Hundreds of family members, friends, former classmates and players gathered Saturday morning to honor the life of Sandy Pu'a.
A memorial service was organized outdoors at the Allan Hancock College football field to honor Pu'a, a father, husband, Hancock football coach and UPS worker who died unexpectedly on Feb. 5. He was 42.
The mourners gathered on the Hancock College field in a ceremony that lasted several hours on a bright, windy day in Santa Maria. Pu'a spent countless hours coaching on the Hancock College campus and was memorialized with a warm, touching service.
Dozens of his colleagues from the United Parcel Service attended the ceremony in their brown workwear. A dozen UPS delivery trucks lined the road leading to the Hancock College football field.
The service featured traditional symbols of Polynesian culture and several speakers who remembered Pu'a as a big, soft-spoken man with a bright sense of humor.
The memorial began at 10 a.m. with an hour-long viewing. Sandy Pu'a's body was carried by a group of pallbearers that included his three sons, Ely-Jah, Elyaz and Keyshawn, and brother Lui.
Several hundred people gathered to pay their respects, including members of the Hancock College football coaching staff.
Sandy Pu'a was born Nov. 12, 1978 in American Samoa. Lisa Pu'a, Sandy's sister, said his name came from his mother Mekivei's love of the movie Grease and the main character portrayed by Olivia Newton John.
Sandy Pu'a attended Samoana High School before coming to Hancock College to play football in 1996. He then transferred to play college football at Southwestern Oklahoma State.
Pu'a later returned to the Central Coast and joined the Hancock College staff, eventually taking over the offensive line coaching position. He also began to work at UPS, where he worked for the last 14 years.
Pu'a resided in Nipomo with his wife Candy and their four children, Ely-Jah, Elyaz, Keyshawn and Key-annah, all standout athletes at Nipomo High School.
Speakers all described Sandy in a similar light: humble, soft-spoken, funny, tough and loyal.
Kris Dutra, Hancock's former longtime head football coach who recently retired, relayed his memory of Sandy preferring to walk around barefoot, even at practice.
"He was a tough player who was never in the training room," Dutra said. "But another thing I remember vividly is that he never wore any shoes. Even when we got on the field, Sandy was running around without any shoes on. But he didn't care."
Dutra said Pu'a was a tough coach who "had the ability to break players down and build them back up."
"Sandy was the backbone of the offensive line," Dutra said. "Sandy was patient and had a commanding presence with the players. He was a hard coach and you can't be a hard coach if the players don't know you love them. The players knew that Sandy loved them."
Sandy's sister Lisa told of how her and Lui would tease Sandy over his name.
"We'd tease him for having a girl's name," Lisa said with a laugh. "He would go and cry to my mom and ask "Mom, why did you name me Sandy and not Danny?"
There was the time at Christmas when Sandy had the biggest gift and was excited to open it, until he realized his brother and sister got Walkman players and his big gift was just a Tonka truck. Of course, Sandy wanted the Walkman.
"Every time he'd go outside, he tied a string to his Tonka truck and pulled it everywhere he went," Lisa said. "Even to this day, it haunts him... He was the best brother in the world, I couldn't ask for better brothers than Sandy and Lui."
Lui said, "Sandy paved the way for me and my sister. Having him as a big brother, nobody wanted to mess with us."
Lui Pu'a also came to Hancock to play football like his older brother.
"Sandy, we miss you," Lui said. "He had a heart of gold. He would make sure me and my sister were taken care of, he'd always check up on us. He was a simple guy, all he wanted was 'ie lavalava and his slippers."
Sandy is survived by his wife Candy, sons Ely-Jah, Elyaz and Keyshawn and daughter Key-annah, his father Lui Pu'a Sr., sister Lisa, brother Lui (Marilyn) Pua, sister-in-law Angelic Chavez (Junior Hines), brother-in-law OJ (Jennifer) Campbell and mother-in-law Pauline Campbell. He was preceded in death by his mother Mekivei Tupua Pua and father-in-law Shorty Campbell.
The family thanked Hancock College for allowing them to use the football field to accommodate the large crowd.