Longtime swim coach Shiraishi dies at 87

Spencer Shiraishi, who touched the lives of many Maui youngsters as a longtime swim coach and Boy Scout leader, has died.

He was 87.

The author and Hawaii Swimming Hall of Fame member died Thursday at Maui Memorial Medical Center after a several-week battle with complications from pneumonia, said his son, Spencer Jr.

Visitation will be held from 4 to 6 p.m. Friday, with a memorial service from 6 to 6:45 p.m. at Kahului Union Church. Dinner will follow from 7 to 9 p.m. in the church’s social hall.

Shiraishi of Kahului is most known for his work with the Maui Swim Club. He served as a volunteer coach for more than 60 years and trained at least five all-American swimmers, many whom set Maui Interscholastic League and state records. Others made it to the Olympic trials and a world meet.

Not only did his students find success in the pool, they found success in life. At least four students have become doctors, and others have become engineers and lawyers and were top scholars at their high schools.

One of those success stories is 26-year-old Randall Tom, an all-American swimmer who made it to the World Championships and Olympic trials.

Shiraishi’s coaching philosophy was simple, Tom said.

“He always wanted to make sure we were having fun no matter what,” Tom said. “His thought process was if you are having fun, then the speed will always come from it.”

The power plant engineer for Hawaiian Electric Co. on Oahu said that Shiraishi also stressed academics and let students skip practices if they got in the way of their studies.

Study halls also were held when the students were at off-island swim meets.

“Somehow he taught us how to manage our time and balance it; so we could be successful at both (swimming and academics),” Tom said.

But coach Shiraishi also had a fun side. Tom recalled him holding night swim practices where students would swim in their sweatshirt and jeans and also with homemade weights, which Tom doesn’t think is too crazy now because swimming with extra weight probably improved their athletic ability.

Tom still laughs about Shiraishi giving them a snack of powdered doughnuts and POG or hot chocolate on cold days, which is the type of food coaches today probably wouldn’t give their athletes.

Tom said that it is amazing that with the junk food snacks and out-out-the-box coaching techniques, Shiraishi turned out successful swimmers.

Hawaii Swim Club Coach Reid Yamamoto said Shiraishi’s death is “a huge loss” to the swimming community.

“His club will definitely feel it. We will miss him at the meets. He was always smiling and had a nice word to say.”

Yamamoto added: “I never ever seen him angry. Even when he was upset. It didn’t seem like he was upset. He’s a down-to-earth guy, real nice. He loved the kids. He loved swimming. He was the one guy I don’t believe he had any agendas but did whatever was best for the kids.”

For his dedication to swimming, Shiraishi was inducted into the Hawaii Swimming Hall of Fame in 2012.

Shiraishi learned how to swim in the cane field ditches in Paia, where he grew up. He went on to swim for the Army in the 1940s when he was a member of the U.S. Army Signal Corps in Germany. He met his late wife, Wilma, while in Germany.

Shiraishi broke records in swim meets and was coached by a U.S. Olympic swimming coach while in the Army.

While Shiraishi is most known for his accomplishments in swimming, he was also remembered as a good guy and one who frequented Las Vegas.

“He was really kind and a lot of fun,” said Mary “Maizie” Cameron Sanford, former publisher of The Maui News.

Shiraishi was a former chief engineer for the former Maui News parent company, Maui Publishing Co., when it owned KMVI.

Shiraishi initially joined KMVI as a part-time engineer after he returned to Maui. Following his service in the Army, he attended electronics school in Chicago. He was also a trouble shooter for the printing press.

Sanford got to know Shiraishi when he retired. They found a common interest in the history of the company. The two talked story, and Sanford helped Shiraishi with the publication of his autobiography, “Plantation Life and Beyond, Adventures of a Boy Scout, Swimmer, Solider, Coach and Boy Scout Leader.”

Spencer Shiraishi Jr. said that his father spent so much time volunteering as a swim coach and for the Boy Scouts because, when he was young, volunteers for those organizations were good to him and gave him opportunities.

“Because of that, he had it in him. He wanted to volunteer.”

Shiraishi Jr. said that his father was an “outstanding example” to follow.

“He has been a solid example of what a dad should be,” he said.

Shiraishi Jr. thanked everyone for the outpouring of love, prayers and thoughts the family has received, including his father’s care at Maui Memorial.

In addition to his son, Spencer Shiraishi’s immediate survivors include daughters Lani Blashill, Margie Shiraishi and Erika Harvey and five grandchildren.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at