Donna Saiki was born at home on May 19,1936 to Alfred and Mary Weiss who were second generation Austrian immigrants living in an area in Wisconsin known as Lima. It was a large Austrian farming community held together by their Catholic faith. They had built a beautiful church and a school for grades one through twelve. Austrians are noted for their love of music and everyone in the Weiss family was involved in the family band (Kind of like the Sound of music)
Donna and her two younger sisters) known as the three little girls did all their performing with the school and church. Her older brothers and sisters played for family and community events especially weddings that occurred in the summer months when they were also busy with their farm crops. It was an industrious life style.
Donna's venture into life beyond the farm occurred when she received a scholarship to attend Cardinal Stritch College in Milwaukee. Noted for its art program, here she came face to
face with classmates who were wealth and well versed in art.
Realizing that art would not sustain her out in the real world,
She transferred to Wisconsin State College in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Their specialty was education and teacher training.
This was a natural for Donna who had spent many weekends and summers caring for her ever expanding number of nieces and nephews.
She graduated in 1958 in a tight teacher economy and landed her first teaching job in Kenosha, Wisconsin, as did fellow Eau Claire graduate Judith Kubo from Kona. Both were ready for a summer vacation in Hawaii and both had jobs in Kenosha to return to. Lure of the islands was too strong and both opted to apply for the job in Hawaii instead of returning to the cold winters of Wisconsin. Pahoa had two jobs waiting for them. It was the year that the one room school house in Kalapana closed and the Hawaiian children that it serviced now came to Pahoa. A lot of cultural learning by everyone and Donna felt like reneging on her contract.
The greatest challenge for her was understanding what they were telling her. It was mutual. The students were fascinated with her nylon hose and some would even attempt to touch her leg.
After two years in Pahoa she transferred to Waiakea Waena Elementary School in Hilo. In her third year at Waena the principal selected her for a new vice principal training program initiated by the state that would take the entire school year. At the end of the year She passed the university course portion of program but she did poorly on her attitude toward the job.
They were looking for persons with aspirations to become principals and superintendents. She loved teaching and being with the students so her low scores returned her to the classroom. This lasted for three months when she was asked to try again as vice Principal at Kapiolani School. This successful experience brought her back to Waiakea Waena as vice principal. As fate would have it, two weeks before the opening of school the principal had a heart attack and died and Donna was appointed acting principal. Her two successful years at Waiakea Waena were followed with a special assignment to set up the newly established Head Start Program for preschoolers at Piihonua.
The seventies were special years in Hawaii as we experienced the emergence of the Hawaiian culture in our lives. Donna felt so blessed to have been at Keaukaha School and a part of thatrenaisi Working in concert with the Keaukaha Community Association the first Hawaiian Language classes in the State of Hawaii were developed and implemented at Keaukaha School under the direction of Edith Kanakaole, even First lady Mrs. Nixon recognized the significance of this and in a visit to the school in 1972 and community she offered her congratulations.
Donna’s next twelve years at Waiakea Intermediate saw the immergance of the Waiakea community with the opening of Waiakea High as their vanguard. Here is another opportunity to history as this put the intermediate school in the middle dealing with adjustments in grade levels and staff assignments. Teachers who were staff reduced at Hilo High were reassigned to Waiakea.
Waiakea High added on grade levels and there were reassignments again. Left at the middle was a cadre of teachers, including sixth grade teachers from Waiakea Elementary who were willing to initiate a quality middle school program. Inservice and training included staff retreats and weekend workshops. Their reward came in being named the Outstanding intermediate/middle school in the state in 1988, a tribute to an exceptional staff who were well versed in their academic training and who loved to work with adolescents, the most difficult and critical time in a child’s life.
Her last eight years of Service were spent at Hilo High as a principal, dream come true for her and a challenge she looked forward to. Again it was an opportunity to work with the community as they adjusted to having another kid on the block (Waiakea) in the city limits of Hilo. “You have got to believe was always her motto.
For Donna one such dream was to hear the Hilo High Ambassadors sing at the Kennedy Theatre in Washington DC and this was realized with their performance of Kanaka Wai Wai as their gospel song.
The eight years at HHS were fruitful and exhausting and she retired in March of 1996.
But rest came at a premium. She found her adrenalin was used to pumping at a high rate and now that she had such a restful life, she couldn’t sleep at night. Her first solution was to work in her yard, cutting, pruning, and building rock walls.
Thankfully tsunamis came to her rescue.
She had been a founding board member of the Pacific Tsunami Museum and there was much work to be done to transform the donated historic Bishop Bank building in Down Town Hilo into a functioning museum. Board members were asked to help and Donna volunteered to work on building membership. As fate would have it, within two months the founding director moved back to the mainland and Donna added taking care of mail and answering the phone to her list and soon found herself taking charge. State Civil Defense had awarded a FEMA grant worth thousands of dollars which could only be accessed by matching museum money, of which there was very little or by volunteer services. Again she turned to the community and recruited contractors who donated a dollar for every dollar they earned on the project and volunteers who did everything from laying floor tile, to researching and designing material for exhibits. The museum became a reality along with hiring staff, arranging tours and producing the ever popular Tsunami Story Festival.
Donna represented the Museum at a NATO World wide conference on Tsunamis in France in and at a Disaster Conference in Kobe Japan in 1997 on how the museum uses personal tsunami accounts to educate the public. Donna spent nineteen years as a volunteer director of the museum.
Community work was very much a part of her life. She served as Hawaii United Way fund chair twice and raised over a million dollars each time.
For twenty five years she provided hospital visitation and Holy Communion for hospitalized Catholics.
The community project Donna holds highest on her satisfaction list was the down zoning of the Keaukaha coastline from Puhi Bay down to Richardsons from high rise to residential. Every nook and tide pool are used every weekend.
Donna’s plaque from the House of Representative of the State of Hawaii read as follows:
The House of Representatives, State of Hawaii hereby presents this certificate to Donna W. Saiki
Whereas, the people of Hawaii take great pride in recognizing and honoring the actions of individuals who, through their initiative and personal efforts, provide notable contributions that significantly improve the quality our communities; and
Whereas, Donna W. Saiki attend Wisconsin State University before beginning a stellar professional career with the Hawaii State Department of Education in 1958; and
Whereas Donna W. Saiki taught at Lincoln, Pahoa, and Waiakeawaena Elementary Schools, served as Vice Principal of Waiakeawawna and Kapiolani Schools, then became the Principal of Keaukaha Elementary School and also Waiakea Intermediate School ; and
Whereas, in 1988 Donna W. Saiki was selected to lead Hilo High School as its Principal, and she served in this capacity until her retirement in 1996; and
Whereas, in recognition of her talents, Donna W. Saiki has garnered several awards including the County of Hawaii Living Legend Award in 2002, the Athena Business Woman Award in 1991, and a National Milken Educator Award in 1990; and
Whereas, Donna W. Saiki continued to support the Hilo community by serving as the Executive Director of the Pacific Tsunami Museum since 1994; and
Whereas after years of hard work and tremendous progress, Donna W. Saiki culminated her time to the Museum in June 2013; and
Whereas July 23, 2013, the friends and family of Donna will gather at the Hilo Yacht Club to celebrate other illustrious accomplishments to her already extensive array of achievements; now, therefore
The House of Representative of the Twenty-Seventh Legislature of the State of Hawaii, Regular Session of 2013 hereby commends and applauds Donna W. Saiki, and extends its best wishes for continued health and happiness throughout the years ahead.
Donna was stepmother to Ronald’s four children; Luana Kawelu Ronald Junior, Leinani Andrade and Francis(Bo) Saiki. The older grand children know her as Mommy Donna but she is just grandma to all of them. Half a dozen of them lived with Gramps and Mommy Donna at varying times over the years. Some made it their home for years.
Age and Parkinson, along with the death of her husband, Ronald Saiki in 2006 brought her back to the house by the beach and the yard work she enjoyed. Officially diagnosed in the late nineteen hundreds as Parkinson’s, it affected her muscles inside and out she became progressively incapacitated over the years.
She many times prayed that God would take her already as she went down the long, slow Parkinson road. Granddaughter Carrie would caution her to not say that or God would add on another year.
Donna always said in growing up there was always work and responsibilities that came first so it was hard for her to slow down when the effects of Parkinson’s went beyond being tired.
The end of that long road has finally been reached. Alleluia!
She is survived by two sisters:) Carole (Jack) Komro of Durand, Wisconsin; Patricia Webster of Spring Valley, Wisconsin; two Step-Daughters: Luana Kawelu of Hilo and Leinani Andrade of Hilo;Step-Son:Francis “Bo” (Millie) Saiki of Hilo.18 grandchildren, numerous great-grandchildren, numerous great-great-grandchildren, nieces, nephews & cousins.
She is preceded in death by her parents, her husband Ronald, Mildred (Clarence) Pittman, Gene (Evelyn) Weiss of Plum City, Aileen (William) Spindler and Thelma Ableidinger, and Fritz (Helen) Weiss of Durand.