The funeral was huge and the church was packed. A testament to the man.
Held at Saint Elizabeth’s Episcopal Church in the heart of Kalihi, James Kealoha’s funeral service brought him right back to the heart of his hana butta days. The church was where he served as an altar boy with his brothers many years ago and it was filled with those who knew him then and now.
As explained during the service, James came to Punahou by way of Pearl Harbor Elementary, Puuhale Elementary and Kalakaua Intermediate. It must have meant something for him to be at Punahou because there were touches of buff and blue throughout the sanctuary (not to mention the fact that his two children, Kimo IV ’95 and Chanel ’99, are counted as alumni).
Later life would include playing for the University of Hawaii, marriage to Nadine, and years of coaching. Upon his death, he was teaching special education students at Palolo Elementary.
As it is with those who die young, there are many there to mourn. And there was a solid contingent from the Punahou Class of ’74 in attendance: James Kaimikaua, Neal Ane, Wendell Ho, Mike Mikasa, Earl Nakaya, Keith Kam, Charles Paccaro, Fred Hu, Frank Izuta, Ken Sumida, Anne Hogan Perry, Nancy Dew Metcalf, Waiau Kaulukukui, Ralph Aona, Jack Wright, Alvina Cabrinha, Renee Ahuna Cabrinha, and Lynne Gartley Meyer.
Many of the above individuals shared the gridiron with James where he was the center for the team. That James valued this experience was reflected by the memories that were recounted as well as the football pictures and newspaper articles that were displayed at the service.
But James had more than football friends who mourn his loss. I was fortunate to receive the following submissions from two friends who shared the wrestling mat with him. I thank them for offering their memories of our classmate, James.
From Richard Botkin:
To me he will always be, simply, “James D.” During our junior and senior years of high school we wrestled together and, in this most intimate of sports, became fast friends. James D, along with John Tyler, captained the team our senior year and truly became its heart and soul. A fierce competitor, he was likewise a tireless cheerleader to his mates, exhorting each of us to greater effort and performance. In both victory and defeat we would look to him for a bear hug exiting the mat when he would share in the joy or console in disappointment. Before and after every match in our senior year James D, with unbridled, raucous enthusiasm, would lead the team in our unique and utterly nonsensical “Ice–Box–Lunch!!!” and “Rock–Salt–Plum!!!” cheers. It was clearly a Punahou thing.
While extremely well coached by men like Ken Mayo, Bruce Wampold and Bob Tam, James D was every bit our coach, leader and mentor; qualities he would use to touch countless others for the rest of his too-short life.
It was impossible to not love James D. His superb athleticism was eclipsed by a heart as big as Tantalus. His self-deprecating sense of humor and genuine humility were traits as uncommon then as they are now. While I lost direct contact with him over the years, I followed him tangentially when he coached my two nephews at Punahou, and saw that his good works only improved with time.
I will forever remember his irrepressible smile along with the infectiousness of his laughter. James D reminds me of my favorite passage from Proverbs (27:17). “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” It would be an interesting exercise to tally the number of people discipled and blessed by the firm hand of his coaching and friendship, and to see who has been made better by the James D “brand of iron.”
Rest in peace my friend. Our loss is Heaven’s gain.
From co-captain John Tyler:
Kimo and I would sit together on the busses, planes and vans transporting us to our various sporting events and as we rode we quietly sang Hawai’ian songs in unison: mostly Sunday Manoa tunes and definitely to calm our nervous energy. I would often tease Kimo about his leadership qualities on the football field. Since he was the “Center” wherever he stood with his hand in the air for the huddle, we would all follow, no matter where he led us to.
Kimo Kealoha, Skip Berg and I were fortunate enough to be selected tri-captains for the Punahou Wrestling team our senior year. Here is where there is no jest when I speak of those qualities people list of their ideal leader that Kimo exuded. He talked the talk and more importantly he walked the walk on and off the mats and fields.
It has been too long since we sang together Kimo! I will remember how easily you would burst into smiling laughter and your style of finishing everyone else’s sentences. How many of us changed the last few words just to see the look on your face?
Much Mahalos for sharing the journey with us and our Aloha and Prayers to the Kealoha ‘Ohana. Rest in Peace My Braddah James “Kimo Da Kalihi Boy” Kealoha.
John H. Keoni Tyler (One of the “Ekolu Kapena Kolohe”)