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Akiyama an energetic community contributor

By Staff | Sep 24, 2009


LAHAINA — On a clear day above the West Maui Mountains, when the usual puffy clouds have drifted away to unveil the peaks far above, the distinct silhouette of a woman’s face can be seen in the eastern most range. In the folklore of this historic town, the view is known as the “Lady of Lahaina.”

The Mala shoreline — where now one of the world’s largest statues of Buddha sits in meditation on the grounds of Lahaina Jodo Mission — is where Clifton Akiyama first had the “Lady of Lahaina” pointed out to him.

“My mom showed it to me when I was young,” explained Akiyama last week. “She said that the Lady of Lahaina looks out for us.”

This maternal warm embrace was symbolic of the idyllic childhood that Akiyama experienced growing up along the Lahaina shoreline during the 1950s and ’60.

“Oh boy, we had wonderful times growing up here at Baby Beach,” he said. “We’d go torch fishing, spearing the fish at night when they’d be sleeping — get tako (octopus), all kinds. Mom would sometimes ask us if we wanted lobster for dinner, and we said, ‘Sure.’ Then dad and I would go out and come back with five or six lobsters from under the coral heads and reef in front of our house.”

It was a real life version of a “Blue Lagoon” upbringing within the warmth of the Lahaina culture of the era.

Later, it was on to King Kamehameha III School and Lahainaluna High School for Akiyama and his siblings. Upon graduation from Lahainaluna in 1962, Akiyama enlisted in the U.S. Navy.

He served his country for four years, including three military tours to Vietnam aboard first the U.S.S. Midway and then on the U.S.S. Enterprise.

“I’d gone to Navy electrician school and optical landing school, and my duty in the war was related to this training,” he explained. “I was the operator of the ship (aircraft carrier) flight deck ‘meatball,’ that is a mechanism that basically is used to guide returning aircraft into safe landings after their missions in Vietnam. There was a whole lot of action.”

Following his discharge from the Navy, Akiyama settled in Southern California and continued his education in the electrical field at Los Angeles Tech. He earned a degree in Electrical Technology and soon thereafter reconnected with and married his former classmate at Lahainaluna, Patricia Mieko Teshima.

Patricia graduated from Eastern Washington University with a degree in education and began what would become her lifelong endeavor as an elementary school teacher. She taught for 12 years in California, and when the family returned to Lahaina, Patricia became a King Kamehameha III fixture for 21 years as the school’s third grade teacher.

The couple had two children, a boy and a girl, and raised them to extended educational careers that resulted in degrees from Washington State University. Troy recently earned a doctorate in Educational Curriculum from Columbia University, while Julie carried her Business Management degree from WSU to a position with Costco.

It was 1984 when the Akiyama clan returned to Maui, and five years later Akiyama established Clifton Electric Inc. The business has flourished.

“We are truly blessed with customers from all types of services from many different sectors of the community,” he said.

A pleasant twist to Clifton Electric’s success is that Clifton has seen fit to hire on West Side local boys — Lahainaluna graduates Tommy Ompoy, Chuck Vares and Charles Wallace — to man the company staff.

Akiyama has also carried volunteerism to a higher level in paying forward the blessed fortune of his lifetime through company contributions to Lahainaluna’s graduation, David Malo Day, home football games, emergencies on campus, O-bon festivals at the Lahaina Jodo and Lahaina Hongwanji Mission, community events on Front Street, and Waiola Church events — all of which represent the positive energy that flows from this pillar of Lahaina’s cherished culture.

Clifton arises each morning at 4:30 a.m. to take his daily walk from his current residence near Paunau Park down to Baby Beach. There he pays faithful homage to his parents, whose ashes were scattered there, then turns to head back home as the sunlight spills over the West Maui Mountains and silhouettes the Lady of Lahaina once again.

The peaceful warmth of the morning sun fills him once more with blessed Lahaina energy, he smiles and continues on home.