Clarence Kahilihiwa, Kalaupapa’s beloved ‘Uncle Boogie,’ dies at 79

Clarence Kahilihiwa, Kalaupapa’s beloved ‘Uncle Boogie,’ dies at 79
Uncle Boogie Kahilihiwa (Source: Long Story Short - PBS Hawaii)

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - One of the last remaining residents on Kalaupapa has died.

Clarence “Uncle Boogie” Kahilihiwa was one of the handful of Hansen’s disease patients who previously lived at the Kalaupapa settlement.

He was a champion in the community, living and working in the settlement as the president of Ka ʻOhana o Kalaupapa.

Through his work, Kahilihiwa dedicated his entire life to preserving the settlement and worked hard to honor the dignity of every individual who was forced to relocate there.

He was also remembered Friday as a leader and a tireless advocate for the patients of Kalaupapa and was a strong proponent for installing a memorial that would list the names of everyone sent there.

Kahilihiwa’s connection to Kalaupapa began in 1959, when he chose to relocate to the settlement to be with his sister and brother.

He was originally admitted to Hale Mohalu, a residential treatment center in Pearl City, after contracting the disease in 1950 when he was just 9 years old.

Having beaten the disease, Kahilihiwa went on to rebuild his life, working as a painter for the state Department of Health. Upon his retirement, he took a part-time job managing the Kalaupapa Bookstore under Pacific Historic Parks.

There, he became an ambassador of Kalaupapa, greeting thousands of visitors over the years.

Community leaders described him as a gentle soul with a huge heart.

“He was a dear friend, and I’m fortunate to have known him for over twenty years,” said Senate Majority Leader J. Kalani English.

“Uncle Boogie’s presence and his big, warm smile will surely be missed.”

Kahilihiwa was being treated for multiple health conditions at Leahi Hospital.

He would have celebrated his 80th birthday in April.

The state Health Department said that six residents are currently living at the settlement and five others are being treated at other medical facilities.

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