After century, school still central for kids of Lahaina

Even at 91 years old, Sammy Kadotani will never forget two things about attending King Kamehameha III School: drinking cod liver oil and swimming at a nearby beach.

Once a week, students used to carry their own spoons and wait for their teacher to come around with the cod liver oil, said Kadotani, who graduated from the 8th grade at the Lahaina school in 1937. The “hard to take” oil was given to them because renowned theoretical physicist Albert Einstein said that everyone should be drinking fish oil “that makes you really smart,” Kadotani explained.

Students used to eat a preserved sour seed to counter the taste of the oil, he said.

“We used to eat the sour seed, close our nose and swallow,” Kadotani said.

There were also weekly swimming trips to the beach behind the school, which is now Lahaina Harbor.

“We had one of the best beaches there in Lahaina. . . . We would go right down for swimming for one hour then we take a shower, then we go rest period and we sleep,” Kadotani remembers.

The memories of Kadotani, fellow alumni and community members will be revisited at a gathering beginning at 9 a.m. Friday at the school’s May Day celebration at the Lahaina Civic Center. The event is the last of the school’s 100th year anniversary events that began at the beginning of the school year last summer.

The commemorative events included presenting all students with a centennial T-shirt donated by sponsors, celebrating King Kamehameha III’s birthday during a weeklong celebration in March, planting an ‘ulu tree and unveiling a bust of King Kamehameha III on Friday.

Kadotani was instrumental in raising the funds for the bust designed by local artist Christine Turnbull.

Performing Friday will be the school’s students, who will be joined by Lahainaluna High School students. The celebration will be a 100-year anniversary tribute; King Kamehameha III music teacher Joseph Kent has been working with Old Lahaina Luau performers to produce the show.

King Kamehameha III School actually goes back further than 100 years; it got its start as a government school sometime in the 1800s in Hale Aloha church in Lahaina. The campus was relocated to its present grounds in the 1880s, according to information from the school.

Buildings that were brand new in the 1880s eventually wore down and school enrollment increased, creating the need for new facilities. Money was allocated to pay for a new building with the cornerstone laid April 18, 1913. The Territorial Legislature of 1913 passed a resolution calling for the new Lahaina school with its two-story building to be named Kamehameha III School in memory of the king who lived at that location and where the first Legislature met, according to information from the school.

Paul Koyama, who graduated from the 8th grade sometime in the mid-1950s (he wasn’t quite sure), remembers the two-story building that was shaped like an “H.”

“I guess most everybody remembers they had a fire escape. We used to sneak over there during the daytime and go down,” Koyama recalls.

He said the fire escape that began on the second floor was a spiral slide that went down to the ground.

“We used to go sneak and play over there,” Koyama said.

Other play included riding roller skates around the school grounds, which back then had no fences to keep students out after hours, he recalled. Koyama and his friends would get a scolding from one of the staff members, whom he remembers as “Mr. Suzuki.”

He also recalled that during the last two weeks of the school year all the 8th-graders had to buy shoes for graduation. Normally, students would go to school with slippers or with bare feet.

Students went to the old Clyde’s shoe store in Lahaina to buy shoes and then wear them for a couple of weeks to get used to them, he recalled.

The older Kadotani remembers many families couldn’t afford shoes for their children, even for graduation, in his day. The uniform for his graduation was a long-sleeved white shirt and a necktie with “any kind pants you can find,” Kadotani said.

Over the years, new buildings were added to the 5.6-acre campus along Front Street, including the current cafeteria which was built in 1951. In 1957, the two-story school building was demolished and four wings with six classrooms each were built. They remain today.

New buildings and portable classrooms were added in the ensuing years.

In 1978, Lahaina Intermediate School school opened, taking 6- to 8th-graders from the school. Kamehameha III became an elementary school for grades kindergarten to 5th grade.

Princess Nahienaena Elementary School was built in 1988, further relieving the enrollment tension at the Front Street campus, which could not be expanded.

The school’s name was modified in 1980 by adding “King.” Later, the word “Elementary” was added.

According to the school’s website, enrollment has been hovering around 700 students for the past few years. The school serves students and families makai and mauka of Honoapiilani Highway from Lahaina to Honokohau Valley.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at