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AOY Rewind: Challenge-seeking Luna Nunokawa makes an impact in the community

Kari Luna Nunokawa (center) poses for a photo with husband Craig and their three children — Hie, 16, Noah, 9, and Bodhi, 3 — at Bryce Canyon in Utah in 2019. Luna Nunokawa was The Maui News Maui Interscholastic League Girl Athlete of the Year in 1994 after a state championship career in tennis at Baldwin High School. — Photo courtesy of Kari Luna Nunokawa

Building a community and helping others has always been at Kari Luna Nuno­kawa’s core.

From playing and coaching tennis, running nonprofits, volunteering in community organizations, caring for a family, teaching and everything in between, the Baldwin High School graduate has not taken her foot off the gas pedal.

“Sports just teaches you so much discipline and focus and I think that really has carried me through life so far, honestly, and just really persevering through things that don’t always feel good or aren’t always the best situation, but you just try to make the most of it and you do your best no matter what,” said Luna Nunokawa, who is currently the senior manager at Munekiyo Hiraga, a planning and project management consulting firm. “I really thrive in places that have the same values as me — have high integrity, transparency, humility, selflessness, gratitude, and wanting to help the community.”

Looking back, the Wailuku resident said that life has been “quite a journey” since high school when she was named The Maui News’ 1994 Maui Interscholastic League Girl Athlete of the Year and graduated from Baldwin a state champion, including a doubles title and a Bears overall team win in ’92, and a singles title in ’94.

“She was always a go-getter, from the time she was probably born,” said Mike “Kino” Kinoshita, who coached Bears tennis for about 25 years and also taught at the school for 32 years. “That’s what made her a good tennis player too because she did not like to lose — she did well in tennis, school and anything else.”

Luna Nunokawa

Kinoshita said that Luna Nuno­kawa is “very involved with the community” and it’s great to have her back on island.

Luna Nunokawa left Maui to attend the University of Washington on a four-year athletic scholarship, an opportunity she wouldn’t trade for anything.

“I was very fortunate and had really good experiences, playing some of the top players,” the 44-year-old said of her collegiate career. “It was so amazing to be around athletes of that caliber, have great coaches and then also be fortunate enough to get my degree as well — it can be a grind but when I look back and reflect on that, it really was one of the best times of my life to be free to study, to travel, to play and have that competition.”

After finishing at Washington, she got a master’s degree from Chaminade University and coached tennis at Mililani High School before returning to “my island home” in 2005 and became a counselor and teacher at Maui High.

An opportunity then arose at the University of Hawaii Maui College to operate her own Student Support Services Program and teach psychology for the next 10 years, a position that allowed her to “marry what I was doing with counseling and coaching with students.”

Mino McLean (from left), Kari Luna Nunokawa, Craig Nunokawa and Dave Temple pose with their awards after the 2019 B. Martin Memorial Tennis Tournament. — Photo courtesy of Kari Luna Nunokawa

“It was great, it was a good opportunity,” said Luna Nuno­kawa, who also received her doctorate through the University of Southern California at the same time. “I always like to be challenged, I’m always looking for a challenge in my life and to stay on my toes.”

When the need for a new challenge came again, Luna Nunokawa moved on from UH-MC and became the chief officer and president of Maui United Way for a couple years, and volunteered for various organizations like Women Helping Women, American Red Cross, Wailuku Community Association and the Baldwin girls tennis team.

In 2013, Hawaii Senator Brian Schatz selected five field representatives with records of leadership from across the state to serve as his regional liaisons to the community. Luna Nunokawa was one of them.

“It was great to be able to do things for my community and I think that’s one of the values I always grew up with,” she said. “My mom and dad always taught us that, especially when you come from a small community like Maui, you want to be able to do as much as you can for your fellow neighbors, your friends, your community, because you never know when you might need that help too, and so when you can, you help.”

Between everything, she is also a parent of three kids — Hie, 16, Noah, 9, and Bodhi, 3 — with her husband Craig Nunokawa, who was a two-time state doubles champion for the Bears. In her spare time, Luna Nunokawa also loves to run and at one point qualified for the Boston Marathon.

Additionally, Luna Nuno­kawa’s husband is the president of the Wailuku Junior Tennis Club while she is the secretary. WJTC vice president Kinoshita said “she’s spread pretty thin” but is still doing a great job helping the kids and staying involved in the community.

But she doesn’t stop there. The Nunokawas kickstarted the annual B. Martin Luna Memorial Tennis Tournament a few years ago in honor of Kari’s father, Bert Martin Luna, who passed away in 2013.

In the beginning, the tournament was held to benefit the American Cancer Society Hope Lodge in Honolulu.

“He’s really the reason why our whole family got into tennis,” Luna Nunokawa said of her late father. “We were very lucky that we were able to travel for care for my dad, and we just wanted to be sure that everybody in Hawaii had the opportunity to have a place to stay when they were getting treatments for free and not have to worry about that, and that’s what Hope Lodge does.”

The memorial tournament hosts men, women and coed divisions at Wells Park. Over the years, Luna Nunokawa said the event has raised over $70,000 for Hope Lodge, Maui United Way and other nonprofits.

The Nunokawas take part in the event every year as a family, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, plans for this coming year are still “up in the air,” she said.

“My coaches I had growing up played such a huge role in my outlook and my value that I carry with me today,” Luna Nunokawa said. “They taught me work ethic, integrity, honesty. They really had a big impact on my life.”

* Dakota Grossman is at dgrossman@mauinews.com

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