It is with deep sadness that we say goodbye to Sue D. Cooley, a philanthropist and pillar to the West Maui community, who recently passed away. While this is a time of grief over her loss, it’s also a time of gratitude and inspiration for the life she lived, and the legacy of generosity that she left behind.
For those of you who didn’t know Sue, she was a bright, shining star of kindness like no other. Although Maui was a second home to her, she embraced the island with her profound love and caring, became an icon of generosity, and touched the lives of many. It was her remarkable contributions that paved the way for the Lahainaluna High School Foundation (LHSF) to build the first multi-purpose stadium in the West Maui community. Founded in 1831, Lahainaluna High School holds the distinction of being not only the oldest school in Hawaii, but the oldest school in America west of the Rocky Mountains. Thanks to Sue, the school finally has the state-of-the-art, multi-purpose stadium that its students and staff deserve.
What was once a field of weeds and a dirt path running track with seating for less than 1,000 fans now features a 3,000-seat stadium, a 4-lane all-weather track, and the same turf the Dallas Cowboys enjoy. The groundbreaking was held in February of 2010, and the field was ready by August. The Lahainaluna athletic teams, cheering squad, marching band, color guard and dance ensembles finally had the ideal place to play, practice and rehearse.
In 2012, Sue was honored as a “Legend of Lahainaluna.” By 2014, Sue had given over $7 million to LHS, prompting the Hawaii Board of Education to present her with a proclamation of gratitude for her generosity. Over the next few years, all the other features of the stadium were completed, including the press box, restrooms, arrival building, and the bleachers. In 2015, Lahaina had its first night game under the stadium’s bright, shining lights. Now, the stadium proudly bears Sue’s name, so that her generosity will be remembered for generations to come. Above, you can watch a clip of a tribute to Sue by Neil Everett on ESPN’s SportsCenter.
Sue was as humble as she was generous, and she initially kept her philanthropic efforts anonymous. When she finally decided to “go public” with her donations, it was for the specific purpose of inspiring others to give, especially to the stadium project. This was a choice that succeeded in touching the hearts of many community members, bolstering our resolve to share our good fortune with others, and to help ensure bright futures for our youth.
The need for a strong sense of community is important everywhere, but is perhaps even more profound on the island of Maui, where both our unique culture and our isolation remind us how important it is to take care of one another. In Hawaiian, the term “hanai” means adopted family. It refers to friends who you treat just the same as you would if they were a relative. Sue was hanai to many of us, because however much we give to the community, we get back from it in one form or another. In her life, Sue was showered with love and gratitude. Now that she has passed, those feelings have only strengthened in the prayers and well-wishes of her hanai family, the Maui community.
With these reflections in mind, we offer our most heartfelt condolences to Sue’s family. If the gravity of her loss means so much to the rest of us, one can only imagine how her relatives might feel. As she is in our thoughts, so is her family. Perhaps we can all take some solace in recognizing that we were lucky to know Sue, or to know her kindness, which were one and the same. Aloha ‘oe and mahalo to you, Sue Cooley.
In 2015 the wonderful students/players of the Lahainaluna High School Football team came together to sing a heartfelt rendition of their Alma Mater to Sue.