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Reviving MHS spirit
By LEHIA APANA, Staff Writer,

HAMAKUAPOKO -- The Old Maui High School campus buzzed with revived school spirit Saturday as former students returned to their beloved alma mater for a massive schoolwide reunion.

“We don’t get to see each other often, so this is a real treat to see all our friends,” said 1966 graduate Jackie Pias Carlin.

It was a sea of blue and white, as alumni and their families dressed in Maui High School colors roamed the plantation-era campus to talk story with old friends and to admire the recently cleaned up school grounds.

More than 1,500 people attended the event, according to reunion co-Chairman Richard Higashi, Class of 1958.

It was a festive homecoming for Old Maui High School alumni, who were treated to an old-style pep rally, talent show, and music by the Molina Band and 1958 graduate Mel Ching. The sounds of yesteryear rang proud, as alumni sang verses of their alma mater. Maui High opened its doors in 1913 as Maui’s first coeducational high school offering courses in academic and vocational education. In 1921, famed Hawaii architect Charles W. Dickey designed the mission-style administration and classroom building.

Additional classroom buildings, teachers cottages, a gym, athletic fields, an agricultural complex and a cafeteria were constructed for a growing population on the 24-acre campus.

The campus closed in 1972, after the plantation camps surrounding it shut down to be turned back to growing cane while families moved to the “Dream City” increments of Kahului.

At Hamakuapoko, the buildings stood derelict for years, with wood framing crumbling from lack of care and empty rooms filling with trash and graffiti left by drifters. A series of fires destroyed the roof of the old administration building, leaving the concrete walls encrusted with soot and mud.

The aging structures have undergone a major cleanup in preparation for renovation, thanks to volunteers from the Community Work Day program and the Friends of Old Maui High School.

“I miss seeing the ivy-covered walls and buildings, but they really cleaned it up and it’s looking good,” said 1947 graduate Tamateru Kodama, as he nodded toward the former administration building and classrooms.

Friends of Old Maui High School President Barbara Long and Maui writer Jill Engledow put together a commemorative book, “The Spirit Lives On, A History of Old Maui High School,” which chronicles the school’s history.

“As Jill and I did the book and learned more about the early teachers, we realized how amazing they were,” Long said. “They were excellent, very well-trained teachers.”

It was those teachers who groomed some of the islands’ most successful political leaders, lawyers, judges, entrepreneurs and military officers, Long noted.

“The school was forever harping on the democratic principles, and a lot of graduates went on to public service,” she added.

Former Maui County Mayors Hannibal Tavares, Elmer Cravalho and Alan Arakawa all graduated from the school, as did longtime U.S. Rep. Patsy Mink.

The renovated administration building will become the Patsy T. Mink Center for education and training, honoring the member of the Class of 1944.

Other noted alumni who turned to politics include former Council Member Velma McWayne Santos and current Council Members Mike Molina and Gladys Coelho Baisa. Mayor Charmaine Tavares attended Old Maui High as a freshman but later transferred to another district.

“This has always been a special place in my heart,” she told the crowd gathered in front of the Dickey-designed building.

Class of 1942 graduate Marion Watanabe remembered a former teacher whose strict discipline became legendary among students.

“We had a really strict typing teacher, Miss Cawdrey, but we benefited from her very much. Because she was so strict, students were very successful in office work,” said Watanabe, who spent 34 years as a secretary at various Maui schools.

While most alumni at the reunion came from around Maui, several traveled from as far away as Japan and Germany.

“There’s so many people who still have a very strong connection to this place, and there’s so many people who care very deeply about it, which is why this reunion has become such a big thing,” Long said.

For Pias Carlin, the drive approaching the campus triggered memories of the past.

“The highlight for me was driving up Holomua Road under the trees. I felt that energy going up the road and I started getting chicken skin,” Pias Carlin


By 1939, around 1,000 students attended Old Maui High, but changing island demographics siphoned students away from the school.

Baldwin High School opened in Wailuku in 1939. The first homes in the Kahului increments were completed in 1950 and as the population center moved to Central Maui, a new Maui High School was built and opened – and Old Maui High closed its doors.

Gone are the plantation houses and community that once surrounded the Hamakuapoko campus, and the once-bustling classrooms were converted for a time to research programs operated by the University of Hawaii.

But the landmark administration building was left unused and suffered the indignity of slow deterioration in the damp Hamakuapoko climate. It’s silenced with time, but the legacy of Old Maui High remains

in those who walked through

its doors to face their bright futures.

“It was a great school, and I’m happy that we have this opportunity to come back and remember it,” Watanabe said.

The three-day reunion concludes today with a breakfast at 9:30 a.m., followed by a memorial service at 10:30 a.m. to honor classmates who have passed on, and a closing ceremony at noon.

Lehia Apana can be reached at

100 Mahalani Street, Wailuku, Maui, Hawaii 96793
808-244-3981 (local)