Diverse women join to support Hawaiian studies

October 25th, 2011  |  by  |  Published in People

group shot with Donna Vuchinich, Virginia Hinshaw, Judith Pyle, Wayne Pitluck, Maenette Benham

From left, Vuchinich, Hinshaw, Pyle, Pitluck and Benham

During fall 2008, an evening Hawaiian Studies 107 class at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa drew campus administrators, faculty and community leaders to study Hawaiian language and culture. Enrolled were three longtime friends—Mānoa Chancellor Virginia Hinshaw and sisters Judith Pyle, a business executive and UH Foundation trustee, and Mary Ann Belke, a retired business executive.

The trio joined the class at the Hawaiʻinuiākea School of Hawaiian Knowledge because of their deep, abiding interest and commitment to the Native Hawaiian culture. The course also introduced Pyle to Maenette Benham, a Native Hawaiian educator who had just taken the helm as inaugural dean of Hawaiʻinuiākea.

Remembers Benham: “I began to build a relationship with Judy over time—she learning more about me and the school, and I learning more about her career, her passions and her love of Hawaiian music and Niʻihau shell jewelry.”

The deepening friendship bonded the three women—dean, chancellor and philanthropist—and blossomed into a grand idea. Pyle and her husband, attorney Wayne Pitluck, approached Hinshaw and Benham with a proposed endowment of significant magnitude in 2011.

“I was originally thinking of making this gift through my estate plan,” says Pyle, “but I became so excited about the impact it could have, I wanted to make it during my lifetime so I could see it in action.”

On June 29, Pyle announced a $2 million pledge to establish an endowed dean’s chair at the school, facilitated by another woman leader on campus, UH Foundation President and CEO Donna Vuchinich. The fund will have major impact in building a “knowledge well of Hawaiian knowing,” as Benham puts it, by supporting the revitalization of Hawaiian ʻōlelo (language) and culture and disseminating and preserving Native Hawaiian knowledge.

More specifically, the pledge will fund three areas of development—

  • Ka Waihona A Ke Aloha (the Mele Institute in the Kawaihuelani Center for Hawaiian Language), which will digitize many archived recordings, sheet music and other media
  • Hawaiʻinuiākea Publishing, which will publish song books and provide seed money for a book series that will bring Native Hawaiian knowledge to a broad community of scholars, teachers, community leaders and students
  • Community engagement, including initiatives in education, land and natural resource management and leadership development

“Our school is unique in that we engage kanaka maoli (indigenous people) and non-kanaka maoli scholars, practitioners, policymakers, community leaders and traditional/cultural leaders to focus their wisdom and skill sets on pressing dilemmas with response to kanaka maoli principles and contemporary sensibilities,” says Benham.

Campus and community reaction to the $2 million gift flowed in with congratulations and overwhelming gratitude, led by the Mānoa chancellor. “Judy has been a very special person in my life for more than 20 years. I know well her wonderful giving nature,” says Hinshaw. “Her generous gift reflects passions that she and I also share—advancing Native Hawaiian culture, supporting women leaders and investing in higher education for Hawaiʻi.”

About Hawaiʻinuiākea

The only school of indigenous studies at a U.S. research I institution and Mānoa’s youngest school, Hawaiʻinuiākea was established in 2007 and incorporates Kamakakūokalani Center for Hawaiian Studies and Kawaihuelani Center for Hawaiian Language.

Both academic unit offers bachelor’s and master’s degrees serving about 400 students majoring in Hawaiian studies or Hawaiian language. Another 1,600 students take classes within the school to fulfill general requirements for other majors.

The school also includes Ka Papa Loʻi O Kānewai cultural garden and Kauhale Native Hawaiian student services.

Learn more about the school. To support the school, contact Emily Fay, call 808 956-5665 or make a gift online.

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