POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Sep 26, 2010
In the sixth-grade class picture from Ewa Beach Elementary, the future football coach is the chubby boy with "back in the day" leather sandals. His dream girl is next to him in a pink muumuu and matching headband that her mother made special for picture-taking day.
In 1968, Lyle Castillo was smitten.
"I adored her and worshipped the ground she walked on for a year," he said.
His beloved was Gina Mastrangelo, a quiet girl from a military family who wore home-sewn clothes and always did her homework. She had to teach him how to pronounce her last name. "She made sure that it was 'Mastrangelo,' not 'Michelangelo,'" he remembers.
As sixth grade drew to a close, Castillo finally made his move. "On the second to last day of school, I decided to ask her to be my girlfriend and she accepted." The union was sealed with a kiss. His first.
As in all great intermediate school love stories, fate came between them. On the first day of seventh grade, Castillo eagerly looked around for his girl. He was crushed to learn she had transferred to St. Joseph School in Waipahu.
All these years later, Castillo, now an art teacher at Waipahu High School and a football coach at Kamehameha, came upon that old sixth-grade photo. He had always wondered what had happened to Mastrangelo, but now he had a Facebook account and a way to look for her. His search found a number of people with the same name.
"I choose carefully the one that I think matched the looks of the girl in the picture from decades ago. I introduced myself and asked if she was ever a military dependent who attended Ewa Beach Elementary School and to my biggest surprise she answered back almost immediately."
Mastrangelo, who goes by Gina Mastrangelo Woolley now, told him her family had been transferred to Maryland when she was in the ninth grade, and that she had cried through the entire flight leaving the islands. The four years she lived in Hawaii were the happiest of her childhood.
Over numerous conversations, Castillo persuaded Mastrangelo to visit,
and in May, she returned to Hawaii for the first time since 1972. Castillo picked her up at the airport and took her to eat all the food she missed from Hawaii.
"Manapua, Tomoe Ame candy, Chinese seeds, malasadas, kalua pig and kiawe-grilled Huli Huli Chicken. ... She loves Hawaii so much and has retained many of the customs learned as a child growing up here in Hawaii."
Some of Mastrangelo's favorite memories of Ewa Beach are connected to Castillo. He was the class clown who made up songs about all their teachers. "He sang to the tune of the 'Hawaii Five-0' theme song and for the last 42 years, every time I heard the 'Hawaii Five-0' music I thought of Lyle."
Castillo doesn't remember that song. Mastrangelo doesn't remember the kiss.
Mastrangelo is now legal administrative assistant for a large law firm in Philadelphia. She has her office space filled with things from Hawaii, has an "I Love Ewa Beach" bumper sticker on her car, shell necklaces hanging from the rearview mirror and Brother Iz playing on the stereo.
"She is still that cute girl I knew in sixth grade, still friendly and still willing to share her love of Hawaii with everyone, just all grown up now," Castillo says.
Castillo isn't married and Mastrangelo is divorced, but neither is talking about a romance at this point. There's no rush. The school year isn't ending.
As Castillo puts it, "We are both 53 years old and hopefully we will remain close friends until the end."