An empty chair was placed on the Polynesian Cultural Center stage in memory of local kupuna Auntie Ipolani Thompson on Sept. 5 at the Silver Alumni night show performance during the PCC’s 50th Anniversary celebration. Born on April 27, 1943, in Kahuku and raised in Laie, Vaiolini Ipolani Hiram Thompson passed away on Aug. 30, 2013 in Honolulu, one week before the special alumni show in which she was to perform.
Her family and friends gathered on Sept. 9 for her funeral service in the Laie Hawaii Stake Center and remembered Auntie Ipo as a “one-of-a-kind woman” who exemplified the love of Christ in the service she did throughout her life. If there was a wedding, funeral, graduation, baptism, blessing, or any special event for her family or friends, she was always there, said speakers at her services. “Even a bar mitzvah,” joked Auntie Ipo’s niece Yasmin Hannemann. “Auntie did not discriminate.”
Hannemann continued, “She was a great example of unconditional love and selfless service. Auntie had a powerful testimony. I am thankful that I can be a recipient of all her goodness.” Quoting Mosiah 2:17 that says when you are serving others, you are also serving god, Hannemann said, “I think that puts Auntie’s life into a nut shell. I hope her life continues to inspire you.”
Her son, Matthew Thompson, said his mom could love immediately and unconditionally anyone from children to rebellious teenagers, and even motorcycle bikers, by “melting them” with love. One time his mom befriended a biker at the gas station by asking him, “Do you know why bikers don’t smile?” She went on to joke with him, “Because they have bugs in their teeth.” The biker ended up carrying all her groceries to her car for her, he said.
“She could see right into your heart,” Matthew said, and when she talked with someone, “they were the most important person to her at the time.”
Another son, Vernon Thompson, recounted a night when he was in high school. He had been out drinking beer and got home late past his curfew. Rather than go upstairs to give his mom and dad a kiss goodnight letting them know he got home safely, his snuck into his room and quietly got into bed. Not too long after, his mom came down to his room, turned on the light and asked him what was up. He admitted to her he didn’t go upstairs because he had beer on his breath and was ashamed. “But she hugged me and told me, ‘Don’t ever do that again because I don’t go to sleep until I know all my children are home safe’,” he said. She told him no matter what he did he should always come and see her when he got home. They hugged, told each other they loved each other, and she turned off the light to go back upstairs. “I was thinking I kinda got out of that easy when all of the sudden in the dark I got socked in the side of the head, and mom said, ‘Don’t drink beer anymore. I love you son,’ and went back upstairs.”
It is because of his mom’s testimony of Jesus Christ and his atonement, Vernon said, and his own experiences, he knows that people can repent and become clean again. “Jesus Christ paid for our sins. If we come unto him, he can wash away our sins,” he said.
Several speakers at her funeral services said Auntie Ipo loved the temple in Laie. She and her husband, Jim, who passed away about a year ago, were temple workers and she also played the organ in the temple chapel.
“My mom thought Laie was the capital of Hawaii,” Matthew Thompson said, “because the temple is here. She had a relationship with the Savior.”
His mom went into the hospital to have her knee replaced and ended up having complications and passing away. She was nervous about having the surgery, he said, but wanted to be able to travel and also serve a mission after getting it replaced. He said of her time in the hospital, “I knew if she got a glimpse of my dad, she wouldn’t come back.” Auntie Ipo and her husband’s relationship was exemplary, said several speakers at her services, and one couples hope to have themselves.
He said his mom was also “proud of her Polynesian culture.” Her mother was Samoan and came from a family who moved to Laie shortly after the temple was built to be sealed together, and her father was a local from Hauula. She grew up in Laie one of 15 children in the Hiram ohana who all sang and played ukulele and guitar. Music was at the center of Auntie Ipo’s life and her family’s life. She was a noted kupuna in Laie moving back to Hawaii after her husband retired from the San Francisco Fire Department.
They lived on Laie Point in the Laie 3rd Ward, and her bishop, BYU-Hawaii Professor Brian Watkins said at her funeral services people on earth all have gifts given them, and Auntie Ipo’s gift was “charity, the true love of Christ.” He said, “I don’t think we’ll see many people like Sister Thompson.”
“My mom was a celebrity,” said her daughter, Kelley Miranda, at the services, because growing up she organized school events, played sports with them even being picked by their friends first to be on their teams, and always there was music with her mom singing, playing the ukulele or dancing hula. Miranda said, “There was never a dull moment” around her whirlwind of a mother. “Every day was Christmas and Thanksgiving” because her mom made every day a special day. Miranda added that one of her cousins commented about her mom that she “was larger than life.”
However, Hannemann said she was “more than larger than life” because “she was the life of the party.”
Hannemann said a couple of weeks ago she was watching an auto race and could image her Auntie Ipo as one of the race car drivers. “She was on the go from the time she woke up. She was a busy, busy person going about her family’s business and Heavenly Father’s business.”