When Eric Chun ’89 was diagnosed with the neurodegenerative disease ALS, he knew the magnitude of the challenge he faced. His mother, local artist Peggy Chun, and several other family members had died from the disease. Despite his participation in a promising clinical trial, his health deteriorated, and his wife Julia quit her job to care for him full time.
Eric’s Punahou classmates came together to support him after learning about his diagnosis. Inspired by Punahou’s tradition of camaraderie and the class’s legacy as a “cohesive” class, a dozen showed up to be by his side in Hawai‘i’s Walk to Defeat ALS, others cooked meals, shopped or drove him to appointments.
“I was amazed but not surprised to see how the Class of ’89 came together,” said Deke Kilpatrick ’89, who pitched in with yard work and physical tasks. He attributes the outpouring of alumni support to the compassion and community encouraged at Punahou.
When it became clear that Eric would need greater resources to sustain his fight against the disease, one of Eric’s lifelong friends Kelly Hicks ’89, chief human resources officer at Punahou, joined Melody Heidel ’89, Heather Hiatt ’89 Kunz, Courtney Meagher ’89 Sibley and Easton Manson ’91 to organize an online auction to raise funds, including artwork, chef’s dinners, language lessons, sailing trips and vacation rentals. One person donated pet-sitting services. Another donated a Porsche.
“This Class is powerfully connected beyond our time at Punahou. When one of us achieves, we all celebrate; when one of us is ailing or grieving, we rally around,” said Sibley and Jessamy Town ’89 Hornor. A total of $130,000 was raised, alongside other fundraising efforts – the full amount was given to Eric and his family.
In the last months of his life, Eric’s caregivers focused on providing him the best possible quality of life. “Witnessing the dedication and sacrifices of Eric’s close friends was an affirmation of the ideals Punahou bestowed upon us, and it was my honor to join in the group effort,” said Jan Jay ’89, an integrative medicine practitioner who helped Eric find pain relief.
Eric worked hard to raise awareness and find a cure for ALS well before his own diagnosis in 2018. He continued to campaign for new drugs and treatments for ALS, lobbying Congress to approve the Accelerating Access to Critical Therapies for ALS Act. “He was always not just fighting for himself but fighting for the bigger things: the research and the cure,” Hicks remembers.
Eric died in May 2022, his family by his side, after suffering a complication from a medication used to treat symptoms of ALS. His classmates were there for him even after his passing, noted Heidel, citing the outpouring of love and support from the hundreds who attended his memorial in person and the thousands who viewed it online.
Retired Academy math teacher Susan Cooling ’72 Field remembered Eric for his warmth, gentle manner and smile. “He made us feel safe, included and valuable,” she said.
After Eric’s passing, Hicks wrote on the Class of 1989 Facebook page: “The journey has been difficult, but made less so by all of you, through your participation in GoFundMe campaigns, walks, silent auctions, and shared love and support. Who knew that all those years ago, ‘cohesive’ would still be the perfect word for our Class. We fought a good fight, together.”
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