Rikiichi Kawaguchi: Ran a fish market on Maui and helped raise a family of educators

Family passes down
a legacy of teaching


By Pat Gee

The Kawaguchi-Kadotani clan of Maui knows teaching.

With good reason.

There are 38 teachers in two generations of the family, including coaches, counselors and principals.

Five of them are among the 10 children of Rikiichi and Shizuko Kawaguchi, who lived in Lahaina in the 1940s. Robert Kawaguchi, a retired teacher, coach, and athletic director, credits his parents with setting the course for the family.

"It all goes back to our upbringing ... If my father was the captain of the ship, our mother was the rudder. She was the one that steered us; she was the stronghold of the family," he said.

Robert said his parents always stressed the importance of education and "put teachers on a pedestal. They could do no wrong and were respected very highly ... they had more respect than professional athletes."

Yaeko Matsuda, Robert's sister, said, "My parents were determined to send us to school. They scrimped and saved and we (the children) also worked."

The Hawaii Education Association, made up of retired teachers, recently honored the Kawaguchi-Kadotani clan as its Outstanding 2003 Educator Family. The Kadotani branch is Shizuko's side of the family.

Selection committee member Calvin Yamamoto said the Kawaguchi-Kadotanis are "all very civic minded, always volunteering for youth programs. In school they were outstanding as teachers. They taught not only in the classroom, they gave a lot of time after school."

Matsuda, a retired economics teacher, said her extended family "was so proud of it (the award)." Robert added, "We feel very privileged and honored, but there are other families just as deserving."

The five siblings who became educators are Robert, Kenji and Alan Kawaguchi, Mildred Yasuhara (who lives in San Diego), and Matsuda.

Kenji Kawaguchi was the first to get a college degree and was determined to "set an example" for his younger siblings to seek higher education, he said.

There are 38 teachers in two generations of the Kawaguchi-Kadotani family, including coaches, counselors and principals. Pictured in the front row from left are Mildred Yasuhara, Miyoko Kubo, Yaeko Matsuda, Shizue Suzuki and Geraldine Matsui. In the second row, from left, are Robert Kawaguchi, Alan Kawaguchi, Kenneth Kawaguchi, Kenji Kawaguchi and Masaichi Kawaguchi, who died in 1988.

Rikiichi Kawaguchi worked for the Pioneer Mill Sugar Co., but later took over running the Kadotani Fish Market for his wife's family. As store proprietors, they were able to afford college education for five of their children.

Matsuda was the first girl in the family to go to college.

On the Kadotani side, eight of Matsuda's first cousins became educators, as did four children in the next generation. On the Kawaguchi side, five siblings and 21 members of the next generation who became teachers. They taught or are teaching on Maui, Oahu, in Hilo and Los Angeles.

And the little ones in the youngest generation of Kawaguchis are always "playing school" when they get together for family reunions, Matsuda said. "It seems automatic, a natural thing to do," Matsuda added.

Matsuda and her siblings speak proudly about the old-fashioned values like fairness, reliability and respect instilled in them by their parents. Sports also played a big role in their lives.

When other children went to the movies, the Kawaguchi kids stayed home and played their own game of softball.

Of the 38 teachers, 19 are coaches or organize sporting events.

Kenji, 75, was the most admired athlete of the family, according to Matsuda. He became an organizer and coach of community and interscholastic sports for almost 20 years.

Kenji got to teach kids "discipline and dedication through a lot of coaching. It was great for me. It was what I was meant to be," he said.

Alan Kawaguchi, a retired special education teacher, is the youngest of the 10 siblings. "Being the last of a very close-knit family, my heroes were my brothers and sisters," and in them "I saw how gratifying it was to help other people."

The last six years of his career, Alan followed his brother Robert as athletic director of Lahainaluna High School. Alan said he got to "touch the lives of more kids. ... I really felt I made a difference."

Alan's wife, Gerry, is in her 16th year of teaching, mainly second grade at King Kamehameha III School in Lahaina. Alan volunteers several hours a week in her classroom, tutoring and whatever else he can do.

When the families gather for holidays, the teachers sit around and exchange stories and advice -- "It's really precious," Gerry said.

Matsuda said the older generation shares tips on how to handle the problem students as well as the gifted ones. And with the need for special education on the rise, Robert and Alan can lend their experience, she added.

Matsuda said a good teacher is "a person who listens, cares; who is honest with the kids -- that's the way you get the respect from the kids.

"And it's very, very important being fair. My mother used to say, 'Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,' and I have never forgotten that."

Even though their careers have been rewarding, Gerry said she and Alan have not recommended that any of their three children enter the profession.

Alan said: "When I started out, teachers were looked up to because parents depended on the educational system to help their kids. Today, parents are always challenging the teachers too much. Kids are showing a lot of disrespect. I think the value system has really broken down in families."

Jan Kakiuchi, the daughter of Shizue, the fifth sibling, is the youngest of the 38 educators. Her husband, Craig, is also a teacher. Jan, who has spent most of her 13-year career at Kahului School, said her aunts and uncles inspired her.

"Just by watching their rapport with the children and the way they are involved outside of class with coaching and stuff, it made a very big difference" in her decision, she said.

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