Monday, April 7, 2008

He left us a trove of memories

Retired Oahu principal kept dreaming of Maui youth in face of illness

By Lee Cataluna
Advertiser Columnist

Toward the end of his life, when the pain from cancer treatment kept him from sleeping, Louis Baldovi would stay awake and write.


Baldovi, retired school principal who served at Nanakuli Intermediate and High and Waimanalo Elementary, wrote about growing up in a little town called Kuiaha on Maui in the 1930s-'50s, a place that few people even know about today. His stories of growing up a child of immigrant parents in a pineapple plantation town are straightforward and unvarnished. They worked so hard, they had good fun, they took care of one another in the ways that matter.

There is a story about how younger brother Tinny had to bring home lunch to a Cub Scout outing. Louis, who was 10 years older, offered to pack the lunch for his little brother while Mama was busy with other things. All the other Cub Scouts ended up with squashed sandwiches in paper bags, but Tinny had a bountiful slab of rice smothered in an egg and bacon concoction. Rather than being teased, Tinny was the envy of all the other boys that he had a big brother who made such a hearty lunch for him.

This kind of unspoken love and gratitude is at the heart of Baldovi's book, "Holoholo to Wen I Wuz," released last month by the Haiku Living Legacy Project.

Baldovi didn't live to see his book published. He died in July of 2006. Though his first book, a collection of stories from Hawai'i Korean War Veterans, had been published by University of Hawai'i Press, he didn't have a publisher for the Kuiaha stories.

"After he passed, I looked at the manuscript and said, 'I'm going to have this printed if I have to pay for it myself,' " his wife Valerie said.

But it didn't come to that. The head of the Haiku Living Legacy Project, Marian Zajac, had heard of Baldovi's manuscript and was already putting together a plan to get it published.

Baldovi didn't set his sights on being an author. He had been a soldier, a teacher, a school administrator and, in retirement, owner of a yard service. But he learned early in life that when you want something, you have to make it yourself. When he couldn't find books about the Korean War that told the story the way he knew it, from the soldier's point of view, he decided to write one himself. As his family did in Kuiaha, making their own home and provisions, so he made his own book. "Foxhole View: Personal Accounts of Hawaii's Korean War Veterans" was published by University of Hawai'i Press in 2002.

This second book was edited by journalist Kekoa Catherine Enomoto and includes historical photos from the A&B Sugar Museum and Maui Historical Society.

The book was released last month at an event at the Haiku Community Center and has already sold enough copies to cover the cost of printing. Proceeds from the sale of the books will support the historical projects of the Haiku Living Legacy Project.

"When he found out he was ill, it made him want to finish the project even more," Valerie said. "It was a reflective time for him."

The idea for the book first came when he was playing "pogs" with his grandsons and the boys didn't believe his stories of how the game originated: in plantation days, when a toy was improvised, not purchased, and something as simple as the covers of milk bottles provided hours of free entertainment. During the months of his illness, he returned to memories of his childhood, simple things that are stunning today: death-defying pranks along the train trestle, smoking papaya leaf cigarettes in the gulch, the gallantry of a barefoot football league. Baldovi doesn't hold back many secrets or pull punches, and the result is a memoir that is unsentimental but endearing.

Says Valerie, "There is such a sweetness about his stories, just like him."

Reach Lee Cataluna at

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MauiSlugbug wrote:
I remember Mr. Baldovi when he was vice-principal at Waipahu High during the early 70s. He was a quiet, humble man who greeted students as they arrived for school. One of my neighbors was an HPD officer who would occasionally give me a ride to school in his police cruiser. I remember the strange looks I received from Mr. Baldovi each time I exited from the police car. One day Mr. Baldovi asked, "Eh, what's up with the police escort?" I explained the situation and Mr. Baldovi cracked up laughing. He said, "I was beginning to think that you were in some serious trouble!" I read Mr. Baldovi's book "Foxhole View" last year. Recalling my contacts with him back in high school, you would never know that he experienced so many hardships during the Korean War. My respect for Mr. Baldovi grew even greater after I read his book. Thank you Mr. Baldovi for sharing your story.
4/6/2008 10:11:23 AM

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