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Honoring Sen. Inouye’s Legacy

Molokai community members gathered last Wednesday evening to remember the legacy of the late Senator Daniel Inouye, who helped bring millions of dollars in federal funding to support a variety of Molokai programs. Inouye’s wife Irene, son Kenny and former chief of staff Jennifer Sabas visited the island as part of a Hawaii tour to say mahalo to his supporters and celebrate his legacy.

“We’ve been doing a series of thank you events to thank his many contributors and friends,” said Irene Inouye. The tour falls shortly before the first anniversary of Inouye’s death last December.

“This was one of his favorite islands,” said Billy Akutagawa, executive director of Na Pu`uwai and organizer of Wednesday’s event. “He invested millions here.”

Akutagawa offered an extensive list of the Molokai projects that Sen. Inouye was instrumental in funding. They include the Molokai Ag Development Program that assisted farmers, financial support for healthcare organizations like Na Pu`uwai and the Molokai Community Health Center, federal assistance for fishpond restoration and many projects in Kalaupapa.

Another area Inouye particularly supported was education, especially science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields, said Irene Inouye.

“He wanted to ensure students on every island have education and opportunities,” she said. Irene had the chance to speak with Molokai youth involved in robotics programs, and called success stories like theirs “really gratifying.”

“I know he would be really proud [of what they’re doing],” she said.

Molokai parent and STEM supporter Kimberly Svetin brought up a large group of students, a handful of the 700 on Molokai she said have gone through the STEM programs Inouye was instrumental in funding.

“They are his living legacy,” Svetin said. “We’ve been so fortunate to benefit from his work.”

Sen. Inouye was a Medal of Honor recipient, the second longest-serving U.S. senator in history from 1963 until his death in 2012, the first Japanese American U.S. senator and representative, and posthumously a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, along with other distinctions.

For Kenny Inouye, the Hawaii tour was more than just the chance to meet the people whose lives his dad touched. It was an opportunity to learn about his work.

“When I was growing up, there was a rule that when my dad came home from work, there was no talking about his work unless he brought it up… so as a result I never really knew that much about what he did,” said Kenny. He called the experience of traveling around now and having people saying thank you to him “really quite humbling.”

“You’ve all made me feel like family here,” Kenny said of Molokai.

OHA Chairperson Colette Machado became emotional when talking about all Inouye did for her personally as well as for Molokai, and especially Kalaupapa.

“Restoring Paschoal Hall [in Kalaupapa] was one of his special projects. Patients down there honored him so much because he cared about them,” she said. “All of us have to push forward to continue what he started [on Molokai.]”


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