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Retiring from BYUH after more than 20 years, the Lavulavu’s say they love and treat students as their own children

Tevita and Mele Lavulavu put colorful leis around each others' necks while wearing light blue button-up shirts with a hallway, bench and greenery behind them.
Tevita and Mele Lavulavu celebrating their retirement.

A couple from Tonga, Mele and Tevita Lavulavu, said they were grateful for the kindness of the leaders and students on campus who they encountered during their 23 years of work. The roles they tried to fill as parent figures for BYU–Hawaii students, they said, were just as important as their jobs.

Tevita Lavulavu worked as a Grounds tech and his wife, Mele Lavulavu, was a custodian for Campus Property Services. They both retired on May 31, 2021.

Mele Lavulavu said her job wasn’t about scrubbing toilets or replacing paper towels. She said working with students on campus has helped her fulfill her divine destiny. “My patriarchal blessing said that I would have lots of children. Unfortunately, I only have four.”

She said the Lord gave her an opportunity to be a mother-figure for the students she worked with on campus. “Sometimes I tell them, ‘Your mothers are not here, and I don’t want to take their places, but I want to help you.’… I look at my students as if they are my own children. So, I try to help them and teach them to do their best,” Mele Lavulavu said.

Tevita Lavulavu said he feels the same about the students who help him beautify campus grounds. “I really love the students like my own kids,” he said.

Tears filled his eyes as he expressed heartfelt appreciation for the leaders on campus for their kindness and the students who made his years of work meaningful. He said, “I really appreciated the time they let me work for the University and take care of beautifying the campus."

Tevita and Mele Lavulavu smiling wearing light blue button-up shirts wearing colorful leis with green and greenery behind them.
Tevita and Mele Lavulavu standing behind the area Tevita maintained for his work.

Campus Property Services Manager Janeen Kaka said she was impressed by Tevita Lavulavu’s hard work. “Like Mele, [Tevita] was always dependable, always there to do his work and go the extra mile. I would see it around campus. He’s a hard-working man.”

Mele Lavulavu said she also appreciates her time working at BYUH. “It is a blessing to be here and work at this University. I’m so grateful for it. It doesn’t matter which job you work. When you set your priorities right, everything will be okay.”

She spent more than 20 years keeping the BYUH campus clean and supervising student custodians. Kaka said she was also impressed by Mele Lavulavu’s work. “[Mele] makes my job easy. She never complains, she’s positive and well-liked by her students. She’s always been dependable all these years.”

After two decades of working with students from all over the world, Mele and Tevita Lavulavu said the most fulfilling part of their jobs is seeing their students succeed. Mele Lavulavu said she makes a special effort to encourage her students to graduate from school.

When school gets difficult, she said she tells students to endure and stick it out to the end. “It’s just like a tunnel. You’re walking through it and you haven’t seen the light on the other side. Until you see the light, that’s when you can stop. For now, you keep on going,” she said.

Mele Lavulavu with flower and other leis around her neck holding balloons, a gift bag and flowers with students smiling standing around her.
Mele Lavulavu retirement party with her student workers.

One such student is Bayartsogt Lkhagvajav, a junior from Mongolia studying business management who started working with Mele Lavulavu in July 2020. He said, “I am always impressed that she has a positive attitude to do something, even when she is getting old.”

Kaka described how the custodial students feel about Mele Lavulavu. “They said things like, ‘I loved working with you.’ ‘You were always so funny in the morning or at work.’ ‘You always made us feel like we were somebody [important].’”

Mele and Tevita Lavulavu said they worked odd hours of the day. The couple said every day they woke up and went to work together. While Mele started her shift at 4 a.m., Tevita would sleep in the car and take a walk or exercise at the gym until he started work at 6 a.m. “We supported each other,” said Mele Lavulavu. Despite being retired, the couple jokingly said they may not ever get used to sleeping in.

The couple regularly served in the temple, Kaka explained. “[Mele’s] a very spiritual person. Everything to her is always about the gospel. That’s just how she is, and it shows in her countenance.”

After retiring, Mele and Tevita Lavulavu said they plan to continue serving in the temple and spend more time with their six grandchildren.