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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, September 21, 2003

Image of Bruddah Iz immortalized in Wai'anae

By Will Hoover
Advertiser Leeward O'ahu Writer

Marlene Kamakawiwo'ole, widow of song artist Israel Kamakawiwo'ole, drapes a lei over the newly unveiled bronze bust of "Bruddah Iz" at the Wai'anae Neighborhood Community Center.

Bruce Asato • The Honolulu Advertiser

No one can say Honolulu City Council member Mike Gabbard doesn't have a flair for the dramatic.

At shortly after 3 p.m. yesterday at the Wai'anae Neighborhood Community Center — an instant after the veil had been lifted and was about to be pulled away to reveal the bronze bust of the late Israel "Bruddah Iz" Kamakawiwo'ole — Gabbard stepped in front of the pedestal and said: "I'd just like to say one more thing."

Stretching out one the most anticipated moments in Wai'anae history, as hundreds of spectators surrounding the sculpture held their breath, Gabbard explained that the unveiling would mark the 20th wedding anniversary of Iz and his wife, Marlene Kamakawiwo'ole.

With that, Marlene and sculptor Jan-Michelle Sawyer withdrew the green-and-tan veil to the oohs, aahs and applause of those in attendance.

Never mind that the wedding anniversary was actually Thursday. The point was clear to everybody present that this was a very special moment.

For many, the moment signified a favorite son who won the hearts of millions around the world through his hit recording, "Over the Rainbow / What a Wonderful World."

Frenchy DeSoto, who arrived in a wheelchair, takes a look at the bronze bust of Israel Kamakawiwo'ole, a favorite son of Wai'anae who died June 26, 1997.

Bruce Asato • The Honolulu Advertiser

For others, it meant remembering simple times with a former classmate.

"We went to Wai'anae High School together," said Lance Luning, 45. "We were in the same group. Some of us used to jam in the hallway of the library. That was like our first period. And we would have, like, a small vocal concert."

Luning said that as a Honolulu police officer, he worked security at an Iz concert at Aloha Stadium. Although the two hadn't seen each other in seven years, Iz recognized him immediately and together they briefly recalled old times.

"That was the last time I ever saw him," Luning said.

Kamakawiwo'ole, who at his heaviest weighed 750 pounds, died on June 26, 1997.

An hour before the unveiling, Kurt Kipapa was applauded for a song he wrote and sang, titled "Brada Iz," about a big, big man with an even bigger heart.

"He was a very good man, and a very funny man," said Kipapa, who was two years younger than Iz. Kipapa said he looked up to him as a kid and "from him, I learned how to be a Hawaiian."

Marlene Kamakawiwo'ole says her late husband's reaction to yesterday's ceremony would be something like: "This is awesome."

Bruce Asato • The Honolulu Advertiser

While most of the 500 chairs inside the large tent that was put up for the ceremony were occupied, dozens of others watched from around the edges, apparently more comfortable at a distance.

Marlene Kamakawiwo'ole never sat down once during the entire 1 1/2-hour dedication, preferring instead to roam about presenting lei, hugs and kisses to any and all.

"You know what — even with him, I was always working," she said with the smile she wore throughout most of the festivities. "Why change? I probably won't sit down."

Asked what she thought Iz might make of the whole thing, she said: "He'd be like this, with his hand over his face, and he'd be like, 'Oh, no! How you gonna act?' He'd be embarrassed, but he'd dig it. Like, 'This is awesome.' "

At one point before the unveiling, she told the crowd that her purpose in being there was to share Iz's message: to love.

"Through love, all is possible," she said.

Bruddah Iz fans approach the bronze bust after the ceremony to get a closer look at the work by sculptor Jan-Michelle Sawyer. The man reaching out to touch the artwork is Albert Padilla of Honolulu.

Bruce Asato • The Honolulu Advertiser

By yesterday, folks were well aware that the Iz bust idea had been stymied by one setback after another practically from the time Sawyer began making the clay model back in August 2001. When private donations dried up after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the project stalled completely.

But in March, convinced that the bust belonged in Wai'anae instead of inside a crate at a foundry in Berkeley, Calif., Gabbard revived the effort to raise the money to bring it to Hawai'i.

Gabbard said the fact that the bust finally arrived safe and sound against all odds is a metaphor befitting Leeward O'ahu.

"There's something that is stirring out here on the Wai'anae Coast," he said. "It's exciting. And you can almost feel it in the air."

He said the entire Iz bust story had been filled with special moments.

Sawyer agreed. On Friday, when the bust arrived in Wai'anae to be placed on its pedestal facing the ocean, the rains began to fall from a cloudless sky, she said. And there, in the east, she spotted Iz's rainbow.

"I believe Iz would have been pleased," she said.