Karleen Chinen
Commentary

There is a scene in the Okinawan movie, “Nada Sou Sou.” It’s near the end . . . after the hardworking Yoota dies suddenly after collapsing while checking on his hänai (adopted) sister Kaoru during a typhoon. He is burning up with fever, so Kaoru calls for an ambulance to him to a hospital. Shortly after being admitted, Yoota, in his early 20s, succumbs, probably from something like walking pneumonia from working so hard.

The film shows Yoota’s small rooftop apartment, where he and Kaoru lived together as brother and sister until her acceptance to college. That apartment, once so full of life, is now empty. The only movement is from the breeze that blows the mismatched curtains.

This is the scene that comes me when I think of Jane Serikaku, longtime executive director of the Hawaii United Okinawa Association, who died on July 6 at the age of 79 after a battling cancer. Like Yoota, Jane was a fixture at the Hawaii Okinawa Center. She fell ill late last year and never returned to the job she was so passionate about.

Actually, serving as HUOA’s executive director was Jane’s second career. She was an accomplished public school educator, who was the principal at ‘Iliahi Elementary School in Wahiawä. She was also a Milken Family Foundation award-winning principal and a staunch advocate for public school education — a commitment she passed on to her only child, daughter Michelle Whaley, an award-winning professor at the University of Notre Dame.

While having lunch with friends Roy Kaneshiro, George Kaneshiro and Ken Kiyabu after her passing, I mentioned that I hoped Jane had had time to enjoy her life between her two careers. Roy quickly responded, “She loved doing this.”

He was right.

Everyone could see that. When I informed former Hawai‘i Herald editor Mark Santoki about Jane’s passing recently, he was stunned. Mark had gotten to know Jane while helping with publicity for the Okinawan Festival years back — Mark is the guy responsible for the beautiful festival banners that will be hung from the overhead streetlights along Kaläkaua Avenue about a week before the festival. Unsolicited, he said of Jane: “Her dedication to the organization was unbelievable! It certainly wasn’t for the money.”

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