By Bob Krauss
Fifteen of Lucy Wilson's kids gathered at the Pagoda Hotel last week to celebrate her 85th birthday. This is just her Hawai'i family. There are more in India, Pakistan, Egypt, China and South America.
Most of her Hawai'i kids turned out to have an ear for music. There are the Baltazar brothers, including saxophonist Gabe, who has sat in with most of the jazz greats in the country. Also the late Kenneth Kawashima, former director of the Royal Hawaiian Band, and the late Benjamin Campbell, a pioneer music therapist on the East Coast.
They are among the dozens of students from Hawai'i who slept on Lucy's floor in Baltimore, raided her refrigerator in the 1940s and 1950s, and borrowed her car. Three couples got married in her house.
When Harry Fujiwara wanted to marry Jackie Hartman, Lucy called Harry's mother in Hawai'i to make sure she knew her son was marrying a haole. Jackie said she had to get Lucy's approval because Harry's mother wasn't there.
The three bedrooms in the house were occupied by her own children so the foreign waifs who wandered in slept wherever there was space on the floor. She said sometimes there were 15 or more at a time.
"Lucy's door was always open," said Ron Baltazar, whose resume includes the President's own U.S. Marine Band. "At night you have to step over people. Nobody ever paid her. We came over on weekends and holidays."
Baltazar said he might not have been able to get married if it hadn't been for Lucy. He is part-Filipino and his wife is of Japanese descent. Interracial marriages were forbidden under Maryland law. Lucy called her senator in Washington, who called the Baltimore marriage license bureau and got an exemption.
Wilson said her "orphanage" for students away from home stemmed from volunteering at the YWCA in Baltimore after World War II. She couldn't turn away somebody who was homesick. Wilson said it's her southern heritage: "As a little kid, I brought home everybody."
The reason so many of the Hawai'i students turned out to be musicians was because of Emma Lou Johnson, née Drake, a long-time band director at McKinley High School. She inspired her best musicians to study at the Peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore.
"We were the first in Hawai'i to study music," said Gabe Baltazar who enrolled at Peabody in 1948. "My father played extra jobs at taxi dance halls, dime-a-dance places, so we could attend Peabody."
Ron Baltazar said the Hawai'i students lived at a rooming house run by a Mrs. Miyasaki. But Lucy Wilson's house became their second home.
Other Hawai'i musicians who slept on Lucy's floor include Harold Nakao, of the U.S. Marine Band; the late Herbert Ono, owner of a recording studio; Ronald Shimokawa, U.S. Army Band; Norman Baltazar, sideman with Stan Kenton; and Harry Ichida, Royal Hawaiian Band.