City Council names Ramos a ‘Living Treasure’

[Story and photo by Mike Foley: Originally published in KALEO, February 26, 1998]

Angel Ramos (right) and daughterAt the January 28 meeting of the City Council, Councilmember Steve Holmes presented a Council Certificate of Appreciation to Kahuku resident Angel Ramos, honoring him as “A Living Treasure.” [Ramos is pictured at right with his daughter, Carol Bowden]

Ramos is well known on the North Shore and all around O’ahu for his wealth of knowledge on Hawaii Filipino plantation life, displays of photographs of life in Kahuku, and all around good humor.

The text of this certificate captures much of the charm of this man and is presented below in its entirety:

In 1946, an adventurous seventeen-year old lad made his way as a “sakada” from Ilocos Norte in the Philippines to Hawaii. Less than a year later, he ran away from a Maui plantation, setting his sights on Oahu. By 1949, he had married and realized his dream of working at the Kahuku Sugar Plantation.

When the sugar mill closed in 1971, he went to work for the City and County of Honolulu, retiring as senior clerk at the Kahuku Golf Course in 1991. Today, Angel Ramos is a living treasure, keeping the history of the Filipino planation worker alive in Hawaii.

If not for Angel’s “pack rat” tendencies, many of the artifacts of Hawaii planation life might have been lost. Not many others still possess their “bango” (the metal tag used to distinguish one plantation worker from another), hand-made tools, kaukau tins, cane knives, or other relics from that by-gone era. When Philippine President Fidel Ramos visited Hawaii in 1995, it was Angel Ramos who was chosen to present him with the symbolic gifts of the Hawaii Filipino plantation community — a cane knife, a metal I.D. tag, and a canteen.

For many years until his wife became ill, Angel and Rose Ramos tended the Filipino exhibit at the Waipahu Cultural Garden Park. Many of the artifacts on display there actually came from Angel’s personal collection, likely the most comprehensive collection of sugar workers’ memorabilia in Hawaii. During the 75th anniversary of Filipino immigration to Hawaii, Angel Ramos loaned or helped to procure many items on display at the Bishop Museum.

More than the artifacts, his photographs give real meaning to the old plantation days. Angel was smitten with the camera from the day he first saw the old Kodak “Brownie” in the 1940’s. His camera work documents everyday life through his many thousands of candid photos. He has exhibited his photographs all over Oahu, sharing plantation life with young school children, college students, and anyone interested in learning planation lore. He calls his camera his “second wife,” and always had to consider where to put his dark room when he moved into a larger home.

And moving into larger homes became necessary, for Angel and Rose were the parents of thirteen children (Angeline, Carol, Romeo, Bernice, Flora Ann, Marcia, Alice, Andrew, Paula, Kathy, David, Robert, and Michael). Indeed, the family continues to grow today with the addition of twenty-two grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Yet, there is more to this fascinating Kahuku resident. He’s a gardener, having more than 4,000 cactus and other succulent plants on his property in Kahuku. He has belonged to the Cactus and Succulent Society of Hawaii since 1981 and can be seen at the yearly orchid and plant show at the Blaisdell Exhibition Hall each October, dispensing plant information as well as home-spun humor. He is also the inspiration for the name “Gardening Angels,” those dedicated volunteers who work with Angel to keep the grounds of Kahuku Hospital looking so beautiful.

Therefore, the City Council of the City and County of Honolulu wishes to present this Certificate of Appreciation to Angel Ramos and declare him — a Living Treasure — for his lifetime of diligence in keeping the history of the Filipino plantation worker in Hawaii alive by sharing his stories, artifacts, and snapshots with the people of Hawaii.

Attending the ceremony to honor their father were five of Angel and Rose Ramos’ children: Flora Wildman, Ca-rol Takushi (with husband, Wayne, and sons, Darryl and Darren), Kathy Swafford (with children Aaron, Justine, and Keala), Bernice Ramos Clark, and Marcia Billena (with husband, James).

Councilmember Holmes also thanked Adella Johnson of Kahana Valley for recommending Angel Ramos for this honor.

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