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Kukahiko honored for his legacy in the community

By Staff | Dec 12, 2013

Kukahiko. The name evokes a feeling of comfort and aloha here on the West Side – a settling of the spirit that brings about an emotion of confidence that “Everything is going to be all right.”

Rev. Earl Ray Kanakaonae Kukahiko will turn 83 next week, but the broad smile and booming voice that have characterized his life in Lahaina are as clear today as they were some 60 years ago, as he worked to become an iconic mentor in our community. From the halls of the Lahainaluna High School dormitories, to the rolling hills of the historic campus, down the slope to the spiritual heart of the community at Waiola Church and out to the life-giving nearshore waters of the Pacific, the pono personality of this remarkable man has rung true in all who are blessed to have met him.

He grew up in Honokohau, the son of Rev. John and Daisy Kukahiko, and attended Lahainaluna as a boarding student. In his high school days at Lahainaluna, Earl Kukahiko worked – as all boarding students did, and still do today – with campus and farm maintenance chores. He became the farm foreman and stayed on after graduation through his retirement in 1984 – some 40 years – and became known simply as “Chief.”

During this time, he met a petite, energetic Big Island girl by the name of Barbara Kusumoto, who had come over to work as the school cafeteria manager. That was 1955, and it didn’t take long for Chief to see the deep beauty of the new cafeteria manager. Soon, 1956 to be exact, Barbara changed her last name from Kusumoto to Kukahiko in marriage to Earl. The couple had three children – Earle, Glynis and Kory – and today there are five grandchildren and one great-grandchild. There are thus four generations of Kukahikos at the family homestead at Wahikuli.

With his religious and cultural roots, Chief became more than a labor foreman for the boarding students at Lahainaluna. He became a father figure and mentor to them, teaching them the value of the education they received and, moreover, an appreciation of the camaraderie of the Boarding Department and the work ethic instilled in them through Kukahiko’s guidance.

Charles Pickard came to the Lahainaluna Boarding Department as a freshman in 1962. A slightly built Caucasian boy, Pickard signed on to be a part of the program on his own and moved from his military family on Oahu to Maui. Several people, including Henry “Bruno” Ariyoshi, who was a counselor and football coach at Lahainaluna at the time, fellow boarder Lincoln Abiera and Chief Kukahiko, took Charlie under their wing.

It was an epiphany of an experience for the teenage “haole boy,” as he relished his experience and completion of the sometimes harsh education through the LHS Boarding Department. In 1966, Pickard graduated, thus becoming the first “haole boy” to make it through the program. He had a history of heart disorders and passed away four years later, calling his time at Lahainaluna, “The best years of my life.” Charlie also noted that Chief Kukahiko was major reason for developing his affection for the Luna community.

The Rev. Earl Kukahiko spread the word of the Lord through his devotion to Waiola Church in Lahaina. With his father before him, Rev. Earl propagated the cultural and religious spirituality of the community through his sermons and ceremonial blessings here. He also used his musical talents in and out of his church duties to further the message of God and his Hawaiian values.

He further enhanced the cultural awareness of the community in his promotion of canoe paddling with John Lake. Chief founded Lahaina Canoe Club and continued to support the organization and the Maui County Hawaiian Canoe Association as an official for decades. Today, the cultural tradition continues on the West Side, as three clubs, including Lahaina Canoe Club, flourish as a result of his efforts.

Last month, Chief was honored as the 2013 recipient of the Lahainaluna High School Foundation’s Legends of Lahainaluna Award. In the third annual Legends event, Kukahiko was selected for recognition in the Individual Category, Mary Bloder – a renowned teacher for 44 years at Lahainaluna – was the Posthumous honoree, and Hellas Construction Company was the Business/Organization selection for their diligent work on the Luna Stadium project. The ceremony was held in the Pioneer Inn courtyard.