Wailuku Elementary School is celebrating its centennial this year.

Wailuku Elementary
to mark 100 years

Former students are invited
to attend the May 22 festivities

WAILUKU >> Out of the gray-stone public school in Wailuku came some of Hawaii's prominent citizens -- a swimmer on the U.S. Olympics team, a labor reform legislator, a Maui philanthropist.

Wailuku Elementary School, known as Wailuku Public School in 1904, is celebrating its centennial this year and inviting former students to attend festivities on May 22.

The daylong event will include the opening of the school's historic time capsule, a parade, a commemorative ceremony, food booths, student entertainment and educational displays.

The event is a celebration of public education at the school and the contributions made by its students, many the sons and daughters of immigrants.

William Crockett, 76, said his grandmother Annie Crockett taught at Wailuku Elementary and she insisted that he attend the school because she wanted him to be among different races and children whose parents came from various walks of life.

"I think we got a very good education at the public schools," said Crockett, an attorney in Wailuku.

Some of Hawaii's most prominent citizens were students at Wailuku Elementary School. Former students are invited to join the school's centennial celebration on May 22.

Eichi Oki, whose father was a waiter at the now-defunct Wailuku Hotel, said he has fond memories of his school days, although life was difficult financially for his family, requiring him to work summers hoeing weeds in sugar-cane fields for 60 cents a day.

"I had no car, no bike, no nothing," recalled Oki, 79, a lawyer and the father of federal Judge Susan Oki Mollway.

A Wailuku Elementary student who also became a lawyer was former state Sen. Nadao Yoshinaga, a key legislator who pushed through Hawaii laws requiring many businesses to have prepaid health care for employees and allowing collective bargaining for public workers.

The school was about a half-mile from Yoshinaga's home in Wailuku town, where people then frequently lived in the same building as their businesses.

"I grew up on Market Street," recalled Yoshinaga, 84. "My father had a photo studio. We lived upstairs."

The stone-laid school building, listed on the Hawaii State Register of Historic Places, now houses administrative offices.

The stones for the building, gathered from Iao Valley and Wailuku Sugar Company lands, were regarded as even better quality than the stones used on Central Union Church on Oahu, according to Sonny Gamponia, who wrote "A Brief History of Wailuku Elementary School."

The previous school was described by a local newspaper as "unsanitary," and residents were happy to see the new building.

About 1,000 people attended the laying of the cornerstone on May 21, 1904, according to a news report.

Putting a steel-tubed time capsule in the cornerstone to mark the occasion was Territorial Sen. Henry Baldwin, a founder of Alexander & Baldwin Inc.

The royal palms, still gracing the school grounds, were planted by students in 1905, and prison labor was used to clear a cow pasture mauka of the building and create a school recreation yard.

Also attending the school was Fujiko (Katsutani) Matsui, later an Amateur Athletic Union national swimming champion who qualified to be on the 1940 U.S. Olympic team, and Richard Kibe, 78, a former county finance director and co-founder of Maui Economic Opportunity, Inc.

Masaru "Pundy" Yokouchi, the first chairperson of the State Foundation on Culture and the Arts and a driving force in the founding of the Maui Arts & Cultural Center, fondly remembers his early education and how he sometimes enjoyed taking the back road home to pass by the Wailuku Sugar Co. manager's residence.

"I used to stop and admire the house," said Yokouchi, 78, the son of an immigrant who with his wife operated a bakery on Vineyard Street.

Yokouchi, who became a real estate developer, fulfilled his boyhood dream in 1991 when he bought the estate.

Event organizers are gathering photographs and artifacts about the school for use in a commemorative book and video.

Organizers said the memorabilia will returned to their owners. For more information, call 984-5622.


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