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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Memorial Day lei needed again

By Karen Blakeman
Advertiser Staff Writer

Each year, in the days before Memorial Day, family fridges fill with ti leaves, people statewide gather plumeria blossoms and lei needles fly off the shelves at Longs.

Nearly 60,000 lei are needed to decorate the graves at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl and other veterans cemeteries statewide for Memorial Day, and donations of lei and flowers are needed.

Schools statewide are among the best contributors, said Chris Sabolsky, a city Parks and Recreation employee who coordinates the annual lei gathering.

"The bulk of them are from the schools," she said.

Annual contests for the top number of lei and number of lei per capita pit schools statewide against one another for prizes such as iMac computers and color televisions, she said.

Kaua'i's Wilcox Elementary and the Big Island's Waiakea Elementary schools are traditionally locked in a head-to-head — but friendly — competition, Sabolsky said.

"I've been told that at Wilcox, they store ti leaves in freezers all over town," she said.

In Kona, she said, a family has made it a tradition to gather flowers and string as many as 300 lei every year.

"I think they have family at Punchbowl," she said.

At Mid-Pacific Institute on O'ahu, a quick-minded adult spotted a flawless way to gather a huge number of beautiful lei for Memorial Day.

"I suppose," said Mid-Pac principal Rich Schaffer, "that since my mother taught me to tell the truth, I'll have to admit it was my wife who had the idea."

Two years ago, Lisa Schaffer noticed that while many Mid-Pac seniors were loaded with lei almost to the eyebrows on graduation day, most of the flowers went into the rubbish bin when the students were hustled off to graduation-night activities.

Mid-Pac set out boxes and post-graduation lei donations filled a van, Rich Schaffer said. The boxes will be set out again this year after commencement exercises on May 28. The 13 other schools with commencement exercises shortly before Memorial Day are encouraged to do the same.

Delivering the boxes of lei feels good, Rich Schaffer said.

Seeing the flowers draped over thousands of veterans' graves feels even better, said Gary Cabato of Parks and Recreation and the main coordinator for the annual Mayor's Memorial Service.

On May 29, 4,000 Boy Scouts will distribute the donated flowers among the graves at Punchbowl, he said

On May 30, several hours before the 8:30 a.m. ceremony begins, Cabato will arrive alone at Punchbowl and look around to make sure everything is in order. It is a personal tradition he relishes.

"What a sight to see," Cabato said. "So pretty.

"I'm a veteran, and it means so much to me."

Reach Karen Blakeman at 535-2430 or kblakeman@honoluluadvertiser.com.

• • •

Lei needed

The city Department of Parks and Recreation will accept fresh flower lei or ti leaf lei on May 28 from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the office of the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific and on May 29 from 8 a.m. to noon, outside the cemetery's main entrance. Lei should be 20 to 24 inches before tying, and tied. Floral sprays are also welcome.

Lei can also be dropped off at the following locations on May 27. Loose flowers to be sewn into lei can be dropped off at the same locations on May 26.

Community parks

(Drop-off 9 to 11:30 a.m.)

• Ala Wai Community Park

• Halawa District Park

• Makua Ali'i Senior Center, 1541 Kalakaua Ave.

• Wai'anae District Park

• Wahiawa District Park

• Waiau District Park

• Waipahu District Park

• Kane'ohe Community and Senior Center

• Waikiki Community Center

Fire stations

(Drop-off 6 a.m. to noon)

• Kalihi, Waipahu, Waialua, Kane'ohe, Kailua, Waimanalo, Hawai'i Kai

City Parks Department

Permit Section

(Drop-off 8 a.m. to noon)

• Ground floor of Honolulu Municipal Building, 650 S. King St.

Other donation arrangements can be made by calling Chris Sabolsky at 692-5694 or Gary Cabato at 692-5568.