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“She always taught us the power of positive thinking, and not giving up,” Edgar said.Marjie loved music, and at age 68 she went to the Waimea Senior Center and began to listen, watch, learn and practice.Not long after, she began teaching ukulele at Mauna Lani Resort, Waikoloa Beach Resort, Tutu’s House in Waimea and in Waikoloa Village.Wherever she went, Marjie was the picture of island elegance head to toe, always dressed in signature muumuu, Hawaiian bracelets, a lauhala hat and lei papale. In 2002, Auntie Marjie received the Waikoloa Foundation’s Naupaka Award for perpetuating the aloha spirit and preserving Hawaiian culture through her teaching of traditional Hawaiian language, dance and song. Gehring ’70, ’72 MSEd, might get the wrong impression from her “Aunty Edna” nickname—imagining a soft, matronly woman who coddles her students.Indeed, since she became an advisor to the Hawai‘i Club 26 years ago, Gehring has served as a kind and supportive mother figure to hundreds of students from Hawai‘i.They recited the Lord’s Prayer in English and Hawaiian, and pumped themselves up for the performance to come. It’s the moment when Gehring’s lū‘au preparations are over for the year, and she can settle into the softer part of her role as “Aunty Edna,” watching with love and pride as her charges share their singing and dancing skills and their culture.
Just minutes before this year’s lū‘au, Gehring and other advisors gathered students together in a large circle that symbolizes their ohana. Chan, a 24-year-old drag queen who lives in Uptown (“between the two gay-borhoods” of Andersonville and Lakeview, as she puts it), has become one of Chicago’s leading performers in just the last three years.She’s gained national fame for her standup, memes shared on social media, her comedic dance routines and her online videos, where thousands of people watch her crack jokes and critique “Ru Paul’s Drag Race” episodes. RELATED: As a gay person, a person of color and the child of Cambodian refugees, Chan is sick of the way her communities and other marginalized groups are treated in the United States — especially since Donald Trump became president.She admits, “I’m not the easiest person to work with because I push my kids to be better than what they are—and I push them because I know they can do it.” Gehring, who is the Director of Learning Support Services for Students with Disabilities and Multicultural Services, also pushes Hawai‘i students because she has walked in their shoes.When they complain about Oregon’s rainy weather, she remembers her years as a student at Pacific, when “the rain just drove me crazy.” But she also recalls surviving the rainy weather, and learning to make the best of it, which is the practical lesson she passes on to students who swear they can see Noah’s Ark floating by the third floor of Clark Hall. It’s a sense of ohana.” “What I learned as a student is, when you’re in Oregon and it’s raining, even if you plan a picnic and it rains that day, you do the picnic inside,” Gehring says.