In memoriam: UH Hilo alumnus Arthur Ansin

Alumnus Arthur Ansin leaves behind a legacy as an inspiring agriculturist, showing students how they may take their degree and apply it to life in a way that creates change, builds community, and supports the environment.

Three people, two men and a woman, sit for photo at the edge of a palm garden. At right is Arthur Ansin with his signature afro.
Arthur Ansin (at right) with two unidentified friends, circa 1977, UH Hilo campus. (Courtesy photo from Leomi Bergknut)

By Cheylan Zimmermann.

Arthur Ansin, a 1977 graduate of University of Hawai‘i at Hilo’s College of Agriculture, passed away in Portland, Oregon, in early September.

Ansin lived a life filled with many agricultural achievements in each community in which he lived. He leaves behind a legacy as an inspiring agriculturist, showing students how they may take their degree and apply it to life in a way that creates change, builds community, and supports the environment.

In every place Ansin went, from his home state in the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), to Hawai‘i for his higher education degree, back home to Chuuk to share his knowledge, and then to the U.S. continent, he impacted people and the world around him as he made new opportunities and positive changes.

Ti that's been made into lei.
Family and friends of Arthur Ansin collected ti leaves from the UH Hilo campus to create lei for his Celebration of Life. Friend Leomi Bergknut describes the image above as “the knot that binds us together.” (Courtesy photo from Leomi Bergknut)

Ansin, the oldest of eight siblings and son of Ana Aritos and Antru Nimar Ansin, was from the tiny island of Satowan, Chuuk State, FSM. He was a part of the first cohort of Micronesian students who attended UH Hilo in the 1970s.

“College provided many new experiences as many of them had never been on a plane or been away from their small islands before,” says one of Ansin’s close friends, Leomi Bergknut, former student leadership coordinator at UH Hilo who retired in 2018.

In preparation for Ansin’s Celebration of Life held Oct. 6 in Portland, Oregon, Bergknut and friends gathered ti leaves from the gardens near the UH Hilo agriculture buildings and from plantings at the residential housing on campus where Ansin lived in the 1970s.

While preparing the ti leaves to create lei to send to Ansin’s family in Oregon, the group reminisced about his life. They remember him as a student who enjoyed college life and attended many social events. He was known for his Afro hairdo. “He was always a thinker and had a very gentle voice which many of us remember,” says Bergknut.

It was during this time he met his wife, Ruth Foss. The couple married after graduation, and had four children: Austin, Luke, Amy, and Andrew.

Agricultural career

Ansin graduated from UH Hilo in May 1977 with a bachelor of science in tropical agriculture.

“He had attained his graduation goals and was ready to return home to share his knowledge with his community in Micronesia,” says Bergknut.

Once home, he became a plant industry officer for Chuuk State, working his way to assistant chief agriculturist and then director of agriculture.

Throughout his career, he consistently worked with his community, assisting farmers and promoting agriculture in schools. His contributions helped protect Chuuk and FSM’s ecosystem for future generations. He maintained an agricultural sub-station and assisted in coordinating Chuuk’s first Soil Conservation Survey in the 1980s.

He also assisted with agricultural research in the early 1980s, notably with the University of Papua New Guinea studying cassava (tapioca). For this work and his dedication to agriculture, he received an honorary bachelor’s degree in agriculture from the university.

“He became a leader in his community,” says Bergknut. “He continued to share his knowledge, helping local farmers to improve subsistence agriculture and commercial livestock production.”

He also created and planned programs for economic development of agriculture, including coconut and forestry production. Along with this, he advocated for agricultural training in gardening, water management, and pest control for invasive bugs. From his hard work, Ansin was able to work with state and local leaders to set these plans in place for Chuuk.

Making a positive impact

A few years later, Ansin moved from Chuuk to Portland, Oregon, to join his family. Although far from home, he connected with the Micronesian community in Oregon. He supported his community in Oregon through family gatherings and being a translator and interpreter for medical and government agencies.

Moving to Oregon wasn’t easy, but he was near the ocean. He took his children fishing for tuna, crabbing on the coastline, and paddling canoe.

After his lifelong work as a professional agriculturist in every community he lived in, 1000-plus people in Oregon’s Micronesian community, along with family, friends, and government officials, attended Ansin’s Celebration of Life held earlier this month.

Twisted green ti leaf lei on white background.
In preparation for Arthur Ansin’s Celebration of Life held Oct. 6 in Portland, Oregon, friends and family gathered ti leaves from the gardens at the UH Hilo agriculture buildings and from plantings at the residential housing on campus where Ansin lived in the 1970s. (Courtesy photo)

UH Hilo Professor of Entomology Lorna Tsutsumi, who is based at UH Hilo’s College of Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resource Management, happened to be on campus on Saturday, Sept. 30, when Bergknut and friends were collecting the ti leaves for the memorial lei. She saw the group gathered near the College of Agriculture buildings, taking a photo of the college’s sign while they were collecting ti leaves for Ansin’s Celebration of Life. She struck up a conversation.

“They shared the story of how Arthur came to Hilo to obtain his degree at UH Hilo in agriculture and that’s how they met him,” says Tsutsumi. “He was from Micronesia. His life took many paths but he used his degree to better his community and had impacts way beyond Chuuk.”

Although Tsutsumi didn’t know or educate Ansin, she notes that UH Hilo’s College of Agriculture did.

“We always hope that we can educate and inspire our students so that they can become an inspiration to others and genuinely make a positive impact locally and globally,” she says. “Arthur did that.”


Story by Cheylan Zimmerman, an English major at UH Hilo.