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The Maui High School Class of '37

October 29, 2011 - Ray Tsuchiyama

My father graduated from Maui High School Class of ’37 (the “old” Maui High at the Hamakuapoko campus). He was several years older than his classmates. The reason for this difference was when he was a child he was taken to be educated at his uncle’s home in Japan. He did not return to Maui until in his mid-teens. Although he was born in Kahului, he did not speak any English when he returned to Maui; later in life he interpreted with ease between English and Japanese.

Established as an innovative co-educational school in 1913 -- a year before the outbreak of World War I -- next to a fast-growing town called Paia, the “old” Maui High has a long, illustrious history with state-of-the-art buildings designed by Haiku-born, M.I.T.-educated architect C.W. Dickey – resulting in a learning environment equivalent or better than many Mainland towns of similar size. Among its graduates are three Maui Mayors and a 12-term Hawaii Congresswoman, Patsy Takemoto Mink (Class of ’44).

The ‘37 graduating class had about 160 students: during World War II Maui High would reach its zenith in size. It would then decline in the 1950s and 1960s with the migration of former plantation town residents attracted to the new “Dream City” of Kahului – which boasted a new high school (built in 1941, the year of Pearl Harbor) named after Henry Perrine Baldwin, co-founder of Alexander & Baldwin. Ultimately, aligning to the population shift, Maui High School would relocate from the cool Up-Country site to drier, hotter Kahului in 1972.

Reflecting Japanese immigration and the large families of that first generation, over 120 of my father’s 160 classmates had Japanese last names. Many Issei (first-generation) parents did not speak English and were challenged by American culture and social mores, while the Nisei (second-generation Japanese-American, born in the U.S.) students were highly motivated to learn everything new at Maui High School. More than 80 percent of the Nisei students had Japanese first names, and some had imaginative nick names. One classmate was named after the classic and literary “Cassius” – imagine a scene of a boy studying Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” after dinner when the parents would sing Hiroshima or Kumamoto folk songs in Spreckelsville.

Commuting from various plantation camps and Up-Country farms to Maui High was not easy, but students uncomplainingly boarded the sugar train from Kahului or even rode in a horse and buggy (there were a few Ford or GM cars and trucks owned by plantation workers, and they were often called upon to take family and friends to far-off Lahaina). It is amazing that in barely two decades after Maui High opened its doors, social clubs, sports like baseball and football, homecomings, cheerleading squads, student newspapers, Shakespearean plays, and even proms were a natural part of Maui High life, not transplanted alien programs of “Mainland” culture. Moreover, the Maui students hungrily absorbed all of democratic ideals and Constitutional rights promoted by progressive teachers highly influenced by John Dewey’s teachings on humanism and education – in short, the American experiment of the 1930s “New Deal” to create free-thinking individuals succeeded beyond the educational planners in Washington D.C. ever dreamed.

The irony, of course, was that in spite of such advanced learning, the plantation workers and families lived and worked in tightly-controlled camps, so the bright, hard-working students must have realized the contradiction in their daily lives and their studies.

Among the ’37 graduates some became entrepreneurs like Gary Fujinaka, who launched two auto parts stores (Wailuku and Lahaina); Chozen Kameya, who operated the Kameya Kafe and Market for many years; Yukuo Hanada of Hanada Service Station on Main Street in Wailuku; and Toshio “Jeremy” Araki of Araki Taxi & U-Drive. The Air-Flo Express – a Honolulu air freight firm -- was started by Angel “Shiro” Maeda. Sugar was still a major player in the post-War Maui economy, so it is no surprise that more than a dozen graduates worked for HC&S Company.

In post-War Maui, others began careers with the then-tiny State government and politics – perhaps applying the lessons of courses on Greek city-states and English Civil Wars to real-life hard-ball Hawaii politics and governance. The most famous ’37 graduate was probably Daniel Aoki. He figured prominently in Democratic Party politics – the key strategist who was chief of staff or “right-hand man” to Governor John A. Burns, who dominated Hawaii State politics throughout the explosive growth of the Hawaii population and economy during the 1960s into the early 1970s. The 1950s were a period of clandestine meetings in pitch-black sugar cane fields; small pieces of paper handed by a Party district leader to another Party worker on back-roads; and whispered conversations during dinner in Puunene and Paia plantation houses. All this intense political activity had its origins in the debate clubs, Shakespeare, and social studies courses studied by students whose parents barely spoke English.

After Maui High, my father left for the Mainland. Then came Pearl Harbor, and he would join the U.S. Army and travel throughout Western Europe and Japan, South Korea. He always said that when he met other people in San Francisco or Stuttgart or Seoul he was proud that he knew as much or more about the world than they, and it was due to his alma mater in cool and innovative Hamakuapoko.


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