Iola Yolanda Caldito Balubar
Lucy Peros | All photos courtesy of the Caldito Balubar ‘Ohana
Well-known Kumu Hula who has taught the art of hula dancing to keiki (young children) and adults alike for forty-four years on Maui is none other than Iola Yolanda Caldito Balubar. She was born on November 13, 1946 in Wailuku to Richard I.C. “Pablo” Caldito, Sr. and Dorothy Leina‘ala Lovell Caldito. She attended Waihe‘e Elementary School, St. Anthony Grade School, ‘Īao Intermediate School, Baldwin High School, Maunaolu College in Pā‘ia, Woodbury College in Los Angeles, California majoring in fashion merchandising, and received her Associate of Arts degree from U.H. Maui College (formerly Maui Technical School and Maui Community College). She was a member of the Wai-Kahu Women Business Club and Aha Hui Ka‘ahumanu.
Besides being a professional Hawaiian Polynesian dancer/entertainer, she also worked as a business receptionist in the law firm of Ueoka Vail & Luna. She is a very talented and inspiring mistress of ceremonies. She was also a Hawaiian cultural teacher at the Department of Education, in the Kupuna Program, elementary and pre-school levels.
As an entertainer, Iola traveled with the Royal Tahitian Revue throughout the U.S., Canada, and at various hotels and malls in Hawai‘i. She is a generous person. She donates her precious time with her hālau supporting churches and other charitable institutions by dancing and entertaining.
Iola entered several Hula Polynesian Competitions such as the Queen Lili‘uokalani Keiki Competition (O‘ahu), Hula Oni E (O‘ahu), King Kalākaua Competition (Kona), Keiki and Adult Division at the Hula Ona Keiki (Kā‘anapali, Maui), Merrie Monarch Competition (Hilo), Las Vegas Hula Competition (Las Vegas, Nevada), and Kaleponi Hula/ Polynesian Competition (San Francisco, California). Iola even traveled to the Philippines with Mayor Alan Arakawa to tour different provinces in the Ilocos region. She traveled to Japan on several occasions to perform with her professionally trained performers. Using her gained knowledge on fashion, she also designs the beautiful costumes that her dancers wear in competitions and other professional venues.
Iola is a beautiful person in and out. She was crowned as Miss Sampaguita and in 1964, she was crowned as Miss Maui Filipina at the former Wailuku Military Armory, currently the office of ‘Īao School. Many pageants were also held at some of the clubhouses when the plantations were still thriving. She was a Gintong Pamana recipient in 1998, a prestigious Leadership Award given by the Maui Filipino Chamber of Commerce.
Iola is married to Richard Balubar, a successful businessman from Pu‘unēnē. They have two sons, Keolaokekai and Keali‘i. Keolaokekai is married to Cora Snell. They have two sons, Makai‘ola and Kaiea Balubar. Richard served in Vietnam as a proud Marine, 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Delta Co. He and Iola will be celebrating their 47th Wedding Anniversary on August 7.
In 1975, Iola’s hālau was launched as Iola Balubar’s Polynesian Dance Studio and she was blessed with various opportunities such as performing at various shopping centers, hotel conventions, lū‘au (weddings, birthdays, anniversaries, and baby parties), which she continues to do so today. In May 1982, Iola renamed her Studio to Hālau Hula O Keola-Ali’i O Kekai named after her two sons, Keola-Ali’i and Kekai after her husband’s life-long love for the ocean. Keola-Ali‘i O Kekai means The lively king of the sea.
Iola is the daughter of the late Richard “Pablo” Caldito, Sr., a Filipino pioneer in Hawai‘i politics. Most of us who knew him call him “Tata,” a title of respect to our elders. He came from Bacarra, Ilocos Norte, Philippines with his parents, Crispin and Monica Caldito, and brother Luis on March 21, 1922 aboard the S.S. Lincoln. It took them a month to reach Hawai‘i. Tata Caldito even mentioned to this writer that some passengers who got seasick and died on the boat were thrown overboard for there were no corpse refrigeration at that time.
Life was very hard for the Caldito family in those days. So Richard’s mom, his brother and sister went back to the Philippines. While he was still in high school, his father also decided to return to the Philippines, leaving Richard by himself. He was taken in by Koichi Yamanaka’s family of Waihe‘e and they treated him as one of their own. In the 1940s, Richard worked for Waihe‘e Dairy with the late Tom Yagi. Richard was a very ambitious man. He received his college education through correspondence with La Salle University. He was the first American of Filipino ancestry to be elected to county office in the United States. In 1956, he was first elected to the Maui County Board of Supervisors. He continued serving on that body which became the County Council, until 1972. In 1959, Richard, the late Philippine Consul General Juan Dionicio, Roland Sagum, Justo Dela Cruz, and Andres Baclig organized the United Filipino Council of Hawai‘i, a statewide umbrella organization of Filipino organizations. In July 1961, Richard was one of the four business people from Hawai‘i sent to the Philippines during General Douglas Mc Arthur’s final visit.
A couple of decades ago, the late Governor Samuel King, the late Mayor Hannibal Tavares, and Richard Caldito, Sr. were instrumental in saving Waihe‘e School from closing its doors because of low enrollment. Thanks to them, when the Hawaiian Homes subdivision opened, Waihe‘e School expanded to accommodate thousands of students.
Richard Sr.’s advice to young people was to get educated by going to college. Their future depends on education. With education, one receives higher salary. Be humble he said. His advice to the older folks was not to forget where they came from and to remember their roots. He also encouraged everyone who left their loved ones in the Philippines to always remember them. Finally, he encouraged anyone who was interested to run for office.
Richard Caldito, Sr. practiced what he preached. He petitioned his deceased sister’s son, Cezar Atud, to come to Hawai‘i to get an education. Now retired, Cezar worked for the Internal Revenue Service for 35 years. He is married to Carmelita Baluran of Maui. They now reside in California with two daughters and two grandchildren.
Richard Sr.’s son, Richard Caldito, Jr., was elected to the House of Representatives of Hawai‘i for two terms. Richard Jr. also worked at the District Courts of Hawai‘i, McCabe and Hamilton, and the State of Hawai‘i Department of Transportation—Airport Division. He is now retired.
Ivy Leilani Caldito, Richard Sr.’s daughter, is an educator and lived and taught mostly in Washington D.C. She also taught in other areas including Maui, Japan, and New York. The Washington D.C. Department of Education named her Teacher of the Year and named a newly-built wing at Francis Scott Key Elementary, “Ivy Caldito Wing.” She retired after being an educator for forty-three years.
Charlene Caldito Rodrigues, (deceased) is also a daughter of Richard Sr. She was married to Peter Rodrigues. She worked at the County of Maui, Department of Parks and Recreation, for forty-three years. She and Peter were instrumental in organizing Tata Caldito’s and Richard Jr.’s campaigns.
Iola Caldito Balubar expresses her heartfelt appreciation to everyone whom she encountered throughout her life. “This has been a ‘Special Time’ for me, the Caldito-Balubar ‘Ohana to extend all our love to the Filipino Community/Maui Community, to the many musicians with their beautiful voices, parents and students of my Hula Hālau for their support for me to continue my love for the Hawaiian Culture through song and dance and to uphold the pride of a Filipina of my Dad’s heritage which is so dear to my heart. My parents, Richard, Sr. and Dorothy Caldito instilled in our minds that no matter what, we as their children always remember to stay close and encourage each other and always have faith in God. If we believe and don’t doubt, God will always make a way. Maraming salamat po and mahalo nui loa me kealoha pumehana.”