Helen Shirota-Benevides was born in 1939. Helen’s maiden name is Shirota and she hails from Papa’ikou village 5 miles north of Hilo. She is a devout Hongwanji Buddhist who epitomizes the “right intention” of Buddhism’s Noble Eightfold Path — to be humble and peaceful to everyone and everything.
Helen’s dad was a fair and compassionate supervisor of the herbicide unit at Onomea Sugar Co.. This unit was historically known as “sabedong” — Filipino pidgin for backbreaking work. Her mom worked at various jobs, including in the kitchen at our elite Yacht Club in Keaukaha, where Helen also worked as a waitress.
Exposure to society’s scions enabled both Helen and her mom to possess tremendous self-esteem and social polish.
Helen also is blessed that her dad encouraged her to break free of gender-specific stereotypes — she is no submissive and obedient female! Such elan lubed Helen’s assimilation into mainstream Hawaiian-American “haole” society. She eventually worked her way to become manager of the Waimea branch of Hawaii’s HPM building Supply.
Helen’s adult role models include the stoic Bunji Fujimoto [best known as chronicler of the Laupahoehoe tsunami disaster on April Fools Day, 1946]; former great trackster/sprinter titlist Fumio Hamakawa [whose educator/stud athlete baby brother Kiyo was instrumental at basketball genesis Springfield College MA. NCAA nerve center in instituting hoops’ 3-point shot]; and probation officer Bob Kita, formerly of North Kohala.
This inspirational holy trinity helped to encourage Helen that no mission is impossible — even for a female. This is why Helen is among Hilo’s greatest altruists and community leaders, especially in business service organizations such as our Rotary Club.
The paradox is that this gorgeous and happily married heartstopper Helen never had children! Inasmuch her whole life is in serving for the benefit of others, all the world are her children, so to speak.
To me, Helen’s greatest leadership trait is her humbleness. No ego gets in the way of her accomplishments. This is the rarest gift of all — a right intention that Helen attributes to the Buddha, who held that overpride is humanity’s most pervasive, contagious, and dangerous affliction.
If there is a weakness, it is Helen’s overdrive in getting things done, which sometimes results in her collapsing into bed at night from sheer physical exhaustion. I rattled off a bunch of “big names” from the Papa’ikou area to Helen, but in closing I told her that none compares with her in calibre of altruism.