After 25 years of helping students, faculty and staff at Windward Community College, counselor Winston Kong is looking forward to retirement in December.
“My time here at Windward has been outstanding, something I never thought of striving for,” Kong said.
His office is filled with piles of old newspapers and books; his memories are captured in photos that cover the walls; and in one corner sits a fake tree decorated with plush monkeys. All the things that help to make him feel comfortable, he said.
Kong is what one friend and fellow counselor describes as a “silly guy with a corny sense of humor.”
“He introduced me to everyone as Aunty Yick Lung because I was hired as the Success counselor to help students succeed . . . ‘suck seed,’” Renee Arakaki, a former WCC counselor who now works as the Title III evaluation specialist and music lecturer, said as she described her first impressions of Kong.
Winston grew up in Waimānalo riding bikes, going to the beach and playing outdoors, a childhood he describes as a very typical island upbringing for that point in time. He says houses were left unlocked, families had one car, one telephone and a TV if you were lucky.
He was kicked out of Waimānalo Elementary in the third grade, then attended Liholiho Elementary and finally graduated from Kalani High School in 1967.
He said he would get into a lot of trouble as a kid and a lot of people would help him out. But as he grew up, people began to ask him for advice or to talk.
“Not because I had all the experience in the world or all the knowledge in the world but sometimes just the ability to listen quietly and not make judgments seemed to be what people wanted,” he said. “Some people just want to be heard.”
When he was an undergraduate at the University of Colorado, it was clear to him that counseling was the direction he wanted to go in, he said. It’s a path that he has never wavered from.
Before finally gracing the Windward campus with his presence, Kong served his community as a counselor at the Hawaiʻi Job Corps in Waimānalo and as a chemical dependency and psychiatric counselor at Castle Medical Center.
Christopher Abell, a former student at the Hawaiʻi Job Corps, said Kong’s class was “literally one of the most defining moments of my life.”
Kong’s passion to serve his community is also expressed through his work at places like the Women’s Community Correctional Center and Halawa High Security.
To prevent recidivism, Kong teaches prisoners to replace non-societal or criminalistics types of values or thoughts with Hawaiian values and thinking.
“I believe in the Hawaiian culture there’s a certain way of behaving properly, and I think that if Hawaiians can go back to learning and living those Hawaiian values there’ll be no room for drugs, criminalistics behavior,” he said. “There’ll be no room for anything but happiness and cooperation.”
As the first counselor of Hawaiian ancestry at Windward Community College, Winston played a key role in recruiting Native Hawaiian students.
Native Hawaiian student enrollment was at 5 percent at the time and has risen to about 45 percent, a trend Kong said he helped to begin.
One of the biggest impacts Kong has made is in “promoting the success of Native Hawaiian students, especially males, in ways that make WCC’s mission statement more than words on a page,” said Kathleen Zane, a WCC counselor who has worked beside Kong for six years.
“He brings a lot of aloha for the Hawaiian students in particular because he’s personally experienced how higher education can change a person’s life for the better,” Arakaki said. “Not just through academics and the ‘piece of pepa,’ but through experiences.”
Kong plays many roles at Windward not only as a counselor and assistant professor, but also as the adviser for WCC’s Hawaiian club, KuPono, where he has helped to construct the new māla (garden) near the Hawaiian studies buildings and creates an imu every year to cook turkey and boiled peanuts.
While Kong not only works with students at WCC and those incarcerated, he also is an active member on various boards including Hui Malama O Ke Kai, Nā Pua Noʻeau: Gifted and Talented Native Hawaiian Children, University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa and Friends of John A. Burns School of Medicine at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa.
He said his parents raised him to share and to always give back, so as long he is in the position where he can help people beyond his job and he has the time, “That’s what I wanna do, it’s kuleana,” he said.
Kong’s kindness, wittiness and humor can be found in the stories told by his Windward Community College ʻohana.
Zane described one of her favorite memories. “Hearing a tap on my office window and looking up to see Winston’s grinning face with a big, red plastic eyeball stuck in his eye. Then he asks, ‘Is my eye red?.’”
Zane said Kong has served as the heart of the counseling department, as its conscience in advocating for community service and collaboration.
Although Kong will be retiring from the college in December, he says he can stop the work but canʻt stop others for asking for his help, something he cannot deny.
“It’s just been a tremendously rewarding and gratifying time that I spent here,” said Kong who was surprised to obtain the position in 1991 after he used a pencil to fill out his application.
“I’ll miss talking story, smiling and laughing with him as often as we’ve had the opportunity,” Arakaki said. “I’ll miss the rubber chicken, the ship’s bell, Sunshine and Moonbeam Kamakawiwoʻole, imu turkey, imu peanuts, his lauhala mat and lauhala hats. Oh, and that God-awful bling-orange truck.”
Zane said she will miss everything about him.
“His Winston-ness, his supportive kindness and generosity; his wackiness as the constant purveyor of silly practical jokes and puns which are not quite ‘politically correct’ but make him the target of his own jokes; his personal embrace of and inspiration to others of abiding by what is pono; his modesty about the myriad volunteer and community services in which he engages; his style of Hawaiian comical zen koan wisdom which answers profoundly in the guise of jokes.”
Kong is excited for retirement at the end of next month but says he’s waiting to see what’s behind the next door.
“It’s been fun,” he said.
by Ka‘ainoa Fernande, Ka ‘Ohana Staff Reporter