Those who don’t know or work with Edna K. Gehring ’70, ’72 MSEd, might get the wrong impression from her “Aunty Edna” nickname—imagining a soft, matronly woman who coddles her students.
Indeed, since she became an advisor to the Hawai‘i Club 26 years ago, Gehring has served as a kind and supportive mother figure to hundreds of students from Hawai‘i. But she is quick to point out that being their “Aunty” also conveys certain additional privileges: “Mothers have to love all the time regardless, but for me, being their ‘Aunty’ means that I can also challenge and scold them.”
That tough love is necessary when, year after year, Gehring helps bring together a diverse group of about 300 Hawai‘i students to perform one of the largest lū‘aus on the mainland. Being demanding is also necessary because it brings out the best in her students. She admits, “I’m not the easiest person to work with because I push my kids to be better than what they are—and I push them because I know they can do it.”
Gehring, who is the Director of Learning Support Services for Students with Disabilities and Multicultural Services, also pushes Hawai‘i students because she has walked in their shoes. When they complain about Oregon’s rainy weather, she remembers her years as a student at Pacific, when “the rain just drove me crazy.”
But she also recalls surviving the rainy weather, and learning to make the best of it, which is the practical lesson she passes on to students who swear they can see Noah’s Ark floating by the third floor of Clark Hall.
“What I liked most about Pacific at that point in time, and it still happens now, is people take care of you. People go out of their way to help you,” she says. “It’s a culture thing. It’s a sense of ohana.”
“What I learned as a student is, when you’re in Oregon and it’s raining, even if you plan a picnic and it rains that day, you do the picnic inside,” Gehring says. “I don’t care where it is—you don’t just cancel the picnic. You go do it.”
Likewise, when Gehring asks students to sacrifice their time and other interests to focus on lū‘au preparations, she does so knowing she once made the same difficult choices. In fact, when her future husband, Hans ’72, first worked up the nerve to ask Gehring out during her senior year at Pacific, she turned him down flat.
“Hans asked me out during lū‘au week,” she explains, “and I said I don’t think so, Charlie. I had to practice!”
Perhaps the most important lesson Gehring passes on to her students relates to family, or “ohana.” Gehring’s own family has strong ties to the University, as her brother Bill ’69 pitched on Coach Chuck Bafaro’s baseball team, Gehring met her future husband at Pacific and their daughter, Christie ’02, is a graduate. And it was Pacific’s extended family —including then-Hawai‘i Club Advisor Fred Scheller ’43, MA ’54 friends in the Hawai‘i Club and “sisters” from Delta Chi Delta—who made Gehring feel at home on campus.
Just minutes before this year’s lū‘au, Gehring and other advisors gathered students together in a large circle that symbolizes their ohana. They recited the Lord’s Prayer in English and Hawaiian, and pumped themselves up for the performance to come. “That’s the moment,” Gehring says. It’s the moment when Gehring’s lū‘au preparations are over for the year, and she can settle into the softer part of her role as “Aunty Edna,” watching with love and pride as her charges share their singing and dancing skills and their culture.
Of course, one day after the performance, Gehring was getting right back to business—preparing, as she has for more than a quarter-century, to make the next lū‘au even better than the last. ■
This story first appeared in the Spring 2010 issue of Pacific magazine. For more stories, visit pacificu.edu/magazine.