The Noblesse Oblige Award for Service was presented to John Uekawa on May 7th.
ith equal energy and ardor, when it came time for Uekawa to become involved with the community, he chose a service that he felt strongly about: gender equity in athletics. Self-described as a “doer,” he decided to donate his time, talent, and generosity in a way that would make a point: that women in sports were just as talented, skilled, and devoted to their game as their male counterparts. It was time the “gentle sex” received the recognition they deserved. Wholeheartedly, Uekawa delved in and his determination to recognize women’s accomplishments in sports has made him a patron of women athletes in Hawai‘i. Currently, he is creating a network for former players, who want to use their talents in the sport, to give back to the community after they graduate from college. Opportunities would be posted and the young women could find a place to help other budding girls along their way. While Uekawa’s endeavors have been well publicized through various local media venues, in reality, not much is known about “the man behind the wheel.” It is not common knowledge, for example, that Uekawa grew up in less than ideal financial circumstances. Put bluntly, he says, “We were poor, so poor” when he speaks of his family of
conveniently located along the route. Besides the luscious variety of preserved seeds to choose from, he also fondly remembers the big, mouth watering, striped lollipops. Young Uekawa loved sports and came from a family of athletes. The Uekawa men, John’s uncles, were all-star basketball players, and John’s own father was a great swimmer. But while growing up in Ka-ne‘ohe, there were no opportunities to play in organized sports, so he and his friends took to their sports in the street after school. The neighborhood game was football. It wasn’t until eighth or ninth grade that he was able to join Little League. Uekawa’s baseball career continued during his high school years at Castle, where everyone lived and breathed the sport. One memorable day during his junior year, he missed the team bus that transported the boys to the baseball field. When players missed the bus, they had to find their own ride to the District Park or skip practice. Uekawa, determined not to miss practice, chose a third option: walk the two miles. The coach was thoroughly impressed with this demonstration of grit and “heart.” That year, Uekawa played with the best senior sportsmen in the state. The pitchers, especially seniors Carlos Diaz and Glenn Silva, dominated the sport. Rubbing shoulders with these outstanding athletes was an experience of a lifetime. He also learned about the coaches who had an unspoken belief: “Wins are credited to the players; losses to the coaches,” and this has stuck with him, now coaching the Girls’ Softball Team for Maryknoll School. Upon graduation from high school, Uekawa made the momentous decision to continue his education. No Uekawa had ever graduated from college – he and his sisters would be the first. His dad worked two jobs to pay for their education. The completion of his Liberal Arts degree in Speech and Communications from the University of Hawai‘i was a proud family moment. From there, Uekawa entered the automotive business, starting at Servco as a marketing coordinator trainee. It was here that a coworker introduced him to his future wife, Sally. A few years later, he moved to Mazda, as a dealer operations manager. Then came the opportunity of a lifetime: Nissan.
five. Uekawa’s mom and dad were born in the islands, but his grandparents were immigrants from Japan who had initially settled the family in Pa-lama. In 1957, John’s father moved his young family to Ka-ne‘ohe, and two years later, John was born. Dad was the only household wage earner while John’s mother stayed home to raise the family. John was surrounded by three older sisters and one younger. The siblings went to a popular local program, Summer Fun, because it was free, and mom sewed all of their clothes. As a young child, he wore his sisters’ shirts, and although he was teased for wearing hand-me-downs, he didn’t quite realize why. At the age of seven, John was already handling the family’s finances. His mother would send him to the bank to stand in line and make deposits. Task completed, he would then stop at the grocery store to buy vegetables before returning home. By the time he entered King Intermediate School, Uekawa understood the value of money and began prioritizing his spending. Each day he received two dimes and a quarter. The dimes were to pay for the bus rides to and from school; the quarter for lunch at the cafeteria. But Uekawa quickly figured that if he walked home from school, a distance of “at least five miles,” he could save a dime and spend it at the Crack Seed Center,