Hoedown At The Beach

Michelle Emura on the family ranch, which includes goats, sheep and cattle. Coco Zickos photo

Michelle Emura, a Texas native who ranches on Kaua’i, is the perfect choice to head up the American Cancer Society’s big paniolo-themed Hoedown fundraiser Oct. 1. Hoping to raise $65,000 for the local chapter, she plans to make this a night to remember

Michelle Emura promises the Cancer Society’s Hoedown will be bigger and better than ever: ‘Our bar keeps rising,’ she says of the annual event

Grab your partner and get ready to doseydoe at the American Cancer Society’s fourth annual Hoedown for Hope Oct. 1 at Kaua’i Marriott Resort and Beach Club.

It’s a paniolo-themed fundraising celebration that wouldn’t be possible without the efforts of one of its original founders, Michelle Emura.

“My whole vision was to do an event that was very interactive that engaged everybody way up front, at the door,” she says one afternoon at her Oma’o ranch while dogs and sheep wander by.

Emura was approached four years ago to help create the gala designed to raise money for the American Cancer Society.

“Apparently my name kept being thrown on the table,” says Emura, who is in a 16year relationship with former county councilman Daryl Kaneshiro.

Growing up in Texas and living at the Kaneshiro Ranch likely has something to do with it. She and Kaneshiro raise 400 sheep and some 80 cattle on their land, and they’ve been known to host a Western gathering or two there.

“I have a lot of roots still in Texas,” she says regarding the paniolo lifestyle she continues to embrace.

However, when Emura first accepted the offer to cochair the 2008 event, she had not yet been personally touched by cancer. Unfortunately, the situation changed shortly thereafter.

Prior to the inaugural event, Daryl’s aunt, Wanda Kaneshiro, discovered she had lung cancer and succumbed to it two months after her diagnosis. During that same period of time, Emura lost her dog to breast cancer, and her father, former NBA player William Tosheff, was diagnosed with rectal cancer.

Being able to provide an event that not only finances much-needed services to battle cancer but also extends the quality of life for patients now has a deeply personal connection for Emura.

“I just thought I had something to offer,” says Emura, who has three children, Leah Emura, who is attending college in Oregon, and Kye and Arryl Kaneshiro, when asked why she volunteers so much of her time. “It’s bigger than us and is something you feel driven to do.”

The personal connection is also why Hawaii News Now anchor Keahi Tucker chose to serve as master of ceremonies for the event this year. His wife, Barbara, suffers from leukemia.

“In fact, we are in the most critical phase of her battle right now,” Tucker, a Kaua’i native, says.

They are traveling to Seattle to begin the transplant process, where he will get her settled and then return to Hawaii just days before the hoedown.

Keeping his “game face” on at work has been especially challenging.

“I have become good at compartmentalizing,” says Tucker, father of three: Jack (6), Charlie (5) and Koji (20 months).

Emura hopes to raise $65,000 for the American Cancer Society on Kaua‘i. Coco Zickos photo

Most people have in some way been affected by cancer, says Kaua’i county legislative assistant Yvette Sahut, who has volunteered as spokeswoman for the event.

“I wanted to be involved in some type of community project,” says Sahut, who lost her grandmother to stomach cancer when she was 8.

The Kaua’i High School graduate attended last year’s hoedown and was impressed by the festivities.

“It just blew me away,” she says. “Michelle is a details person, so everything she does is big.”

In order to organize the first event, Emura even went as far as Austin, Texas, to receive training in how to host a Western fundraising gala.

“Which was amazing for me, because I got to go back and touch my roots,” says Emura. “It was really important to me to keep it authentic.”

There have been many genuine moments from previous events that left “super chickenskin,” such as when the Kaua’i All-Girls Rodeo Association lined up on their horses in matching outfits to greet everyone as they entered Kilohana Plantation.

This year, Emura promises not to disappoint.

“Our bar keeps rising,” she says. Among the entertainers will be Hawaii’s Local Divas Melveen Leed and Nohelani Cypriano, as well as Larry and the Goats, and Kachi Kachi music by Wally Rita and Los Kauaianos.

Also in the entertainment lineup are interactive games and activities such as pitching horseshoes and calf roping.

“I always want to make it that much more,” says Emura. “Anyone can do food, decorations and good entertainment, but it’s taking it over the top by providing all these extra components of the event.”

In addition, the 2011 fundraiser will host live and silent auctions with offerings such as a two-night stay in Grand Hyatt Resort and Spa’s presidential suite.

One element that will be different this year, aside from the location, is a sit-down gourmet barbecue dinner instead of food stations.

Something of this grandeur requires several hundreds of hours to organize, and Emura says there is “never enough time to get everything you want done.” Nonetheless, Emura, who is an executive assistant at Aqua Engineers, is confident she will achieve her goal to please everyone and make sure they have a good time. She also hopes to raise $65,000 this year.

“It is a super-huge benefit for Kaua’i,” says Emura, who moved to the Garden Island 28 years ago.

The event is intended to encourage cancer victims to feel comfortable knowing there is help out there, and that they are not alone in their quest to find a cure.

“My heart goes out to all the people who give their time, money and energy toward finding a cure,” says Tucker. “Researchers are making steady progress in many fields of study, but the effort is expensive and requires constant fundraising. We look forward to the day when leukemia is nothing more than a treatable disease. We believe that day will come!”

Doors open at 5 p.m. for VIP sponsors and 5:30 p.m. for general admission. Tickets cost $125 per person or $1,500 per table.

Antone and Edene Vidinha Charitable Trust will be the recipients of the 2011 Hope Award for providing $405,000 in financial support over the past 32 years. More than 300 attendees participated in the event last year and more than $50,000 was raised.

Visit hoedownforhope.org for more information.

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