David Merritt Peters, the first person from Maui to be appointed to West Point and one who was heavily involved in Native Hawaiian and community organizations, is being remembered for his numerous accomplishments, his ties to Maui and as a man who smiled.
"When he came to Maui he was always smiling," said Iris Mountcastle, the Maui Unit manager of the Queen Lili'uokalani Children's Center, which Peters helped create and expand on Maui as a former trustee for the Queen Lili'uokalani Trust.
Peters' daughter, Diane Peters-Nguyen, agreed.
The late David M. Peters beams this past summer while surrounded by children and supporters at the Queen Lili‘uokalani Children’s Center building in Wailuku. The building was named after Peters in 2008. Peters, 89, a former trustee for the Lili‘uokalani Trust died Sunday on Oahu.
DAVID MERRITT PETERS, the first person from Maui to be appointed to West Point
"You cannot find a picture of him not smiling," she said.
Peters, a Kailua, Oahu, resident who served as an executive assistant to U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye for more than a decade, never forgot his Maui roots.
"Dad was so proud of his Maui ties," Peters-Nguyen recalled, noting that her father served proudly in the military and told his commanding officers where he was from when they grilled him about the then-little known island of Maui.
Both women fondly recalled Peters, who died Sunday at Castle Medical Center on Windward Oahu after suffering from a fall a day earlier, his family said. He was 89.
Services will be held Dec. 14 at St. Andrew's Priory on Oahu. Services will begin at 4 p.m., following visitation.
Peters was born Aug. 6, 1923, on Oahu. His early years were spent on Maui, where his late father, Charles, was believed to be the island's first mortician and his late mother, Mollie, later opened a beauty shop.
Peters entered the 7th-grade at the Kamehameha School for Boys on Oahu but then came back to Maui to study Latin at Maui High School because the Oahu campus did not offer Latin studies.
He was the first Maui resident to be appointed to the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y.
Among his assignments in a 30-year Army career, Peters served as a battalion commander at Fort Lewis, Wash., and a brigade commander with the 3rd Infantry Division in Germany. Peters received many accolades for his military service and retired in 1976 as a colonel.
He then went on to be an executive assistant to Inouye for 14 years and headed the Honolulu office.
Peters had been married to the former Joan Sabin until her death in 1986. In 1989, Peters married Mary Melekahana Awai Kapaona.
He was involved with many Native Hawaiian organizations and community organizations, including being the first treasurer and director of Alu Like, treasurer of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs Education Foundation, a member of the Native Hawaiian Chamber of Commerce, an Ali'i of the Royal Order of Kamehameha and an Elks member, a Mason and a Shriner.
According to information provided by his family, Peters said: "I want to be remembered as an individual caring and assisting others in finding workable solutions to make their lives better."
And Peters, indeed, tried to make lives of others better, Mountcastle said.
"He was basically for me, a mentor," Mountcastle recalled Thursday.
The new Queen Lili'uokalani Children's Center facility in the Wailuku Millyard was dedicated to Peters in 2008. The Lili'uokalani Trust was established by the queen, with its mission to serve Hawaii's orphans and destitute children with preference given to pure or part-Hawaiian children.
Regarding the dedication, Peters told The Maui News: "I tried to do my best for all the people of Hawaii."
He said that those "who are orphans and some of them are in need, but we tried (to help) from the Queen Lili'uokalani Trust. . . . I was a trustee for 29 years, and I tried to do my duty. 'Duty, Honor, Country' is what they teach at West Point. I think I might have learned a few lessons there."
Peters kept many friends on Maui, including retired educator and active community member William Tavares.
Tavares said he got to know Peters because they were students at the old Maui High School.
Peters was born on the same day as Tavares' late younger brother, Carl.
"We would all play football in Kuau and enjoy the ocean. We got extremely close," Tavares recalled Friday.
He said that Peters reminded him of Carl, and he loved Peters like his own brother.
Tavares admired the bravery of his brother and Peters who were in the military and fought in combat.
"Our friendship bonded in the last few years. I would phone him periodically and he would phone me," Tavares said.
Tavares said that on Nov. 24, the day of Peters' fall, something told him to give Peters a call.
When he did, he said that the family told him that Peters was in the hospital undergoing treatment.
Later, Peters was sent home because he checked out fine, Peters-Nguyen said.
But, on Sunday, which was Tavares' 91st birthday, Tavares said there was a call to his home around 4:10 a.m. He didn't answer it, thinking it was crank call.
But then he checked the caller identification and saw it was Peters' number. Tavares tried to call the number back but there was no answer.
"He tried to call me. To wish me, maybe, a happy birthday, I felt so bad I wept," Tavares said as he choked up in tears.
"I miss him a lot now," Tavares later said, still crying.
Peters-Nguyen, who is the vice president of Institutional Advancement at Chaminade University, said that she was really close to her father and added there is a "huge puka right now in my heart."
She said she is setting up a scholarship fund in her father's name at Chaminade for Native Hawaiian students.
Peters also is survived by his wife, Mary "Mele," another daughter, Lauren Moriarty; 18 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren, the family said.
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.