May Fujiwara was a tireless advocate for Maui seniors

Fujiwara, who was 85, died Tuesday

May Fujiwara

May Fujiwara

One of Maui’s most active senior citizens and community leaders, May Fujiwara, is being remembered as a tireless advocate for senior citizens and an irreplaceable woman who fought for community needs in Maui County.

Fujiwara, 85, of Lahaina died Tuesday at Maui Memorial Medical Center, her family said Thursday.

Up until her death, Fujiwara was a member of the Maui Police Commission and was president of the Lahaina-Honolua Senior Citizens Club, whose members are not afraid to voice their opinions before county and state politicians, oftentimes with Fujiwara as their representative.

“She was one of the most remarkable women I have ever known, a bundle full of energy. She was involved in everything and dedicated her life to make Maui a better place. If there was anyone we could have cloned it was May Fujiwara. The county could use hundreds more like her, but she will be impossible to replace. I will miss her dearly,” said Mayor Alan Arakawa, whose administration and others appointed Fujiwara to many county boards and commissions over the years.

These included the Fire and Public Safety and Salary commissions. She also was a longtime member of the board for Maui Economic Opportunity Inc. and was involved with Lahaina Bypass Now. She worked closely with the county’s Office on Aging and the West Maui Taxpayers Association, said grandson Daryl Fujiwara.

He said that his grandmother learned dedication to community service from her father, James S. Kusuda, who was a police officer.

“Service to community was ingrained at a very early age,” he said.

His grandmother set up a scholarship in her father’s honor through the Lahainaluna High School Foundation. Kusuda was a boarder at the school. May Fujiwara also set up a scholarship for Lahainaluna graduates with the Lahaina-Honolua Senior Citizens Club.

May Fujiwara was a Lahainaluna graduate, which was something she was so proud of, Daryl Fujiwara said. She even spoke about it in Eddie Kamai’s film “Lahaina Waves of Change.”

And, she is featured in the movie “Great Grandfather’s Drum,” which celebrates Japanese-American culture and history in Hawaii.

Daryl Fujiwara said that his grandmother, upon returning to Hawaii after living in El Paso, Texas, saw a need for elder care on Maui.

He said that she “pounded the pavement” and helped push to build the Lahaina Senior Center.

That was remembered by Ruth Griffith, a senior services administrator for the county’s Kaunoa Senior Services.

“Her leadership and unwavering commitment to advocacy for senior programs helped to give Lahaina seniors a strong, unified voice which has resulted in many benefits for the West Maui community,” Griffith said.

“She was everywhere. She was a busy lady. She never said ‘no,'”said Debbie Cabebe, chief executive officer of Maui Economic Opportunity.

May Fujiwara was well-known by MEO staff because she not only was a longtime board member, but she volunteered on committees and was head of the Maui County Senior Planning and Coordinating Council. The panel oversees 63 senior citizen clubs with more than 1,000 members in Maui County.

“What was amazing about May, she wasn’t only interested in senior events, she looked at the whole community to see what the needs were and took action,” Cabebe said.

This was evident when Fujiwara traveled with MEO officials in January to the state Legislature on Oahu. There, members of the group spoke to legislators about senior issues. But, Cabebe said, Fujiwara advocated for other community needs, such as the need for a smooth transition for the quasi-public Maui Memorial Medical Center takeover by the private Kaiser Permanente.

Cabebe said that Fujiwara was humble.

“We’re definitely going to miss her. It’s a huge hole in the Maui community, as well as a huge hole at MEO,” she said.

Carol Reimann, the director of the county’s Department of Housing and Human Concerns, called Fujiwara “a dear friend.”

“As a champion for many meaningful and worthy causes, May never wavered in her determination and passion to get things done and make good things happen,” she said.

Granddaughter Dawnalyn Fujiwara said she saw her grandmother April 11 having lunch at Aloha Mixed Plate in Lahaina, and “she was doing fine.”

But then her grandmother suffered a stroke April 13.

Dawnalyn Fujiwara said her grandmother was “always busy,” so her grandchildren scheduled monthly breakfasts or lunches to keep in touch.

“She was a very smart woman. She always wanted to give back and help others, being a (former) teacher,” she said.

Fujiwara was born in Honokahua on Maui, and was a retired vocational teacher, according to information provided by the county when she was a nominated to Maui’s Health Task Force in 2007. She earned a master’s degree of education from Texas A&M University in College Station.

Fujiwara is survived by her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Services are pending.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.

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