At the ceremony in which Eric B. Shumway was inaugurated president of BYU-Hawaii Campus on Nov. 18, faculty member Elaine Spendlove noted it was appropriate that a "Polynesian" had been invited to serve as the institution's eighth president.
"Although Eric Shumway was born palangi [non-Polynesian], he has proven himself to have a Tongan heart," the professor said of Pres. Shumway.Born the fourth of six children to James Carroll and Merle Kartchner Shumway and reared near the New Mexico state line in the small town of St. Johns, Ariz., Eric Shumway was not a cowboy, but he wore cowboy shirts and Levis every day to school. Today, Pres. Shumway, 55, who served two missions to Tonga and has lived on the Hawaiian island of Oahu since 1966, is likely to prefer wearing casual slacks and an "Aloha" shirt. He is reputed to be the island's best Arizona Stomp instructor, but he is also adept in a number of Polynesian dances.
As a boy in Arizona, he arose early in the morning to milk cows, and he weeded gardens, tended pigs and chickens, and worked with his father at two service stations. In Hawaii, he still rises early, appreciative of the work ethic he discovered as a boy and that he now employs in discharging his duties in the halls of academia. The verdant community of Laie is as far removed culturally as it is geographically from the desert landscape of his Arizona boyhood, but Pres. Shumway calls Laie "home."
He became an adopted member of the Pacific family when he was called as a missionary to Tonga in 1960. "My mission was my introduction to the Pacific," he said. "I was very disappointed that I wasn't called to a Spanish-speaking country, where my brothers and cousins were called. But once I got to Tonga I discovered that it was one of the great and wonderful places on the earth. My mission really led me to a lot of other things, including my application in 1966 to work at BYU-Hawaii (then the Church College of Hawaii) as an instructor in the English department."
After his mission, he resumed a courtship with Carolyn Merrill, a young woman with whom his sister had arranged for him to be a pen pal when he was 16. "I was still at home in St. Johns, and Carolyn lived in Salt Lake City," he said. "We wrote to each other for two years before my sister arranged for us to meet when Carolyn and her mother visited her at BYU in Provo. I was a freshman at BYU. Carolyn, then a senior at East High School in Salt Lake City, invited me to a dance. I went. It was love at first dance."
They continued their correspondence through his mission to Tonga and her mission to the Southern States. In 1963, seven years after they exchanged their first letters, they were married in the Salt Lake Temple.
He received a bachelor's degree in 1964 and a master's degree in 1966 in English from BYU. The Shumways moved to Hawaii in 1966 when he began teaching at the Church College of Hawaii. Four years later, they left the island long enough for him to receive a Ph.D. in English from the University of Virginia in 1973.
Pres. and Sister Shumway have seven children: Merrilli McKee, Angela, Jeffrey, Aaron, Heather, Emily and Douglas. Emily 16, and Douglas, 14, are the only children still living at home. The Shumways have six grandchildren. Pres. and Sister Shumway also claim a Hawaiian daughter, Puanani Sheldon, 22, who is to graduate in June from BYU-Hawaii.
"Our house has been kind of a student apartment building," he said. "We've had a lot of what we call `borrowed children,' or foster children, who have lived with us over the years."
The Shumways have lived in Hawaii so long and have become so much a part of the community of Laie that many people who called to congratulate him on his appointment expressed delight that a "local" had been named president of BYU-Hawaii. He was the first bishop of the Hauula (Hawaii) 2nd Ward, which was organized in 1968. He served on the Laie Stake high council 1973-77, and was BYU-Hawaii Stake president from 1977-86.
"There is a saying that you haven't been loved until you have been loved by a Polynesian. The reverse is true," he said. "I was raised in Arizona, but I `grew up' in Tonga. When I went to Tonga, there were only three Caucasian missionaries in the whole mission. The rest of the missionary force were Tongans. There were long stretches in my mission in which I did not have a companion. I just went from village to village and was the companion for the day with the missionary of that particular village, who had his wife and children to take care of. Many times he was the branch president.
"All of them were older men, many of whom had chiefly ranks. I was tutored and groomed by these older Tongan men. I couldn't be this boy from Arizona; I had to be a man, a more mature person, because they insisted upon it. I did not receive any language training before I went to Tonga."
Pres. Shumway has written two books and dozens of scholarly articles. As a professional educator, he has had frequent contact with brilliant men and women from throughout the world. But one of his greatest teachers, he said, was a man who never went to high school and who spoke no English.
"His name was Tevita Kinikini," Pres. Shumway said. "When I met him, he had never been outside Tonga. He was 57 years old, and was serving his third mission for the Church. He had the task of teaching me, a young missionary, the Tongan language and culture. I was in a state of cultural shock that was so severe that every moment I seemed to be in a crisis. There were no other Americans for me to talk to. I couldn't understand anything; I was immersed in a difficult guttural language I couldn't make any sense of. Tevita Kinikini took every opportunity to teach me the language and culture. His theory was to never rest from speaking or reading the scriptures aloud at all times, before all audiences. He volunteered me to speak at funerals and pray at birthday parties, to give Sunday School lessons and firesides.
"One day, when I had been in Tonga about three months, we took a small motor launch, a kind of made-over tug boat, from the main island of Tongatapu to
Eau island. We had to go across one of the deepest channels in the world, known as the Tongan Trench, where the water is always rough. The boat was crammed with people and animals. We were out in the open, on the top deck. I was terribly seasick, leaning over the rail in agony and feeling the worst I had ever felt, when I heard Tevita Kinikini say,How fortunate we are to be traveling today with a young American who is just dying to speak to you.' That's the exact metaphor he used in Tongan - dying. `He is learning our language. Kindly give him your attention.'
"It was a special moment. I wasn't fluent in the Tongan language, but I became fluent, it seemed. I spoke for over an hour. The people were enraptured, partly because many of them hadn't seen a white man speak their language, and partly because there was a special spirit there. That's when I knew that Heavenly Father does, indeed, bless His missionaries with the gift of tongues.
"When I went back to Tonga
from 1986-89T as president of the mission I quoted often a passage from Jeremiah because of that experience on the boat. When Jeremiah was called to declare the word of the Lord, he was fearful and said,
I cannot speak: for I am a child.' The Lord said to him,Say not, I am a child: for thou shalt go to all that I shall send thee, and whatsoever I command thee thou shalt speak. Be not afraid of their faces: for I am with thee to deliver thee.' Then Jeremiah said, `The Lord put forth his hand, and touched my mouth.' " (Jer. 1:6-9.)
Pres. Shumway, referring to his experience on the boat as a young missionary, said: "What strikes me as I remember this event is my mentor's singleness of purpose as a teacher, his confidence in me, his resistance to the path of least resistance, his tenacity to utilize every teaching moment, his utter refusal to make any allowances for fear, his perfect modeling of the language, and his unfailing words of compliment to me and about me to others.
"Perhaps the most compelling quality of this teacher that made a difference was his unequivocal and unconditional love for me, his pupil. The blessings in my life as a scholar, author, teacher and Church steward have multiplied again and again as a result of this remarkable teacher."
Pres. Shumway apparently learned well from his remarkable teacher. Randy Day, math science associate dean, said of the new president of BYU-Hawaii: "Eric Shumway is one of the most knowledgeable non-Tongan Tongans, especially on contemporary Tonga. He understands the subtle nature of the Tongan language, speaks it eloquently, and has wise insights into the culture. He is comfortable in any setting, from the humblest home to being in the presence of a king."
Paul Spickard, social science associate dean, said: "Eric Shumway, more than any other human being I have ever known, save one or two, combines faith and the intellect. There are many people who are both intellectual and faithful, but these are kept in separate zones of their being. Eric combines the qualities of faith and the intellect and helps us to see that they are not at war with each other. They are the same. His whole life exemplifies this. When he is a champion of the intellect, he is a champion of faith. And he has the unique ability to bring us to that understanding."
Pres. Shumway has devoted a good portion of his life to BYU-Hawaii, its faculty, staff and students. But he has continued to give his family the best of every day, according to his wife. "Our early morning devotionals with a hymn, scripture study, testimony-bearing and prayer - with each taking turn being the `captain' - is a guaranteed time to have husband and Dad all to ourselves, for the best 30 minutes of every day, no matter how busy the remainder of each day might be," she said. "We know Eric best as an unselfish and kind husband and father who puts family first.
"Eric is also very generous and brave in helping our posterity of 18 and our many borrowed children get through their various schools and degrees. He is also generous with his time. Former students and stake members who are troubled call him from all over the world for advice and comfort. He tries to never send anyone away unaided or uncared for, regardless of how pressed he is."
The Shumways' eldest daughter, Merrilli, said: "If my daddy ever senses a need in any of his children, he immediately drops all other concerns, delays present commitments, and focuses his full attention upon the child for as long as it takes to infuse that child with the encouragement, wisdom or physical help he or she needs."