Forever Young, Forever Learners

Rosalind Brito says the fountain of youth is keeping your brain active through education | Photo courtesy Rosalind Brito

Rosalind Brito says the fountain of youth is keeping your brain active through education | Photo courtesy Rosalind Brito

Feminist, activist and writer Betty Friedan said, “Aging is not lost youth but a new stage of opportunity and strength.”

Kaunakakai resident Rosalind Brito takes that strength to heart as she finds herself hitting the books in the late hours rather than hitting the sack in the early evenings. At the ripe age of 83, Brito says it’s never too late to learn, and has re-entered college to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree in social science online from University of Hawaii-West Oahu. Mind you, has earned an associate degree in liberal arts from Maui Community College when she turned 76.

“Whenever I have to fill out an application form, I have to write what my career goals are. Well, I really don’t have any right now, but earning this degree gives me the satisfaction of finally completing what I started when I was just 18 — that’s when my education was abruptly cut due to the divorce of my parents,” says Brito.

Brito prescribes to a popular Internet adage: “Life has no rewinds and no forwards. It unfolds at its own pace, so never miss a chance to live today, and make a beautiful story for tomorrow.”

Tomorrow has arrived for the Molokai widow, who is now doing something for herself following a lifelong career of raising six children, including a physically challenged child. She also worked as an educational assistant teaching elementary school-aged keiki with the state Department of Education. She dreamt of higher education back in the day when she moved to the Friendly Isle at the age of 14, some four years after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

“My dad had a third-grade education,” she admits. “My mother was illiterate, and she never went to school.”

She adds, “We entertained ourselves so differently from today, where kids now depend so much on things to entertain themselves.”

Their lives were simple — there were no such things as video games. Instead she and her friends flattened soda and soy sauce caps, poked a hole through the middle and ran the strings to create a homemade accordion. “We had tuna cans, connected them to strings and used them as telephones,” recalls Brito.

In 1993, the Maui District of the state Department of Education presented Brito with the Sustained Superior Performance Award for her outstanding government service. Brito’s supervisors hailed her as the “model of people serving people, as she quietly contributed selflessly to the improvement of the welfare of the state of Hawaii, the children, parents and her beloved community of Molokai.” And she presently continues to be very active with her Catholic Church activities, as well as a willing volunteer for many causes and projects on the Friendly Island.

Brito reminds me of the many awardees to whom I had the privilege of paying tribute during my tenure as Honolulu mayor as part of our Honolulu Forever Young Program. This excellent initiative came from the city’s Department of Community Services. Then-director Debbie Kim Morikawa was determined to change the stigma of aging and highlight senior citizens who excelled in their careers, and continue in their late 60s, 70s and 80s to make major contributions to their communities through mentoring, philanthropy and volunteerism.

One of the most outstanding seniors was 2010 awardee Sister Alicia Damien Lau, a former chief operating officer for Oahu Care Facility and Pearl City Nursing Home. She also administered Kulana Malama Health Care Center. Lau has since retired, but she continues to contribute to society by supporting the Sisters of St. Francis at the St. Francis Convent in Manoa, and does consulting work for long-term care.

She has been very active in the Mother Marianne Cope events — most recent was the return of the remains of Saint Marianne and presentation to Bishop Larry Silva July 31. She is a volunteer at Hawaii Long Term Care Association, and serves on numerous nonprofit boards and government committees.

We admire these Forever Young seniors who are examples that there is no such thing as being “over the hill,” and that with age comes wisdom that brings insights and understanding. The Forever Young alumni list includes: Wally Amos, CEO of Chip and Cookie Company; Dr. Reginald

C.S. Ho, oncologist at Straub Clinic and Hospital; Tom Moffatt, owner of Tom Moffatt Productions and my fellow radio host on 107.9 Kool Gold Saturdays; Walter Kirimitsu, president of Saint Louis School; Mary Matayoshi, senior government executive; Ho’oipo Decambra, housing director for Waianae Community Health Center; Andy Friedlander, founder of Collins Monroe Friedlander; Rose Nakamura, founding administrator of Project Dana; Oz Stender, OHA trustee; and attorney Larry Okinaga, partner in Carlsmith Ball law firm, to name a few.

The late Swiss philosopher and poet Henri Frederic Amiel said it best: “To know how to grow old is the master work of wisdom, and one of the most difficult chapters in the great art of living.”

May we aspire to keep strong, and accept the lines that begin to etch deeply in our faces to serve as humble reminders that we can be forever young, forever learners.