Part of Hawaii's history ends with passing of Chester Kahapea

Photo courtesy George F. Lee, Honolulu Star-Bulletin
Photo courtesy George F. Lee, Honolulu Star-Bulletin
Photo courtesy Honolulu Star-Bulletin
Photo courtesy Honolulu Star-Bulletin

By Teri Okita – bio | email

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - If a picture's worth a thousand words, Chester Kahapea spoke volumes in just one snapshot. He will always be remembered for the role he played in Hawaii's history.

On March 4th, Chester Kahapea passed away.

In his early years, he was the smiling face of statehood. Later in life, he became the face of ALS, Lou Gehrig's disease. Hawaii News Now caught up with Chester on the 50th anniversary of statehood in 2009.

He showed us clippings that his mom collected for him from an earlier time. As he flips through the album, he recalls, "Here we go. This is from where? Oklahoma City." 12 year old Chester rose to celebrity status with a photo of his toothless grin as he held up a special edition of the Star-Bulletin newspaper on March 12, 1959. He remembers a photographer talking to him. "He just asked me how I normally sold my papers. So, I held up my hand with the paper - and, just a shot of statehood - and that was it!" He laughs.

Celebrations poured into the streets as President Eisenhower declared statehood. Chester couldn't sell his newspapers on that street corner in Honolulu fast enough - reportedly saying he didn't really know what statehood meant, but he knew he was making more money than ever before!

"I mean, everybody was blowing their horns. People were throwing confetti out of the windows in the office," he recalls. His picture hit the front pages of many newspapers, including the New York Times.

The Waianae man retired after more than 30 years as a soils technician for Construction Engineering Labs. And in his later years, Chester suffered from ALS, a neurological disorder that affects muscles and motor skills. He volunteered much of his time at the Muscular Dystrophy Association and was very open and honest about his condition. Even through his pain, the MDA staff says he always put others before himself.

MDA Healthcare Service Coordinator, Crystal Landherr, says, "He always brought a smiling face and a positive attitude to those who were having a hard time with the diagnosis or familymembers, caregivers.  He always had the attitude: never give up, always be strong. This is my diagnosis. This is my new way of life. It's a new way of living."

With Chester's passing, a part of Hawaii's history is gone, too. Gone but not forgotten.

Chester Kahapea was 65.

Memorial services will take place Saturday, March 26th – starting with a visitation at 10:00 a.m. and service at 11:00 a.m. at Nuuanu Memorial Park and Mortuary.

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