When Alma Sadame Lau Hee passed away two months ago at the age of 93, it was without regrets or remorse.
"I had a good life," she asserted daily to her friends at Maui Adult Day Care Centers' Kahului facility.
Born in Hana, Alma moved to Wailuku for better employment opportunities. She married Thomas "Cheena" Lau Hee, for whom War Memorial Little League Field No. 1 is named. They lived in a tiny house on Momi Lane that they raised seven children while also caring for Thomas' father.
Alma Lau Hee (sitting center) attended Maui Adult Day Care Centers in Kahului for many years before she died at age 93 two months ago. Her family will be this year’s Special Family in the Family Caregiver Walk on Saturday at the Queen Ka‘ahumanu Center. Shown with Mrs. Lau Hee is her family (front row from left) Thomas Lau Hee Jr. and Sandra Kahoohalahala; (back row from left) Karen Ogata, Suzette Lamborn, Andrew Lau Hee, Gerald Lau Hee and Adrienne Okubo.
Daughter Karen Ogata remembers: "Everything we did, we did as a family. Mom and Dad would take all seven of us kids to Lahaina, and we'd all pick mangoes for Mom to make mango seed and pickled mango. Mom was a great cook. We were a big family, but we ate well. And somehow managed to live happily in a two-bedroom, one-bath home. It helped that we had good neighbors who would let us kids use their bathroom in a pinch."
Karen says her mother was "the rock of the family" who ruled her household with an iron fist. She constantly reminded her brood that "blood is thicker than water" and that family should always come first. Besides homemaking, Alma worked as a candymaker for Hawaiian Host and then Coco Mac Co. For years, she was the sole Coco Mac employee, making the trademark pink and green chocolate covered macadamia nuts. The company, founded by Audrey Hisamoto, started on Vineyard Street, then moved to Lower Main Street, within walking distance of the Lau Hee home. The youngsters would help Alma pack the candies and be rewarded with a chunk of pastel chocolate.
Thomas died in 1982, and Alma continued to live in the family home with daughter Adrienne Okubo. She retired from candymaking and was content to spend her days in her longtime neighborhood, crossing Lower Main Street daily to visit Home Maid Bakery. One day, a family friend happened to be in the neighborhood and saw Alma, bewildered and stranded in the middle of the busy road. He stopped to assist, got her home and notified the family. Realizing that their mother's increasing forgetfulness and confusion were unmistakable signs of dementia, the siblings explored and discussed options for Alma's care.
True to their mother's teachings about working together and supporting each other, they came up with a daily routine, which included Maui Adult Day Care. Adrienne's job required her to leave home before dawn, so Adrienne would take her mother to Karen's home at 6 each morning. Karen would feed her mother breakfast and drop her off at the day care center on the way to her own job. In the afternoon, another daughter, Sandra Kahoohalala, would pick her up and take her home for dinner.
At first resistant, Alma soon grew to enjoy the socialization and activities offered at the Kahului center. Once she became comfortable in her surroundings, she took it upon herself to help ease the anxiety of new clients, welcoming and gently reassuring them. "Aloha!" became her favorite word, and she said it often to staff and fellow clients. It was obvious that she felt the aloha spirit, not just from within but all around her at the center.
Desiring to give back to the organization that helped make Alma's last eight years so pleasant, Karen has devoted many hours to MADCC, as a member of the board of directors and as co-chair of the annual Family Caregiver Walk. The walk is MADCC's biggest event of the year, raising money to support the many programs, support groups and workshops as well as the scholarship fund for individuals in financial need.
The 2012 Family Caregiver Walk starts and ends at Queen Ka'ahumanu Center on Saturday, from 7 to 11 a.m. The 3.5-mile course winds through Keopuolani Park; elderly and physically challenged participants may choose to do the miniwalk through the mall instead. All walkers will enjoy refreshments, prize drawings, a health fair and entertainment including perennial crowd favorite Danny Couch.
Each year, a client family is selected to represent the many folks whose lives have been enriched by their involvement with MADCC. The Lau Hees are the Special Family for the 2012 Walk. Besides Karen, Adrienne and Sandra, the family consists of Alma's sons Thomas "Tommy" Jr., Gerald and Andrew, daughter Suzette Lamborn, 16 grandchildren and 17 great-grandchildren.
The annual event also recognizes centenarian clients as royalty. This year, returning Queen Damiana Juan is 106 years young. She will be on hand Saturday along with the Lau Hee family, MADCC staff and hundreds of participants and volunteers. To join the walk or to learn more about MADCC, call the Kahului office at 871-5804. MADCC also operates centers in Kihei, Wailuku, Lahaina and Hana.