Easter Seals 60 years: Stories of triumph
By Mary Kaye Ritz
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Mary Kaye Ritz
What Dr. Francis Liu remembers most about his childhood afternoons spent at Easter Seals is recess.
That's not a punch line. For him, recess meant a lot.
The local chapter of Easter Seals is gathering stories from its alumni like that of the doctor, who was born with special needs and went on to study at Stanford University and get a medical degree from the University of California-San Diego. It's all part of the nonprofit organization's 60th anniversary.
Here's how one of those stories starts:
As a youngster, Liu didn't get much recess.
At Hawai'i Baptist Academy, he remembers either warming a bench after being warned away from playing with the other children, or hanging out with his teacher doing less-physical activities.
It wasn't that the teachers were cruel. Because of congenital amyotonia, a condition that means lack of muscle tone, he walked with metal braces that went from his toes to his chest. (It was a 20-minute ordeal to get dressed every morning.) His teachers worried that roughhousing on the playground might endanger him.
But after school, he would go to the Easter Seals on Green Street, where he would do exercises. When recess was called, however, he'd head outdoors with the others, leaving the hot, stuffy Quonset hut.
"At recess, I'd go outside and stretch my legs," recalled Liu, a retired Kaiser infectious diseases specialist. "... I distinctly remember kids who had difficulty walking, those who couldn't walk well, playing together, throwing the ball to each other, making up games.
"That's why I remember recess at Easter Seals. I could go out, too."
Liu would go on to attend Iolani, then Stanford, and though his father wanted him to be an engineer, he ended up in medical school. Now living near Diamond Head with his wife and two children, he's looking into ways to give back to those who helped him along the way.
It's been six decades of similar good works across four islands for Easter Seals here.
According to its Web site, Easter Seals Hawai'i chapter members included Dorothy Devereux, Olga Sultan, Gov. John Burns, Judge Chuck Mau and Duke Kahanamoku and Hilo Hattie were "also an important part of the Easter Seal family."
Annually taking part in its programs are thousands of Hawai'i residents with disabilities — muscular dystrophy, autism, cerebral palsy, spina bifida, speech and developmental delays, Down syndrome and sensory impairments, to name a few — ranging in age from infancy to the elderly.
Program money comes from government grants, private foundations and donations, as well as fees for certain services.
And perhaps you've heard of their biggest fundraiser? It's called Taste of Honolulu, one of Hawai'i's grandest summertime events, held annually on the Honolulu Hale grounds.
Norman Kawakami, senior vice president of operations who oversees Easter Seals' statewide programs, said they want to bring together not just alumni but also their families for their anniversary celebration.
"Families are also a very important part of the process," Kawakami said. "It's not only the individuals who are involved."
He talked about how, when people come by to pick up their children or family members from their programs, he often spots them lingering, visiting with each other, catching up on the progress one person or another has made.
"They nurture each other, support each other," Kawakami said. "Family-centeredness is so important (to Easter Seals)."
He also talked about the "Sib Shop," an evening program for siblings of special-needs children. There, siblings get together to engage in fun activities — it's their "chance to shine," as Kawakami puts it — as well as talk about the special challenges they face.
Lei-Jayne Moy knows all about that. Her brother, Leigh-Wai Doo, a former Honolulu councilman, was a poster child for Easter Seals, she said.
"We all had to take turns massaging (him) and exercising and praying," said Moy. "We lived it as a family."
Though Doo can't remember those early days, he does recall some general impressions after contracting polio at 10 months.
"I have recollections of a very positive, nurturing, supportive and participating environment of my youth," said Doo, who now heads the Palolo Chinese Home.
Moy remembers a little more. She was seven years older, and charged with taking her brother to his regular therapy.
"He never missed a day of school," she said proudly.
"At the time, they told my mother to put him in a home and let him die. My mother said no. All of us had the responsibility of caring for each other."
Moy still sounds proud when she talks about how her brother traveled around the world three times, hikes and surfs and goes fishing.
"I think it was our mother who gave him his strength," Moy said.
"... If it weren't for Easter Seals, (there had been) so little support for polio victims."