Friends remember Ira Kiyonaga
In the tapestry woven by those celebrating the life of Ira Kiyonaga in services held on March 12 at the Ballard Family Mortuary in Kahului, there were several common threads that illustrated the genuine nature of this Lahaina boy.
Kiyonaga passed away on March 1 at the age of 53, but his memory will live on in the endearing annals of the community. This was solidified by those speaking in his honor at the services.
Foremost among them were Kahu Earl Kukahiko and his son, Earle, as well as Wade Hiraga, Star Medeiros and Laura Blears. All spoke of Ira’s sincere, friendly nature and of his dedication to coaching the youth of the West Side.
Rev. Kukahiko referenced Ira’s consistently cordial personality that was always tempered with respect, while Coach Earle remembered fondly Kiyonaga’s loyal commitment to their friendship and to the youngsters they mentored together with the Little League Red Sox and the Lahaina Girls and Lahainaluna High School softball programs.
In his eulogy, Earle Kukahiko fondly referred to “Coach I” as “Da Bruddah” to reflect the genuine affection that so represents the family feeling characterizing close-knit communities such as Lahaina. It is a common way that people address one another here in Hawaii, and clearly manifests the love that binds us all together.
Hiraga added to the remembrance in retelling their adventures together on first dates, in surfing and in sharing Kiyonaga’s poetry.
“Ira wrote a lot of poetry, and we spent a lot of time going over it together,” recalled Hiraga. “And we had many fun times going surfing after getting his surfboard that was hidden in a rubbish can or on top of a car at the family gas station.”
Blears reiterated the literary nature of Ira’s personality as Lahaina’s underground poet laureate.
“Ira would recite his poetry to me out in the water while we were waiting for waves out surfing,” she said. “He was such a wonderful guy, and I’ll always be grateful to him for being such a good influence on my son, Dylan, in coaching him in Little League.”
It was also on the Little League Baseball field where “Coach I” touched the hearts of the Medeiros family.
“Coach I coached my sons in baseball, and what I remember most is that he always emphasized respect. He would address us as ‘Mr. and Mrs. Medeiros’ in front of the boys to make sure that they would understand the importance of respect,” Star Medeiros added.
And so, despite the fact that Ira wavered from the straight and narrow and suffered through some tough times — haven’t we all — in his later years, we will fondly remember his contributions to the endearing culture of the Lahaina community as a mentor to our kids and as a true friend to us all.
Along with his late father, Ed, and his late brother, Dean, Ira and the Kiyonaga Family of Ed’s Union 76 at the corner of Lahainaluna Road and Honoapiilani Highway will stand as icons in the genealogy of the Lahaina community.
Our sincere condolences go out to his mother, Thelma Kiyonaga; two sisters, Candace (Doug) Sugidono and Leah (Michael) Levine; nephews Christopher and Matthew Sugidono; and niece Leila Levine.
Imua, Coach I!