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Healthy balance helps top volunteer thrive

Life experiences have inspired Lillian Takeda's energetic passion for assisting others

By Leila Fujimori

LAST UPDATED: 11:15 a.m. HST, Feb 12, 2014

Good health and a positive attitude are just consequences of volunteerism and regular exercise for 76-year-old Lillian Takeda, who has a passion for what she does.

Takeda leads balance classes for seniors, crochets baby caps for a hospital, feeds elderly patients and walks nearly 10 hours a week.

She has logged 20,000 volunteer hours at Kuakini Home, topping all other volunteers there, said Suzette Lau Hee, who oversees the helpers.

"She's very outgoing, very enthusiastic," Lau Hee said. "She's all for the elderly. She has lots of energy. She doesn't really walk. She walks really fast."

Young at heart?

"Definitely," she said.

Upon retiring, Takeda began volunteering in 1995 at Kapiolani Medical Center for Women & Children, where she crochets baby caps — her first love. In 1996, she attended an exercise class with her mother, and after the instructor retired, took over leading a class.

Takeda teaches, or as she prefers to say, leads two balance classes, one at Kuakini Home and another at the Moiliili Community Center.

The classes help participants to get "pumped up to do whatever you are doing," she said. "It goes both ways. You have to be mentally happy to be there. When I see them coming and they seem to be enjoying and putting into the exercises, I think we all feel happy.

"We begin with gentle stretching exercises, just to wake the body up first," Takeda said. "Once the body is up and at 'em, I say, ‘Good morning,' and nobody says anything. ‘I guess we're all sleeping yet.' So we all have to get up. So we tap our heads and stimulate the brain a little bit."

She incorporates tai chi deep breathing methods and gentle head and neck exercises.

The Moiliili class involves an entire routine to stretch and tone muscles, including the use of resistance bands, and students even balance on one leg.

"They're pretty good at it, too," she said. "We start from our shoulders, right down to our ankles."

At Kuakini, she has three women in her class who are 101 years old.

"I have one who I just didn't realize was 101," she said. "She started singing ‘Row, Row, Row Your Boat,' so we all joined in."

"They all enjoy the class, so they tell me," she said. "It's their effort, too."

Takeda starts her day with a 20-minute walk with her black Pomeranian, Kona, and ends it with a mile walk up a steep hill in her St. Louis Heights neighborhood with her great-grandson and another hour playing with him at the park.

Takeda takes pleasure in the entire experience, especially socializing with neighbors she meets along her route.

"As you get older, you need that social contact," she said. "If you're a loner and all by yourself, I think you need that outside social contact."

Takeda worked 17 years for the state as an educational assistant at the elementary school level. But her 12 years as a counselor's helper, dealing with a variety of people while making arrangements with them as guests for career days, helped her develop confidence as a good communicator.

The 76-year-old has been married 56 years to husband Fred.

They live happily in a multi-level, multi-generational home. Her daughter lives downstairs with Takeda's great-grandson, she lives in the middle section and her older grandson lives upstairs.

"We have the whole family living here, but we all have our own spaces," she said. "We can ask each other for things, and help each other, but we still have our own living space."

That allows for everyone to "go home and fume" if there are any differences.

The house was her parents' home, where she tended to her father, who was stricken with muscular dystrophy.

"I learned a lot of patience from my father," she said. "I had to feed him. Sometimes it took one hour."

That patience, she said, helps in her volunteer work at Kuakini where she feeds elderly patients who cannot feed themselves.

"I enjoy it," she said. "I think to myself, I'm so fortunate I'm not on the receiving end."

From her mother, she learned that "life itself is your attitude," she said. "If you don't have a positive outlook, you're always going to be unhappy."

"My mother said, ‘Don't look up at what you don't have.' If you look at the people below you, who don't have a place to sleep or who have to choose between medication and eating, you're fortunate."

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