Rowena Loo, a Hilo Zonta founder, passes

Rowena Mae Busse Loo, a founding member of the Zonta Club of Hilo in 1950, passed away peacefully on Tuesday evening, June 29, 2010.  She was 90 years old.

Rowena Loo

Rowena’s life should stand as a model for triumph over hardship.

Born on October 30, 1919 in Coer d’Alene, Idaho, Rowena was the older of two children (younger brother William) of Henry and Effie Busse.  Rowena experienced a difficult life in her growing-up years as her father relocated his family often in pursuit of employment in order to support his family.  But times were bleak and to survive, Rowena recalled that she and her brother often helped themselves to potatoes, chickens and eggs from their neighbors’ fields.

Her mother, engaged in an illegal activity during the Prohibition, wound up in jail where she later died of complications from appendicitis.  Her father, a broken man, vanished with Rowena’s younger brother and left her with an aunt who was unable to care for her.

Rowena ended up at a Salvation Army GIrls’ Home, which provided her with a more stable environment –  schooling and an education that resulted in a nursing career.  Rowena’s love of music led her to sing in the Salvation Army choir and provided her with the opportunity to play the cornet and alto horn, an instrument she cherished and kept to her dying days.

Rowena applied for and was accepted for the position of live-in nurse at the Salvation Army’s Girls’ Home in Hilo, Hawaii in 1946; she arrived in Hilo by ship. She immediately made a mark, helping her charges at the Girls’ Home.  On one occasion while taking one of the girls who became ill to the Hilo Hospital, Rowena had a chance encounter with Dr. Walter Loo.  After a courtship, not without complications, they were married and raised five children – two of whom live in Hilo, two in California and one son who predeceased his parents a few years ago.

Rowena’s 60-year involvement in the Zonta Club of Hilo was full, taking on various committee assignments and supporting the mission of advancing the status of women locally and internationally.  She was honored at the Zonta International District 9 Conference in September 2007 at the Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel during the welcome reception and “Hoike”.

Rowena attended all club meetings to the extent that her health allowed (she recovered from a heart operation in her later years), faced carefully made up, dressed comfortably in her muumuu and hair coiffed with a red streak in her forelocks, even after her mobility was reduced to confinement in a wheelchair.  But how she loved the club’s yearly Holiday Dinner and Auction!  She delighted in donating mementos from her past and invited her entire “ohana” or caregiver’s family to the occasion – all who lovingly called her “popo” (Chinese for grandmother).

Her quiet presence and frail voice will be missed by the Zonta Club of Hilo as members will bid Rowena good-bye at a memorial service which will be held on Saturday, July 17, 2010 at Dodo Mortuary Chapel.

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