Gertrude Ekvall Smith, a deceased Kaua‘i teacher who inspired a scholarship to help local high school graduates for the past quarter century, would take great satisfaction of the accomplishments of those 20 young men and women.
Smith taught kindergarten at Lihu‘e Elementary School from 1946 until retirement in 1967, passing away in 1975 at age 73. A former missionary to China, she arrived on Kaua‘i in 1941 when her husband, Howard, accepted the pulpit of the Koloa Union Church.
“My mother loved seeing those eager youngsters return years later with their college degrees,” recalls her son, Ray of Carol Stream, Ill., a 1950 graduate of Kaua‘i High School. “And beyond simple academics she treasured the life values she took away from her own education at a Christian college.”
This was the motivation for the ongoing memorial scholarship given annually by her family to a student planning to attend a Christian higher institution.
Smith’s daughter, Anne Mackiewicz of Tampa, Fla., is also a Kaua‘i High School graduate of the class of 1952.
And since Smith was a charter member of the Koloa Missionary Church, and a regular pianist also at the Kapa‘a parish, it is logical to offer encouragement to an active member of any of the four missionary churches on Kaua‘i. A four-person committee reviews applications based on character, Christian service, academics and financial need.
The one-time grant will be increased to $2,000 in 2013, says new Selection Committee Member Robyn (Taba) Herbig of Kalaheo, who is being groomed to succeed longtime chairman David Kawate of Lawa‘i.
Coincidentally, Herbig was the first recipient of the Ekvall-Smith Scholarship in 1987. The Kaua‘i High School graduate and Kalaheo Missionary Church lay leader earned a B.A. at Smith’s alma mater — Wheaton College — and currently teaches at Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School. Herbig and her husband, Bruce — he is part of the staff of Kalaheo Elementary — have three sons. She holds an M.A. in education from the University of Phoenix .
Looking at the other 10 men and nine wahine awardees, almost half matriculated at the Missionary Church’s home college, Bethel, which provides a financial incentive to students from Hawai‘i. Not surprisingly, others have favored closer-to-home western colleges: Biola University, George Fox, Grand Canyon Seattle Pacific Point Loma, Westmont, Azusa Pacific, Hardin-Simmons and Pacific Union.
Significantly, all but one earned degrees and 10 of the graduates have returned to reside on Kaua‘i, while three live on O‘ahu — giving Hawai‘i the welcomed benefit of their higher education. Three work on the Mainland and three are currently undergraduates.
Given their strong faith grounding, it is not surprising that all are still engaged in either nonprofit or ministry activities. For example, Erin Koshi of Kalaheo goes on work missions to Thailand. Jerek Barcelona of Kalaheo has served with Youth With a Mission in Australia and China. Sonia (Waldrep) Tanaka of Kane‘ohe volunteers for the Food Bank, Operation Christmas Tree and Hospice Hawai‘i. Richard Kalauawa and his wife, Crystal (Rivera) — both scholarship winners — have been locally active at Kalaheo Missionary. Kinesiology graduate Alyssa Nishihira of Kalaheo, finishing pre-requisites for Physician Assistant School at Butler University “hopes one day to return to Uganda, where I did a short-term mission to an underserved community.”
Elisha Cole, Matthew Terui and Christy Matsumura all came out of Kapa‘a. Cole is a language analyst for the U.S. Air Force on O‘ahu, Terui a computer programmer in Indiana and former teacher; Matsumura is a supervisor at Costco. Richard “Keith” Burgess, now of Lihu‘e, went through three universities to degree-qualify as a Department of Education athletic trainer. Siblings Luke Nakatsukasa and Anneke (Nakatsukasa) Fujimoto are respectively a nuclear engineer at Pearl Harbor and a former restaurant manager now pursuing a dental hygiene career.
Brothers Cory and Erin Koshi returned to Kaua‘i where one is in the U.S. Postal Service and the other a media technician at Kalaheo Missionary Church when home from the mission field. We add that Brooks Braun and Daniel Kalauawa are doing well, in addition to the three undergraduates: Destiny Banasihan (Koloa), Hayley Uliana (Hanapepe) and Kimberly Aguilar (Kalaheo).
It remains for Julie (Mitchell) Shettler, formerly of Kalaheo and now British Columbia, Canada — who has served as a language teacher in Japan — to express for the group: “The years right after high school are crucial development years. I’m so glad I went to a Christian university, so thank you Smith family for being a na lima kokua.”