Dr. Shinichi Hamashige had planned to be in the crowd at Kahuku High’s commencement ceremonies last week, as he had been for nearly two decades, to congratulate this year’s winners of college scholarships from an endowment he had created for his alma mater.
The endowment, which Hamashige started in 1995 with $50,000, has grown to $300,000 (thanks in part to additional donations from relatives). Over the years, nearly $95,000 has been awarded to 140 students.
This year, Hamashige was looking forward to meeting a new group of recipients. Each year he had lunch with them and their families, taking time to congratulate each one.
But earlier this month, Hamashige’s health took a sudden turn for the worse. Hamashige, 84, who had been battling cancer, died May 16 in a hospital in St. George, Utah, where he lived.
"He was so full of life, not ready to go," said his sister, Tsutayo Ono of Honolulu.
Hamashige grew up on Oahu’s North Shore, the seventh of 10 children.
His father, Shinkichi, came to Hawaii from Japan in 1896 to work at the Kahuku sugar plantation. His mother, Tona, a picture bride, arrived shortly after.
Hamashige remembered his childhood in Kahuku fondly. He told the Honolulu Advertiser in 2001 that even though he hadn’t lived in Kahuku for a half-century, "my home community is still there. I feel like it’s my home."
The endowment he set up was meant to benefit a place where he left his heart while memorializing his parents and their belief, which they instilled in him, that there was nothing more valuable than education.
"He really did believe that education was the key to success in life," said Matt Mumma, a counselor at Kahuku High.
After graduating from Kahuku High in 1944, Hamashige attended Antioch College. He went on to serve in the Army during World War II, then enrolled in Case Western Reserve University to study medicine.
Ono, his sister, said it makes her feel good to know that the endowment her brother set up will live on.
And the tradition of a Hamashige at the Kahuku High graduation will hopefully go on, too, she said. This year, Hamashige’s nephew attended the commencement in his place.
Hamashige is survived by wife Jane, sons Sean and Scott, daughter Hope, brothers Nobuichi and Kintaro, and sisters Tatsuko Fujimoto and Ono.
A private celebration of his life was held in Utah. Donations in Hamashige’s name can be made to the Shinkichi and Tona Hamashige Endowment at Kahuku High. Checks should be made payable to Kahuku High School, with the endowment fund in the memo line.