Helping Students Grow through Global Experiences – Stuart Gurney and Junjun Wu-Gurney
By Cynthia Wessendorf
For Stuart Gurney and Junjun Wu-Gurney, crossing borders has always opened up opportunities. Their generous gifts to the Wo International Center and the Junior School honor the idea of expanding horizons and serve as a gracious thanks for the education that their son, Sean Gurney '92, received.
"If you give, you get more back," says Stuart. "Punahou afforded my son a wonderful opportunity. It's a special place that prepared him well for college and gave him a chance to find his way through society. I got a lot back from his education."
Both of Stuart's grown sons had solid foundations. Justin, a 1996 Kamehameha Schools graduate, is now a tax attorney in New York City, while Sean is an endodontist in Honolulu. After Punahou, Sean attended the University of Michigan and the University of Southern California Dental School, as well as Lutheran Medical Center for endodontic specialty training.
Sean moved back to O'ahu after dental school to work in the underserved Kokua Kalihi Valley Community Health Center for three years and is now in private practice. "Even if a person has no money, Sean will treat them," says his dad. "He's always wanted to help people."
To recognize Sean's enriching Punahou experience, Stuart and his wife, Junjun, set up two charitable gift annuities with the School. This gift vehicle provides the Gurneys with an income stream throughout their lives, with Punahou named as remainder beneficiary of the gift. Stuart hopes it will allow students to take advantage of international travel opportunities. He points to his own life as proof that going abroad can turn limited options into rich, rewarding experiences.
Born in 1946, Stuart grew up in Kalihi with his single mother and two siblings. When he was about 10, his mom moved the family to the boomtown of Kailua, a decision that landed Stuart at the well-regarded Kailua High School. He joined the Navy after high school and was sent to Vietnam, where he piloted boats during the war. During an ambush that killed his commanding officer, Stuart was injured ... and later received a Purple Heart.
As for many survivors, the war was devastating, yet he persevered. After returning to Hawai'i in 1968, Stuart enrolled at the University of Hawai'i – Manoa on the GI Bill, graduating in three-and-a-half years with a degree in accounting. To help support himself, he worked at odd jobs, including lucrative modeling gigs for Liberty House and Schwinn Bikes.
Ever ambitious, Stuart moved to San Francisco for an accounting job with the Environmental Protection Agency. He switched to an auditing position with Arthur Young & Co., working many years in Samoa and Micronesia. Stuart then returned to O'ahu to work for the Naval Facilities Engineering Command on engineering projects associated with the construction, and its maintenance and repair of the Naval fleet requirements, and later branched into consulting work.
Junjun, daughter of the Chinese lithographer and painter Wu Biduan, studied at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing. Though gentle and soft-spoken, she was assigned to patrol the Sino-Soviet border for eight years, taking on both her own and her sister's service requirements. Junjun witnessed the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 before moving to O'ahu in 1991, where she launched renovation and plumbing companies. By merging her art and design background with entrepreneurial skills, she created a successful career for herself far from home.
Now retired, Junjun enjoys taking piano and ballet classes, and spending time with her family. Her elderly parents now live in Honolulu, but return regularly to China, including this past summer when a major retrospective of her father's work was held in Beijing.
Packed travel itineraries keep Stuart and Junjun in constant exploration mode. Their gift to the Wo International Center and the Junior School will help future Punahou students step outside their comfort zones and broaden their perspectives by participating in the Center's travel, study abroad and international education programs.