of students, including single parents, displaced workers, career changers and others who suddenly realize that the gift of learning may be the most blessed of them all.

Diane Yukihiro Chang's column runs Monday and Friday.
She can be reached by phone at 525-8607, via e-mail at, or by fax at 523-7863.

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