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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, January 25, 2010

Hongwanji honors 'Living Treasures'

by Suzanne Roig
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser
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From championing the preservation of Hawaiian culture, its spirits and plants to advocating for child abuse victims and volunteering in the community, this year's Honpa Hongwanji Mission Living Treasures are being recognized for their lifetimes of giving.

Annually for the past 40 years, the Honpa Hongwanji Mission has recognized people who embody the philosophy of giving and of perpetuating the culture of Hawai'i.

"These five have done a significant amount of work to benefit society without any thought to merit," said Margaret Oda, chairwoman of the Honpa Hongwanji Mission Living Treasures selection committee. "The five have lived long and have concentrated on their contributions. It's remarkable what they've all done; the changes they have made for their community."

This year's recipients are Paul Weissich, Patti Lyons, Betty Jenkins, Stanley Okamoto and the Rev. Toshihide Numata.

• Weissich is a landscape designer who is the director of the Honolulu botanical gardens, a system of five gardens: Foster, Lili'uokalani, Wahiawä, Koko Crater and Ho'omaluhia. An author of numerous books, the California native is responsible for developing landscape architecure that focuses on native plants by "showcasing Hawai'i's unique and organic beauty through his passion for plant life," according to the panel of judges led by Oda. "He has really helped with the beautification and helped preserve native plants."

Among his achievements, Weissich also worked to acquire and develop the 400-acre site that has become Ho'omaluhia Botanical Garden in Käne'ohe.

• Lyons' work as an advocate for the prevention and treatment of child abuse has led the state Legislature to recognize child abuse as a significant social and psychological problem affecting the community. Born in Indiana, Lyons' work has led to the creation of a standard protocol of protection for Hawai'i's children, according to the judges' comments. She was CEO of CEO of Child & Family Service from 1980 to 1990.

"She did a whole lot in the area of prevention and treatment of child abuse, and even in retirement she does this," Oda said. "She continues to work with the Legislature and the public. She provides great leadership in her field. Her contribution will last for generations."

Lyons has been recognized with a 2006 University of Hawai'i School of Social Work award, received the 2004 Keeper of the Flame Award from Na Loio Immigrant Rights & Public Interest Legal Center, and was named the 2000 Hawai'i Outstanding Women Leader by the YWCA of O'ahu.

• Jenkins is an educator who emphasizes the importance of Hawaiian language, traditions, history and values through teaching and mentorship. The Hilo-born Jenkins is the founder and volunteer kupuna of the 'Imi Ke Ola Mau partnership and a kupuna resource adviser for the state Office of Hawaiian Affairs.

Over the years, Jenkins has been recognized with the 2007 Kalani Ali'i award and the 2005 Kaonohi Award from the Papa Ola Lokahi, and is president of the Association of Hawaiian Civic Clubs, a group of 56 civic clubs in Hawai'i, Alaska, California, Colorado, Tennessee, Washington, D.C.; Utah and Washington state.

"As an educator, she trained kupuna for Hawaiian language classes in the elementary schools," Oda said. "She's the one who planned OHA and helped the youth of Hawai'i. She really shared the Hawaiian culture with the people of the Department of Education and the state Legislature."

• Okamoto has volunteered in the community with organizations that work to preserve the cultural values of the past.

The Maui-born Okamoto is vice chairman of the Hale Makua Health Services Foundation board, a diversified health services system providing long-term care facilities. He helped build Hale Makua's original facility in the 1940s for elderly Japanese men who needed shelter and care. He is the director of the Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawai'i, chairman of the Maui County Planning Commission, and has received the 2002 lifetime achievement award from the Maui Japanese Chamber of Commerce.

"He spent his lifetime working to help the community where he lived by volunteering his time since he was a teenager," Oda said. "He took care of the temple during World War II while others went off to war. He never asked for recognition and just did things for the community."

• Numata, a promoter of peace and benevolence, has been working to uphold his father's convictions "that the success of an enterprise depends on the harmonious associations of heaven, Earth and humankind," the judges wrote. The native of Yokohama, Japan, has placed more than 7.6 million copies of "The Teaching of Buddha" in homes, schools, hotels, hospitals, prisons, temples and other institutions around the world. He expanded the Numata Program in Buddhist Studies to 15 institutions around the world, including the Numata Chair Program in Buddhist Studies at the University of Hawai'i.

He has been recognized with the 1996 medal of National Construction of Cambodia award and the 1992 medal of Honor with Blue Ribbon from the government of Japan in recognition of outstanding public welfare and service.

"He advocates for Buddhism by making sure people are exposed to the religion," Oda said. "He's such a philanthropist , giving his time and money to causes."

Correction: A previous version of this story erroneously said Patti Lyons is current president/CEO of Child & Family Service Hawai'i; she held those positions previously. She is also not the founder of Hawaii Healthy Start.