Friends for Life
Audrey Lee (Endo) (MA ’82, Mānoa) was among potential pledges in the tranquil Japanese Tea Garden at Queen Emma Gardens in 1974, when members of the Wakaba Kai sorority lifted their voices to welcome them in song. “My heart was captivated by the true friendship they offered us, if we chose to pledge,” she recalls. “Little did I know or even comprehend how this college experience would create a lifelong opportunity to know friends I had never met before, and some I have yet to meet today.”
Lee is the first president of the Wakaba Kai Alumni Association, formed in 2017 for members of the now-defunct sorority. The sorority’s honorary advisor, Lillian Yajima, had wished for years to perpetuate the Wakaba Kai legacy, and called upon alumni to continue the story of Wakaba Kai Sorority.
The story of Wakaba Kai Sorority
Wakaba Kai was organized as a club at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa in 1927, when the school’s Dean of Women felt a need for ethnic organizations celebrating and perpetuating different cultures on campus. It was originally a community service organization promoting Japanese culture, but at the beginning of World War II, all ethnic clubs at Mānoa disbanded.
In 1949, students interested in restarting Wakaba Kai as a sorority asked Yajima, an original club member, to be their advisor. The sorority promoted friendship among members, encouraged participation in extracurricular activities, promoted interest in Japanese culture, and served the university and community. Although it is no longer a registered campus organization, many members stay in touch, continuing the relationships formed during a pivotal point in their lives.
Special bonds strengthened
Wakaba Kai sisters from across the decades formed the alumni association in 2017 following a reunion luncheon suggested by Yajima, 90 years after the club’s origins, and organized by younger sisters from the 1990s. Renewing its commitment to the mission, they established the Wakaba Kai Alumni Association Endowed Scholarship. Students at UH Mānoa pursuing degrees related to Japanese Studies, and students involved in service perpetuating Japanese culture will soon receive assistance from the women who studied before them, at the same campus where they formed special bonds strengthened by the passage of years.
“Since that reunion luncheon in 2017, I’ve met so many more wonderful sisters, and we have an immediate connection, even if we have been strangers before. When I think of our memories and moments together, I remember the feelings I had during that third rush in Queen Emma Gardens years ago, and my heart fills with that same emotion.”