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Retired UH Mānoa librarian Paul Wermager shares a memory of Ball at the February 28 campus celebration.

One of the trailblazers at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa whose story is celebrated is Alice Augusta Ball. She was the first woman at UH to earn a master’s degree in chemistry and the school’s first African American female chemistry instructor. Her groundbreaking contribution to the world led to becoming the most effective treatment for Hansen’s disease (leprosy) in the first half of the 20th century. Many of the details about Ball’s story came through research from a former UH librarian.

alice ball graphic
Alice Ball

Paul Wermager, former head of the science and technology department at UH Mānoa’s Hamilton Library, has dedicated 25 years to researching, sharing and soon publishing a comprehensive biography of Ball.

Retired in 2010, Wermager was a former ICU nurse and pharmacist, and served at UH for 20 years. His fascination for books led him to apply for a librarian faculty position.

“I liked finding answers to new things, and with a science background, I thought it was a good fit,” he said. “Once I started researching Alice, I couldn’t stop. She was a remarkable woman who overcame many challenges in her life.”

[The scholarship] is my way to thank Alice for being the wonderful human being that she was.
—Paul Wermager

Paying it forward

In 2017, he established the Alice Augusta Ball Endowed Scholarship, aiming to support underrepresented minority students at UH Mānoa aspiring to enter the science field, mirroring Ball’s journey to use their unique talents to improve society and our world.

Reflecting on Ball’s life, he shared:

Paul Wermager and Destiny Apilado.
Paul Wermager with scholarship recipient Destiny Apilado.

“During her first year in Hawaiʻi attending graduate school, Alice lived at the new YWCA and found out from other women living there who came from the outer islands were really in a bad way with their grammar and were threatened to be fired from their work. To address this, she initiated popular English composition classes on Monday nights in fall 1914 and again in spring 1915. Ball’s altruism likely stemmed from her own experiences of receiving support during asthma attacks, instilling in her a desire to assist others in need.”

Wermager added, “Because my family was poor, I had to work evenings when I attended high school and college. Many people were very kind and helped me finish college. I think if Alice had lived, she would probably have helped others. [The scholarship] is my way to thank Alice for being the wonderful human being that she was.”

On February 28, “Alice Augusta Ball Day,” Wermager joined others in the UH Mānoa community to commemorate Ball at the Chaulmoogra tree near Bachman Hall where a dedication plaque is placed in her honor. Lt. Gov. Sylvia Luke presented a proclamation signed by Gov. Josh Green that reaffirmed Alice Augusta Ball Day in 2024.

“That would be a wonderful thing to have a celebration each year,” he said.

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