Kauai High Celebrates A Centennial

Kauai High Centennial Committee poses under the banyan tree planted by the class of 1936: (front, from left) Darnell Aquino, Penny Vess, Leah Aiwohi, (back) Dino Pabre, Marlene Wong, Carrie Nakaahiki-Young and Laurie Yoshida. PHOTO COURTESY KAUAI HIGH CENTENNIAL COMMITTEE

Kauai High Centennial Committee poses under the banyan tree planted by the class of 1936: (front, from left) Darnell Aquino, Penny Vess, Leah Aiwohi, (back) Dino Pabre, Marlene Wong, Carrie Nakaahiki-Young and Laurie Yoshida. PHOTO COURTESY KAUAI HIGH CENTENNIAL COMMITTEE

Wallowing in nostalgia, reminiscing, remembering the good ol’ days and looking back at growing pains at Kauai High School are what alumni are doing this month leading up to their school’s centennial celebration.

Physical education swim classes at Kauai High in the 1930s meant walking down the hill from the school to Kalapaki Beach on the Garden Isle’s east coast, students jumping into the ocean and floating toward the sea on their stomachs, then swimming back to shore again.

At least that’s how Florence Ching Richardson remembers how her PE tests were conducted, as she walks down memory lane with 2014 graduate Dillon Ancheta and Leah Aiwohi, digital media/journalism instructor at KHS.

“I don’t know how we did it in those one-hour classes, but we had to walk … to the pier, and that was our swimming pool,” explains the 96-year-old alumna.

Ancheta profiles Richardson in a mini-documentary titled Raider Memoir (RaiderMedia.Weebly.com), produced for the school’s 100th anniversary celebration to be held Sept. 12, 13 and 14. KHS opened its doors in 1914 in a renovated courthouse as the fifth high school of the Territory of Hawaii and the first high school on the island of Kauai.

Ancheta found that things surely have changed since 1914.

“Today, it would be a major liability for students to swim in the ocean during school hours,” he says.

Ancheta has ventured into time travel and turned back the hands of time to see what it was like at his old alma mater. His time machine hooked him up with two fellow Red Raiders who have been around 96 of the 100 years Kauai High has been in existence.

The result was a reunion of a lifetime.

“We reunited Mrs. Richardson and Mr. Minoru Isobe, who are both four years short of 100. She was the editor of the school newspaper, and he was in the Judo Club. They hadn’t seen each other since their 50th class reunion about 30 years ago,” says Ancheta. “My project focuses on what it was like in the early years and outlines the changes that the school has gone through over 10 decades. It was truly an inspirational experience to see the two talk about the history of the oldest school on the island.”

“We were in the middle of the Depression … our teachers were all (from across the ocean). Because of the Depression … there were no jobs on the Mainland, so it opened up jobs for (teachers) to come overseas,” explains Richardson. The class of 1936 duo reminisced fondly about their favorite instructor, Mrs. Barbara Clompton, who flunked Richardson in Algebra class. The humble pair hovered over old photos and a well-preserved yearbook that Richardson once oversaw. Isobe smiled from ear to ear reading his classmate’s description of him: “Minoru faces the world squarely and fairly with a dignified look. He has the power of doing things he wills to do and is one of the deepest men on campus.” Richardson and Isobe chuckled further over their youth and fond memories of their beloved alma mater.

The dances at the gym were somewhat memorable to Isobe. “We didn’t know how to dance — at least I know I didn’t,” he admits.

Alumni have experienced tears of joy, frustration, victory and defeat in the school’s gymnasium, which stands as a symbol of strength and pride today.

“I have great memories in that gym, as do the many athletes who have come before me. Our assemblies and homecoming celebrations have been held there,” says Penny Vess, who was an all-star scholar/athlete and all-time female jock involved in basketball, volleyball and softball. The class of ’85 graduate also was a member of the National Honor Society. Vess made history as the first female from Kauai to play softball at University of Hawaii at Manoa during the second season of UH’s softball program. Today, she makes history again as the school’s longest-serving vice principal and chairwoman of the Kauai High Centennial Committee.

I managed to get a glimpse of what’s being planned by Vess and her committee recently when I visited the KHS booth at the County Farm Bureau Fair that was manned by enthusiastic students all demonstrating their Red Raider pride by sharing what’s in store. The class of 1956 is sponsoring a picnic at Lydgate Park Friday, Sept. 12, followed by a huge carnival on campus Sept. 13. Coming from a family of KHS alums, the Raiderette-turned-VP says, “None of us will be around for anything like this again, and we look forward to celebrating the school’s legacy and learning from graduates like Florence and Minoru,” she says. Their inspirational video will be featured Sunday, Sept. 14, at the KHS Alumni Luau at Kilohana Plantation Estate, where Amy Hanaialii will perform.

“A lot of nostalgia at Kauai High,” adds Vess. “I can’t imagine going to work at the other rival schools because my heart has and will always belong to my alma mater.”

The most decorated Red Raider alumnus is Eric Shinseki, who was the first Asian-American four-star general and former U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs. As its most illustrious graduate, the school is wishing for his attendance. Meanwhile, students and staff continue to perpetuate the tradition of enjoying shade under the banyan tree that Richardson and Isobe’s class of ’36 planted in 1986 between the gymnasium and A-Building — where new memories will be created for generations of Red Raiders to enjoy.