Lei Queen blooms with family history, patriotic pride
May 7, 2010
SCHOFIELD BARRACKS, Hawaii - After years of foregoing the lure of Honolulu's Lei Queen contest, Jamie Detwiler finally dove into the annual May Day celebration this spring - and came out smelling like fresh flowers.
The mother of four children fashioned together a traditional lei po'o, or head lei, made up of palapalai fern, liko lehua, bougainvillea, lavender and orchids, and beat out two other women for the highly coveted 2010 Lei Queen crown.
Her investiture officially took place May 1, at Waikiki's Kapiolani Park Bandstand, where she and court members Lauri-Ann Quihano, first princess, and Marie Paresa, princess, were recognized by City and County of Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann.
Detwiler, a Family Advocacy Program specialist with Army Community Service, here, credited her family history replete with talented lei makers for her victory. In fact, two of her aunts, Marie McDonald of the Big Island and Irmalee Pomroy of Kauai, are recognized as national living treasures for their extensive, lifelong work in the Hawaiian art of lei making.
"I grew up making leis, coming from a family where you did so whether you wanted to or not," chuckled Detwiler, who was raised in the windward Oahu communities of Waimanalo and Kaneohe.
Yet, despite participation in the city's Lei Day celebration since she was six, her desire to enter the Lei Queen competition didn't reach full bloom until earlier this year.
"I did it to honor my kupuna (grandparents, or elders), who were master lei makers, but I also did it for my country," explained Detwiler, whose husband of 23 years, Neal, previously served as a sergeant in the U.S. Army, and whose fraternal twin son, Kaohu, recently completed basic training for the Hawaii Air National Guard.
"I'm very patriotic," she continued. "I couldn't serve as an active duty member, but I thought this was my chance to do something for my country."
In truth, Detwiler has been serving her country for years as a social worker.
Hired by the Department of Veterans Affairs in 1998, she served as both a home care social worker and disability-rating specialist before becoming a supervisor with the Veterans Benefits Administration.
A decade later, the Army brought her on board as a FAP specialist, a role that allows her to empower and build resiliency among Soldiers and their families through education and prevention programs.
As a result, Detwiler noted she is able to share "the spirit of aloha" with Soldiers and families.
In explaining her pathway to the crown, Detwiler said she was not only required to make a lei po'o in front of several judges, but, as well, to explain the materials used, read a Hawaiian story and recite her genealogy before an audience.
The finished lei, however, appeared to have the greatest impact on the judges.
"I really wanted to do something that was vibrant and use the same method my family uses in making leis, which is the haku wili, or winding method," Detwiler explained. "I also wanted to make something for the head and create more of a regal look, as opposed to a lei worn around the neck."
In the end, she added, "the colors really caught the judges' eyes."
"I was overwhelmed. It was very stressful, given the number of hours I put into it," added Detwiler of her lei creation. "But I just wanted to do it right for my family."