Charlie Yamamoto

Why We Give: Volunteer Extraordinaire Charlie Yamamoto

By Christine Thomas

“Did you know there used to be a thrift shop on campus?” asks Charlie Yamamoto, well aware that as time marches on, some things get forgotten.

She has seen many changes during her time as a Punahou parent (her son, Kalani, graduated in 1996), and in her more well-known role as a committed School volunteer. “I volunteered at the thrift shop for about five years, until it closed around 2000, but I still wanted to do volunteer work at the School,” she says.

So naturally, after learning about it from friends, she ended up at the Tank. She has volunteered there twice a week, year-round for the past 19 years and counting. 

Originally a City and County water tank built inside Rocky Hill in 1913, and later transformed into World War II military storage and then an air-raid fallout shelter, today the Tank is a 7,000-square-foot storage area tucked away near the Alumni House. 

It’s there that Yamamoto and other volunteers – many of whom are current Punahou parents helping with Carnival preparations – collect, sort and store items that have been donated for the White Elephant at Carnival. “There’s also a section in the Tank that’s called Treasures, full of unusual things you would never find in a store,” says Yamamoto, who has continued to improve how donations are managed for White Elephant customers. “One year, we got a huge copper carving, and we’ve had a lot of Japanese masks and military costumes from Japan. We have something for everyone.”

She and the group of women she has volunteered with since the beginning are affectionately known as “The Tankettes,” a nickname bestowed years ago by a friend who worked in the PFA office. “We are very close and have become family friends,” she says. “All of our kids graduated around the same time, so we know each other’s children and grandchildren, and go to each other’s events and weddings.” 

Their experience and knowledge about what may sell at Carnival, what to treasure and what may be better off donated to charitable organizations, is invaluable. “We get better every year,” Yamamoto says. “We really enjoy it. It’s a fun place to be.”

Along with her work at the Tank, Yamamoto makes things to sell at Punahou PFA events, such as Christmas wreaths. “We all want to do something for the School and other organizations,” she says. “I also volunteer at other places, like the Ronald McDonald House, and make crafts for Kuakini Hospital auctions.”

While Yamamoto’s volunteering schedule remains steadfast, life continues to bring changes. Kalani now has children of his own, and her husband recently passed away. Thinking of both past and new generations of the family inspired her to act on something she and her husband had discussed years earlier. “We had always talked about giving in some way to the School to support financial aid,” she says. “We talked about it a lot, but hadn’t followed through. After my grandson started kindergarten, I thought it was the right time to give.”

She recently set up an endowed financial aid fund at Punahou in her husband’s and son’s names, which will offer future students tuition assistance as they begin their Punahou education – an academic and personal journey that she says allowed Kalani to find his path to success.

Despite having helped the School in so many ways throughout the years, she knows she’s now helping families who may otherwise not be able to afford Punahou on an ongoing basis. “We’ve been very fortunate, and I’m glad we can help somebody else,” she says. “I’m grateful because I know my son got a very good education at Punahou. Punahou was good for him.”

It was also meaningful to her to be able to establish something dedicated to her son and husband. “I want to keep my son’s and husband’s names alive,” she says. “No one else would know, really, but I would know.”

And in turn, her son and grandchildren will know that because of her commitment to Punahou and her years of stewardship at the Tank, her name will also be known by many, along with all of her fellow “Tankettes.” 

The Tank at Rocky Hill is open for donations 9 a.m. – noon on Wednesdays and Saturdays only.

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Why We Give: Lois Mitsunaga ’00 and Ryan Shindo

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