Family, friends remember teacher who 'changed lives'
• Photo gallery: Michael Anderson's memorial service
By Will Hoover
Advertiser Staff Writer
WAI'ANAE — He was an Eagle Scout, a straight-A student, valedictorian of his high school class and president of the National Honor Society in his hometown of La Plata, Md.
But to the hundreds who packed the Wai'anae High School cafeteria last night, Michael Anderson was the young man who entered their lives four years ago in the first wave of Teach for America instructors, touched their lives in ways some would never have thought possible of an outsider, and who decided to stay after his two-year TFA commitment ended.
Anderson, 25, died Jan. 29 in a fall while hiking in Mākaha Valley.
Young and old alike last night remembered Anderson as an incredible leader and inspiration who never gave up on his students, spent days off to meet with kids who wanted to study more, and did it all with a sense of humor and respect that instilled confidence.
"He changed lives," said 2008 Wai'anae graduate Alan Kane, who was a member of Anderson's mock trial club that accomplished the seemingly impossible when it upset Punahou in a mock trial competition. "All his students, I'm pretty sure he had an influence on them — whether they were the rascals in his class or the A students. He just pushed us to go 110 percent."
He was pretty chill," said senior Aaron Amps, 17, who had Anderson as a substitute English teacher. "I liked him. He was cool."
"He made class fun," added senior Henry Medeiros, 17.
Teacher Kristin Lindquist said Anderson substituted for her class once and when she returned "the students asked me, 'When are you leaving again?' He just really had this great connection with the kids. He was one of the most generous, loving teachers I ever met."
Anderson's parents, Nils and Carolyn Anderson, along with their two sons, David Anderson, 23, and Nils James Anderson, 20, flew in from La Plata to attend the memorial.
"This has been very tragic for us," Nils Anderson said at an informal gathering of students and teachers moments before the candlelight vigil memorial began. "But with the support and caring of everybody here, we're holding up OK right now."
The elder Anderson said his son spoke often to him of what a wonderful community Wai'anae is.
"He told me about how much he loved the students, and that he thought he was having a positive impact on them. He loved how they responded to him," Nils Anderson said.
For some, last night's memorial for Anderson was an all-too-soon reminder of other blows the community has suffered lately. It has been a tragic, and at times emotionally overwhelming year for the Wai'anae Coast.
On March 3, 2009, Wai'anae High held a candlelight vigil to honor Asa Yamashita, 43, the school's beloved reading strategies coach and former English teacher who was stabbed to death in broad daylight in a random, unprovoked attack at 'Ewa Town Center on Feb. 27.
Two weeks later, on March 17, popular Wai'anae High School graduate Royal Kaukani — an ever-smiling friend and inspiration to students and teachers alike — was gunned down in 'Ewa. Police charged the 25-year-old woman's former boy- friend with murder.
Anderson died in the same general area of the Wai'anae Mountains as decorated Schofield Barracks platoon leader Garland English, who fell to his death on Jan. 10. Well-known area hunter and sportsman Eric Sawchuck also fell to his death in that area on Feb 1, 2009.
Like Anderson, Sawchuck, 41, and English, 29, were thought of as dynamic personalities. Sawchuck, host and producer of the cable show "Hawaiian Sportsman TV," was recalled as a sensitive, caring, and selfless giver who cheered for all sides in any competition; English was an Iraq war veteran, Bronze Star recipient and world adventurer who gave a tenth of his income to a charity to help the less fortunate.
And last night the sorrow continued with an outpouring of grief for Anderson.
"I loved your son," Roman Aipopo, 18, told Anderson's parents last night. "He wasn't even my teacher, but he was my teacher. He came in here and he was part of our family. I considered him my uncle. I would have trusted him with anything."