Decades of dedicated service: County honors hundreds of retired, senior volunteers

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Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today Multiple Na Hoku Hanohano award winner Darlene Ahuna entertains during last week's Retired and Senior Volunteer Program recognition event at the King Kamehameha Kona Beach Hotel.
Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today Wally Ichishita, at 103 years old, was the oldest volunteer honored during last week's Retired and Senior Volunteer Program recognition event at the King Kamehameha Kona Beach Hotel.
Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today More than 300 volunteers attended the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program recognition event last week at the King Kamehameha Kona Beach Hotel.

KAILUA-KONA — At 103 years old, Kona Acres resident Wally Ichishita continues to give back.

He’s already dedicated 21 years of volunteer service to the community alongside his wife, Aiko, and isn’t about to call it quits anytime soon.

“The master tells me ‘five more years,’ and I live up to the man up there,” he said, laughing and enjoying his time last week during a recognition event for those in the community ages 55 and older who give back through the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program.

You’ve seen the couple — who are preparing to celebrate 74 years of marriage this month — at Yano Hall where Wally heads up karaoke.

The centenarian is still gardening and living an active lifestyle, and attributes it to having a good mind with a positive outlook and caring for others. He proudly states there is “nothing wrong with me.”

“Don’t take care of (only) yourself — take care of others,” Ichishita said, who is the program’s oldest volunteer.

Ichishita was one of more than 320 people who packed the King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel for the annual RSVP Recognition Day put on by the Hawaii County Department of Parks and Recreation Elderly Activities Division.

The areas of Hawaiian Ocean View Estates, South Kona, North Kona, South Kohala and North Kohala were represented. In addition to a luncheon, volunteers were treated to entertainment by the Tad Humble Project and Darlene Ahuna.

The division previously honored volunteers in Puna, Ka‘u, Hamakua and rural North and South Hilo in late January. RSVP members in Hilo will be honored with a recognition luncheon from 9:30 a.m.-1 p.m. March 23 at Nani Mau Gardens.

The county’s RSVP is part of a national program that since 1971 has connected older adults looking to volunteer with local organizations to meet community needs. It’s been active on the Big Island since 1972.

RSVP falls under the auspices of the Senior Corps program, one of three programs managed by the Corporation for National and Community Service, a federal agency established under the National and Community Service Trust Act of 1993.

“The only eligibility criteria is age 55,” said Kaui Paleka-Kama, Hawaii County’s RSVP director.

Today, Hawaii County boasts more than 1,200 volunteers, she said.

Most of the Big island’s volunteers are “individuals who want to take up some time, and maybe explore an encore career.” Many take part because of the socialization it provides, Paleka-Kama said.

The volunteers provide a variety of services to some 170 to 190 government and nonprofit agencies, schools and hospitals on Hawaii Island.

“It gives you a sense of fulfillness,” said Mamie Bramlett about why she volunteers. Bramlett, who marked 20 years, also noted it “keeps you and your mind young.”

Not including funds that RSVP members help agencies raise, Paleka-Kama estimated the “volunteer value” of the service provided in 2017 in the millions.

“We are looking well into the $2 million in terms of valuation,” she said, “and I can’t measure the impact of the service.”

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