Hawai‘i family had humble beginnings

Descendents establish endowed scholarship at UH Hilo in memory of grandmother

University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo
Posted: Jul 16, 2008

" ʻYou are grandma‘s boy,‘ she always told me. So I tried hard not to do anything bad that would bring shame or disgrace to the family. I know she would be very happy knowing that she is being honored with a scholarship in her name."Russell Oda

HILO—At only ten years of age, Keru Oda worked on her family‘s farm near Fukuoka, Japan. The year was 1886 and children born into poverty had no opportunity for an education.

In 1898 she married Chujiro Oda, a member of a samurai family in Saga, and together they immigrated to Hawaiʻi, in search of a better life. But the hard work continued as she and her husband worked in the Paukaa sugar cane fields and struggled to raise their eight children. After her children were grown, Keru raised her infant grandson Shigeyasu (Russell) Oda until he was 16 years old. It was Russell who opened the doors to literacy for her, teaching her to read and write Japanese katakana at the age of 63.

Today, the descendants of Keru and Chujiro Oda number in the hundreds in Hawaiʻi and on the Mainland, and include accountants, engineers, contractors, teachers, doctors, nurses, realtors, attorneys, bankers and architects. Their success provides powerful testimony to the emphasis on education instilled in them by a wise woman who was herself unable to attend school.

In May, Russell Oda and his wife Aki established an endowed scholarship at UH Hilo to honor the memory of Russell‘s grandmother. The fund will benefit students in need of financial support.

"We are honored that Russell and Aki have chosen to establish this fund in memory of Mr. Oda‘s grandmother," said UH Hilo Chancellor Rose Tseng. "Keru Oda faced incredible hardships, but she knew a good education would benefit future generations of her family. Now, her family is able to assist others who need assistance."

UH Hilo has the highest percentage of students receiving financial aid of any of the ten UH campuses. Private scholarships make a critical difference to UH Hilo students in need and help lessen the burden of debt with which many UH students graduate.

For more information, visit: http://www.uhf.hawaii.edu