Our Sweet Leilani

Leilani…devoted wife, mother, sister, grandmother, and great grandmother, quit school at age 12 to take a job as a waitress to help support the family and the 7 brothers and sisters still living at home with grandma and grandpa. It was 1936, it was the Great Depression, and it was Hilo, Hawaii.

In 1937, the song Sweet Leilani, written by Harry Owens for his newborn daughter, won the Academy Award for Best Song. It also became a favorite of young Marcus Klein, who, at the time, worked at Annis Furs in Detroit. On October 1, 1940, Marcus enlisted in the Navy to fight the Germans in Europe. His plan was foiled by the Navy. Upon his graduation from Boot Camp and various schools at the Training Center in Chicago, he received orders to report to the USS Medusa (AR-1), based in Pearl Harbor, as a Blacksmith Striker.

In the early part of 1941, the USS Medusa (AR-1) left Pearl Harbor for a short trip to Hilo. It was on that trip, and the first Liberty Call, that Marcus, a twenty three year old Jewish sailor boy from Detroit, met and fell hopelessly and hopefully in love with sweet, seventeen year old Leilani Julia Maka.

Leilani’s parents lived in Honolulu. As fate might have it…when the Medusa headed back to Pearl, Leilani also headed to Honolulu to live with her parents, who, at the time, lived in Damon Tract, close to what is now the Honolulu International Airport.

Mom was a bit indifferent to Pop, she liked him, what was not to like? Pop pursued and with the permission of Grandpa Maka…on June 28, 1941, unbeknownst to Pop’s parents in Detroit, he and Leilani were married by a Justice of the Peace in Honolulu…just a few months after their first meeting in Hilo.

On Sunday, December 7, 1941, the newlyweds were living in Navy Housing, a few blocks from the main gate of Pearl Harbor. At first Marcus thought it was a drill, but a look out the window told him otherwise. He joined the other sailors running to Pearl Harbor to man their battle stations.

Marcus’s battle station, the forward crow’s nest, was the only part of Medusa that was destroyed by the attack. By virtue of the fact that Mom and Pop were married, Pop’s life was saved, and we were told often growing up how Mom saved Dad’s life. Had Marcus been single on December 7, he would have been berthed onboard Medusa, and not in Navy Housing. He would have manned his battle station, which was destroyed by friendly fire after the attack began. Marcus and Leilani did not see one another for four days.

After the initial shock of Pearl Harbor Day, and the return to what was then, for the next 4 years, the new “normal,” World War II, Marcus volunteered for the Submarine Force. He traveled with his young bride (who had never left Hawaii) to New London, Connecticut and Sub School. At the completion of Sub School, Pop joined the Commissioning Crew of Balao (SS 285) as a Plank Owner. Upon Commissioning, Balao headed to Brisbane Australia and the War in the Pacific and Mom, off to Detroit to spend some time with Dad’s parents, Granny and Dee Dee.

Their Generation, the Greatest Generation, went on to fight and win World War II.

Marcus and Leilani were married for 63 years before Marcus’s passing in 2005. Marcus retired after 30 years of Naval Service in 1970, and went to work immediately at J.C. Penney for another 10 years.

Together, Mom and Pop spent 20 wonderful years in retirement. They were one hundred percent involved in the RV life and getting together with their friends from the Hui.  Retirement meant new friends and new adventures. They also enjoyed the time they spent in Palm Springs.

During their marriage and Pop’s naval career, there were tours of duty in San Diego and Pearl Harbor a number of times, and a single, three year tour in Norfolk, Virginia (1961 – 1964). There were deployments and long separations, and there was, on a few of Pop’s tours of duty, the Basketball Team.  The last team Pop coached won the All Navy basketball Championship in 1964.

Together, Mom and Pop sang and danced their way through a wonderful life. Dad played the ukulele and sang and our beautiful mother danced a graceful hula. Mom also taught hula to many young navy wives over the years.

Mom was the epitome of a Navy Wife. As a Navy Family, we were a family always in transition, and Mom was the rock. She provided the consistency and strength that allowed our family, together and as individuals, to adapt to ever changing physical and social environments at critical points in our lives…and often she guided with a passive hand (and sometimes not 🙂

Our mother was always there for each of us, in our own way, when we needed her. And she was always there for Pop, as he for her. She was truly, the Sweet Leilani he dreamed of as a young man in Detroit, waiting to meet his destiny, when he heard for the first time back in 1937…

Sweet Leilani, Heavenly Flower, I dreamed a paradise for two.

You are my paradise completed. You are my dream come true.

Mom was certainly all of that, and so much more.
Leilani is survived by her 4 children, 10 grandchildren, 12 great grandchildren, and many more “Calabash” relatives.

No one could crochet like Mom. She could crochet an afghan and 6 sets of booties in an afternoon!

Services will be held at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery on September 16, 2013 at 2:00 PM.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to:
Hui o Hawaii of San Diego
P.O. Box 1668
Spring Valley, CA 91979
In Memory of Leilani and Marcus Klein


  1. Aloha
    My Mom was a different woman to everyone of us. To our family, they knew her in a way that only they knew her. To the grandchildren, each one of them had their own unique relationship with grandma. To the daughter and son in law, your jobs were tough at times but you all knew how mom was and just what to expect of mom through life. You did a terrific job. To all of her friends, they knew Lani as just that, a true friend who would do anything she could for them. To our friends who grew up running in and out of our house, mom was another authority to them, but none the less, a mom to us all.. For all of my dear adult friends, you saw her in a way that no one else did. I am forever thankful to all of you as you were there for not only her, but for me as well. Her constant companion for her last months knew her Big Mama like only she could and we have that bond forever. Each of us kids had our own relationship with mom and knew her in our own special way. Yes, mom was a lot of people wrapped up in one feisty little firecracker of a woman!

    So right now, I want to share “my mom”.
    To me, mom was the one person that was a constant in my life. Sure, we argued. Most family and friends do. But for 61 years, mom was my best friend. I was always called mamas girl growing up and I am here to say, yes I was. I was her prissy little baby doll, becuz you see, besides crocheting, mom loved dolls. So I was her living doll. I could always count on my phone to ring at 7:00 every night. She would never miss a night and if she did, i would call her. We shared so much with each other. She taught me to be the strong, independent, self confident, take control kind of woman that i am today. The very same kind of woman that my mother was. I know with her love and help, we passed that on to my son, Dylan and to my daughter, Autumn. And both of my children will continue to pass on their strengths that are the “Klein-Makas”.

    Mom, I love you with all my heart. Not a moment goes by when I don’t think of you, miss you, wish I could have just one more moment with you. Mahalo mom for being the best mother there could ever be. I know you are dancing on the clouds with pop right now looking down smiling upon us! You did it mom!!! And we did it “our way”. You are finally there!!! Till we meet again, until then, sweetheart, Aloha!

  2. She was not the old lady who had bursts of anger amidst the confusion of not being able to finish a simple phrase past “I feel….Ay ya I don’t remember”. She was different tonight. The doctors told me my mom was gone and to not take offense at anything she might say or do to me. That is how dementia is. After over 6 months of her living with me I knew this to be true. My mom was gone, replaced by a woman that confused her daughter and grand daughter with helpers in a nursing home … Those people, she many times called us. she never quite understood that she now lived with me, her second daughter and was not at the nursing home any longer. She just didn’t know, even tho she knew me and her grand daughter, Trish. She was confused. I cried many nights when she sent me away, angry at me because I had to force the shower or the meds. I cried when she told me she hated me or wanted to kill someone becuz she was upset with me for something I did to help her, not hurt her, as she believed in her confusion. All along I told myself this is not my mom any longer. My mom is gone.

    Then an amazing thing happened. Mom had slept all day that day. This was of concern to us but when she woke she was bright and happy. We told her my brother wanted to come with his family. She said yes. So they had a nice visit and she told Saul to be a sweet man when he left. Then she drifted back off to sleep. Later that night after she woke from her nap, I was coming into her room when she looked at me and said “bye Deborah”. At first I thought ” oh great, she is kicking me out of her room again for something I did wrong”. But instead she looked at me and as clear as the mom I remember, my mom, she said “I am going to heaven tonight.. They finally have an opening.” It took me back as i looked at my niece, Trish. We both stopped and pulled up our chairs close to her and holding her hands, we had the most incredible conversation of my life.

    This is my story of my last real conversation with my mom! Mind you that at this point, this is once again my mom who is bright and concise and who can finish her thoughts. I believe this was my mother making peace before her final journey and it is something I share with her and trish and something phenomenal and forever life changing.

    Whether you believe in nature or energy or god, there is something out there that leaves room for question. I feel that our energy force is strong and can lead us to question life and leaves lots of room for the unknown.

    On this evening, a Sunday, mom talked to me about our life as a family. She told me she wanted to take me with her but she knew she couldn’t. She told me how much she loved me and cried (which mom very seldom did) when she told me how much she would miss me. She asked me to take care of the kids and wanted to know that I would look after her dog. (The dog had passed away months earlier). I assured her I would do it all. She told me my father loved me so much and that he was very proud of me. She apologized for being nasty. ( that’s what we would say when she got mean. You are acting nasty). For two hours my mom, me and my niece trish had this incredible conversation about leaving and saying good by and letting go. I knew that nite how hard it was for her to leave her children above all else. And I knew that this was the beginning of the end for my mom.

    From that night on we discussed things that made those of us living with her know she was going. It was different now. She didn’t ever remember the conversation we had. She only said peculiar things every day that would make even a non believer wonder about what comes next. Mom died peacefully, two weeks later.

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  4. Pati Quianzon

    Very touching story about your family. My parents have passed Daddy in 1985 while we were stationed in Hawai’i (best 10 years of our lives). 1998 Mama has her debilitating stroke and dementia onset. Daddy did not call her to join him for 24 years. He probably wanted her to enjoy her grandchildren and great grand children as he was watching & guiding from above. I thank sweet Jesus for giving us that time with her. She was able to visit us in New Jersey for the birth of her 2 youngest grand children. She able to attend her #2 grand daughter compete at the Queen Liliuokalani Keiki Hula Competition…proud happy times for her. We all miss her many talents dearly. I know she and Daddy ar
    e always dancing in the heavens for all time to come. I know we will all be together in happiness when our Lord has called.

    Rest in PEACE sweet LEILANI Heavenly Flower 🎶🎶


  1. Our Sweet Leilani | My Paradise Completed

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