by Karleen C. Chinen
Member, Bito Doshi Kai

The year was 1997 — and Mark Yabui was being honored as Yonabaru Chojin Kai’s “Uchinanchu of the Year.” As the honorees gathered backstage, Mark watched nervously as volunteers carried two elderly honorees up the back steps of the Teruya Pavilion in their wheelchairs. And then it struck him.

The Hawaii Okinawa Center should have a wheelchair lift to safely bring to the stage wheelchair-bound HUOA members — or for that matter, anyone using the Legacy Ballroom.

HUOA executive director Gary Honda pushes Mark Yabui’s wheelchair onto the lift . . .

Mark Yabui didn’t go home that evening and forget about what he had seen. Instead he wrote a letter to HUOA executive director Gary Honda, suggesting that the organization install a wheelchair lift. “I didn’t know how much it would cost, but I thought it was a positive way of honoring and respecting the elders who built HUOA,” said Mark, who himself is wheelchair-bound due to a spina bifida condition he was born with 39 years ago. “More and more of our members are getting older. They were going to need it sooner or later. I just wanted them to be up on stage; I didn’t care about me,” he said.

Honda presented Mark’s letter to the then-HOC Board of Trustees. Its chair, Jimmy Toyama, said the letter came to board just as it was conducting an assessment of the Center’s facility requirements. “Mark’s letter struck home the point that we needed to take care of our access requirements and set into motion the steps leading to the acquisition and installation of the lift,” said Toyama.

The trustees considered several different types of lifts, finally settling on the one that was installed last December at a cost of nearly $21,000. And Mark Yabui — who had brought the idea to HUOA — was asked to be there to initiate the equipment and to take the first ride from the floor of the Legacy Ballroom to the stage.

“When the lift was dedicated last December with Mark there, there was a sense that a part of our overall mission was being accomplished. There was also a heartening feeling that the donations being made to the HUOA’s ‘Preserving Our Legacy’ annual giving campaign were really being used to improve our Center and to ensuring that the HOC is a living, thriving Center for everyone who uses it,” said Toyama.

. . . and then waits for the lift to reach the stage level.

And how did Mark Yabui feel? “I was very happy and grateful that it was finally finished for our issei and nisei, and that when we honor people, it’s an honorable way to recognize that person.”

Mark is now working to see if handicap transportation can be made available for the Okinawan Festival. “I’ve seen instances where the disabled person is dropped off at the Festival and then has to wait all by himself while his driver goes up to Kapiolani Community College to park and ride the shuttle down to the park. I think it would be great if there could be handicap transportation between KCC and the Festival.”