WAILUKU - The late Theodora "Girlie" Laureta, who helped shape the minds of thousands of Maui youngsters, will still be helping others although she's gone.
Friends and co-workers who formed a sisterhood with the longtime early childhood educator, who died Feb. 23, are collecting funds in Laureta's memory that will be used to help Early Childhood Education students at the University of Hawaii Maui College - a program Laureta graduated from.
Already into her late 20s and early 30s, Laureta, a single parent, went back to the former Maui Community College and completed her Early Childhood Certification, friends said. Even though she was working in early childhood education at the time, she wanted to further her studies.
Theodora “Girlie” Laureta
Laureta taught at several Maui preschools, including Iao, Kahului Union and Kamehameha Schools where she worked up until last year as she battled cancer. She was 65.
Friends and co-workers said that over the past 40 years, Girlie Laureta inspired thousands of youngsters to learn, and also inspired her friends and fellow early childhood educators with her determination, modesty, can-do attitude and Native Hawaiian knowledge.
Friend and former colleague Wendy Lee-Costa said Laureta was a modest person and probably wouldn't like the attention she is now receiving.
"Even though it's not some giant scholarship, I feel like Girlie's spirit could give to someone else," said Lee-Costa, who now owns her own preschool, Hale Na Keiki in Pukalani.
She said her friend Girlie loved children and would never take any credit for her accomplishments.
"We felt like we want her to be remembered," said Lee-Costa, who worked with Laureta at Iao Preschool more than 20 years ago.
Lee-Costa said she still uses Hawaiian songs that Laureta used when they taught together.
Even though Laureta was suffering from cancer and couldn't talk, she kept her spirits high and gave friends a "thumbs up," Lee-Costa said.
"She never ever said she was down."
Friend and colleague Lori Lum Ho wrote in an e-mail: "Girlie understood the importance and value of early childhood education and its impact on children's further education experiences. . . . She really, really, valued ECE and she considered herself as a lifelong learner. I know Girlie was concerned about developmentally appropriate practices being carried out out in preschool classrooms and I'm sure she would wholeheartedly support our new and upcoming teachers getting the appropriate training in especially this area."
Lum Ho taught with Laureta at Kamehameha Paukukalo Preschool, where Laureta was a teaching assistant up until her illness in 2009.
"She appreciated and encouraged imagination in young children. She understood the individuality of children. Girlie was especially skilled in her spatial awareness skills and was just super at setting up learning centers in the classroom," Lum Ho said.
Gerrianne G. Sakamoto, who used to be the director at Iao Preschool, said Laureta taught hula and Hawaiian language to students and teachers and was the producer of a full-fledged Lei Day program for close to 30 years.
Sakamoto said 35 to 50 children a year were guided by Laureta.
"Multiply that by 40 years of service and that is amazing," Sakamoto said.
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews. com.
Donations in memory of Theodora "Girlie" Laureta
University of Hawaii Maui Foundation
Early Childhood Education Fund
310 Kaahumanu Ave., Kahului 96732