TERUO IHARA / 1918-2003
UH education professor
backed local Democrats
Teruo Ihara lived in the background.
Teruo Ihara: The WWII veteran served with Daniel Inouye and earned a Silver Star|
As an adviser to former Gov. John Burns, a professor at the University of Hawaii's College of Education and a lobbyist for the Hawaii Government Employees Association and Hawaii Public Television, Ihara enjoyed being seen and heard but not recognized.
"He was an empowerer. He was an encourager," said Ihara's nephew, state Sen. Les Ihara (D, Kapahulu-Kaimuki). "He never touted his own accomplishments. Actually, he's an unsung hero."
Teruo Ihara, a longtime and active member of the Democratic Party of Hawaii who served alongside U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye during World War II, died Dec. 23 at the Oahu Care Facility in Honolulu. He was 84.
One of 11 children, Ihara was born in Olaa on the Big Island and grew up on his family's small farm. After receiving his bachelor's degree in agriculture from the University of Hawaii, Ihara took a job as a teacher.
Shortly after America entered World War II, Ihara signed up as a member of the renowned Japanese-American 442nd Regimental Combat Team. He became friends with Inouye, D-Hawaii, and earned Silver and Bronze stars and a Purple Heart.
After the war, Ihara got a master's and doctorate degree in education from Ohio State University, where he also met his future wife. He moved back to Hawaii after graduating and took a position with the university's College of Education.
Meanwhile, Ihara was also becoming active in politics. He was a vocal member of the state Democratic Party and would go on to play an instrumental role in Burns' gubernatorial campaign.
Ihara's wife, Kuulei, said her husband often made politics a family affair and would insist on bringing the kids down to party or campaign headquarters.
She said one of their daughters once asked Ihara: "Do I have to be a Democrat? Can't I be something else?"
Ihara's response: "No, you can't."
When Ihara retired from the university in the 1980s, he served as a lobbyist for several local organizations and later threw himself into helping his nephew's career.
From 1987 to just a few years ago, Ihara "was going to teach Les" and occupied a corner of his nephew's offices at the Legislature, Kuulei Ihara said. Sen. Ihara credits his uncle with introducing him to politics and teaching him about "political integrity."
"Basically, it was, Do what your heart and soul tells you."
Besides his wife, Ihara is survived son Michael; daughters Lei Tocman and Carol Lum; brother Les Sr.; sisters Shigeko Monden, Yukie Tanaka, Eileen Awai and Gere Mimaki; and three grandchildren.
Services for Ihara are set for 6 p.m. on Wednesday at Hosoi Garden Mortuary. In lieu of flowers, donations can be sent to the Teruo Ihara Scholarship Fund at the University of Hawaii Foundation.