All of our donors are important and special, but there is no denying that our "special angel", Sue Cooley, was one-of-a-kind. Sue, a part-time West Maui resident, embraced Lahainaluna like no one before her. Sue, and her boundless philanthropy, were responsible for bringing to Lahainaluna, a state-of-the-art multi-purpose stadium. What was once a hard scrabble field of closely cropped weeds, a track that could only be described as a dirt path, and bleacher seating for less than 1,000 fans, is now a 3,000 seat stadium, complete with a 4-lane all-weather track and the same artificial turf used by the Dallas Cowboys.
The following narratives have been provided by the Foundation Board members who knew Sue best:
Aloha to all Lahainaluna Students, Alumni, Coaches and all who have coached in the past, Teachers current and those who have retired, Lahainaluna Wannabees, The West Maui Community, and to the world of admirers that Love and Respect Lahainaluna High School.
Since Sue Cooley passed away, just a few days ago, on February 18, 2017, we have received many questions about how it all started…why did Sue Cooley decide to move in the directions that she did. Why would one person, just a part time resident of Maui make the decision to fund a high school stadium? How many know that she did not want the stadium named after her? Or that we might have overstepped in having it named in her honor. I was very worried about that one. But on the day that Lanny Tihada drove her around the stadium in a golf cart and then came back to the entry tunnel, and for the first time, as Lanny pointed up to her name, she finally saw that it was named after her. She put her hands to her mouth in shock but told Lanny that it was one of the very best days of her life.
So now, let me try to explain how I believe it happened, how it started for Sue to want to be involved. Sadly enough, none of us will ever really explain this except that she fell in love with Lahainaluna and with her “BOYS” and the Lahainaluna football program. She has loved several “generations” of Lahainaluna football teams, lovingly called “her boys”. She has enjoyed a special comradery with all of Lahainaluna students. Sue has been proud of the many students that she has met, students who are working in the community and are beautifully prideful of where they graduated from. I do not think I have ever seen High School Students and Alumni so very proud of their school.
Many will recall the story that Sue Cooley was at a football game and that the game was a heartbreaker. The Lunas were down by almost 40 points and fought their hearts out. The game ended with Lunas 39 and “other team” 43. I am not sure of the actual score anymore but a heartbreaker. As we left the field and walked past the locker rooms we could not have felt sadder. But then we heard the Lahainaluna “Boys” singing their Alma Mater in rich, smooth voices filled with pride. They may have lost the same but they were proud of the fight and proud of their commitment to each other and to their School.
We all had tears in our eyes as we walked to our car….I believe we were all stunned by the enormity of our feelings, our heartfelt tears. More important we were proud of the Lahainaluna team. We were proud of who they were as young men. We were proud that they had fought a valiant battle but could still sing their Alma Mater in Hawaiian, as was part of their custom, and having the ability to do so at this unbelievably difficult time. One of those moments we call “Chicken Skin” in Hawaii!!! I will eternally call this the moment that Sue realized that she wanted to do something for Lahainaluna Football. I believe she saw that Lahainaluna Football was more than just a game. It was turning boys into men, it was different, and it meant, and means, more to the West Maui Community that I could ever have realized before that time. Her respect for The Boys of Lahainaluna has never wavered.
Something happened on that day that inspired Sue D. Cooley to work with the Lahainaluna High School Foundation in an effort to bring a sports facility to Lahainaluna. Sue has always called this a community effort and was proud that the community came together with each person contributing what they could. Most of us did not really understand what was happening or how much it meant for our community and most did not see “the bigger picture”.
In a recent issue of The Lahaina News (February 23rd, 2017), I believe I saw the bigger picture, in an article written by Walter Chihara entitled “Garrett Tihada is the Lahaina News’ Sportsman of the Year”. For me this article changed my perception of what has happened. It was no accident; it was a passing of the torch from Lanny Tihada to his son, Garrett, and Garrett now paying forward that spirit to his nephews in the program. The Lunas, under the Tihada Legacy have established a time-honored tradition of respect, dedication and a simple hard work ethic that not only has changed the lives of the players under this program, but has in many ways given a Legacy of Pride in all Lahainaluna High School Students and alumni and pride to the whole of the West Maui Community. Win or lose… this Lahainaluna Football program is what sportsmanship is all about. Now, you ask, is this where it started…I now know that it may have started with Principal Bruno Ariyoshi and those who came, possibly before and continuing after his regime. Let us not forget the amazing Co-Head Coach-Bobby Watson who is said to be the Dean of MIL coaches and the Lunas’ Mentor for over 35 years.
So much is now history…a Multi-Purpose Sports Facility has been built with the same artificial turf that is used by the Dallas Cowboys. Companies and individuals gave of themselves and their resources to insure that this would be completed. Neil Everett from ESPN did 2 minute Public Service Announcement that we could use for any venue…radio, television, internet and any other way that we wanted. Neil Everett has an amazing connection to Hawaii, Maui and specifically to Lahainaluna… are we ever the lucky ones. Everyone worked hard but there were times that we never thought we could reach our goal, but Sue D. Cooley championed this effort and made it happen. Maybe enough said but I would note she has somewhat single handed made this effort a reality…but again remember she always believed that it was the efforts of all and always wanted to acknowledge the students who broke into their savings and the young families who gave until it hurt…to Sue D. Cooley they were the heroes.
In many ways, The Sue D. Cooley Stadium was built because of the Tihada Legacy and will stand as a Beacon for all in West Maui. It is because of the time-honored tradition of discipline and respect that Mrs. Cooley was able to garner as she walked past the locker rooms at the War Memorial Stadium and wanted to be a part of something bigger, a part of a Lahainaluna Legacy. Hopefully we will always remember how it happened which I believe is because of “our boys” “Sue Cooley’s Boys” (as she called them) and because of a Community of people who care. The Spirit of Aloha is alive and well in Lahaina, West Maui, Hawaii.
We were saddened to hear of the passing of SUE COOLEY, the inspirational and philanthropic woman who touched the lives of so many on Maui and on the mainland. Here, her awesome generosity paved the way for the Lahainaluna High School Foundation (LHSF) to build the first multi-purpose stadium for the West Maui community on the campus of Lahainaluna High School. Although Maui was a 2nd home for Sue, she is a wonderful example of someone who truly gave back to her communities.
Though small in stature, she had a gigantic heart. Initially her large donations were known only as coming from an anonymous donor, then she accepted the notion that she could “go public,” hoping to encourage others to contribute to the stadium project. A blessing and groundbreaking was held in February of 2010 and by August the field became a reality for the school’s physical education department, its many athletic teams, cheering squad, and marching band, color guard/dance ensembles to practice, rehearse and play on. There was much more to complete -- an arrival building, restrooms, press box, and oh yeah – bleachers! It would take several more years & millions later before Lahaina had its first “under the lights” night game in 2015.
Sue Cooley was honored in 2012 by LHSF as a “Legend of Lahainaluna,” joining others who have been bestowed such an honor. In November 2014 Hawaii’s Board of Education presented her with a proclamation expressing gratitude for her generosity to LHS, which was at that time in excess of $7 million.
On ESPN’s SportsCenter, January 20, anchor Neil Everett provided a fitting tribute to Sue whom he had also become close with. He noted that this sweet gal “fell in love with Lahainaluna and Maui fell in love with her” and that she deserved a “shout out for all she’s done for the 808 and especially Lahainaluna. … Sue Cooley no-ka-oi”
Although Sue’s physical presence is now gone, she was and will forever be an angel. Her spirit will remain with us always.
One of my experiences with Sue will be forever etched in my memory. Michael Orr had crafted beautiful signage for the Sue D. Cooley Stadium, and of course Sue did not know about that. On November 1, 2014, we had a workday at the school with the football team, basketball team, boarding department, LHSF and community members. Sue was in town and Roy and Betty Sakamoto, along with Mitch Mitchell were going to bring her come up to the school. Betty called and was quite nervous about what Sue might think about the name of the building which was not know by Sue, and Betty wanted to make it a very positive experience. Sue arrived and Lanny helped her into a golf cart. He aligned the cart with the building and the students gathered in front. Sue put her hands up to her face in astonishment when she saw the sign. I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house. The students sang the alma mater and then Sue was escorted through the arrival building and out on to the field. While she was making her way through the arrival building, she looked at me and said “this is the greatest day of my life”. That was really something and I will always remember that day.
The entire story about Sue Cooley and Lahainaluna High School reads like a script to a great movie. No one could have ever imagined that a simple chance encounter with a football game, a loss and the singing of the alma mater would forever change the history of Lahainaluna. But it did.
And it did in such a way that it continues to amaze me every time I’m up there. Because it’s more than a stadium. It is truly the gathering place for this town, our hale punana, our House of Gathering. The pride of ownership that exists with the people of this town, not to mention the sheer joy of having a place of our own is having a tremendous effect for our Westside community. And not only for sports. This last graduation was the first time we were able to use the stadium for that event and the crowds were beyond what anyone ever expected. One estimate put it at 4500 people! I think it was at least that many. Finally, a facility to allow everyone who wanted to attend graduation could finally go.
I feel both fortunate to have been a part of this project and blessed to have been at the right place at the right time to offer my assistance, as one of many, in stewarding this life changing experience that will forever change the course of history for the Oldest School West of the Rockies.