Sakada Offspring

Elizabeth Priscilla Gomez Whitehead

Lucy Peros | All photos courtesy Whitehead ‘Ohana

Blessed are the cosmetologists—for they bring out the beauty in others. By profession, this month’s featured Sakada Offspring is a cosmetologist. Not only does she bring out the beauty in others but she also brings out happiness in others with her contagious smile, her prowess in dancing and her love of life.

Elizabeth Gomez Whitehead was born on May 8, 1944 at Pioneer Mill Hospital in Lahaina. She grew up in Lahaina, Pu‘unoa Village on Front Street. Her family lived in a plantation house, a few yards from the beach, now called Baby Beach.

Elizabeth Whitehead

According to Elizabeth, Lahaina was a quaint little town with only mom and pop stores. There were no tourists at that time. The hotels were not yet developed. She attended and walked to Sacred Hearts School from Kindergarten through eighth grade. She was baptized, received her First Holy Communion and Confirmation, and eighth grade graduation at Maria Lanakila Catholic Church.

Elizabeth attended Lahainaluna High School as a ninth grader and graduated on June 10, 1962. In high school she participated in activities, like Kaleo Luna Newspaper, Girl Scouts, cheerleading and was active in her Filipino heritage culture. With her friends, Margie, Pattie, and Rosie, they learned Filipino Folk dances from the late Aggie Cabebe. She remembered learning how to dance Abaruray, La Jota Moncadena, Pandanggo sa Ilaw, Itik-itik and many others from Cabebe.

In 1961, when Elizabeth was a Junior in high school, Cabebe started the first Miss Maui Filipina Pageant on Maui. Elizabeth was one of her first recruits. It was held in a quonset hut at the old Fairgrounds across Christ the King Catholic Church. Cabebe let Elizabeth dance the Pandanggo sa Ilaw with three candles which unfortunately the wind blew out during her performance. She came in second place but came with an experience of a lifetime. In addition, during her Junior year, she worked for Maui Land and Pineapple Cannery as a packer.

As a graduate in 1962, she was awarded a Scholarship to Mary Stone Beauty College in Seattle, Washington. In high school she showed interest in hair styling. She used to give haircuts and perms to her friends and in return, they would give her eggs or vegetables instead of money, for money was very tight in those days.

Basilia and Mariano Gomez wedding photo

After graduation, Elizabeth left home with a hundred dollars in her pocket and told her mom she would never come back to this rock. Lahaina was just being developed at that time with the grading of Black Rock which would be the Sheraton Hotel.

She planned to stopover in Oxnard, California to visit her Uncle Pete and his family and to work for the summer and earn money before going to Seattle. Her Uncle Pete, however, encouraged her to give up her scholarship in Seattle and to stay in Oxnard to help her Aunt June take care of her cousins Christine and Marco. Pete worked for the Navy on St. Nicholas Island during the week and only came home on the weekends. Pete offered to pay for Elizabeth’s tuition at Oxnard Beauty College. He also gave her a car and five dollars a week allowance with the understanding that when she graduated, she had to find a job and move on. To supplement her allowance, she worked at Oxnard movie theater as an usherette showing people their seats as well as worked with the popcorn machines and candy counter when the movie was going on.

Elizabeth graduated from Oxnard Beauty College and received her Cosmetology License. After graduation, she got a job at David’s Hairstylist, owned by Miriam Shapiro. She and her friend, Eileen Pinkos from England, lived together for a while.

It must have been a blessing in disguise because while in Oxnard, Elizabeth met her future husband, James George Whitehead on St. Patrick’s Day in 1963. James was born in Minnesota and raised in Texas, stationed in Oxnard’s Point Mugu as a Navy man. They got married on January 2, 1965 by a Baptist minister in a little wedding chapel on Olympic Boulevard in Oxnard, California. Elizabeth’s sister, Lori and Jim’s best friend, Johnny were their Maid of Honor and Best man, respectively. Being a Catholic, Elizabeth wanted their marriage to be blessed in the Catholic Church. So, on January 5, 1966, a year later, Elizabeth and Jim were married by Father Lictol, a Catholic priest.

Jim and Elizabeth on their 50th Wedding Anniversary with their son Mike and daughter Lisa.

Jim and Elizabeth are blessed with two children: James Michael, born on November 21, 1966; and Lisa Ann, born on October 20, 1969, both in California. Soon after, the family moved to San Fernando Valley and bought a home in Canoga Park with Jim’s GI Bill.

Elizabeth was a very resilient individual. With two small children, as a stay home mom, she decided to open a day care center. She received a license to operate an approved day care center for five children.

As a Navy man, Jim did three tours in Vietnam. He even received his GE degree in the Navy. After his Navy tour, Jim worked at different jobs. First, he worked as a gas station attendant and later worked for Aetna Finance Company as a collector, from which he later worked his way up to a managerial position in the company. In 1972, Jim was promoted to regional Director. Jim, however, did not accept that position because it meant he would be traveling all over the states leaving his young family from time to time. So, Jim and Elizabeth decided to sell their house and move back to Lahaina, Maui in April 1973.

Jim was a man of many talents. While on Maui, he worked as a welder with Maui Land and Pineapple, Chief Engineer at Nāpili Kai, started a remodeling and refinishing business with a partner, and even became licensed as a general contractor. Some of the buildings and homes he helped build include Nāpili homes, Waiehu Terrace in Wailuku, Komohana Subdivision in Lahaina, Fire Station in Hāna, King Kamehameha Gym in Kula, the cafeteria at Waihe‘e School, and even donated his time as a Contractor overseeing the construction of the MEO Building in Wailuku under Gladys Baisa. Elizabeth also helped Jim by becoming his accountant/Bookkeeper. Together they grew their business, something Jim was very proud of. Jim retired at age 65. They were married for fifty years until he unfortunately passed away due to prostate cancer on March 7, 2016. He was seventy years old.

Elizabeth’s siblings: Robert (from left), Letitia, Lori and Elizabeth

James Michael, 56, son of Elizabeth and Jim, is the Engineering Supervisor at the Hyatt Residences in Kā‘anapali. He has three daughters and the eldest, Jamie Griffith, has three children: Joey, Jacob and Aria.

James’ second daughter Misha works for the Montage in Kapalua. His third daughter, Brooke Whitehead is graduating from college in May and will be working at the Coronado Marriott Resort and Spa in San Diego as a manager.

Lisa Ann, 54, daughter of Elizabeth and Jim, is the Vice President of Destination Maui in Kīhei. She has four children. Her son, James Douglas Camanse is working as a Senior Program Manager for Amazon in Tokyo. Her second son, Bronson Ikaika Camanse, is the Senior Executive Account Manager for Destination Maui in Kīhei. Today, Lisa is married to Benjon Aipa, they have two daughters. Teani Aipa works at Hui Hui restaurant learning her culinary skills as a cook while Meilin Aipa is a seventh grader at Lahaina Intermediate School.

Elizabeth has five other siblings:

Lorraine Gomez is married to Larry Karinen; both are retired schoolteachers. She continues to volunteer in helping Lahainaluna School teachers with their curricula and being advisor to Lahainaluna’s Boarding Chorus and Hawaiiana Club.

Phyllis Gomez passed away in infancy.

Letitia Gomez Nahaku, Secretary for Certified Life Insurance Co., worked for Lockheed and Disney and as an independent film maker. She is now retired and helps with her grandchildren. She has two boys, Daniel Kahala Nahaku and Ryan Nahaku.

Josephine Gomez passed away at a young age just after she graduated from High School.

Robert Gomez relocated to California after High School where he found work. He returned to Maui and worked for Jim’s Construction. He then worked as Food and Beverage Supervisor at the Ritz Carlton Hotel till he retired. He has three children, Jamie, Michael, and Josie and four grandchildren.

Elizabeth with six of her grandchildren: Ikaika (back row from left), Teani, Brooke, Misha and Meilin. Elizabeth (front row), and Kainalu

Elizabeth’s father, Mariano Ebarra Gomez, was born on October 15, 1910 in Northern Philippines. He was a Sakada who left the Philippines with his older brother Pete in search of a dream. He was just 21 years old in September of 1931. He left his parents Matthew and Eulogia Gomez and his seven brothers and sisters. He never saw them again. They were recruited to work in the fields in Hawai‘i. He and his brother Pete boarded the SS Pierce and landed first on Kaua‘i to work in the sugar cane fields. It was a year of unhappiness. It was hard work in the burning sun for ten cents a day job. To save money, his lunch was often rice with sugar water. He left Kaua‘i and went to Lāna‘i where he worked in the pineapple fields. There he stayed for two happy years until the depression hit the islands and the pineapple company shut down. He left Lāna‘i for Lahaina and worked at Pioneer Mill Company until he got asthma and couldn’t work in the fields anymore. He then went to work for Pioneer Mill Hospital as a custodian, driving the ambulance and helping Dr. Shimokawa with doing autopsies. He loved to play the saxophone, the drums and was a member of the Raymondo Aquinde Band. Elizabeth remembers him playing at her Senior ball in the Gymnasium.

At age 25, Mariano met and married Basilia Cornelio, a young Hawai‘i born Filipina who was born in Ka‘ū on Hawai‘i island. Basilia first worked for Snow White Laundry, then at the Pineapple Cannery and later at the Marriott Hotel until her retirement. Together, they raised six children until their divorce in 1959.

Elizabeth shared her heart-warming reflection on her parents and the past: “Because my father was Ilocano and my mother was Visayan, they never spoke in their native dialect. They only spoke pidgin English. My parents were hardworking and worked full-time. Therefore, we learned how to take care of our younger siblings. We learned to wash clothes, clean house and cook the chicken we raised (not store bought). We grew our own vegetables. We lived simply and ate simply. We lived a humble life with hand me down clothes. We were economically poor; however, I never felt poor nor was I treated like we were. Most of my friends lived the same way. My parents taught us to be resourceful, resilient and independent and to be kind and help others. We lived in a time where we didn’t have designer clothes, shoes or handbags, etc. It was a time of innocence, a time when there was not much crime, no cell phones, no computers and no tech gadgets. Truly, it was a time of ‘ohana, family collaboration and kuleana (responsibility). It was a time to strengthen one’s spirituality through mother nature and to take care of one another. We learned to build pathways into the future by understanding our past and what went before us. We learned from the past, lived in the present, and create our future based on the wisdom of the past.”

Elizabeth’s Dad, Mariano Gomez at 95 years old

At 79 years young, Elizabeth has been retired for over 25 years. She is very proud to say she was a hands-on grandma, helping with all her grandchildren as they were growing up. She claims she kept herself busy with many activities. She is presently active in the Lahaina Filipino Catholic Club for over 20 years. The LFCC gives out scholarships, helps in the church humanitarian activities and community services. She is also on the Stewardship Committee of the church and served on its Pastoral Council under Fr. Gary. She was also an Officer and a Board of Directors member with Binhi at Ani when it first opened.

Elizabeth loves gardening and enjoys watching her fruits, vegetables and flowers grow. Her passion is dancing. She started line dancing at the Lahaina Cannery Mall, taking lessons from Micki and Ron Brown around 1991. She met her lifelong friend, Elsie Saribay who also loves dancing during these dancing lessons. They formed the West Maui Filipino Dance Troupe, currently called Bailes de Pilipinas. They are still performing today at parties, as well as wherever they are invited like malls, pageants, etc. Recently, they were very saddened by the passing of their mentor, Mr. H. Wayne Mendoza of Honolulu.

Elizabeth says: “Through all my walks of life and activities, I have met and made many friends that are dear to me. I am enjoying my golden sunset years. I have lived a good happy life with no regrets. I have no bucket lists to fill; I have filled them all.”

Lucy Peros is a retired schoolteacher, having taught at St. Anthony Grade School and Waihe‘e Elementary School. Both of her late 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.