Resident believed to be island’s oldest dies at 107


The Pahoa woman believed to be the Big Island’s oldest resident has died.

Saramae Williams Landers, who died Monday at home, witnessed breathtaking technological advances and historic social changes in her 107 years.

The Wright Brothers’ flight at Kitty Hawk, N.C., occurred less than three years prior to Landers’ birth in Samaria, Idaho, on April 4, 1906. She witnessed the dawn of the airline industry and lived to see manned space flight, humans walk on the moon, and the Mars rover landing, as well as the advent of television and personal computers.

Her life also spanned both world wars, the women’s suffrage and civil rights movements, and the desegregation of the South.

“She had a wonderful, full life,” said state Sen. Russell Ruderman of Puna, who noted the retired guidance counselor for the Renton, Wash., school district might have been the oldest person in the state. “She was fortunate to have the daughter that she did, Sara Burgess, who kept her active and out in the community. A lot of sons and daughters would have not gone to that effort. … And I’m sure her life was much, much fuller because she did that instead of staying home all the time.”

Burgess, an 81-year-old retired schoolteacher, traveled the globe with her mother, and also accompanied her to many social engagements locally. The Palace Theater held a public 107th birthday celebration for Landers, which featured the talents of Hawaii storytellers Leilehua Yuen and Manu Josiah, and the Palace’s vintage pipe organ played by Rick Mazurowski.

Ruderman said the last time he saw Landers was at a political fundraiser in early December at Hilo Bay Cafe.

“We gave her a big round of applause,” he said.

Ruderman said that Landers had also danced to the music of his kachi-kachi band, El Leo The Jarican Express, and that watching her dance “brought a huge smile to everybody.”

Landers was a member of the Retired Hawaii State Teachers Association, Big Island United Nations Association, Pahoa Senior Citizens and Pahoa Community Medical Association. She had been honored for her longevity and activity by Gov. Neil Abercrombie, Mayor Billy Kenoi and both houses of the state legislature.

Services are planned at a later date in Boise, Idaho.

In addition to Burgess, Landers is survived by a son, Lewis (Cheryl) Floyd Landers of Washington; four grandchildren, four great-grandchildren, one great-great-grandchild; and nieces and nephews.

“I think Saramae was an inspiration to us all at 107 and that Sara is an example of how to treat your parents as they get older, taking her to social activities,” Ruderman said. “We all know who Saramae is because Sara brought her everywhere, and she deserves a lot of credit for keeping her mother physically active and socially active.”

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.