Decades of aloha overshadow Ah You’s latest pro football honors

Credit: Mike Foley, (courtesy of the Polynesian Cultural Center)
Credit: Courtesy of the Junior Ah You family
Credit: Mike Foley, (courtesy of the Polynesian Cultural Center)
Credit: Mark Holladay Lee, (used by permission)

By Mike Foley Church News contributor


The Polynesian Football Hall of Fame inducted Junior Ah You into its class of 2017 during an enshrinement ceremony here on Jan. 21, in recognition of his exceptional play as a linebacker, primarily for the Canadian Football League’s Montreal Alouettes. But it’s the large Samoan’s decades serving this community with “aloha” since he retired from professional football that truly demonstrate his championship character.

Briefly reviewing his playing career that most recently garnered Brother Ah You his fourth hall of fame honor: He was a two-time Grey Cup Champion with the CFL Alouettes and was named the 1974 Grey Cup most valuable player. He was also one of the CFL’s Top 50 players in the league’s modern history, which is among the reasons the Alouettes retired his #77 jersey, just one of seven to be so designated.

During his Arizona State University days in Tempe, he was a three-time All-Western Athletic Conference player and a 1972 All-American; and in 2012 ASU named him to its sports alumni “ring of honor.” In fact, during half-times in the Sun Devil Stadium, the team also featured him doing the Samoan fire knife dance — a skill he learned as one of the Polynesian Cultural Center’s original employees in 1963.

When Brother Ah You wasn’t dancing for football fans, he often volunteered to put on luau shows to help raise ward building funds in the region. At nearby Kahuku High, he became the dominating linebacker that earned him a full scholarship at ASU, and he also excelled on the school’s basketball team in the off-season.

After retiring from professional football in 1983, Brother Ah You and his family — along with several relatives — quickly took the lead in rendering community service in Laie and the surrounding communities. Examples include sponsoring a free, ongoing New Year’s Day “concert of stars”; sports tournaments during the annual Laie Days celebration each July; feeding the homeless and elderly at the family restaurant — including Thanksgiving and Christmas feasts that include all the senior service missionaries in the area — putting on luaus for various groups at Hukilau Beach; and providing refreshments at community and civic events.

Despite all of his achievements and service, Brother Ah You typically shuns attention and is usually found working in the background, often cooking for hundreds of people. His oldest son, Kingsley Ah You, explained that his father was uncomfortable receiving his latest award “because he doesn’t like to be honored,” so it was special when Brother Ah You shared during the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame enshrinement program what motivated him in sports and community service.

Brother Ah You gave most of the credit to others, starting with his grandparents, Savea Aupiu and Talalupelele Moe, who served as local missionaries in Samoa for 50 years before moving to Hawaii. Brother Ah You recalled after his parents, Miki and Mele Ah You, moved from American Samoa to Laie in 1960 to be close to the temple and before his grandparents moved again to the U.S. mainland, “all of us cousins were taken to my uncle’s house in Honolulu to receive a spiritual blessing from my grandfather, who was a spiritual giant in my family. One by one each of the cousins went in to get this special blessing from this special man.”

“I was just a clumsy kid at Laie Elementary School. I didn’t know how to dribble a basketball, and I remember vividly the blessing my grandpa gave me, that if I stayed close to God, kept the Word of Wisdom and lived the gospel, that I would be very successful in sports. I remember thinking I didn’t know how to play anything, and he’s telling me that I’m going to be successful in something that I knew nothing about. Today, after my career in high school, college and the pros, I want to say to my grandpa, ‘I did it.’ ”

“I want to thank my mom and dad for raising all of us in such a loving, spiritual way. Whatever we are, we became in trying to follow our parents’ example.”

Brother Ah You also thanked his coaches and those in the audience who played football with him through Pop Warner and high school. “I’m here to represent my family and my community. All of you are my ‘ohana’ family. I’m here as your faithful servant. Wherever I went, I was proud to say where I came from.” He also thanked his siblings and other relatives who came from the mainland. “I’m going to be cooking for a long time until they go home,” he joked.

But he saved his most emotional thanks for his immediate family. “My children and my family mean the world to me, and all my dear friends. They are all an inspiration to my life,” Brother Ah You said.

Then he asked his wife, Almira, to join him at the microphone and recognized her “as the person who deserves credit for whatever good I’ve accomplished, the rock in our family. Not once has she yelled at me. She has loved me unconditionally, like my Savior, in spite of my imperfections and many short-comings. She’s an unbelievable woman.” Turning to her, Brother Ah You said, “I’m grateful to your parents for raising you.”

“We were high school sweethearts. This is a true story,” he continued, adding a bit of Polynesian fun, “[She] and her mom chased me down and proposed to me. Now look at us: They call us the beauty and the beast. I’m so grateful my kids look like her.”

Brother Ah You was one of four retired pros named to this year’s Polynesian Football Hall of Fame, which partnered in 2015 with the Polynesian Cultural Center in setting up a permanent gallery in the Welcome Center. Admission to the marketplace and the gallery is free.

Others inducted into the Laie-based hall of fame this year included: Sefo Liufau, Samoan, quarterback at the University of Colorado, 2016 college player of the year; Marcus Mariota, Samoan, quarterback for the Tennessee Titans, 2017 pro player of the year (and the inaugural 2014 college player of the year); Chris Naeole, Hawaiian, who is originally from nearby Kaaawa, and played primarily for the New Orleans Saints; Ma’a Tanuvasa, Samoan, who played primarily for the Los Angeles Rams; Riki Ellison, Maori, who played primarily with the San Francisco 49ers; and contributor “Big John” Manumaleuna for his work with Polynesian and other youth in Los Angeles.

Brother Ah You serves in the Laie 1st Ward high priests group leadership; and the late Brother Manumaleuna, who lived in Laie for a number of years before moving to Los Angeles, was a returned missionary from Samoa.

In addition to their restaurant in Kahuku, Brother Ah You and his extended family operate a lunch wagon business at the Polynesian Cultural Center’s Hukilau Marketplace, from which they often provide refreshments for various community activities and functions.

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