McKinley High to honor HSTA pioneer
By James Gonser
Advertiser Urban Honolulu Writer
By James Gonser
Odetta Ululani Fujimori, the first president of the Hawai'i State Teachers Association and a public school teacher for more than 30 years, will be this year's inductee into the McKinley High School Hall of Honor.
Fujimori, class of '57, who was on the tennis team and served on the prom committee during her years at the school, enjoyed a long career in education. Over the years, she was a special education teacher, a vocational program planner, administrator for voter education and the resource teacher to the deputy superintendent.
Her proudest memories, Fujimori said yesterday, are working with other "daring" teacher pioneers to create the HSTA and getting teachers to take responsibility for their own destiny and to speak up for public education in Hawai'i.
"At the national level, my fixation was to convince America's teachers that every educational decision is a political decision," Fujimori said in an e-mail note. "I would travel the country reminding them that two-bits will give you two-bit legislation and so, besides voting, we needed to be generous in our political contributions."
Fujimori's portrait will hang alongside those of dozens of President William McKinley High School graduates who have distinguished themselves locally, nationally and internationally. The portraits line a long hallway leading to administrative offices. Others honored include educators, athletes, entertainers, scientists and politicians.
"Odetta was an excellent teacher with consummate leadership and political skills who always had the interests of students and teachers at heart and made things happen," wrote Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawai'i, in recommending Fujimori for the award.
Fujimori, 66, attended the University of Hawai'i and Southwest Baptist College in Bolivar, Mo. She also spent a short time at Union University in Jackson, Tenn., where she experienced segregation first hand. Being neither black nor white, the young Asian student said she was confused about where she should sit on a bus and which restroom to use.
After returning to Hawai'i, Fujimori helped organize the first public school teacher's union and lobbied for better classroom conditions and programs for students.
She was the first Asian-American elected to the executive committee of the National Education Association and during visits in Washington, D.C., met with presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter.
"President Carter was the most accessible president and a true believer that public education is what makes America great," she said.
Fujimori is a member of the state Employees' Retirement System board of trustees, a board member of the Hawai'i Labor Heritage Council and vice president of the UH College of Education Alumni Association.
Tom Katsuyoshi, president of the McKinley Alumni Association and Fujimori's classmate, said his longtime friend is an inspiration.
"She is so unassuming and self-effacing, you wouldn't believe she has done so much during her life," Katsuyoshi said. "She is a remarkable woman. It's wonderful that she is being honored this year."
Fujimori said McKinley High embraced everyone and offered many opportunities for students to succeed.
"We were second- and third-generation kids who worked hard and played hard," she said. "It was a fun campus with class and grade-level competitions. It was also a beautiful campus, with its magnificent Spanish-architectural-designed buildings, its stately banyans and its circular drive with President William McKinley's statue, front and center."
Reach James Gonser at firstname.lastname@example.org.