LAHAINA - If awards are given out for leading a full life on Maui, Sueo "Sammy" Kadotani, 90, would be Lahaina's guaranteed winner. Pineapple and cane cutter as a teen, mill worker, a Boy Scout for a whopping 79 years, community treasure, board member, idea man, champion fundraiser, school supporter, one-time fishmonger, golfer and 49ers football fanatic, Sammy has alluded an appearance in this column for five years.
Early on, the columnist first encountered Sammy riding his bike through town and helping Harvard-educated Marjorie Diegert, founder of the fondly remembered West Maui Carden Academy that she was forced to close some years ago.
Diegert, still in touch with Sammy, noted in an e-mail from Switzerland (where she now lives) that he has long been considered "the unofficial mayor of Lahaina. He's one of the most amazing people I have ever met - a man with a heart of gold and a smile that warms your heart."
Sammy Kadotani and his wife, Hatsumi, longtime assistant at Lahaina Public Library, enjoy the Rotary Club of Lahaina’s “Savor the Sunset” benefit in 2010.
The modest Sammy long resisted being written about, claiming that there had already been enough stories about him in the paper. (He will undoubtedly be embarrassed by Diegert's comments, but no proper profile would be complete without them.)
The columnist's insistence - soft pedaled in recent years - finally won out this month with a change in attitude since one Fourth of July, when Sammy said he dodged me on Front Street "just to keep from having to say 'no' again."
In his home office, a photo shows Sammy with golfing great Arnold Palmer. A forest of awards in the form of small statuettes of Boy Scouts lines a shelf. Appropriately, Sammy is best summed up by the Boy Scout law - never to be forgotten if you were a Scout.
TRUSTWORTHY: Timekeeper for Pioneer Mill for 17 years, keeping track of the hours of hundreds of workers paid by the hour.
LOYAL: To his wife of 63 years and his two schools, King Kamehameha III Elementary and Lahainaluna High School.
HELPFUL: To Lahaina Restoration Foundation and a half-dozen schools and charities.
FRIENDLY: Always affable.
COURTEOUS: Always respectful.
KIND: Always willing to help.
OBEDIENT: Winning the confidence of managers by doing what they wanted.
THRIFTY: Putting aside money to buy a first house on his meager salary.
BRAVE: Being able to tell someone that what they are doing is not right, a friend reported.
CLEAN: The same friend noted that Sammy often is seen picking up trash around town.
REVERENT: A respected member of Lahaina Hongwanji Mission; today he heads the "funeral committee" to plan services for the deceased.
Sammy grew up in Kaanapali at the top of Kekaa Drive at a home where Basil Tomato now sits. Family pigpens were the most dominant feature of the then largely empty future home of the Maui Eldorado Resort.
Sammy graduated in 1941, the year of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The youngest of ten children (his first name, Sueo, means "the last child"), this offspring of Japanese immigrants recruited here to tend the cane fields had a tough early life, as his parents struggled in a new land.
The young recent high school graduate as a Boy Scout leader was called to duty on Dec. 7. The Scouts were asked to assemble at the Old Lahaina Prison. The task was to help deliver messages - messages to whom and about what the Scouts never found out. Maybe Maui needed to be ready for invasion. It never came, and the Scouts went home.
As Sammy remembers it, there was no discrimination of Japanese because of the war, but a new film states there were two internment camps on Maui.
Loyal to his country, the young man of slight build who could speak Japanese learned at the Japanese Language School on Wainee Street tried to enlist. Recruits rejected him because he had no trigger finger for a gun (part of his first finger had been lopped off in an accident, so he would be useless as an infantryman). Only later, in 1946, he was drafted, serving a year in the signal corps on Oahu.
Sixty years later, he is still serving his country. (To be continued...)