Alumna Shares Hula at Homecoming

Her hand tapped the microphone as she began to speak about the importance of hula to a culture where it is not commonly practiced. Her voice sang the words of her hula expressions, and her movements suggested the beauty that followed.

Cheryl Ogawa Ho ’64 returned to Pacific University in October to celebrate her 50th class reunion as part of Homecoming 2014 — and to bring another piece of her life to her fellow Boxers and Badgers.

Ogawa Ho was born and raised in Hawai’i, and the culture of the place has long been a core in her life. As a student at Pacific, she performed in Lu‘au. Years later, she began to study hula in depth, and today she teaches it as part of an institute that shares the art form around the world.

At Homecoming, she performed three brief expressions of hula at her class reunion, each representing a different meaning from the history and art of hula.

“I feel that it’s important for people to know Hawai’i more deeply than what is sometimes shown to tourists,” Ogawa Ho said.

Dale Dawson, Ogawa Ho’s friend of 54 years, attended the reunion and said that her movements held him in thrall.

“Her explanation of the chants and movements made it especially moving to us,” Dawson said. “I’m so grateful to Pacific for providing the facilities and support to make our reunion possible.”

Both Dawson and Ogawa Ho attended Pacific in 1960. Ogawa Ho first chose to attend Pacific after receiving a scholarship as the child of a United Church of Christ minister and finding out that the school (then) offered a degree in religious education.

As a student, she was involved in the Hawai’i Club, the choir and Lu‘au. She also worked in the University Center.

After graduation, Ogawa Ho entered a theological seminary in Berkeley, Calif., furthering her studies in religious education.

Throughout her life, Ogawa Ho’s passion has been working with young people. She was director of religious education in a residential treatment center for young people in Chicago, where she also taught Head Start. She then taught at a therapeutic nursery that dealt with emotional and behavioral problems among children.

“I’ve always had an interest in working with young children, because I find them very fascinating,” Ogawa Ho said. “They’re developing, they’re spontaneous and I like to relate to them and help them discover what they can do.”

During her 11 years in Chicago, Ogawa Ho had two children of her own. When she moved back to Hawai’I, her third child was born. Soon after, she began what was to become the focus of her career: social work.

She earned a master’s degree in social work at the University of Hawai’i in 1989. After that, she moved from being the foster home developer to a social worker with Casey Family Programs.

“It was very satisfying as well as very challenging,” Ogawa Ho said. “People who worked with me know that one of my big interests and missions was to either keep connected or reconnect foster youths with their birth families.”

In 1998, Ogawa Ho was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She underwent treatment for a little less than a year and is now in remission.

“It was a matter of finding strength and energy,” Ogawa Ho said. “I just powered through. I had a lot of good emotional support so I was able to keep on going.”

Wherever life took Ogawa Ho, she said she has always felt connected to Pacific. Her eldest daughter attended Pacific, giving Ogawa Ho a reason to attend Lu‘au and graduation.

But her visit for Homecoming was the first in 20 years. Throughout the weekend, she reconnected with her former Walter Hall roommate, sang with her old choir, and showed her peers her dedication to hula.

“I started to seriously study hula at the same time I was pregnant with [my youngest child],” Ogawa Ho said. “Hula is at the center of my life right now.”

Today, Ogawa Ho lives in Honolulu, where she teaches hula at the Ka`imi Na`auao O Hawai`i Nei Institute. Her family, including many of her seven grandchildren, are involved in her hula class, in which she teaches not only dance steps, but meaning and value as well.  She also has toured with the institute, performing and teaching in Europe, India and around the United States.

She looks forward to continuing to express her values with the history of her family, culture, and ethnic groups — Japanese and Hawaiian — in a creative way through the unique work she has done.

“To be able to appreciate and to help perpetuate an art form which is at the heart of a culture is such an honor and requires much dedication,” she said. “I have a natural inclination toward this.”

Oct. 24, 2014