Gone, not forgotten
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By Catherine E. Toth
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Catherine E. Toth
About a month ago, Nikki Mozo read a note scribbled on a piece of leftover card stock.
It was from her husband, Jon, who had died 14 months earlier.
The surf photographer and father of four suffered massive head injuries while shooting at Pipeline on the North Shore in February 2005. He died at Kahuku Hospital at 33.
The note accompanied a photo of Jon surfing at the break that took his life. Its contents are so haunting, so eerily prophetic, Nikki has it hidden away.
The note wasn't addressed to anyone in particular. In a way, it was written for everyone whose lives Jon had touched:
"If I die today — it's fine. I've lived a good and full life. The ocean has given me so much. One day it will need to take and I will give. I have love for you all — very much so. I will always be watching over. Kia kaha (Be strong)."
At first, Nikki was angry. She looked at their youngest daughter, Anela, now 3, sleeping in their bed and wondered, "What do you mean, it's fine? Is it fine for her?"
But the anger subsided the next morning when she realized what Jon had wanted her to know.
It really was going to be OK.
"What comforted me was knowing that he felt like he lived a good and full life," said Nikki, 35. "And that gave me peace."
The grieving process isn't over for Nikki, who says she's still madly in love with Jon.
But what's helped is the support her family has received this past year. In the form of prayers, regular visits and tons of food.
"People were constantly over at the house," said Nikki, who was staying with Jon's brother, Allen, in Kahuku while their Hau'ula home was being renovated. "They were laughing, eating, talking, crying with us for a month straight ... We were able to grieve with them. It was an awesome blessing."
Everyone wanted to help. But more important, they wanted to see Jon's legacy live on.
That's where the idea of a fundraiser started.
Monday's Jon Mozo Legacy Celebration at Kualoa Ranch is more than just a charity event. It's a testament to how much Jon meant to so many people in the community.
Everyone — down to the dozens of musicians and entertainers — is donating their time to raise money for the Jon Mozo Legacy Foundation, which promotes cultural exchange with Tahiti, provides scholarships and will support the building of a youth center in Hau'ula.
"It doesn't surprise me that they'd all do this for Jon," Nikki said. "But I'm so touched that they are."
LOVE FOR KEIKI
The event at Kualoa Ranch was designed with Jon in mind, packed with all the things he loved: food, music and, of course, kids.
"The base of my life with Jon was about youth," Nikki said. "Whenever we had time together and nothing to do, he'd always call up the kids."
Event organizers got together in January to plan this multifaceted event, which includes a craft fair, inflatable jumpers, food booths and continuous entertainment from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Musicians, artists, a Web designer, even a modeling agency pitched in to make the day happen.
"We all got together and thought, 'What can we do to make an event that will benefit the foundation and that we know how to do?' " said Nazarene Anderson, agency director at ADR Model & Talent Agency, where Jon had once shared office space. "That's how it all started ... And it's been a quick turnaround."
One of the event goals is to raise enough money to open a center that would service kids from Kualoa to the North Shore. The plan is to open it by the second anniversary of Jon's death in April 2007.
Nikki envisions the center — she's already secured a location in Hau'ula — to be a nurturing place for kids, where they could get help with their homework, talk to a counselor, or just play pool and sing karaoke with friends.
It would be a place where they could dream — and gain confidence in themselves to make those dreams come true.
Just the way Jon did, Nikki said.
"When I first met Jon, he believed he could do anything," Nikki said. "I had never met anyone like that before ... He made everything come true."
Nikki had met Jon in 1989 at the Polynesian Cultural Center, where they both worked.
"I had seem him around (Brigham Young University-Hawai'i) and thought he was the cutest thing," Nikki said. "He was so shy."
She didn't know Jon was interested, too, until she spotted him watching her dance at PCC during his break.
He finally asked her out to a movie at BYUH.
"We barely spoke to each other," Nikki said, laughing.
They saw each other every weekend after that, watching movies or bowling with friends.
They were married in April 1991, 15 months after their first date. They were both 19.
"Everybody thought we were crazy," Nikki said. "But Jon was adamant. He knew what he wanted."
After Nikki graduated from BYUH with a degree in social work in 1994, the couple, now with a son, moved to the East Coast so Jon could pursue photography.
They lived in Pennsylvania and Maryland for two years before returning to the Islands.
"He was a fish out of water," Nikki said. "But he was happy for the experience."
Immediately Jon went to work, building his career as a photographer with modeling gigs and weddings. Nikki, in the meantime, got a full-time job as a social worker.
After two years — with two kids and another on the way — Jon felt he was ready to turn his hobby into a full-fledged business. He told Nikki she could quit her job and he'd take over financially.
"It was totally a leap of faith," Nikki said. "The way I remember is that as soon as he quit his job, his business took off."
By the time of his death, Jon had become a well-respected — and well-loved — surf photographer whose art reflected his deep love and reverence for the ocean.
Nikki, who is raising their four kids alone, is busy keeping up with orders for Jon's works. The business continues to support the family, even after his death.
"Jon is still our provider," Nikki said. "I work for him."
While Jon will always be remembered for his photography, Nikki hopes his legacy will be the foundation and its work with the kids — and community — he loved so much.
"My life is so jam-packed busy, but it's the way our life has always been," Nikki said. "And it just feels right."
Reach Catherine E. Toth at email@example.com.
Correction: A previous version of this story gave conflicting information on the date for the Jon Mozo Legacy Celebration.