In light of St. Joseph’s financial difficulties, namely raising $500,000 to keep the 151-year-old school operating, the connections, memories and lessons will live on, uniting those who went there or hold the school dear in their hearts.
When Rod Cambra, a 1974 graduate, heard about the possibility of St. Joseph closing, he recalled the sacrifices his father, Edmund, made to send him and his two brothers, Ronald and Robert, to school.
Edmund was a sugar plantation worker for 48 years and had an eighth-grade education, working from an early age at 13 to help his parents. He wanted better for his boys and had his wish come true. Rod played at Chaminade and eventually went back to St. Joseph, where he was a teacher and athletic director for 25 years. He also worked for P&R for 15 years and was in the police force for two years.
Ronald, a 1966 graduate, is a professor at UH-Manoa in administration. Robert, a 1969 graduate, lives in Oregon and works in the juvenile court systems. Their mother, Margaret, is 100 years old and lives at Hale Anuenue.
“He wanted us to have a good education,” Cambra said. “He worked on weekends, painted houses to send us to St. Joseph.”
He was on the 1974 boys basketball team that won the BIIF championship, spoiling Hilo’s dominance during that era.
“We’d come in second every year. In my senior year, we finally had the team put together and won the championship,” he said. “Back then, there was no Keaau, Kamehameha or Waiakea High. It was a great rivalry and very memorable.
“I’ve got a lot of close ties to the school. The grotto by the elementary school, my father made that. Four of the five of us were 13-year veterans. We went to kindergarten to the end of school. I have a lot of good relationships from the school. I always went back to help put on the basketball tournament. I hope there’s another. The connections are always there.”
Joey Estrella, the retired UH-Hilo baseball coach and a 1969 graduate, is another legacy Cardinal. He went to St. Joseph as did his two children, Brandon and Allyson. His wife Geri wasn’t a Cardinal, but she’s forgiven because she’s from Honolulu.
“My father (Joseph Estrella) went to St. Mary’s, so basically three generations had a Catholic school education,” he said. “St. Joseph has a big part of the island’s history. Think about all the people who went there or coached there. At St. Joseph, it was all volunteers. No coach was ever paid.
“I wanted to have a Catholic faith for my kids. It’s been a strong foundation for my life. It was a small school and safe and very secure.”
It likely helped the atmosphere that the school was located across the street from the Hilo police station. Besides being a safe haven, St. Joseph offered Brandon and Allyson the opportunity to grow and develop as people.
Brandon didn’t follow his dad into the family sport of baseball. Instead, he played basketball, volleyball and bowled. Allyson played basketball and was a cheerleader.
She was the one blessed with hand-eye coordination. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a softball team during her time. Allyson is a talent and business operations manager at Sephora, a cosmetics company, in Honolulu.
Brandon holds a trump card over his dad. He has a BIIF championship. In his senior year, he won the BIIF title in bowling. His dad came close in baseball and basketball, but the Vikings reigned during his era.
It was the lessons learned at St. Joseph that stuck with Brandon, who was a structural engineer for nine years then jumped into his passion as a filmmaker in Los Angeles.
“Early on, we had him in T-ball and coach-pitch, but he said this is not for me,” Estrella said. “I wanted to make sure he did what he wanted to do. He was a good teammate and enjoyed other people’s success. He was student body president in his senior year.
“When he was living in Seattle, he made props for a theater. I still remember for Easter they had to do pictures, and in the fourth grade his drawing ended up in the Hawaii Catholic Herald.”
Rachelle Hanohano and her two daughters Ashley and Chelbie are all legacy Cardinals. They went there from kindergarten to graduation and are best known for volleyball.
In 2003, St. Joseph finished runner-up to Kahuku for the girls volleyball HHSAA state championship at Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium, home to so many great hoop battles between Hilo and the Cardinals back in the day.
“It makes me sad,” said Hanohano, who was a coach from 1999 to 2011. “Hopefully, they’ll find the funding needed to stay open.
“My best memory was working with a lot of good families that believed in the student first and athlete second. I was blessed to have good athlete who were not afraid of working hard to reach their goals.”
More than anything, Hanohano is grateful for the imprint the school left on her family.
“I was at the school from kindergarten, spent 13 years at the school,” she said. “I was blessed to go back and coach I had a good opportunity that I was able to help kids follow their dreams. I’m very thankful for that.
“Ashley graduated in 2004 and Chelbie in 2009. During that time, the school had great leadership and it was a very strong foundation. I’m glad they went to the same school I did. I’m thankful that the school provided for my kids, too.”
Tom Correa, a 1979 graduate and Waiakea’s athletic director, remembers his time at St. Joseph for the lifelong bonds made when he was a Cardinal. He played baseball and basketball and was coached by his late father Jimmy Correa, who was the baseball coach from 1955 to 1986.
“I’ve made friends with kids not only at the school but outside,” he said. “We’d have preseason basketball games at Kohala, spend a night there. You get to know those people and spend time in the community.
“Some of the relationships are life long. Don Fernandez graduated from Kohala in 1979. I’d see him at my tourney (Waiakea Invitational) annually. It was good to reconnect with a lot of people.”
Now more than ever, St. Joseph needs those people to reconnect and help the school to survive.