Maui News

Arleen Gerbig & Yuki Lei Sugimura Honored at 49th Kupuna Aloha Celebration

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Maui Economic Opportunity’s Kupuna Advocates of the Year, Arleen Gerbig (left) and Yuki Lei Sugimura (right), pose with MEO CEO Debbie Cabebe at the 49th Kupuna Aloha Celebration on July 30. Photo Courtesy: MEO

West side senior leader Arleen Gerbig and Maui County Council Member Yuki Lei Sugimura were honored as Kupuna Advocates of the Year at the virtual 49th Kupuna Aloha Celebration, organized by Maui Economic Opportunity and viewed by about 200 people live on July 30.

“Remembering the Plantation Days” was the theme for the event, which keynote speaker Lee Cataluna talked about during her talk. The Civil Beat commentator and daughter, granddaughter and great-granddaughter of sugar growers said the plantations “provided meaningful work, the opportunity for advancement for local people, a decent home, a way to pay for kids’ college tuition,” as well as for community needs from emergency health care to lending a cane haul truck for the parade float.

“Sometimes I hear people talk about how bad the plantations were, and I think I don’t know if they ever lived in that kind of community,” said Cataluna, who grew up on Maui and graduated from Baldwin High. “Maybe they are telling part of it, but they are not telling all of it. They are leaving the good parts out.”

Lee Cataluna, Civil Beat commentator and author, discussed plantation life during her livestream talk July 30 at the 49th Kupuna Aloha Celebration. Photo Courtesy: MEO

She said the “essence of plantation life was community.” Neighbors were ready to help in good times and bad and would come over to offer goodies from the yard or kitchen and talk story.

“Plantation people did not have to go it alone,” said Cataluna, whose dad led Wailuku Sugar, the predecessor of Wailuku Water Co.

More than a dozen federal, state and county lawmakers offered short remarks, several referencing the previous in-person gatherings at the Grand Wailea resort with gift giveaways and the dreaded call-up to dance. (A drawing was held beforehand for gift cards and other items, which will be mailed or delivered to kupuna).


Lawmakers from the US Senate to the County Council advocated for vaccinations to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and praised the Kupuna Advocates of the Year, both of whom appeared in-person at the site of the livestream in the MEO Wailuku offices.

Sugimura has advocated for kupuna on the council and organized events that involved and benefitted seniors. Gerbig, a member of the Lahaina-Honolua Senior Club for 18 years and president for the past five years, has been very active during the pandemic keeping kupuna informed and physically and mentally healthy by organizing food distributions once a month and becoming Zoom literate to open up lines of communication.

Gerbig and Sugimura received commendations from Maui County Mayor Michael Victorino and the state Legislature, through state Sen. Roz Baker and Rep. Angus McKelvey.


The nearly two-hour event was livestreamed on Zoom and the MEO website and televised live on Akaku: Maui Community Media. It can be viewed on the MEO Facebook page.


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