Lahainaluna community mourns the loss of Sue D. Cooley
“Angel came down from Heaven yesterday” – Jimi Hendrix.
Many people visiting the Valley Isle become enamored with the physical beauty of Maui, but very few fall in love with the spiritual essence of our island home. And many of those who are impressed with the radiance of Maui make decisions to invest in properties here, yet fewer still discover the internal inspiration to pay forward the aloha of the Hawaiian culture.
In the same vein, there are countless real estate brokers that sell said properties to wide-eyed, deep-pocketed guests that come, but scant agents that connect these people to the grassroots aloha of Maui. Ed and Sue Cooley and Roy and Betty Sakamoto of Sakamoto Properties are among these God-sent exceptions.
Some 35 years ago, the Cooleys and the Sakamotos met and began a relationship that deepened through the years and through the passing of Ed Cooley. Roy is a Lahainaluna graduate, and Betty’s daughter studied there as well, and so their intimacy to the Lahaina community is, indeed, deeply rooted.
The epiphany occurred years ago when the Sakamotos took Sue Cooley to a Lahainaluna High School football game at War Memorial Stadium in Wailuku, where the team played their “home” games. The Lunas lost a heartbreaker that night, but as Sue and the Sakamotos walked by the Red Tide locker room, they were engulfed by the powerful serenade of 40 inspired voices emanating from within the concrete enclosure.
No matter how many times you hear the Lahainaluna football team sing their school alma mater in the Hawaiian language before and after their games, you are engulfed by a feeling of nostalgia that brings tears to your eyes and chicken skin to your extremities. Sue Cooley was moved in this way at that moment, and thus began a heart-warming relationship between her and the Luna football team, which she dubbed “Her Boys.”
Coincidently, a drive began at this time to bring a century-awaited athletic facility to the historic Lahainaluna campus. Never in the 185-year history of the school had there been a sports stadium for the student athletes to compete, practice on and call their own. Then, the Lahainaluna High School Foundation took command of the effort to bring such a facility to the campus, and the drive began.
Sue Cooley learned of the project and immediately contributed resources – a major portion of the $9 million amount needed to complete the facility – and last year the Lunas played their first-ever home night game on campus.
The stadium was rated as one of the top high school facilities in the nation by USA Today. Neil “Mana” Everett, ESPN’s lead West Coast sportscaster, simply said, “It doesn’t get any better than this,” during his honorary public address stint at the Lunas’ first home game.
Cooley initially did not want any special recognition for her extreme generosity to the project, but the LHSF Stadium Committee saw fit to name the stadium after her. So when she first saw the bold lettering that says “Sue D. Cooley Stadium” atop the entry building, she said to Lanny Tihada sitting by her side, “This is one of the best days of my life.”
Sue Cooley’s “Boys” battled their way to their first state championship this past season and, of course, she was overjoyed by the effort of the team. She was presented a number 1 Lunas jersey and also a personalized commemorative ring – just like the ones all the “Boys” received – at her home in Washington State. A short time later, Sue passed away.
“Over the years, Sue gained respect for the Luna football team that she called ‘Her Boys,’ and that has never wavered. This respect was gained as she saw the program turning boys into men and seeing the integrity of Lahainaluna football and the standard of sportsmanship it represents. She had this same respect for the students, their families and the community. It has been priceless and magical to experience the love that Sue Cooley had for ‘Her Boys,’ ” said Betty Sakamoto in remembering her.
Aloha ‘oe, Sue D. Cooley. Your legacy at Lahainaluna will live on for generations.