When longtime Seafarer Shawn “Fuji” Fujiwara realized he had to downsize from his residence, he wanted to find a suitable home for some of his prized lighthouse model collection.
It didn’t take long for him to identify his preferred destinations: SIU headquarters, and the union-affiliated school in Piney Point, Maryland.
“Now, people can enjoy them. That was a big thing,” said Fujiwara, a recertified steward who is retiring due to medical issues stemming from a major auto accident. “Lighthouses are part of our industry, and our headquarters is a beacon. The models are going to a good home.”
Fujiwara, 55, started sailing with the SIU in May 1988, aboard the cruise ship Independence.
“I was kind of struggling before I joined the union,” he recalled. “I went to the union hall (in Honolulu), got signed up, did the physical. The port agent looked at me and said, ‘Hey you, you want a job? Ninety-day rotary.’ I didn’t know what 90-day rotary meant. My mom was excited because I was going to work on a cruise ship. I didn’t know what I was getting into.”
It wound up being an excellent fit. Fujiwara pursued his sailing career with constant enthusiasm – and with appreciation.
“I always had a good job and I always had something to look forward to,” he noted. “As a steward, I always believed it was up to me to make a difference. You are the heartbeat of the ship. Plus, I don’t care if you own the restaurant, you’re not going to make the money you make on a ship.”
Fujiwara maintained similar passion for his lighthouse models. A shipmate gave him a couple miniature lighthouses 30 years ago, and his interest quickly blossomed. He collected approximately 110 of them (most were created by artist Bob Younger, whom Fujiwara met). Purchases were made both online and in person, at collector events and stores.
“I went crazy with it,” he said with a laugh, adding that the average cost was around $100 per item. “I had a cabinet custom-built so I could see them from the side. Later, I built a custom bookcase for some other ones.
“But I like it because when a sailor saw a lighthouse, they knew safety was close,” he continued. “To me, the galley was a beacon of hope for the crew. Everything can be going to hell on deck and in the engine room, but if the galley area was good, that was a safety zone for everyone.”
He donated nearly half of the lighthouses to the union and the Paul Hall Center for Maritime Training and Education. A few were designated for specific individuals (including SIU President Michael Sacco), but most are displayed in offices and common areas throughout the respective locations.
“Shawn’s generosity has given a big boost to our member lounge in particular,” said Chuck Corbin, building manager for the SIU headquarters facility in Camp Springs, Maryland. “The lighthouse models are really well-made and captivating.”
Fujiwara also made other donations and kept 15 for himself. But parting with the items didn’t leave him bittersweet. He said he’s simply grateful to have survived the accident and to have found a new home while collecting his SIU pension and other retiree income.
He also said he plans to remain involved with the union, particularly through the hiring hall in Tacoma, Washington.
“The union has been a big part of my life for 30 years,” he said. “That won’t change just because I can no longer sail.”
Asked what advice he’d give to people who are entering the industry, he replied, “Keep your nose clean, believe in yourself – and you have to care. The day you stop caring, you need to get out. That’s true with any job. That’s what kept me going. From day one, I cared.
“Also remember that you when you sign on board, you have watch – whether you’re relief, rotary or permanent,” he concluded. “You have the watch, so don’t put the blame on the person you relieved. Be you, make it right, and leave it better than the last person. With sadness, I have been relieved of watch and I have to come ashore.”