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Stan Sorensen, a man who treasured history

Stanley Amos Sorensen, a familiar face in American Samoa for nearly 40 years, passed away last week Friday, March 29, and—for all who knew him— the man who treasured history would be the first to note that he wouldn’t have wanted to leave on any random date. The day was Good Friday, 2013.


Survived by his wife Dolores Monteza Sorensen, his son, Kurt Sorensen of Seattle, Washington, daughter Heidi Sorensen Sele of Honolulu, and step-daughter Doris Bahunsua, he has eight grandchildren and counted among his dearest friends many residents of the territory who were the beneficiaries of his remarkable memory. A daughter, Julie Sorensen, preceded him in death.


Upon hearing of Sorensen’s passing, longtime friend and fellow historian Rob Shaffer wrote, “Stan may have been one of the world's foremost experts on World War II. Not just the European theater of the war, or even the war in the Pacific, but also the war in Asia, North Africa and in the Middle East. Stan could recite from instant memory the time, place and military units of virtually every major battle in World War II, along with the commanding officers of both sides that led the battles.


He had in his home in Tafuna a personal library of more than 5,000 books, nearly all of which were on World War II. He was proud that he had read every single book, and some of them more than once. To say that Stan was a historian extraordinaire was an understatement. He was a walking encyclopedia—or in today's jargon, a living search engine.”


Born in Chicago, Illinois in 1941, “Stan” as he was known, grew up in Salt Lake City. It was not lost on him that Utah is a place where a premium is placed on record-keeping, and for Stan it was a place where he came to appreciate the joys of the classroom. History fascinated him from his earliest days, according to an autobiography which he began before he died.


Following high school, he went straight into the U.S. Army, a place where he noted with wry humor, “President Eisenhower let me carry a gun.” He served in Germany, which suited him well as he spoke fluent German, along with his powerful command of English.


After three years in the Army and an honorable discharge, he went back to college on the G.I. bill. He received a Bachelor’s Degree in Geography from the University of Utah then went on to the University of Kansas,where he received a Master’s degree in the other love of his life, History.


He wrote his master’s dissertation on General Douglas MacArthur, who was his hero.


It was President Kennedy who called the nation to serve in the Peace Corps, and once again Stan answered his country’s call.


This time he was sent to a tiny island group in the South Pacific, the newly formed nation of Western (Independent) Samoa. At Chanel College in Upolu he taught history and geography, and later he taught at Avele College.


It was in Upolu he met and married Taua’ituli Telefoni, who was the mother of children Julie, Kurt and Heidi. According to Heidi, her parents, both teachers, had been introduced to each other by Charlie Alailima.


In 1976— the year of the U.S. Bicentennial celebration—they moved to American Samoa where Stan taught at Pavaiai Elementary. Following his teaching career, he worked for many years for Parks and Recreation and later moved to the Governor’s office, where he was able to focus on the work he was most passionate about—history.  He was the “Governor’s historian” from 1996 to the present day.


History was his life long passion, and his life long inspiration. He was fascinated by World War 2, and collected thousands of book on the subject. The Pacific Theatre of War and Samoan history were his specialties.


His daughter Heidi recalls, “He was so intelligent and had the ability to just soak in information…he just couldn’t get enough.”  She said, “He once played Trivial Pursuit against seven of us—and he still beat us! Only him against all seven players!”


“He had a near-photographic memory. He would remember everyone’s birthday, and then, after remembering yours, he would tell you all the famous people born on your birthday.”


His story-telling, they said, had lots of extra information attached, because he remembered details.”He couldn’t help it- he just soaked in information and was an invaluable aid to others who wrote books.”


Shaffer was one of those authors, and in tribute to his friend he wrote, “Stan Sorensen was most likely American Samoa's foremost expert on the territory's history. There will probably never be another person to equal Stan's historical knowledge of these islands.  He dedicated the last 30 years of his life to the pursuit of finding and documenting every historical event to take place in the territory since the late 1700s. He published these events in his Historical Chronology of Samoa. All future scholars and researchers into Samoa's past will need only Stan's historical chronology; he has done all the hard digging for them. In this regard, his contribution to scholarship is priceless.”


Stan, according to his children Kurt and Heidi, “was proud of where he lived, and nothing could persuade him to leave.”


 “He found his little spot in the world” they said, they also knew he was very proud of them. 


“He was full of life, he always had a great time. He had an extensive collection of music and he would blare his music in the hopes we would like it, too,” they said.  Classical, bagpipes, jazz— he loved it all.. the Doors, Rolling Stones, Neil Young and John Lee Hooker right along with the classics such as Schostakovich’s Ninth Symphony were among his favorites.


“He tried so hard to make us love classical… but we never did” his children admitted.


“But we love all the rest—  jazz, blues, bluegrass.. we loved all of that because of him.”


He was definitely a collector, they noted— books, stamps, knives, model airplanes and Samoan artifacts such as war clubs.


Some of his collection will be donated to the Feleti Barstow, while other parts will be stored for another time. Most of the collections will be kept within the family.


His son Kurt said, "My father's legacy will be his love for Samoa. He came to Samoa 37 years ago and fell in love with its people and its culture, immersed himself into the fa'aSamoa, fathered Samoan children, and dedicated his life to preserving its culture and traditions by working tirelessly to document its history. His parting gift to Samoa will be his work as its Historian, which is his way of saying thank you to the people of Samoa for welcoming him as one of their own and giving meaning to his life."


Speaking of her father, Heidi wrote,  “Pops and I share a bond that cannot be put into words. He was not only my father but my best friend since the day I was born. He taught me the most important things in life are humility, kindness, and to always be proud of what you are made of.”


Services for Stan Sorensen are scheduled for tomorrow, Sunday, April 7 at 5pm at the LBJ chapel, with burial the following day at Fatu o Aiga. Samoa News extends heartfelt condolences to the family.