Former city worker Dara Onishi, who died Aug. 9, was remembered through ornaments on a special tree yesterday at Honolulu Hale. Taking part in the tribute were, from left, Nuuanu Elementary teachers Lauren Matsumoto and Jo Ann Oshima and students Erica Wong, Taryn Chock and Michelle Togami. At right are Dara's parents, Gail and Patrick Onishi.

Yuletide tree befits
vibrant life cut short

Teachers and students salute
Dara Onishi with 150 ornaments

By Rosemarie Bernardo

Tears welled up in Gail Onishi's eyes as a Nuuanu Elementary School teacher placed an angel ornament on top of a tree at City Hall in honor of her daughter.

"It's such a heartwarming and loving gift," said Patrick Onishi, father of Dara Rei Onishi, who was killed Aug. 9 by a 6-ton boulder that crashed into her bedroom on Henry Street in Nuuanu.

Three Nuuanu Elementary students and two teachers put up about 150 angel ornaments on a Christmas tree yesterday in memory of 26-year-old Dara.

The tree joins the Christmas tree exhibit at the Honolulu Hale courtyard as part of the 18th annual Honolulu City Lights festivities. The exhibit includes trees that represent various city departments and agencies.

About a month and a half ago, second-grade teacher Jo Ann Oshima initiated a project to decorate a Christmas tree to honor Dara Onishi and her family for their commitment and service to Nuuanu Elementary.

Onishi and her two brothers, Brady and Blaine, had attended Nuuanu Elementary School, while Patrick helped found Aikane O Nuuanu, a nonprofit organization of parents, teachers and staff.

Oshima remembered how Patrick Onishi and his daughter created a cultural exchange project four years ago called "Christmas Through the Eyes of a Child" between Nuuanu Elementary School and Ogata Valley Junior High School in Japan. Dara taught at Ogata Valley through the Japan Exchange & Teaching program. Students from both schools made ornaments for the tree of the Department of Planning & Permitting, where Patrick Onishi was a director. The students then exchanged the ornaments after Christmas.

Oshima contacted the city Managing Director's Office to ask whether they could place an additional tree for Dara.

"We were delighted," said Managing Director Ben Lee.

Dara Onishi had worked as Lee's administrative assistant. Dara's tree is positioned between trees representing the Managing Director's Office and the Department of Planning & Permitting.

"Everyone was saddened that she had to leave us so suddenly. She left a lasting memory with me and all those that she touched," Lee said.

Nuuanu Elementary students also made a red paper-chain garland with some 400 students writing each name on a link.

"This is our contribution to her," said 11-year-old Taryn Chock, one of three students from Nuuanu Elementary who helped decorate the tree.

With the help of friends, Gail and Patrick Onishi had re-crafted an angel ornament to place on the tree. Gail had spotted the angel ornament with ballet shoes at a Honolulu floral store and thought it was fitting for Dara.

"When I saw this, I said, 'Oh, this is her,'" Gail said. "She loved ballet. ... This is perfect."

The Onishis attached the angel to cloud-shaped paper with a poem that read, "Dara Rei Onishi, A Servant of the Lord, Remembered with Love, Aloha, till we meet again."

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