Why We Give: Atherton Ohana

Why We Give: Atherton ‘Ohana

A Tradition of Giving

By Christine Thomas

One of Margie Atherton ’69 Newell’s most joyful childhood memories is walking back to the Winne Units from the cafeteria in bare feet, splashing through puddles, rain or shine. “I remember so well that we didn’t have to wear shoes until sixth grade,” she says. “I loved the great outdoors and that Punahou allowed that.”

From freely roaming the playgrounds and open spaces, to learning the history of the Lily Pond, to participating in May Day, as well as taking art and dance classes, Margie (as she prefers to be called) found herself connected with all that was offered on campus. She even found her calling as a special education teacher through a school field trip. “Punahou had so much to offer above and beyond the classroom,” she says, adding that she was on the gymnastic and synchronized swimming teams while in the Academy. “Even the buildings weren’t just buildings. They had names and they had meanings and history within themselves. Other people I’ve met on the mainland don’t seem to have that connection to every physical part of their school.”

Her family also has a very deep and longstanding bond to Punahou. Her father, Alexander “Pug” Atherton ’30, attended the School, and although her mother, LeBurta Gates ’35 Atherton, was from Colorado, she attended Punahou for four spring semesters after her family began living part-time in Hawai‘i. Margie and her siblings recently discovered their mother’s diaries, with entries revealing her excitement about returning each year to the Academy.

Along with Punahou being integral, giving has long been paramount to the family. Her Atherton grandparents were instrumental in establishing the Atherton Family Foundation, one of Hawai‘i’s largest charitable foundations. Her Gates grandparents and granduncle established the Gates Foundation in Colorado in 1946, which today, as the Gates Family Foundation, focuses its philanthropy on Colorado communities. “All of our grandparents were very philanthropic, and of course, they passed that on to their children,” Margie says. “They believed in giving back to their community because they felt their communities were important and wanted to watch them thrive.”

Her parents believed in supporting education, which helps people move forward and make a difference in the world. To honor their parents, family history and values, ancestral missionary connection (via Amos Starr and Juliette Cooke), as well as their appreciation to Punahou for helping them find their purpose, Margie joined her sister, Balbi Atherton ’63 Brooks, and brother, Frank Cooke Atherton II ’66, to create an endowed financial aid fund at Punahou in their parents’ name. The fund will exist in perpetuity and provide at least two students each school year with financial assistance to transfer to Punahou and embark on a new educational path. 

“It makes you feel good to make a gift like this. I don’t need any more, and I can’t take it with me,” Brooks says. “Somebody along the line will be very grateful to have been given this chance, and I’ll be happy that they are. A good education is something that follows you the rest of your life.”

Margie added that the impetus for the gift was to offer students the opportunity to experience Punahou. “Our roots go way, way, way back here,” she says. “When our dad passed away, we wanted to do something for Punahou in his name, but didn’t act on it. Once our mother passed, we knew we could make a bigger impact doing that in both their names.”

This summer, Margie returned to Hawai‘i from her longtime home in Long Beach, California, to attend her Class of 1969 50th Reunion, reconnecting with classmates and revisiting her past. As co-chair of the Class of ’69 gift committee, she personally contributed to the Class of ’69 scholarship fund, which supports the School’s financial aid program. She also donated toward the completion of the Sidney and Minnie Kosasa Community for Grades 2 – 5. “Education and how students learn is changing,” she says. “Punahou has always been on the cutting edge, and I support that. It might be a small piece into a large bucket, but every little bit is going to help.”

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