College Scholarships Plant Seeds of Greatness
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald
Editor’s note: In January 1946, Hui Makaala was formed when members united to work for the Okinawan community (huimakaala.org). Unusual for an Okinawan organization of that time, it was not explicitly focused around the region or locality from which its immigrant members (or their ancestors) had once migrated to Hawaiʻi. Instead, members created this organization to provide younger English-speaking Okinawans a sense of belonging. At the end of World War II, this need was strongly felt by Nisei in the community. Although Nisei could have and did join the locality clubs, these clubs were limited in their capacity to fulfill this need, because many were then controlled by the Issei, who conducted the meetings in Japanese. With a club of their own, young Okinawans could socialize with each other and develop activities based on their mutual interests. Founders of Hui Makaala were Dr. Francis Kaneshiro, Dr. Bunkichi Uesato, Clarence Uyechi, Dr. Yoshio Yamashiro, Dr. Shoyei Yamauchi, Tokuichi “Dynamite” Takushi and John Uehara.
In the April 2, 2021 issue of The Hawai‘i Herald, we collaborated with Hui Makaala board member Karen Shishido to bring you the story “Award-Winning Journalist Linda Taira: How Hui Makaala’s Scholarship Fueled Her Success.” In this issue, we continue to recognize beneficiaries of the club’s scholarship by sharing testimonies of their valuable contributions to the community.
Ryokichi “Rick” Higashionna
I received a four-year Hui Makaala scholarship in 1955, graduating in 1959 with a BS degree in civil engineering from the University of Hawai‘i at Mänoa. Without the scholarship, it would have been difficult for me to pursue a college education immediately after my high school graduation.
My father, Ihan Higashionna, was a Nisei born in Pi‘ihonua, Hawai‘i and left for Okinawa after finishing his intermediate school. He decided to stay in Okinawa and married Nae Hanashiro. I was born in Okinawa on Sept. 8, 1935. My father lost his life in 1944. Shortly after, the American forces landed in Okinawa on April 1, 1945 – initiating the infamous Battle of Okinawa. Fortunately, I survived the war.
My father’s younger brother, Ejiro Higashionna, was drafted by the U.S. Army and had arrived in Okinawa by ship a few days before the war ended. Uncle Ejiro was able to pay for my transportation to Hawai‘i, and because my father was a Nisei, I was able to enter Hawai‘i with an American passport on May 7, 1948.
I lived with my paternal grandparents in Hawai‘i and attended Kalakaua Intermediate (now Middle) School and Farrington High School. I worked 20 hours a week to support my way through high school. While attending college, I worked part-time doing odd jobs on and off campus. Fortunately, I did not have to worry about the college tuition since Hui Makaala scholarship covered four years of education.
When I received the bachelor’s degree, I also was commissioned as second lieutenant in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and served in Okinawa from November 1959 to August 1962. My assignment was to provide drinking water in the rural villages on Okinawa’s main island and the 50 plus inhabited islands in Okinawa from Iheya and Izena Islands in the north, Minami- and Kita-Daito Islands in southeast and Miyako and Yaeyama Islands in southwest.
Upon returning home from Okinawa I worked for an engineering firm working on building and bridge designs. A year later, I was off to the University of Illinois for a master’s degree. Money from research assistantship and GI Bill covered living expenses for the family and school tuition for a year and a half. When I completed the master’s program, I returned to Hawai‘i to take care of family matters while working again for an engineering firm. Three years later, I went back to Illinois for two years and received a PhD in civil engineering in 1970.
For the next 34 years, I held various positions: design engineer, assistant professor, Hawai‘i State Director of Transportation Department and the founder and president of a consulting engineering firm working on projects in Hawai‘i, Guam, Rota and Okinawa. All of these were made possible because Hui Makaala gave me the support and motivation to work hard and give to my community.
Jane Tamanaha Lee
by Karen Shishido
Jane Tamanaha Lee graduated from President McKinley High School in 1967. She received a two-year Hui Makaala scholarship which she claims was a tremendous support to her and her family. At the time, Jane’s step-father had retired from a construction company and her mother was working at Halm’s Enterprises (famous for their kim chee) while her two younger siblings were still in elementary school. Jane had always dreamed of becoming a nurse and in her senior year of high school, she and some friends formed the Future Nurses Club; Jane was elected president. She went on to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in nursing from the University of Hawai‘i at Mänoa in 1971.
Okinawa-born Jane came to Hawai‘i when she was 8 years old. She met her husband, Won Kuk Lee, a professional baseball player, during her last semester at UH. On their second date, they decided to get married and recently celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. As a side note, Won was the first Korean nationalist to play for the U.S. Major League Baseball. As a professional pitcher, Won’s famous teammates included Willie Mays, Juan Marshall and Willie McCovey.
Jane and Won’s two sons, Lloyd Mario and Aaron, were born in Mexico where Won was playing in the Mexican baseball league. While there, Jane learned to speak some Spanish which was invaluable in caring for patients at the Humana Hospital of San Antonio, Texas. Later she studied at MD Anderson Center in Houston and specialized in ostomy and wound care. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, an “ostomy” is “an operation (such as colostomy) to create an artificial passage for bodily elimination,” (merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ostomy).
After living in San Antonio for 20 years, the family moved to Austin where Jane worked as an ostomy and wound-care nurse at the St. David’s North Austin Medical Center. During her spare time, she also volunteered to work with hospice patients.
After retirement, Jane and Won move to Hawai‘i and learned about the Hui Makaala Fashion Show, a major fundraiser for the club, while listening to the KZOO (1210 AM) radio station. She phoned me immediately and has been a devoted member of Hui Makaala ever since. For the past five years, Jane and I have co-chaired the fashion show. Mahalo Jane, for giving back to Hui Makaala, and for making the world a better place as a healthcare professional.