Family, Small World Preschool define the life of ‘Miss’ Natlee Kimura Oshiro
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With a preschool teaching career spanning almost 35 years in the same location, Natlee Kimura Oshiro taught more than 600 students and influenced hundreds of others as co-owner and co-founder of Small World Preschool in Waimea.
Known almost exclusively as “Miss Natlee,” her lessons went well beyond the classroom. She not only taught her students, family and friends how to live and love well, she also taught them how to have courage in the face of difficulties throughout her courageous battle with cancer.
Though she died on Sept. 23, her influence on generations of North Hawaii residents will continue for the rest of their lives.
“Miss Natlee was an excellent teacher whose beautiful and loving soul touched the lives of hundreds of children throughout the community over the years,” said Lisa Fujioka, a Small World Preschool parent. “Two of my three children had the privilege of attending Small World Preschool’s “Big Bird” program with Miss Natlee, where she provided them, and many others, with a solid start to their early education.”
Born in Honokaa to Samuel and Ella Kimura, Natlee Kimura was raised in Waimea with her three sisters, Elsa, Faye and Teri. Her father was a Parker Ranch employee, and the family was active at St. James Episcopal Church. All four girls attended Hawaii Preparatory Academy in high school. Thirteen years ago, Natlee married Stanley Oshiro.
Stan Oshiro said the couple loved to travel. They both had the same traveling style – decide on a destination, create a loose itinerary and decide what to do when they got there.
According to her sister, Teri Chong, though Natlee had a naturally carefree personality from childhood through her teen years, she was passionate and motivated when it came to educating children. Her dedication and choice to serve in Waimea was deliberate.
“Interestingly, from her first week of college, already Natlee knew that she was going to get her degree and come back to Waimea and give back to the community,” Chong said. “Her roommate couldn’t believe it.”
Barbara Ozaki and Pier Schutte, also cofounders of Small World Preschool, remember the hard work and courage it took to decide to build the preschool almost 35 years ago when they were in their early 20s. Shutte said their families pitched in and all worked together to help make the preschool a success once they stepped out in faith.
“The whole community was supportive of us,” Schutte said.
Schutte said that the school’s high standards and strong academic preparation started with Natlee’s teacher training.
“Natlee, I believe, never settled for mediocrity,” Schutte said. “She would push them (her students) at different levels knowing that they had the potential to do it. She always believed that these kids had a lot going for them, you just had to bring it out.”
Maua Puhi, who taught alongside Natlee, attended Small World Preschool as a child. She said having the opportunity to work at the school again was “like coming home.”
“Having her (Oshiro) in the school and working with her, that was a big thing for me,” Puhi said. “She was warm and loving in everything she did.”
When she was diagnosed with cancer and began the long road of treatment, Chong discovered a book called “A Mom of Many Hats,” by Debbie Fink. From the book, she had the idea of throwing a “hat shower” for Oshiro.
Using a ruse to get her to the school, school parents, friends, and family waited there and surprised her. More than 50 guests brought hats and wrote encouraging notes listing a virtue to match the hats, to strengthen her. Firefighter Billy Bergin brought her a fireman’s hat to symbolize courage, others brought cowboy hats, iron chefs hats to symbolize strength, power and mastery, a graduation cap to symbolize wisdom.
“It was a healing night for her,” Chong said.
“It reinforced how much support, not just her family, but the school family – how much support there was from the community,” Oshiro’s sister Faye Deal added. “ … It gave her courage to go forward. All the people that were there – they were messages of hope.”
Chong said that when Oshiro was undergoing cancer treatment and losing her hair, she worried most about the school and how to approach her students. She did talk to them, they asked many questions, welcomed her with all of their love, then continued on, as usual.
“She said to me so many times, that going to work and being with the kids helped her,” Deal said.
Ken and Morag Miranda sent all four of their children to Small World Preschool.
“She encouraged every member of our family from the father to the youngest,” Morag Miranda said. “Her spirit to fight the good fight and live everyday to the fullest will never be forgotten.”
Jimi-Jean Kalaniopio, a former student, also sent her daughter to Small World Preschool.
“Ms. Natlee was a one-of-a-kind teacher that will be greatly missed by many,” Kalaniopio said. “… Anyone who had the honor to know her will never forget her drive to help her students be the best they could be not only in their preschool years but also instill a sense of confidence that they carried with them for years to come.”
“In spite of everything going on, at the deepest core, (Natlee believed) it is about you and your family,” said Elsa Kimura, Oshiro’s sister.
Elsa told a story about a eulogy for a teacher she once heard. She said its ending fit appropriately for her sister.
“ … Pay attention. Be attentive. Miss Natlee, has not dismissed the class,” Elsa said. “She is going to keep teaching us the lessons.”
The “Celebration of Life” for Miss Natlee is Saturday, Nov. 9, at Davies Memorial Chapel at Hawaii Preparatory Academy Upper Campus. Visitation is from 9 to 10 a.m., with the memorial service at 10 a.m.
Small World Preschool has established a memorial scholarship in Natlee Kimura Oshiro’s name. To donate, contact the school at 885-4388.