WAHIAWA, Hawaii - Dozens of members from local community organizations here participated in a picking and stringing event, May 28, continuing an island tradition honoring Soldiers buried at the Schofield Barracks Post Cemetery.

The fourth annual service project, led by the Wahiawa Rainbow Seniors club, brought together senior citizens from the Hongwanji Mission and individuals from Wahiawa and Whitmore Village communities to pick flowers and string 1,765 lei to encircle the small U.S. flags placed at the post cemetery gravesites on Memorial Day.

The club, made up of seniors 55 years and older, is committed to service, education and being an example to youth in the community.

"We're a rainbow of nationalities," explained Noelle Sutherland, who motivated the group and coordinated the efforts that day, hence the club name, she said, and "also because Wahiawa has it's share of rain and rainbows."

Work began immediately in the Hongwanji Mission social hall.

"Lei should be approximately 15 inches, yet no longer than 18 inches, and no less than 12," Sutherland instructed.

Finished lei are to be tied, counted and laid between newspapers, and lightly sprayed with water before being placed in the boxes, she added.

Amid speculations that there could be a shortage of flowers and lei this year, Sutherland wasted no time recruiting volunteers for a flower harvest that morning.

"This is our most fragrant, colorful and visible service project of the year," Sutherland said, while driving a group to a North Shore plumeria farm in the mountains high above Haleiwa.

Farm owner and Wahiawa resident, Jim Little, opened his farm to the Memorial Day lei-making group and has donated blossoms for the last 14 years.

The yellow, lemon-scented plumeria is known as the "graveyard flower" because "it does well with little water and lots of sun," in addition to being the fastest and easiest flower to string, explained Sutherland.

Volunteers from the club, whose average member age is 70, quickly made their way through rows of low-hanging plumeria branches, plucking as many fresh blossoms within reach in two hours.

"Three at a time," encouraged Carolyn Kawamata, 69, after word spread that the stringers needed more flowers.

When the pickers returned, more than 15 volunteers were busy at work and welcomed the bounty.

Bags of fresh, multicolored plumeria blossoms were poured onto tables already filled with branches of bouganvillia, stephanotis, orchids and little, round bozu flowers.

"String'em up and I'll be back later," announced Benny Quiseng.

"This is my way of saying thank you for allowing me freedom," said Yvonne Okazaki, while adding a few more garlands to a box.

At noon, Okazaki counted the finished lei and reported that the total was 565.

Next door in the Hongwanji Mission, another group of volunteers contributed to the effort creating braided and individually arranged ti leaf lei or "wili."

Among the volunteers was former club president, Roseline Yano, 87. Making Memorial Day lei for the Schofield Barracks Cemetery allows her to express her appreciation and pay her respects.

"This is lei for Soldiers that are close to us and our families in Wahiawa," said Yano, pausing from her work, holding a braided ti leaf lei in her hands. "This is lei for our Soldiers. They are all our family."

At the end of the day, 1,715 lei were completed with an additional 50 added over the weekend. The lei were stored at Schofield Barracks until Memorial Day when groups of Scouts came together to place them at the gravesites.

Committee chair for Cub Scout Den 464, Christie Yogi, and her sons Tyler and Christian, attended the Schofield Barracks ceremony and heard of the seniors' efforts.

"I think it is great what these folks have volunteered to do," Yogi said. "In the past, our Scouts have always paid respects to those buried at Punchbowl, but we heard that there was concern that there might be a shortage of lei, so we made some of our own and brought them to Schofield Barracks."

Okazaki said she knows the group's efforts are appreciated.

"No words are necessary, just 'mahalo' and right back at you,'" she said.

<i>(Editor's Note: Loran Doane, USAG-HI, PAO contributed to this article.)</i>

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16