Kristi Wineland first noticed Jerome "Jerry" Arnold a few years ago, sitting outside her sister's Makawao store, Aloha Cowboy.
In his wide-brimmed hat, cowboy shirt, jeans and boots, he looked like he belonged outside the Western-wear shop, and he seemed to feel at home. He'd pass the day reminiscing with old-timers or chatting with shoppers as they went in and out - he loved to talk story, and the tourists ate it up, she said.
Jerome “Jerry” Arnold stands with friend Erin K. Orr in the Makawao Public Library in March. Arnold died last month in Makawao.
CHRIS GREEN photo
As time went on, he started helping out. He'd often be waiting for Kristi and her sister, Rene, when they arrived to open the store in the morning. He'd help them unload their van or climb a ladder to unfurl the American flag. He'd carry out that bench and set up their wooden cowboy sign.
"I'd say, 'Jerry, wake that cowboy up,' '' Kristi recalls. "We looked forward to seeing him."
In between stints staying with friends or family, Arnold had been living mostly outdoors and struggled with memory loss and was unable to work since suffering a heart attack three years ago. But he had an inner spark that won people over, and he made friends.
"If you hang out in one place long enough, you get to know people," says Haiku resident Ellie Marshman Castillo, whose family befriended Arnold. "He's such a character that, when you looked at him, you wanted to know his story - and he would tell you, because he loved to talk."
Several of the people he befriended were moved to tears as they recalled how he touched their lives.
"When he'd walk away, he'd always say, 'Thank you for being my friend,' '' recalls Lydia Gaines, owner of No Ka Oi Horsemanship in Kula, where Arnold sometimes came to help groom and care for the horses. He said it to everybody who knew him.
Friends and family gathered to remember Arnold earlier this month after he died Sept. 16 outside the Makawao Public Library at age 55.
Arnold was born Oct. 10, 1957, in California and grew up on military bases all over the country, including on Oahu, says his youngest brother, Todd Arnold.
Jerome Arnold served in the Marine Corps and saw combat in Vietnam, but he didn't like to talk about the experience, his brother says. He had a taste for adventure, spending time working as a commercial diver on Guam, Todd says, where he helped prepare shipwrecks to be lifted and removed from the ocean floor. Jerry also had an entrepreneurial spirit. Todd recalls that he was working on Pohnpei when he learned about a herd of wild cattle on the island. He took his horse and single-handedly rounded up the cattle, then hired a barge to ship them off-island to be sold.
"He had big plans all the time," Todd Arnold recalls. "He did a lot in his life."
But Jerome's real love was being a cowboy. On Maui, he went from ranch to ranch, picking up work as cowboy or shoeing horses as a farrier. He was "a hard worker - and tough as nails, for being a really small guy," says longtime local farrier Peter Klein. He recalls that Jerry once cut a deep gash on his hand, then went home and closed it up with a staple gun - with nothing but a shot of whiskey to fortify himself.
He was a "rascal," who loved to have fun, but struggled with alcohol and, Klein and other friends believe, suffered from post-traumatic stress related to time in combat.
Jerome Arnold had been on Oahu at the time of his heart attack and spent several weeks at Tripler Army Medical Center recovering.
When he got back to Maui, friends say, he wasn't quite the same. He stopped smoking and drinking but had a hard time finding housing - in part because he adamantly refused to move anywhere downtown, and only wanted to live Upcountry, somewhere he could be near horses.
"He kind of belonged up here," said Glenda Berry, branch manager of Makawao Public Library, where Jerry regularly stopped to socialize and where patrons helped him browse the Internet in his housing search.
"He would always say to us, 'Thank you for being my friend,' '' says Sarah, a friend from the street who asked that her last name not be used. "But everybody was his friend."
He kept busy. Another friend from the street, Kimberly, who also asked that her last name not be used, remembers one rainy day when he stood outside Minit Stop for hours, opening the door for customers. "If nobody gave him work, he made up work."
Rene Wineland says he swept the sidewalks in front of her store. "For a while," she says, "he swept the whole town."
They set up an anvil outside the store and brought him bits of leather. He'd work for hours, tooling keepsakes for the tourists while he gabbed, embossing the scraps with their names or the word "aloha."
He did 150 pushups and 150 situps every day, a habit he carried over from his Marine Corps days. And he visited his father's grave in the Makawao Veterans Cemetery each morning, Kristi and Rene Wineland say.
The sisters were among friends who tried to help him - doing his laundry; driving him to appointments at the VA clinic; or just bringing him coffee, which he liked with a sprinkle of chocolate. Occasionally, he got discouraged, Kristi says, and would talk about how he didn't think he could go on. That's when she would talk to him and try to cheer him up. "I'd tell him, Jerry, open up the barn door and let the rainbows out," she says. Then she'd tell him she had an important job for him to do in the morning, so he'd have a reason to make it through the night. The next day, he was always waiting for her outside the shop, with a smile.
Jerome Arnold was easy to love, she recalls. "I called him Jer-Bear," she says. "He just had a magical spirit that shined all around him. It was that cowboy hat, that smile, that little twinkle in his eye."
The day Jerome Arnold died, she says, there were "mare's tails" above Makawao - high, wispy clouds that look like the long hairs of a horse's tail.
"Those clouds stayed like that all day long, and in the evening, toward dusk, there was a huge, full rainbow over Makawao town," she says. "He was in Makawao all that day, and I think he's still here."
* Ilima Loomis is a Maui-based writer and editor. Do you have an interesting neighbor? Tell us about them at firstname.lastname@example.org. Neighbors and "The State of Aloha," written by Ben Lowenthal, alternate Fridays.