Surf for Special Needs plans memorial day for fallen lifeguard

  • Joy Keahipuakauikawekiu Mills-Ferren of Ka Pa Hula Na Wai Iwi Ola danced in the Makuahine Kahiko Soloist Division at the Iolani Luahine Hula Festival and Educational Challenge in 2018. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

  • From left — Hawaii Fire Department Capt. Chris Stelfox; ocean safety officers Mark Van Heukelam and Ryan McGuckin; Daniel R. Sayre Memorial Foundation founder Laura Mallery-Sayre; Janet Higa-Miller donation gifter from Bike Works Beach, Grant Miller; foundation founder Dr. Frank Sayre; ocean safety officer Joy Mills-Ferren; and foundation chairs Kerstin Busse-Blunt, Cindy and Bill Armer pose at Kahaluu Beach Park. (Tom Hasslinger / West Hawaii Today)

KAILUA-KONA — To those who knew her as a colleague or as a friend, Joy Mills-Ferren — “Aunty Joy” to many — was a woman whose talents, especially as a lifeguard, were “unsurpassed.”

“She was a tremendous, conscientious person,” said Susan Olson, friend and neighbor of the woman. “She was full of love, and ‘joy’ reflected her name.”


Mills-Ferren, a lifeguard at Laaloa and Kahaluu beach parks, was killed last August. Police said in February she was shot by her husband in what was ruled a murder-suicide.

She is also remembered for her generosity, such as her involvement with Surf for Special Needs, a local nonprofit organization that aims to create opportunities for people to experience the ocean whether on a surfboard, paddleboard or in a canoe. And to honor her, that organization is hosting a memorial surf day at Kahaluu Bay’s north beach on Aug. 17.

“We wanted to do something to repay her,” said Surf for Special Needs president and founder Star Shortt. “Because she was at every event, first one in line taking kids, you know, ‘What do you guys need?’ And it’s just kind of like a no-brainer.”

The last time senior lifeguard Ricky Alvarez, who worked with Mills-Ferren for about 10 years, said he saw Mills-Ferren was when she was volunteering at a Surf for Special Needs event at Kahaluu.

After Alvarez got the OK to put together some kind of ceremony in honor of the longtime ocean-goer and hula dancer, he connected with Shortt and asked if he’d be willing to host something.

Shortt, Alvarez added, was “totally for it.”

The memorial event marks an opportunity for the community’s lifeguards to remember the life and memory of one of their own.

“We can still remember her,” Alvarez said, “and just take a timeout and just remember the things that she did for us and the good times that we had in ocean safety.”

The memorial surf day, scheduled from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., will be the organization’s seventh event since the group began last May.

Alvarez said he had a lot of respect for the deep pride Mills-Ferren took in her work and her persistence to do her best.

“Some people come to this job and look at it as just life-guarding and an easy task,” he said. “But she lived the lifestyle of life-guarding. She trained every day in the water and was surfing every day.”

Olson said she sees the upcoming event as an opportunity to honor Mills-Ferren’s memory and legacy and said she “absolutely” plans to attend.

“This is an opportunity to bring everyone together again and remember how much we loved her for all the various reasons,” she said. “And it still is part of the healing process.”

The day of the event will feature a dedication and opening ceremony and also continue Surf for Special Needs’ mission in the community by offering people with special needs and their families surfing, an art tent, music and prizes as well as support for parents and caregivers.

Providing the meal for attendees will be Magics Beach Grill, which is partnering with Surf for Special Needs for the first time.

“We too believe that the ocean is a very healing place for all kinds of people,” said owner Mattson Davis. “And we know that a lot of people suffer from different maladies, and if we can help support these kids to find a place of joy in our oceans, then we think that’s fantastic.”

In addition to giving children a chance to get out onto the water, Shortt also emphasized the break the organization’s events give parents, including a chance for parents to connect with other adults going through similar situations.

“The parents can sit down,” he said. “They can actually breathe, enjoy the event, watch their kid have fun, surf, interact with other children.”

A coconut tree will be planted and a memorial plaque will be installed at the north beach at Kahaluu Bay prior to the celebration. More than 60 children with special needs have already RSVP’d.


“For me it’s symbolization that she’s still here in spirit,” Alvarez said, “and she’s still looking over all the people.”

Info: by clicking “Upcoming events” under the “Events” tab.

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