Eroll Wendell Aquino, one of two “Statehood Boys,” whose likenesses in a 1959 Honolulu Advertiser photo helped to capture the joy and excitement of Hawaii’s new status as the 50th state, has died at the age of 68.
Aquino, a longtime Honolulu barber and Ewa Beach resident, died April 29 on Oahu following a short battle with liver cancer.
Aquino was 9 years old when he and his brother, Tyrone, 10, took up their place on the corner of Hotel and Bishop streets to hawk a special edition of The Honolulu Advertiser announcing that Congress had approved statehood.
“People were excited,” Tyrone Aquino remembered. “We didn’t really know what it was all about, but we sold tons of papers that day.”
When a photographer snapped their picture, they certainly had no idea they would become a symbol of that key moment in Hawaii’s history.
Fifty years later the image would be used by the Advertiser as part of its statehood anniversary logo, appearing in the paper all year with photos and stories commemorating the event.
“It never dawned on us it would go that far,” Aquino said.
The Aquinos would soon move to San Francisco, and that’s where the boys spent their teen years. While Tyrone Aquino stayed in the Bay Area and would go on to be a restaurant cook and bus driver, Eroll Aquino returned to Honolulu, served in the Army in Vietnam and became a barber in his father’s Pauoa Street barbershop, a place he eventually would run.
In 2009 Aquino posed in his barbershop with an enlarged copy of the Statehood Boys photo for a picture that would appear in an Advertiser feature story about the experience and what happened to the brothers over five decades.
Last month doctors thought Aquino had a liver infection and sent him to the hospital at the University of San Francisco only to discover he had liver cancer, his brother said. He died in about a week’s time.
“He was low-key, mild- mannered and soft-spoken,” Tyrone Aquino said of his brother. “He would always smile, and he was always liked by everybody. We loved the guy. He was gentle and kind, always.”
He is survived by son Greg, daughter Wendy Aquino, brothers Tyrone and Randall, and grandson Wyland Palafox.
Visitation and prayer services will be June 25 at Mililani Memorial Park and Mortuary’s Makai Chapel. Visitation will begin at 8:30 a.m., and the prayer service will begin at 9:30 a.m. Burial will follow at Mililani Memorial Park at 11 a.m.