Michelle L. Santos
Lucy Peros | All photos courtesy Michelle Santos
A beauty pageant or beauty contest is a competition that has traditionally focused on judging and ranking the physical attributes of the contestants. Now these contests have evolved to also incorporate personality traits, intelligence, talent, and a contestant’s ability to answer judges’ questions on various topics or subjects.
This month’s featured Sakada Offspring, Michelle Santos is an expert on the subject because she has been involved with the Miss Maui Filipina Scholarship Pageant for forty-four years. She truly knows the ins and outs of being in pageants and what it takes to win the contest. She lovingly shares her expertise when she is helping the girls throughout the contests. Michelle does not have children of her own but she is more than a mother to all the Miss Maui Filipina contestants all forty-four years. She is often considered by the pageant contestants as their Aunty Michelle or even their pageant mother. The girls create such great bonding between them and Michelle.
Michelle was born in 1957 on the island of Lāna‘i where her parents, John Santos, Sr. and Candida Santos were living at that time. Her Dad was working for the Lāna‘i Pineapple Company. She was two months old when her family returned to Maui and lived in Pā‘ia. She attended Pā‘ia Elementary until the 4th grade. In 1967, the entire family moved to Wailuku and Michelle attended Wailuku Elementary from 1967 to 1968. She attended ‘Īao Intermediate from 1968 to 1971. Then she attended St. Anthony High School from 1971 and graduated in 1975.
In those days, employment for high school students was extremely limited compared to today where there are a lot of fast foods joints which are continuously looking for employees. Michelle worked for the Maui Pineapple Company cannery. She worked as a trimmer during the summer prior to her senior year and she was able to pay for her entire tuition.
After graduating from St. Anthony in 1975, Michelle attended Maui Community College and majored in Secretarial Science. However, she did not graduate because she was hired by State Farm Insurance and worked there from 1977 through 2010.
Besides State Farm Insurance, Michelle also worked for Royal State Insurance (2011–2013), Occidental Underwriters (2013–2015), County of Maui-Office of Mayor Alan Arakawa (2016–2019), and County of Maui-Office of Mayor Michael Victorino (2019–present).
Michelle has one brother, John Santos Jr. He also attended St. Anthony High School, Class of 1989. He works at Grand Wailea Hotel. He is married to Capri Santos.
Michelle is a very community-oriented person. She is involved in the following organizations and community activities: Maui Filipino Community Council as Recording Secretary, Miss Maui Filipina Scholarship Pageant as Pageant Director, Binhi At Ani Filipino Community Center as Recording Secretary, Mayor Alan Arakawa Kōkua Community Fund as Recording Secretary, and a member of St. Anthony Church.
Michelle received several community affiliated awards: Maui Filipino Community Council as Outstanding member of the Year (2002), Kalayaan Outstanding Leadership Award (2005), Filipino Centennial Celebration Outstanding Contribution Award (2006), Maui Filipino Chamber of Commerce Gintong Pamana Leadership Award (2015), and Maui Filipino Community Council Outstanding Member of the Year Award (2019).
Michelle has several hobbies and interests: cooking, traveling, crafts, event planning, writing and graphic arts. While she chaperones the pageant queens to the Philippines, she gets to see the different parts of the Philippines and truly experiences the rich Filipino culture, and gets to know the people, the different areas, the dialects and the food of each area, just to name a few. Michelle is probably more familiar with the Philippines than most of us who were born there.
Michelle’s Sakada connection is through her maternal grandfather Pedro de Aquino, originally from Asingan, Pangasinan, Philippines. According to Michelle, her grandfather arrived in Hawa‘ii in 1924. Pedro is considered as one of the old timers. He was recruited to come to work in the sugar cane fields of Hawai‘i and was assigned to work for Wailuku Sugar where he sprayed insecticide in the sugar cane fields. Pedro and his wife, Emelia Reys lived in Waihe‘e, Maui. They raised eight children together including Michelle’s mom, Candida. Pedro died in 1998. The close-knit children of Pedro and Emelia de Aquino are Louisa Pacubas (deceased), Patricia Saltiban, Dolores Conroy, Andrew de Aquino (deceased), Fred de Aquino, Leonard de Aquino and Estrelita Marcellus. All of Michelle’s uncles and aunties graduated from St. Anthony High School.
“I became involved with the Miss Maui Filipina Scholarship Pageant in 1976 as a contestant,” says Michelle. “I continued as a contestant coordinator and became the pageant director in 1998. It has helped me to become more confident and prouder of my Filipino heritage. Being only half Filipino, I wasn’t raised in a traditional Filipino family or environment. Both my grandparents didn’t speak the language to their children but always instilled pride in them about the culture. My involvement with the pageant was mainly to honor my grandparents and to nurture Filipino women to become outstanding citizens. I had the opportunity to go to the Philippines twelve times and each time I become more grateful and humble.”
In 2010, Michelle was diagnosed with breast cancer. She bravely battled the disease with flying colors which makes her cancer free, her 10th year anniversary this year. What a cancer survivor! With God’s grace and Divine Mercy, Michelle is with us today helping us in the Filipino community with optimum capacity especially with the Miss Maui Filipina Scholarship Pageant.
In 2017, Michelle was the primary caregiver for her mom until she died in 2018. She claims her greatest joy is her two nieces, Celise and Jena. Michelle said she always dreamt of going into Culinary school but never found the time to do so. So instead, she cooks for her family and friends.
Michelle’s favorite motto is, “Treat others the way you want to be treated.”
Her best advice to the girls who are thinking of entering the pageant is, “We will teach all of you to be queens and provide you with important tools to help you grow in life and become successful citizens of this community. It doesn’t matter whether you win or lose for it’s not the crown on your head that counts, it’s how you wear it in your heart.”
Michelle Santos, we salute you!
Lucy Peros is a retired school teacher, having taught at St. Anthony Grade School and Waihe‘e Elementary School. Both of her parents, Elpidio Cachero Cabalo (a 1946 Sakada) and Alejandra Cabudoy Cabalo of Hāli‘imaile worked for Maui Land and Pine Company. Lucy now enjoys retirement and has time to join other seniors in the Enhance Fitness Program under the Department of Aging three times a week. She also attends the line dancing class and other activities at Kaunoa and joins other Waihe‘e School retirees when help is needed at the school. Lucy also devotes some of her time to activities at Christ The King Catholic Church. She enjoys writing and reading in her spare time.