LAHAINA - At the 42nd annual Sacred Hearts School Bazaar held last weekend in the heart of Lahaina Town, an intimate gathering of members of the Vierra-Cambra ohana and school alumni joined together to honor Irene Vierra Cambra, the recipient of the second annual Living Legend Award.
The 85-year-old great-grandmother attended Sacred Hearts School. Graduating in 1942, her school day memories are vibrant.
"I began my career here at Maria Lanakila (Catholic Church)," Cambra said, and the story of the beginning of her lifelong career as a church organist was heartwarming and humorous.
At the 42nd annual Sacred Hearts School Bazaar, Irene Vierra Cambra was recognized with the second annual Living Legend Award. Six generations of her family have attended Sacred Hearts. PHOTO BY LOUISE ROCKETT.
"We had a piano at home, and I used to play the piano right here (in the campus cafeteria)," Cambra fondly recalled.
Recognizing her talent, one of the sisters went to her mother, suggesting music lessons.
"My father died at a very young age of 38," Cambra noted.
"When the sister asked my mother, 'Do you think that you could give music lessons for Irene, so that she could go to church to play the organ?' My mother said, 'Are you ill? I can barely put food on my table just to feed my nine children, and you want me to give her music? No I can't do that.' "
And a trade was subsequently offered: laundry for lessons.
"I was doing the laundry, and Sister Marianne taught me music. Before you know it, when I was in the seventh grade, I began to play in the church," she continued.
"So that's how I got the music lessons. I have now been a church organist for 73 years."
She's the on-island go-to talent.
"I've played at almost every church on Maui, except for Hana, Kaupo and Ulupalakua.
"I've played for weddings; I've played for funerals; I've played for graduations; and I've played for the mortuaries," she added.
"She's played at Christ the King, I think, 70 years now," daughter Karen Laborte told the Lahaina News.
Laborte provided some background on her mother's full life: "She worked at Maui Pine. She worked for Valley Isle Motors. It was called Elite Motors at that time. She worked for an insurance company. It was always in an office situation. She retired as the parish secretary of Christ the King in the 1980s," she said.
Cambra's 27-year-old grandson, Jacey Laborte, expanded on the characterization of his grandmother.
"As a person, I think Irene is probably one of the most socially advantageous people that I've ever known. She is very busy, very active in her community does so many things for so many different groups of people," Jacey observed.
"As a grandmother," Jacey continued, "she's just one of the most wonderful people that one could ever ask for. She has always been very caring, supportive and very diligent in making sure that her grandchildren have a very good education."
Jacey and his sister are testaments to the success of Cambra's mission.
Jacey earned multiple degrees from Pacific University in Oregon, including Anthropology, Sociology and Psychology. He is the owner of Anthrologics Inc.
Ailina Tagupa-Laborte is the eldest of Cambra's grandchildren. She attended Chaminade University on Oahu. Earning a degree in Early Childhood Development, she is the Maui coordinator for PATCH (People Attentive to Children).
Earl Vierra, a Lahaina boy born and bred, is a fountain of information about the Vierra-Sacred Hearts connection.
"My father's youngest sister is Irene Vierra Cambra," he messaged to the Lahaina News on Facebook.
There were nine Vierra siblings in that generation, and all attended Sacred Hearts School, he noted.
Translating from Facebook speak, Earl advised the Lahaina News, "Between our daughter Taryn, the nurse at Maui Memorial Medical Center, her daughter Taeja Agmata makes six generations of our family at SHS."
Taeja, 8, is a second-grader at Sacred Hearts.
During the ceremony honoring her grand aunt on Saturday night at the bazaar, she sang the SHS alma mater with Principal Susan Hendricks.
Kimberly Scott, on behalf of the Sacred Hearts School Alumni Association, presented "Irene Vierra Cambra with the second award from the 42nd Annual Bazaar. She is an official Living Legend alumni," she said. On the plaque it honored Mrs. Cambra as "Celebrating a life in Christ."
Daughter Karen agreed, describing her mother's spiritual commitment.
"She is a very devout Catholic and has always been connected to the church, somehow serving the Lord; and that's the way that she likes it - always doing something for the Lord."
Rep. Angus McKelvey was present, and he shared some of his memories of Sacred Hearts with the Vierra clan.
"As an alumni of Sacred Hearts, I am privileged to come back to honor Irene Vierra Cambra and the entire Vierra family, because their incredible connection to the school keeps Sacred Hearts in Lahaina strong," the Lahaina lawmaker said.