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Murals Memorialize Teacher Retirement

By Catherine Cluett Pactol | Editor

Photo courtesy of Michael Onofrio.

Perry Buchalter started teaching art at Molokai High School 25 years ago and entered into a blank classroom. One of his first projects with his students was to paint a mural. 

“When I began teaching, I walked into my first classroom in B-104 which had tables and chairs and absolutely no art supplies,” Buchalter recalled. “It was such a small classroom and as I hustled to get supplies, I took my class out to paint a mural between S and T wings.”

He wrote grants for art supplies so his students could access quality supplies without paying a fee. The next year, he held a student showcase in the cafeteria, which, with the mentorship of fellow teachers Linda Yonemura and Jenny Kaupu, became the Holiday Exhibitions, a popular annual event. 

When the High School and Middle School split, Buchalter and Robert Bento moved the art program into the old auto shop which had been empty for more than five years, he said. 

Photo courtesy of Michael Onofrio.

“Over the past 25 years, I built my art program and filled my class with a myriad of supplies and equipment. I continued to write grants to get easels, canvas, airbrush equipment, acrylic and water-based oil paints,” Buchalter said. “I’ve had students place in art competitions, the Congressional Art Competitions, and go off to college and pursue careers in art and become very successful in their own careers.”

One of his missions was striving to bring out each student’s personal voice in their own work.

For his 25th year, Buchalter brought his career full circle and completed another mural project, with three upper level students — Olapa Duvauchelle, Sage Yamashita and Dianthe Kaili — painting their own segments. 

Panels range from exploring the island’s natural beauty, to geometric themes, to an abstract segment “that allowed more students to come and paint shapes, all together the mural represents the past to the present,” he explained. “Many hands have made marks on the mural from administration, to security, to faculty and students.”

Photo courtesy of Michael Onofrio.

Before retiring, Buchalter accepted a student teaching candidate that he was later told he was “the reason he wanted to pursue a career in teaching. Michael Onofrio had taken my digital media which had evidently set the trajectory for his life. He attended college on the east coast and upon returning to Hawaii, entered U.H Manoa’s Ed program for his master’s degree.”

Onofrio graduated with his master’s in May and will be serving in Buchalter’s position starting this fall. 

“Mr. Perry Buchalter has always been a favorite teacher growing up,” said Onofrio. “He has always inspired his students to grow and continues to be supportive. It has been a privilege to have him as a teacher, mentor and friend. He encouraged me to pursue my career and I am honored to be taking over the great program he has built here at Molokai High School. I wish you the best on your retirement and thank you for blessing this community with your gifts of art and education.”

Photo courtesy of Michael Onofrio.

Buchalter and his wife, who also retired from a teaching career at MHS in October, will enjoy their twin granddaughters, and Buchalter said he plans to focus on his own art career, play music and spend more time surfing. 

“Instead of worrying about what would happen to my program after I retired, I leave knowing my program is in good hands and am excited for what the future holds,” said Buchalter.

Photo courtesy of Michael Onofrio.


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