My parents were born and raised on Maui, children of Japanese and Okinawan immigrants. They raised me with the same values their issei parents instilled in them, including humility, diligence, respect and compassion. Today I’m going to break two of their cardinal rules by disobeying my mother and bragging out loud.
Regular readers of this column know that my mother is one of my favorite topics. Whenever I write about her antics and adventures, she admonishes me, “Enough already! Don’t put me in your column anymore.” Sorry, Mom. I’m doing it again. And not only am I writing about you, I’m unabashedly boasting.
Last week, Cornelius “Cor” Feenstra and my mom, Yaemi Yogi, were named Maui County’s Outstanding Older Americans for 2017. The annual awards are presented each May by the Maui County Office on Aging, in conjunction with the national celebration of Older Americans Month.
Led by the Administration for Community Living, this year’s OAM theme is “Age Out Loud.” According to the ACL website, today’s older Americans “are working longer, trying new things, and engaging in their communities. They’re taking charge, striving for wellness, focusing on independence, and advocating for themselves and others. What it means to age has changed, and OAM 2017 is a perfect opportunity to recognize and celebrate what getting older looks like today.”
As stated on the nomination form, the awards have several purposes: to honor older adults who contributed significantly to improving community life, to encourage participation in community activities, to honor significant contributions provided by volunteer caregivers to the community, and to recognize the exploration of new interests, endeavors and accomplishments.
When Mom learned that Maui Adult Day Care Centers had nominated her for the award, she fussed and scolded, “I don’t deserve this kind of recognition!” In her view, other folks such as fellow nominees Precila Peros and Dorothy Tolliver do more for the community; Precila as a 21-year volunteer for Na Hoaloha — Neighbors Helping Neighbors, and Dorothy, who serves on the boards of Maui Friends of the Library and the Maui County Library Association. Dorothy was instrumental in obtaining funding for Maui’s new bookmobile and also served as president of Active Now Wellness Center, helping seniors maintain their physical and mental health. Precila’s volunteer work also extends to church and community associations.
Cor Feenstra was recently featured in a Maui News article by Chris Sugidono. It described Cor’s sharing with Carden Academy students his experiences as a World War II concentration camp survivor. The 94-year-old former political prisoner is not only an inspiration to those who hear his story; he continues to champion for human rights by fundraising, advocating and volunteering.
Typical of Mom’s modest nature, she doesn’t see her own extensive volunteerism as exceptional. I guess she thinks that helping out at Maui Adult Day Care and Kaunoa Senior Services doesn’t count because she enjoys it so much. At 91, she performs clerical duties for both agencies, conducts weekly exercise sessions at her lunch site, and serves as confidante and cheerleader for staff and seniors.
She’ll protest when she reads this, but I must say that it is not just her decades of community service that warrant recognition; her adventurous spirit and zest for life are truly remarkable.
Widowed at 74, Mom became full-time caregiver to her mother-in-law, who suffered from debilitating arthritis as well as dementia. Mom took it all in stride, cheerfully coping with the physical demands of getting Obaban in and out of her wheelchair and bed, as well as the emotional challenges that Alzheimer’s disease presents to caregivers. When Obaban’s physical condition deteriorated to the point where institutionalization was necessary, Mom visited her at Hale Makua twice a day, every day, to help with her meals and personal care.
My mother started a bucket list at the age of 83 and completed it within five years. She has parasailed, zip-lined, ridden a Harley, paddled in an outrigger canoe and gotten three tattoos — so far. She has acted in two feature films (“Get a Job” and the soon-to-be-released “Kuleana”) and brought down the house with her performance in Women Helping Women’s 2017 Vagina Monologues. Mom has been my role model and hero throughout my life and now, with this newly conferred honor, an inspiration to many others. She is, indeed, aging out loud — thunderously so!
* Kathy Collins is a storyteller, actress and freelance writer whose “Sharing Mana’o” column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.