Restored salutation: 91-year-old sign returns to Hilo High

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald Guests, staff and students talk under the 1927 welcome sign Friday at Hilo High School.
  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald Tom Goya gestures to the 1927 welcome sign above the auditorium as he and Gerald De Mello talk about the history of the sign Friday at Hilo High School.

A historic “Welcome” sign has been welcomed back to Hilo High School.

Refurbished and painted in the school colors of blue and gold, the 91-year-old sign that simply reads “WELCOME” now hangs above the auditorium entrance.

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A dedication and blessing was held for the returning sign Friday morning in the halls outside of the Hilo High auditorium.

The sign was a chance find by late architect Russell Oda, a Hilo High graduate and son of S.K. Oda, the contractor who built the auditorium.

Fellow Hilo High alumnus Gerald De Mello, who worked with Russell Oda to bring the sign back to the school, told the small crowd gathered for Friday’s dedication that the signage was originally “part of a formal ceremony the very day in 1927 when our Hilo High School auditorium was dedicated and opened for students and our community.”

De Mello, said the purpose of Friday’s ceremony was twofold: to acknowledge Russell Oda’s foresight in recognizing the historical significance of the sign and to mark its “significant” return to the school.

“It’s a messaging marker that continues to enrich student life and school history,” he said. “This auditorium has had a central presence on the Hilo High School campus for 91 years. … But the signage that is being dedicated and returned today, after 91 years, welcomes us all.”

It is something that “links us all because that sign was there in 1927, and now we have it,” De Mello said, adding that it will also serve as a welcome for future generations of Vikings.

Jackie Seaquist, coordinator for the high school’s performing arts learning center, has been teaching in the room across from the auditorium since 1993.

“It is magnificent,” she said of having the signage on display. “I love the idea that anybody coming to the auditorium now, the first thing they see is that they’re welcomed to be here. That is really Hilo High aloha. That’s what we do.”

Seaquist said she’s grateful to the Hilo High School Foundation and alumni who found, restored and installed the signage.

“It’s going to be a lot of pictures taken in front of this door now, I think,” she said. “It’s a perfect Instagram spot.”

Hilo High staff, students, alumni and Oda family members also were in attendance Friday.

Russell Oda died in July, but De Mello said “he would be overwhelmed with joy” to see the sign hanging in the school.

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According to De Mello, work to return the sign to the school has been underway for about a year and a half.

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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