Beloved ‘Mr. Kalani’ Ready To Help All

Barbers Point principal Claudia Nakachi with Kalani Gonsalves at his retirement party. Photo from Diana Tiedemann Okamura.

For 33 years, Kalani Gonsalves Sr. did more for Barbers Point Elementary than his position as a custodian required of him.

Better known to everyone as “Mr. Kalani,” he was also an on-call handyman, friend and, during the hol-days, Santa Claus.

“All of our students naturally gravitated to him and saw that he was more than just our custodian of facilities,” said principal Claudia Nakachi.

Gonsalves was forced into an early retirement at age 54 after being diagnosed with bone cancer last June.

“Mr. Kalani was an advocate for our students – especially the challenging ones and the ones needing a friend,” said Nakachi. “He always tried to let them know that he was here to support them.”

For students, this meant being able to enjoy Gonsalves’ involvement in their activities, such as playing music for the May Day programs and dressing as Santa for Breakfast With Santa, during which he would take pictures with students.

Recently, Barbers Point Elementary hosted a retirement party for Gonsalves. His sister-in-law Diana Tiedemann Okamura, who attended, said many teachers shared this sentiment when talking of their memories of him.

“They told stories about how he was so caring and gentle with the kids, and that even in bad situations, when he had to chase down (a naughty child) and have them work out detention, he did it in such a caring way that the kids respected him for it,” said Okamura.

Beyond the elementary students, the staff and community also knew that they could rely on Gonsalves.

“Anything that was on campus was his business, even if it did not fit his job description,” Nakachi said.

This included jump-starting car batteries, unlocking car doors if someone locked their keys in the car and more.

“He was our ambassador of aloha,” says Nakachi.

Though Gonsalves is no longer working there, Nakachi says it is comforting that his granddaughter is enrolled for kindergarten at Barbers Point Elementary School, which means he is still part of the school.