Remembering Emma Ernestburg

Written by: 
Leeann Lambert
(right) Emma Ernestburg and her Husband Bill (left)

Remembered as an ardent advocate and local leader for the Boy Scouts of America, Emma Ernestburg’s relatives and friends characterized her as a woman who exemplified all aspects of the Scout Oath and Scout Law at her funeral service in Laie on Sept. 2. 

Born in Honolulu on Oct. 19, 1937, Ernestburg’s parents were Jacob Kaleikini and Siliua Kaleikini Apana. Ernestburg passed away on Aug. 17, 2016, after living in Laie for just more than 50 years, said her daughter, Leialoha Mataalii, and worked not only in Scouting but also taught and coached swimming at the BYU-Hawaii pool and taught piano lessons. She was also a valiant Laie Hawaii Temple worker who, while she was on her way to the hospital, had her grandsons call the temple president to inform him she wouldn’t be able to make her shift that day, said her stake president, Kingsley Ah You.  

Ernestburg and her husband, Uncle Bill, have seven children, 28 grandchildren, 50 great-grandchildren and four great-great-grandchildren. 

The whole family grew up in Scouting, said Mataalii, during her mother’s services at the Laie Hawaii North Stake Center. She said her mom treated all her children, even the daughters, like Boy Scouts. 

Mataalii said she remembers raising chicks in their yard in Laie for Scout fundraisers. They got the chicks from Laie’s Cackle Fresh Egg Farm. They would raise the chickens, kill and pluck them, and then barbecue them. “I thought that’s how [everyone] made hulihuli chicken,” Mataalii said jokingly. 

She said her mother spent 55 years in Scouting, had four grandsons who became Eagle Scouts, and was an example of someone who truly lived the Scout Oath. Ernestburg was the recipient of several prestigious BSA awards: the Silver Beaver, the Silver Fawn and the Silver Antelope. 

Dressed in her Scout uniform and her arm raised in the three-finger Scout salute, fellow local Scout leader Ivona Mills began her talk at Ernestburg’s services by repeating the Scout Oath: “On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law; to help other people at all times; to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.” 

Friends and family filled the chapel and cultural hall, and several people, including Ernestburg’s husband Bill, came dressed in their Scout uniforms, tan shirts and olive green pants, because Ernestburg asked them to wear them, said Mills. 

Mills also talked about how Ernestburg exemplified the Scout Law, which is: “A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent,” according to the BSA website.

For example, Mills said Ernestburg was loyal to the LDS Church, teaching seminary for many years and playing the organ for countless gatherings. She was loyal to The United States, teaching respect for the flag and standing for the national anthem. In fact, American flags often ringed the property of Ernestburg’s home, which is across the street from the stake center, and Mills said if you ever needed anything red, white and blue, Ernestburg had it.

She was loyal to Scouting and especially the local council, Mills said. She was a diligent fundraiser, Mills said, and would hand out donation envelopes to people and then stand next to them waiting for their donations. “She made sure Laie North Stake and the Laie 7th Ward were the highest contributors,” Mills said. But Ernestburg was willing contribute herself, often paying for whole tables at Scouting award dinners, Mills said, and then giving away the tickets so others could attend.

“I am honored to be asked to share in her life celebration,” Mills said. “She was a friend to everybody…I hope I can become even a quarter of what she was.”

Mills asked those who were in attendance at the service to stand if Ernestburg had influenced their lives, and about one-third of the congregation stood. Max Purcell, a member of the Laie Hawaii North Stake presidency and longtime friend, said of her, “Everybody here has an Aunty Emma story.” He added, “I know her influence will be felt for many generations.”

Purcell shared a story about how LDS Apostle Spencer W. Kimball came to visit Laie and ended up eating char siu chicken at the Ernestburg home. Years later Ernestburg met Elder Kimball again and asked him if he remembered her. Purcell said he responded, “I can never forget you, Aunty Emma. It was the first time I ever ate red chicken.”

Her bishop, Viliamu Toilolo, said as she got older, they told her they were going to release her from her responsibilities but she said no. “That’s the first time I ever heard someone said no to being released,” he said. 

From the 1960-80s, Mataalii said her mother put together a 7th Ward Swimming Team to compete in church athletics in the stake and in the region. “She would build her team and also build people,” Mataalii said. Ernestburg reactivated ward members in the process, Mataalii said, and assessed people’s individual strengths for the different swim events.

“She would had a person in each event to make sure she got the most points,” her daughter recalled. Ernestburg ran her practices like swim meets, she said, and her father would help out shooting the starting gun for the different races. However, her father would have to swim in an event as well, and would hand off the starting gun to someone else, get in the pool, swim his race, and then resume his starting responsibilities. Her mom would swim in events too. 

Ah You said he remembers learning to swim and learning lifesaving techniques from Aunty Emma. “She challenged us and helped us,” he said. Ernestburg did all of the things she did with her husband, Uncle Bill, at her side, Au You said. “There is never a time I can recall not seeing them together serving.”

Ah You added, “She calls me one of her boys. She helped me to grow into the man I need to be for my family.” Ah You said he has tried to dedicate himself to his calling because of her example. 

“The Ernestburgs’ diligence has built this community,” Ah You said, and now the responsibility to care for the youth of the community has moved on to others, including those the Ernestburgs have influenced for over half a century.

Date Published: 
Wednesday, October 12, 2016
Last Edited: 
Wednesday, October 12, 2016