[Story by Mike Foley, originally published online in the BYU-Hawaii Newsroom, March 17, 2005]
BYU-Hawaii honored 26 labor missionaries during its Koolauloa Community Service Awards Program on March 17. The twenty-six represented several hundred volunteer laborers and supervisors who built the university campus, additions to the Hawaii Temple and Visitors Center, housing, chapels, and the Polynesian Cultural Center in two phases from 1956-58 and 1960-63.
Some of the labor missionaries came from various South Pacific islands and Hawaii, while others came from the U.S. mainland. Some had previously served labor missions in their home islands and were already skilled. At least one was still in high school and served during summer breaks. Most supervisors were professional construction specialists who brought their families, freely served and taught the young missionaries their respective trades.
The twenty-six included William Akau, Louis Cabrera, Antone “Tony” Haiku, Jacob Huihui, John Kanae, Nonaina Makahi, George Poliahu, Alisa “Pupi” Toelupe, Thomas Stephenson, Gordon Broad, John Kapu, David Kekuaokalani and Dale Keliiliki from Hawaii; Iris B. Morgan (represented by daughter Janice Morgan), and Jack Pierce from Utah; Waha Elkington and Percy Te Hira of New Zealand; Sione Feinga, Tevita (“David”) Mohetau, Sione Tuione Pulotu and Sione Sulunga from Tonga; Teina Ngatikaura from the Cook Islands; and Toelau Sauaina Nautu, Matte Ieti Te’o and Alapati Penu’ofa Tofa from Samoa.
“This is a legacy that will never die thanks to the strength and testimony of these men,” said BYU-Hawaii President Eric B. Shumway. His wife, Carolyn, also acknowledged the contributions made by the wives, other women and even children who served or assisted the labor missions. In addition, she pointed out some of the missionaries “met their wives” while serving. “Thank you very much for being a part of our lives,” she said.
“There is nothing like saying thank you. We hope we did it well enough to express the depth of our appreciation,” said President Shumway, who explained that labor missionary representatives and other Church leaders are prominently featured in the new Genuine Gold Display, which also includes a section on President David O. McKay at the February 12, 1955, groundbreaking ceremony for Church College of Hawaii, and a third section with alumni representatives whose character and integrity President McKay characterized as “genuine gold.”
“Students of today have the opportunity to revere those who 50 years ago answered the call of a prophet to come and build,” President Shumway said. “Their opportunities for education include not only secular learning. President McKay said from the very beginning this school was built because of the things of God, that these young men and women will grow up knowing the existence of God and knowing He is our Father, and that we are all brothers and sisters on this planet. That is what the labor missionaries were building: A monument to the Living God that His children could come here and learn and in turn go forth as genuine gold.”
“I would like to remind all of us,” President Shumway stressed, “that this is hallowed ground upon which a prophet stood and dedicated an institution of higher learning to bless and strengthen not only the community of Laie, not only The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but also our students who would be influences for good and the establishment of peace internationally.”
“I pray that you and I will be worthy of that heritage. It’s nice to feel grateful for these men and women of skill who built this place, but we should also feel the burden of responsibility that we never betray the faith and the sacrifice of those who went before us; that we never betray the prophet by living lives that are counter to the integrity of character President McKay prophesied would be manifest among us.”
“I know that the work we all did here in Laie — the construction of the college — was because education was really important in all of our lives. The Lord knew this and inspired the Prophet David O. McKay to construct this college here in Hawaii,” responded William Akau (1956-58), who also spoke as a representative of the labor missionaries during the dedication of the new campus on December 17, 1958.
“There were a lot of spiritual moments,” added George Poliahu (summers, ’57-58). “There was caring love, and though we worked hard, when you’re working for the Lord and you’re working along side men with the same principles and ideals, working was easy.”
“It wasn’t a sacrifice. It was something I would do again,” said Percy Te Hira, who’s originally from New Zealand but remained in Hawaii and retired a few years ago from BYU-Hawaii Physical Facilities.
“For the last 50 years, we are the recipients of your honors. We are thankful to be here. You see that this group is getting smaller,” said Sione Feinga, who served from 1960-62 and recently retired from the BYU-Hawaii Physical Facilities department.
He added that the labor mission included approximately 50 supervisory couples, “most of whom are gone… and perhaps the last one is Brother [Jack] Pierce of Laie. He was the youngest supervisor at that time. I want you to know that we from the islands appreciate them.”
In addition to a banquet, President Shumway and President Von Orgill of the Polynesian Cultural Center — assisted by Honolulu City Council Chair Donovan Dela Cruz and State Representative Michael Magaoay — presented each of the labor missionaries with gifts and the Koolauloa Community Service Award. The missionaries, in turn, presented President Shumway with a large, beautiful hand carved Polynesian bowl.