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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, May 16, 2003

Sharing a legacy of patience

By Lee Cataluna
Advertiser Columnist

Yolanda Peters wasn't afraid to take the lead. She organized large, sometimes contentious and unruly groups of people and introduced sweeping changes into tradition-steeped events. She got what she wanted not by force, but by patience.

"She was a very gentle person, even as she spoke," said her friend, Mona Teves, who served with Peters on the State Kamehameha Day Commission. Peters was appointed chairwoman of the commission by Gov. John A. Burns in 1969 and served for eight years. During her tenure, the King Kamehameha Day parade and celebration changed dramatically.

"We opened up the pa'u riding sections," Teves explained. "Changing the pa'u riding section was one of the most delicate areas to tread on. Prior to that, the pa'u riders were only Hawaiians. We made it so the selection was based on qualified horseback riders, Hawaiian or not."

The year the change took place, Teves recalls, there was so much controversy that up until the minute the horses showed up, she wasn't sure there would be a parade.

Peters also introduced canoe paddling events to the Kamehameha celebration. She presided over the commission the year the parade had to be rerouted because 'Iolani Palace was under renovation. She was, at the time, a "young squirt" bringing in new ideas that, at first, didn't sit well with the old guard.

"She was a very humble person and she always would say to us, 'Ho'omanawanui — be patient.' She was the one who bridged the gap and brought us together," Teves said.

Peters did all this while holding down a full-time job as a dental assistant and raising six kids plus any other children who happened by.

"My mom would say, 'Our house is your house, so you come over here,' " Penny Fernandez said.

Peters worked on political campaigns, served on the Kahalu'u Neighborhood Board, and was one of the founders of both the Hawai'i Canoe Racing Association and Hui Wa'a canoe club.

"It was nice to see her making other people happy," said Fernandez. "We didn't mind sharing Mom."

In the last years of her life, Peters suffered from Alzheimer's disease. Fernandez took care of her mother at home, but Peters got to the point where she didn't recognize friends or even family.

Fernandez has spent the week calling her mother's friends to tell them the news that Yolanda Puniho Whiting Fernandez Peters died on May 6.

"It's been very healing for me because for the past few years, I've just seen the ugly, angry side of Alzheimer's, and now, talking to all these people who knew her, it brought back a lot of memories about all the good things about my mom. Somebody said, 'If there was an ambassador of aloha, your mother would be it.' "

Memorial services will be Sunday at the Kamehameha Schools' Bishop Memorial Chapel. Visitation will be 2 to 4 p.m.; services 4 to 5 p.m.