Wattie Mae Hedemann, A Descendant of Hawaiian Royalty, Passes Away at Kona Community Hospital

A descendant of Hawaiian royalty and well-known Kona realtor has succumbed to heart disease. , 84, died Nov. 15 at Kona Community Hospital. One of the first flight of female attendants for Hawaiian Airlines, mother of a Vietnam War hero and widow of an award-winning paniolo, Mrs. Hedemann claimed descent to the royal chiefs of Hawaii through her mother, Annie Ilikea-a-Moana Robinson Owens of Honolulu.

Wattie Mae Hedemann at her home a few months ago. (Picture by Frankie Stapleton)

Mrs. Hedemann was married for 57 years to the late Edmund Hedemann, a paniolo and polo horse trainer at Kualoa on Oahu and the Big Island who died in 2005. She is survived by a sister, Harriet (Francis) Tom of Honolulu; daughter Meta (Shane) Eckart of Keauhou, son George (Debbie) Hedemann of Honalo; stepson Edmund (Ruth) Hedemann Jr. of New York City, stepdaughter Jeremy Hedemann Heath of Canterbury, England; seven grandchildren, five great-grandchildren and numerous nieces and nephews. A memorial service is planned for 10 a.m. Dec. 3 at Christ Church in Kealakekua.

The Hedemanns lost Wattie’s first-born, son Wayne H. Hedemann, when he was shot down over Cambodia in May 1970. The couple received word of the 24-year-old Army helicopter gunner’s death the same day local newspapers published a letter from the Hedemanns supporting President Nixon’s expansion of the Vietnam conflict into the neighboring country. The date also happened to be Mother’s Day that year. Wayne Hedemann was awarded two Distinguished Flying Cross medals, one posthumously, for bravery in saving lives. His military service in Vietnam lasted two months. Mrs. Hedemann was working on a book in memory of her deceased son at the time of her passing.

Wattie with her son Wayne, taken about 1948. Wayne was her first-born son, the one who died at age 24 while serving in Cambodia/Vietnam

Mrs. Hedemann’s maternal grandmother, Heleaka Napuaenaena Kawananakoa Kahalewai Robinson — Ada, as she was familiarly known — was the grandniece of Mataio Kekuanaoa, royal governor of Oahu from 1839 to 1864 and the last kuhina nui of the Hawaiian Islands, and the niece of Kekuanaoa’s sons, Kings Kamehameha IV and Kamehameha V. Mrs. Robinson’s mother and Kamehameha IV and V shared the same grandfather, Nahiolea, brother of Kaiana and Namakeha..

Mrs. Hedemann was born May 21, 1927 to Annie and Edward G. Owens of Honolulu. Mrs. Owens was soon left a widow with five children to raise on her own and Mrs. Hedemann remembers a life of poverty, despite the family’s royal heritage. Other branches of the Hawaiian family did what they could to help the Owens children. Mrs. Hedemann said she wasn’t too proud to accept “the family hand-me-downs” and she found her first job at age 12, bringing a neighbor’s lst grader safely to and from school “so I’d make five cents every day, enough to pay for my school lunch.”

Her mother spoke only Hawaiian until she was forced to learn English when she went to Kamehameha Schools. But Mrs. Hedemann and her siblings were never allowed to speak Hawaiian and she died regretting that she had never learned her native language. She said she didn’t really take any interest in her Hawaiian heritage until her mother was dying in 1973. It was then that Mrs. Owens insisted that Mrs. Hedemann learn the family’s royal genealogy.

Wattie was a young teen when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. She was with a friend attending church when people started coming into the church, crying and gathering their children. “We just thought it was maneuvers,” Mrs. Hedemann recalled. “Then the priest told us to go home immediately because we were under attack from enemy planes. We weren’t sure who was attacking us.”

She stayed with her friend as her mother was far across town and that evening, the two girls accompanied the friend’s mother who was a midwife as she drove to deliver a baby near Fort Shafter. “We sat in the car and watched the fires at Pearl Harbor.” She said everyone was issued gas masks at the beginning of the war and they had to dig shelters in their yards.

During the war years, anyone aged 16 and older had to have some sort of occupation, either a job or picking pineapples, or if nothing else, rolling bandages at the Red Cross. Her first real job was at the YMCA where she was a waitress for a month before getting a job at Ford Island in Pearl Harbor. “I had to go on the ferry to work and we could see the graveyards of the ships.”

She and her sister soon were assigned to the USO (United Service Organizations Inc.) where they performed dance for two shows a day, six days a week at military camps around Oahu. The assignment helped them survive the war years because they were chaperoned and had dinners at the officers’ clubs “every single night…we could give away our rationing.”

On their days off, they went to the Royal Hawaiian Hotel to dance with the officers. She met Wayne’s father at one of those dances when his date didn’t show and he talked her into going to dinner with him “since he’d made all these dinner arrangements.” They were married six weeks when he was shipped off to Saipan. “I felt he married me because he felt so sorry for my family’s circumstances.” Presuming he’d die in the war, Wattie said, “He figured I could use the $10,000 life insurance to better myself.”

The couple divorced shortly after the war and Wattie was in the offices of Hawaiian Airlines within two months of her son’s birth seeking a job. Her charm and personality skills first developed as an entertainer and supporter of the military through her years with the USO served her throughout her professional life, first with Hawaiian Airlines, then in advertising and insurance sales, a stint with the Hawaii Visitors Bureau and travel consulting before moving to Kona in 1961 and becoming a realtor. In 1965, she established her own realty business, West Hawaii Realty Inc.,

It was while working with Hawaiian Airlines that she met her second husband, Edmund Hedemann, a U.S. Marine during the war, and gave birth to her daughter, Meta, and second son, George.

Hired by Ruby Pua, Hawaiian Airlines’ chief hostess when the airliner had three planes, DC3s carrying 21 passengers each, she thoroughly enjoyed being one of the first female flight attendants. Soon pushing her developing interests in education and the preservation of Hawaiian culture, it was Mrs. Hedemann who created an unofficial dictionary of Hawaiian place names and their meanings that flight attendants and the HVB used for many years. Taking her young son with her to the library on her days off to do the necessary research, she eventually spent half a century researching Hawaiian history.

She said she completed her family genealogy back to 190 A.D., corrected and confirmed by the Hawaii State Archives. As a result of her research, Mrs. Hedemann became obsessed in her later years with what she termed “setting the record straight” regarding Hawaiian history. It was a cause promoted initially by her maternal grandfather, George D. Robinson, who challenged historical accounts of royal paternity and documented collusion by Hawaii’s 19th Century business community leading to Hawaiian disinheritance through flawed land titles.

Wattie said her studies of the Hawaiian monarchy and subsequent research into land titles immediately preceding and as a result of the Great Mahele led her to see the irony of her family’s marriages with plantation owners and other foreign-born businessmen of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

In a meeting held with representatives of state agencies and Hawaiian organizations at the Royal Mausoleum in the 1990s, Mrs. Hedemann pushed for the disinterment of the bodies of Princess Ruth Keelikolani and Kekuanao’a for DNA testing to prove Princess Ruth’s paternity. A Sept. 14, 1999 letter from the state attorney general suggested Mrs. Hedemann hire a private attorney to pursue DNA testing of the royal bones, citing “the special status of bones in Hawaiian belief and tradition.”

According to Mrs. Hedemann, she thought she had standing as an ancestor of the royal line to seek DNA testing but didn’t have necessary financial resources to do so and Hawaii media at the time were dominated by news of the scandal involving Bishop Estate trustees which led to the removal of all but one of the trustees.

Mrs. Hedemann kept up her quest for correcting history until her final days in 2011. In addition to working on a book giving her version of Hawaiian history, she continued her commitment to the perpetuation of her native culture. “I had a vision about a year ago,” she said, and organized a meeting with a representative of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, with the goal of getting OHA to put all Hawaiian Crown lands into food production.

Mrs. Hedemann was a past member of Daughters of Hawaii, the Kona Hawaiian Civic Club, Kona Historical Society, Kona Outdoor Circle, Kona Salvation Army, Kona Soroptimist International Club, Kona Christian Women’s Club and the American Association of Retired Persons’ Chapter 3475. She was a founding member and officer of the Hawaii Island Board of Realtors, the Kona Board of Realtors and the dissolved Kona Local Development Corp. She also initiated real estate classes in Kona.

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