Recognition abounded Friday as hundreds of Big Island kupuna were feted for their service and contribution to our island communities.
Hilo resident Shirley Ito, 74, and Waikoloa resident Pete Hoffmann, 72, took home top honors — female and male Hawaii County’s Office of Aging Outstanding Older American Awards, respectively.
The awards honor two seniors who’ve contributed significantly toward improving the quality of life on the Big Island, said Pauline Fukunaga, aging program planner with the Office of Aging. The two were selected from a field of 20 nominees, who ranged in age from 66 to 91.
“Your good deeds, large and small, have an impact on the lives of so many in our community,” said Office of Aging Executive on Aging Alan Parker prior to the awards being handed out. “The nominees make a difference in the lives of people and we thank them.”
Said Mayor Billy Kenoi, “The strength of our community and the values of our community comes from our kupuna and that is what makes our island so special.”
Ito, covered in lei up to her eyes and overflowing onto her arms, had few words. She did agree that recognizing seniors for their hard work helps to get even more seniors involved in their communities.
“I feel very honored and proud,” she said just after receiving the award, which included a special handmade wooden pendant shaped like the Big Island with the county seal, the year and her name engraved in it.
Hoffmann also said he was proud of the recognition; however, he quickly turned the spotlight from himself to say more seniors need to get involved in their communities.
“We have an awful lot of talent, an awful lot of capability and expertise as seniors and I’d like to see more of that put into use for the betterment of all in the community,” he said.
Some 340 people turned out for the annual event, now in its 45th year, held at the Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel. The event featured a luncheon, door prizes, live entertainment, as well as an award ceremony for other seniors who contribute to the community.
For community service, the office recognized Marian Reyes, 82, of Kapaau, and Edwin Castillo, 83, and Rogelio Roy Soto, 66, both of Honokaa. For senior activities, the office recognized Robert Gomes Sr., 76, of Pahala and Mabel Kaipo of Naalehu.
Alfonso Mitchell, 80, of Kapaau, Helen Young, 91, of Hilo and Mei Ling Green of Pahoa, were recognized for their personal achievements. Young, along with George Cabral, 83, of Ookala, received the Golden Years award for continuing to be extremely active in the community and volunteer activities.
Chris Ridley, of Life Care Center of Hilo, received the office’s Partnership Award for her work to promote awareness, understanding and training to caregivers of patients with Alzheimer’s disease.
The celebration also helped to kick off Older Americans Month. Since 1963, the month of May has been set aside each year to honor elders and their contributions to the community, according to the Administration on Aging, which falls under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
This year’s theme is “Unleash the power of age.”
“The month is set aside to appreciate and celebrate the vitality and aspirations of older adults and their contributions to the community,” said William “Horace” Farr, with the county Office of Aging. “When you unleash the power of age you bring a special thing to us — something that we are still learning.”
Hilo resident Audrey Kagawa, who also takes part in the county’s Retired Senior Volunteer Program, appreciates the annual luncheon and hopes it inspires others with time on their hands to give back to the community.
“It’s a good thing they get recognition because they put in a lot volunteering for the community to better their own community,” she said.
Kagawa, who has volunteered the majority of her life including during high school, also said it is never too late to get started volunteering.
“You’re never too old to start,” she said. “As long as I feel I am able to walk and talk, I will keep doing this.”
For more information on the Hawaii County Office of Aging, call 961-8600 or visit hcoahawaii.org.