Donor Stories

Charman Akina '50 – Native Hawaiian Healer

By John Clark '64
One of the most common questions that adults ask children is: "What do you want to be when you grow up?" Every child, of course, has an answer, but Charman Akina was so firm about his that his parents agreed to help him. "As a child," he recalled, "I knew I wanted to be a physician. My parents said if you really want to be one, you have to go to Punahou.
They saw Punahou as a college prep school that would get me into medical school, so I left 'Iolani and started at Punahou in the eighth grade."

Punahou served him well. When Akina graduated in 1950, he went on to Stanford. "One thing that really impressed all of us who went to Stanford was that we didn't have to take any of the basic 101 courses," he said. "Coming out of Punahou, we were ahead of everyone else, and I began taking my pre-med courses right away." After completing his undergraduate studies at the Palo Alto campus, he moved to Stanford's medical school, which was then in San Francisco, and graduated in 1958. After an internship at the King's County Hospital Center in Brooklyn, he worked at the Veterans Affairs Long Beach Healthcare System for his specialty training in internal medicine, and then returned to Hawai'i. He spent his first year back at Queen's Medical Center, and then went into private practice with the Honolulu Medical Group in 1962, where he remained until he retired in 1993.

"When I retired," he said, "I wanted to practice medicine in a Native Hawaiian community, so I volunteered to help at the Waimanalo Health Center. I saw patients there, but I soon realized they needed administrative help, too, so eventually I became the center's medical director." As Akina got to know the community, he noticed that a higher than normal percentage of youth were dropping out of school at an early age, and he realized it was partially because they didn't have a solid command of English. "At Punahou everybody had to read. It gives you a much better level of comprehension, so I recommended that we introduce the Read America program in elementary school, which was done. I think it really helped." He was also instrumental in advancing preventive education for the community's high levels of diabetes and obesity.

When Akina completely retired from medicine in 2005, he turned his attention to another Hawaiian community, the native birds on Mauna Kea. At his home above Hilo, he supports the wild population of rare honeycreepers such as 'apapane, 'i'iwi, and 'amakihi by growing flowers in his garden that produce nectar for them year-round. He hopes his efforts are helping to increase the numbers of these vulnerable species.

Looking back over his rich life of community service, Akina reflected on his early years: "Punahou was small enough that everyone knew everyone. It was a very family-like community, and everything was done on campus, from proms to graduations. Punahou was and still is a special place."