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The Aloh-Ya-Ya Sisterhood

The Early Show, Tess Tinker
CBS/The Early Show
When that dart kissed the Hawaiian coast, CBS cameraman Les Rose kissed the dart thrower.

The dart throw meant CBS News Correspondent Steve Hartman and Rose were headed to Hawaii for their next "Everybody Has A Story" assignment.

They were both so excited - from a journalistic standpoint of course.

They knew that with all the thrills Hawaii has to offer, its exotic adventures and dramatic landscapes, you couldn't go wrong.

Flipping through phonebook, they were led by chance to 64-year-old hula instructor Tess Tinker. But her students were not exactly the bikini firewalkers Hartman says he had been hoping for. They are not the dancers you would see on ad campaigns for Hawaii.

"That's because this is a senior hula group," Tinker says with a laugh.

Her youngest student is 51, her oldest, 87. They meet twice weekly next to the shuffleboard courts at the Hawaiian Paradise Park outside Hilo.

Paradise Park is the final nesting place for hundreds of retired snowbirds. Tinker moved there from Oklahoma along with her husband Don, an amateur beekeeper.

Hartman admits that for a while he was wishing the dart had hit Delaware instead. But that was before he knew the story behind the story.

Sometimes retirees move to Hawaii to get away from it all, not fully realizing that Hawaii really is away from it all. They say the ocean can get mighty blue when all your friends and family are on the other side of it.

In Hawaii, they have what they call Ohana, which is family. That doesn't necessarily refer to blood relatives. And Tess Tinker's hula group is a very tight-knit Ohana.

What started out as an exercise class has evolved into a sorority of sorts. Now they don't just dance to tiny bubbles; they drink them as they celebrate birthdays and holidays and look out for one another year-round.

After one session, Tinker tells the class, "Beulah is not doing well." It's a call to get in touch with the ailing member, make meals, take her to doctor's appointments.

And at the heart of it all is hula dancing. Although some of the women, like 80-year-old Janet Tebo, admit they don't even enjoy hula, they wouldn't miss it for the world.

Tebo says, "I don't have family here, so I would be really lonely. I did quit once but then came back because I missed everybody. I missed everybody."

And that's what this Aloh-ya-ya sisterhood is all about. In fact, some of the women say that without hula, they would probably just pick up and go home.

One student says, "And the star of our sisterhood is good old Tess."

Another notes, "She keeps it together" and a third says, "She's just the backbone of it all."

Tinker says, "It's a very special feeling. And we all feel it."

Because Hartman travels so much, people are always asking him, "What's the best place to live in America?"

Thanks to Tinker, he can now say, without a doubt, it is Hilo, Hawaii.

It is also Billings, Mont., and Wichita, Kan.; it is wherever you find your Ohana.

Because as the women he talked to in Hawaii can attest, without that human connection - even paradise is no paradise.