50 Objects

Rocky Hill Paintbrush (1971)

This vinyl recording of the commencement songs of the Punahou Class of 1959 features “Songs of Aloha,” written by Robin Luke ’59. Luke became a teenage rockabilly star in 1958 with his #5 Billboard hit “Susie Darlin,” but he was also a member of the historic “Statehood Class” at Punahou. Luke and his classmates were at senior Chapel in Dillingham Hall (where Chapels were held before Thurston Memorial Chapel was built in 1966) on March 18, 1959, the momentous day when the U.S. House of Representatives voted on the bill that would transform the Territory of Hawai‘i into the 50th state in the Union.

A number of students secreted transistor radios into the service, which they listened to surreptitiously in order to follow the congressional proceedings. Once the vote had been tallied in favor – 323 to 89 – a rustling among the audience turned into cheers once Chaplain Kenneth Rewick announced that Hawai‘i was officially state. School was let out for the day and crowds of merry-makers thronged to Waikiki, where music, dancing in the streets and fireworks off Sand Island marked the occasion. “We reveled in the celebration,” remembers Luke, who was in a convertible cruising down Kalakaua Avenue with friends. “People were throwing streamers, honking their horns, and otherwise acting like kids…not having a clue as to what lay ahead for the Islands.”

Below, we share some anecdotes from various members of the Class of ’59. Mahalo to Class Correspondent Jan Collins ’59 Moreno for collecting the stories and memories behind this Punahou object.

Susan Johnson Matuzack: Just being a part of history – not too many people can say they were there when their state was voted into the Union. Hawai‘i was part of the United States; it had been a US territory since 1898 and now was the 50th state. I can remember being so frustrated when I applied to colleges and being told their foreign student quota was filled and writing back that I was not a foreign student, etc. I remember sitting in Chapel, listening to the count down and screaming and yelling like everyone else when we were made the 50th state. Buying newspapers to save to show my children/grandchildren (still have them). Feeling so excited and at the same time not fully understanding all it entailed. It was a very special time and such a once-in-a-lifetime experience

Duke Chung: Possibly for me the day was more significant than others since it is my birthday. So in addition to being a significant day in the history of Hawai‘i it was my 18th birthday and I will always remember the date and its significance.

Sharon (Shari) du Bois McCahon: I do remember when statehood was announced at school. We left classes to meet in an auditorium and school was let out and I spent the rest of the day with Amy Howard, Nick Bradley and Tracy Lewis. I can’t remember exactly where we went, somewhere on the other side of the island, ending up back at my house I believe in Lanikai. I am pretty sure I wasn’t aware of the significance and can only remember I thought it was more cool to be a Territory. Can’t remember why – and what the heck did I know then? I wasn’t very politically savvy that’s for sure.

Jon Larson: For me personally, it was kahu Akaka’s sermon at Kawaiaha‘o Church that has stayed with me in my head and heart ever since I heard it on that very day. It was a classic, all about the true meaning of the word aloha. His words are just as meaningful today as they were when first spoken 50 years ago.

Nancy Newberg Thomas: I think we were much less involved with the political process than some 18-year-olds are today. It was a simpler time – wish again the same – and we were just happy to be in the newest state of the Union.

Dave Moore: I was sad on March 12th because I knew the Hawai‘i we loved then would rapidly disappear with statehood. On August 21 [the date President Eisenhower signed the proclamation that passed the statehood bill into law] I was in the middle of Plebe Summer and oblivious to anything else going on in the world.

Marty Howard: What I remember most about that time was all the anticipation leading up to that day, especially after Alaska became the 49th. My folks knew that there would be a lot of celebration in Waikiki and fireworks to beat all, both on the island and offshore. What they did was rent two suites at the top of the Surfrider across the hall from each other. They had a party and all of us could easily watch the goings on from Kalakaua to the tops of the hills and also what was happening in the ocean. I simply remember being mesmerized by the fireworks both on the island and from the navy ships offshore. The ships’ big guns being fired as well surely helped the overall effect. I was, and still am, glad that they decided to rent those two suites instead of going to one of the several homes we were invited to up on the hills. I’m sure the view of the fireworks looking down from the hills was great, however I doubt that the firing of those big guns right offshore didn’t have the same impact as they had from the suite overlooking the beach. Having lived in Honolulu for only four years at that time, the actual emotional impact for me was not as great as it was for those who were born in the Islands and grew up there. It was, however, a fantastically fun time.

Lyn Knox Turner: A bunch of friends and I drove down Kalakaua Avenue yelling and screaming – and giving the shaka sign of course and then eventually ended up at Sandy Beach and got burned!! It was great!!

Jim Haley: I remember growing up and seeing newspaper headlines like “Hawai‘i’s Citizens Are Second Class” whenever the attempts at statehood failed. So, yes it meant a lot to me to shed that second-class status. Rusty White, myself and others went water skiing. Had a ball. I have not been able to drink a “boiler maker” since.

Linda Jane Irwin: I remember thinking that our wonderful, quiet paradise would soon be over-populated and over-developed, and that a number of us were somewhat saddened at that prospect.

John Haines: Well, my recollection is that we were in chapel when Congress was voting on the issue, and there were about 50 transistor radios with earphones being listened to by us members of the congregation. When the final vote was announced in the halls of Congress, a cheer went up among the faithful ’59ers, interrupting the service.

Dana Anderson: I believe it was March 12, 1959, that the House of Representatives voted in the affirmative to give statehood to Hawai‘i [the Senate having passed the bill the day before]. We were in Chapel, at the hour that the roll-call was taken, and a few people had transistor radios they were listening to since we knew school would be dismissed immediately if the House passed the measure. I don’t remember the time exactly, but suddenly people started making noise and then cheering and Reverend Kenneth Rewick said something like, “Okay, God bless you, school’s out,” and we all took off to ride around Waikiki in someone’s convertible with the top down. I remember my mother having mixed feelings about statehood and the passing of old Hawai‘i into the United States. She wasn’t alone.

Rick Eveleth: I went surfing in Waikiki with my buddies from the Wilcox Hall dorm. We all loved getting a day off. What a blast we had. Everybody was excited and couldn’t care about school, jobs or anything except to celebrate the magic of excitement.

Jean Matsuo: I remember sitting in chapel on March 12, 1959, and seeing some people trying to look devout while listening to transistor radios. Congress was voting on statehood for Hawai‘i! When the voting was done and statehood achieved, there was rustling, then audible cheers from the group. The chaplain announced that we were the 50th state and that school was out for the day. Then there was pandemonium in the chapel and joy on so many faces. With friends, I was one of those who celebrated in Waikiki. But the real celebration for me took place that evening at home. My parents were good friends of John A. Burns, who mapped and executed the political strategy that won statehood. Our family celebrated “Uncle Jack” and the changes that statehood would bring.

Frank Young: we got to run in the first state track meet. THAT was a great feeling.

Kulani Fernandez: It seems that no one dismissed us but we all left the campus and piled in cars. We headed for the road to sound our horns. We ended up in Waikiki, celebrating the moment with shouts and waves. The thing that was the most profound for me though, was leaving for college on a ten-hour flight and coming home for Christmas vacation on a jet. The most unbelievable sights were the 68 cranes in the air for groundbreaking construction. That was a clear sign of the progress to come. It was certainly a day of beginnings that transformed the future of the state and our way of life.

Robin Luke: I VIVIDLY remember the statehood celebration day, sitting on the back of John’s bright yellow (I think it was a 1950) Ford convertible with the top down (we were actually sitting on the top of the back seat), driving down Kalakaua Avenue in Waikiki in the parade, not having a clue as to what lay ahead for the Islands. We reveled in the celebration: people were throwing streamers, honking their horns, and otherwise acting like kids. As “kids,” we were eating it up! As we motored by the manicured lawns and admired the large size of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, little did we know that the island’s growth would soon relegate the Royal to the status of one of the “shortest” hotels on the beach…and that the beautiful gardens would be replaced with additional hotels and retail establishments. Ah, progress!

Sheila Fletcher Kriemelman: I recall fondly anticipating and attending every 49th State Fair as a child and a teen while growing up in Hawai‘i, and feeling disappointed when Alaska got there first. On March 12, 1959, I was in Saint Louis still missing my life in Hawai‘i. Feelings of pride and joy were mixed with the residual pain of having been forced to leave Punahou and my pals in the summer of ’57 for all the wrong reasons. It was a happy/sad moment.

Lindy Webster Shults: I was in Turkey with my parents on that eventful day, but oh! How I wished that I was in Hawai‘i for the big celebration. We went out to dinner at a local nightclub and celebrated with many glasses of wine…quite a big deal for me at 17!

Elsbeth McKeen: I sure am behind the times with this, but I am going to write it now anyway just for your amusement. When statehood was announced it was in March. A school day. Could have been a Thursday if memory serves. School was let out and the dorms were closed – unfortunately for my parents because they were in transition. They had a one-bedroom apartment in the Rosalei where my dad stayed most of the time (he was a doctor at the newly opened Kaiser Hospital on the Ala Wai) and my mother and sister, who was 11, stayed in the teachers’ cottages next to Waialua High School. They were in the process of buying a house in Maili where my Dad would open a clinic. But in March of 1959 they expected my brother and me to be safely housed in the Punahou dorms. So we all ended up at the Rosalei. I went to Makapu‘u the whole rest of the day and arrived at the Rosalei with a cough and fever. I wanted to go dancing down Kalakaua with my Roosevelt boyfriend Rebel (whom my mother did not like) and the rest of Honolulu. Long story short – I ended up in Kaiser Hospital, supposedly with pneumonia. Probably would not have been hospitalized had it not been for statehood and my dad being a doctor. But, oh well, I could see the dancing down Kalakaua from the lanai. I was out on the lanai talking to the guy in the next room (who had had a car accident a couple of days before and didn’t know his spleen had ruptured until that morning) when I heard a whistle. I looked down on the lanai two stories below. There was Rebel Cooper. He told me to throw my pillow over. I did. The next thing I knew he was out in the hall in front of my room telling the nurse I had dropped my pillow and he had to return it. She bought the story (my foot, but she pretended to. After all, it was statehood and cause for celebration). So my statehood celebration was in Kaiser Hospital with a visit from Rebel. I had to smile. The rest of the story…well, if it were a year 2009 movie, we would have kissed passionately with statehood fireworks in the background – me in black lace and not a hospital gown. However, it was 1959 so no such luck. He was a perfect gentleman and I was perfectly mortified in my hospital gown.

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