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Former Explorer Scouts honor beloved adviser Norman Sakata

Updated: 
November 11, 2017 - 12:05am

HOLUALOA — For decades, the Scout Oath has obligated boys in scouting to the 12 points of the Scout Law.

It’s also committed them to be “physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight,” even after they leave scouting and take up roles as leaders in their communities.

And for the boys — now men — who were a part of Explorer Post 26 in Holualoa, Post Adviser Norman Sakata has embodied those qualities every day of his life.

“He exemplifies that,” said Tom Nishihara, an Eagle Scout and former member of Explorer Post 26.

About two dozen people came together Thursday night, some coming from as far away as the mainland — to honor and celebrate Sakata, whose former scouts said helped make them the men they are today, teaching them everything from building character to making sure they knew how to dance with their dates when prom came around.

“What we did was not always all about scouting,” said Pat Duarte, another member of Post 26. “It was really more about life and growing up. And I think for those of us that participated in Explorer Post 26, it was truly an outstanding life experience for us.

“I think it really helped us to find our way in life,” he added. “And it gave us the guidance during a very critical period in our lives.”

The men who came all spoke about the impact Sakata and assistant advisor Matthew Heneralau had on them as they were growing up in Kona’s coffee lands.

“That was really something,” said Duarte of his time in Post 26. “I think just in terms of his example, in terms of what he demanded of us, and the organization that he led us through, giving us responsibilities to do different things, I think it was just really great training for all of us at the time.”

Sakata served as Explorer Post adviser for 23 years and had 22 Eagle Scouts come from the post, including astronaut Ellison Onizuka.

Sakata was also awarded in 1961 with the Silver Beaver Award, an honor reserved for adult leaders who have made a profound impact on the lives of youth and was also a speaker at the 1987 National Scout Jamboree in front of tens of thousands of scouts.

And while Sakata’s scouts said he wasn’t overly strict as an adviser, he had his expectations. And they all strived to meet them.

But as much of an impact as Sakata’s leadership had on the boys, Sakata said his scouts profoundly shaped his own life. While Sakata was never a scout himself, he said he saw what it could do for Kona’s boys.

“For every person who benefited from this program, that’s my reward,” he said.

He added that he was proud of the Explorers Post and the men who came out of it.

“I am very proud of this; I am very proud of these boys,” he said. “Whether they turn out to be a doctor, professor or whatever. They took a big step in preparing themselves for a better life.”

Many scouts cited memories of Sakata organizing dance lessons for the boys, which the former scouts said was as much about building confidence as it was about learning to get on the dance floor.

“Just having somebody teach you how to dance and give you the confidence to get up and ask a girl to dance,” said Duarte, “I think that really stuck out with me as being something that was, looking back now, I thought ‘You know? That was really important.’”

Then of course, there were the outdoor excursions to destinations like Maunakea, Puuhonua o Honaunau and elsewhere.

“In those days, they didn’t have the (Queen Kaahumanu Highway),” said Maurice Kondo, 69. “So we would go from the mauka road, go all the way down — take half a day, yeah?”

Once down along the coast, he said, they’d have three days for camping and fishing.

“Those were the great days,” he said. “The oceans in those days right outside that area, we’d go diving. It was like an aquarium!”

Another activity involved a Kennedy march, a 50-mile hike named after former President John F. Kennedy. But 50 miles wasn’t enough for Post Adviser Sakata.

“He wanted one more mile,” Kondo said with a laugh. “So he told us we had to go 51!”

“We wanted to go for the record,” Sakata said when asked about the hike. “So no matter how long it took all 50 miles, it was still a record by one mile.”

And the former scouts also credited Sakata’s wife, Marilyn M. Sakata, with supporting the boys’ activities as well.

After their weekly practice for the big hike, 15-20 scouts would typically end up at the Sakatas’ house late at night.

“And the wife had the pot of rice there, the eggs and — what else? — the Spam or something,” said Kondo. “All that stuff and we didn’t pay for that, so it was their expense — had to be.”

As much fun as they were all having, Kondo added, they were also learning skills that would carry them into successful positions after scouts.

“You were having so much fun, right?” he said. “You didn’t realize that you were learning life’s values and life functions.”

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