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Kamehameha Schools Trustee Crystal Rose said that spending time and interacting with haumāna – especially boarding students – brings her the most joy in her role. She hopes to serve as a beacon of hope for Pauahi’s keiki.

Meet Trustee Crystal Rose, KSʻ first alumna trustee

Jan. 6, 2020

Contributed by Nadine Lagaso

“Crystal Rose possesses the grace and dexterity of a hula dancer, the courage and grit of a warrior, and the wisdom to know when to be each.” These poignant words were shared by Kamehameha Schools Trustee Chair Lance Wilhelm at the investiture ceremony for trustee Crystal Rose in July, 2019.

Grace and grit may define Rose’s character today, but they were built over time on a foundation of education.

“Education was a strong value and objective of my parents,” said Rose. “They always encouraged my brother (KS Hawai‘i math kumu Dr. Kawika Rose) and I to get the best education we could and to take full advantage of all the opportunities given to us. Dad would always say, ‘Education is the one thing that is always yours and you will never lose it. We learn something new every day!’”

After participating in KS’ Explorations summer program in the fifth grade, Rose set her sights on continuing her education as a seventh grader at KS.

“I was so excited when we found out I was accepted to Kamehameha! It meant the world to my parents, especially my dad since he studied at KS, but only until the 11th grade. He was not able to attend the school during senior year because his parents could not afford the tuition.”

So off to the Kapālama campus Rose went, where she quickly discovered that being a boarding student was tougher than she thought.

“There were so many rules!” said Rose. “The dorm rules dictated when we could take a shower, when we could wash clothes, when we could use the iron, when we could go off campus, and even what we could wear.

“But being a boarder taught me to be independent, responsible, and how to handle various situations on my own. I think that the experience really prepared me for the next chapter of my life.”

After high school, Rose went on to earn a bachelor of science degree in psychology and sociology from Willamette University and a juris doctorate degree from the University of California Hastings College of the Law. She was the first in her family to attend college on the continent.

Rose also takes pride in having earned the rank of ‘ōlapa (accomplished dancer) under the guidance of Mapuana de Silva, kumu hula of Hālau Mohala Ilima. The nine-year process helped her gain a deeper understanding of traditional hula and her native culture.

Today, Rose is a founding partner of the law firm Bays Lung Rose Holma, and has practiced real estate, trust, business and construction litigation for more than 35 years. She credits her law partners for being great mentors, and for encouraging her to take on a case that she regards as her proudest achievement as an attorney – assisting in the transformation of KS in the late 1990s by representing former trustee Oswald Stender.

“In May 1997, I watched a group of Kamehameha Schools ‘ohana march from Pauahi’s resting place at Mauna ‘Ala to Bishop Estate’s headquarters at Kawaiaha‘o Plaza,” said Rose. “It was a very sad day for me, because it was the first time I had ever seen Hawaiians marching on Hawaiians.”

The group – Nā Pua a Ke Ali‘i Pauahi – marched to protest the alleged mismanagement of Bishop Estate by its trustees, which included the decision to eliminate all of its extension and outreach programs without any notice to or discussion with the community. 

“My upbringing instilled in me a sense of justice and kuleana. I felt that I needed to get involved. So, I contacted Oz (Stender), who was advocating for a leadership change at the trust, to see how I could help.”

The case went on for about two years and eventually resulted in the removal of the board of trustees, the installation of interim trustees, and the implementation of a CEO-based management system. Today, the kuleana of KS’ board of trustees is to establish policy and approve procedures, leaving the execution of the trust’s strategic plan to its leadership team and CEO.

It was also a sense of kuleana that prompted Rose to apply for a seat on the KS Board of Trustees last year. Her vision statement for Kamehameha Schools as part of her application form read: “Kamehameha Schools is not just about educating our keiki, but about preserving our people, our values, our way of life and our culture. Today, Kamehameha continues to be a source of hope for Hawaiians everywhere.”

Upon being named trustee, her first official act was donating to the Pauahi Foundation as a gesture of gratitude, and to help perpetuate KS’ educational mission. 

Rose is the only attorney on the KS Board of Trustees – which also includes Wilhelm, Robert Nobriga, Elliot Mills, and Micah Kāne. As such, she lends a unique perspective to the board’s bi-monthly meetings.

“For many years, I have been one of KS’ outside attorneys and have participated in various significant legal challenges and strategic issues,” said Rose. “It feels great to be able to change my voice and now sit at the table with the other trustees, the CEO and the management team and be part of the decsion making.”

Rose said what brings her most joy as trustee is spending time and interacting with haumāna – especially boarding students. Coming from humble beginnings, she hopes to serve as a beacon of hope for Pauahi’s keiki. Her message of encouragement to haumāna is: “Work hard, study hard and dream big!”

When she’s not at work or serving on boards – including Hawaiian Airlines, Central Pacific Bank and Gentry Homes – she enjoys gardening at her home in Kahalu‘u, hanging out with her ‘ohana, and traveling. So far, she and her family have journeyed to more than 30 countries.

Rose has been married for 33 years to engineer/contractor Rick Towill. (She practices law under her maiden name Rose, to honor her parents Charles and Rose Marie Rose). The couple have two sons: Mark Towill, a professional sailor who owns a sailing team that competes around the world; and Ian Towill, a project manager for boat construction at Navatek.

“I’m at a point in my career where I can pick and choose what I want to do, and choose to stand with Pauahi,” said Rose. “It is both a privilege and an honor to serve as one of Pauahiʻs warriors. I will continue to defend her wishes, honor her name and protect her legacy. I will do everything in my power to fulfill her dream of improving our lāhui through education.”

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