Eighty years young

She was a normal, lively, fun-loving girl doing what nine-year-old girls do in the community of Haena on the spectacular north coast of the island of Kauai. 

It was 7:30 a.m. on the morning of April 1, 1946, when the first wave of the tsunami struck unexpectedly. Ivy Laamea and her family escaped that first tidal assault and headed for her grandmother’s house. Unfortunately they had to turn back because their path was blocked by the tidal water. They then went to a nearby Mormon church to find shelter. However, they found the church’s windows and doors securely locked. So they gathered outside and joined hands, making a circle in prayer. 

Then the devastating second wave came crashing in with awesome and deadly power carrying her little siblings away. What a terrible moment it was for her and her family. Thank the Lord that Ivy herself could swim like a mermaid and, after some terrifying minutes and a heroic struggle, she was able to swim to safety.

Ivy Laamea was born on Oct. 2, 1936, in Haena, the most northern community on Kauai’s north shore, not far from Hanalei where the famous Na Pali Coast begins. She loved to play basketball and volleyball as she herself has told me, and I do not doubt that she played with Olympic determination and tenacity. 

Having been diagnosed with Hansen’s Disease while in the flower of her young womanhood, she arrived in Kalaupapa settlement in 1956. Over the years she has worked in various roles in this settlement, i.e., as an attendant for an airline at the Kalaupapa Airport and more recently in the Kalaupapa store as well as at the nearby gas station. In Kalaupapa she met and married the love of her life, the “Boogie” man, Clarence “Boogie” Kahilihiwa and they have lived in marital bliss ever since.

On October 2, Ivy reached the venerable age of 80 and is still full of life and full of humor and laughter. So it was that we celebrated with her last night at McVeigh Hall which in the early days of her years here was the dining hall for many residents in the settlement. 

Before we took our seats for dinner, Zianna, the supervisor of our store, crowned our honoree as queen for the evening. Then, after a prayer of blessing, we did what we all do best. We partook of a sumptuous celebration meal. Ivy, this gentle lady, has outlived the many tsunamis of life and we rejoice that she lives on in our midst. Aloha.

Anchor columnist Father Killilea is pastor of St. Francis Parish in Kalaupapa, Hawaii.


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