Ilalio Misilagi Ti’alemasunu was born at home to Misilagi and Lauao Ti'alemasunu on September 7, 1942 in Iliili, American Samoa. He grew up on the family farm, without the luxuries of indoor plumbing or electricity. He was no stranger to hard work, and was very independent and self-reliant at an early age. As a child he loved animals. He had a dog named Bobby, a horse named Bonnie, and a donkey and pig that he spoke of often. One of his favorite past times growing up was playing cricket. He enjoyed the outdoor freedom, and being with all of his brothers and sisters in Samoa. He loved his family very much—always holding them close to his heart wherever he was. In 1962, he left the island of Samoa for California to begin new life adventures.
Lio was one of the first Samoans involved in the martial arts community in the 1960s. The industry began with a small group of people, and Lio was fortunate to train with, and become friends with, some of the true masters of mixed martial arts like Bill Ryusaki, Arnold Urquidez, Ruben Urquidez, Benny Urquidez, and Blinky Rodriguez. They all influenced and encouraged this young Samoan man and his journey into the martial arts community.
Lio was intrigued by the mixing of karate, judo, Chinese boxing, kenpo karate, and jujitsu. He trained under Sensei Grand Master Bill Ryusaki, and the two became close and loyal friends. Lio received a Third-Degree Black Belt in Judo & Karate. A fierce competitor, he defeated many opponents, but his most noted win was against Chuck Norris in the 1960s. Lio saved, trained, networked, and reached his dream of opening his own martial arts dojo with good friend Gordy Farrell. He also appeared in some movies as an extra. A young woman taking a mixed martial arts class from him was, “the one true love of his life.” He married Carol Bruneau on June 7, 1969, and they had two daughters, Leona and Melanie. Bill and Lorna Ryusaki (rest in peace) were the Godparents to their oldest daughter Leona. Lio and Bill remained close over several decades, and were fortunate to see each other before Bill’s passing. Lio was so very fond of, and grateful for his early days with Bill, Blinky, Gordy and the Urquidez brothers. The ultimate dojo family!
The family returned to Samoa for a brief time, and then relocated to Huntington Beach, California in the mid-1970s. Lio worked personal security and at Garrison Manufacturing. Always eager to learn, as the manufacturing field progressed over the years, he returned to school and obtained his CNC certification and worked in the engineering department writing, and installing programs. He had superior math skills. Lio was known at work as a truly kind and friendly man, a good team player, and someone that brought everyone together. He had a strong work ethic—never missing a day in over thirty years of employment. His friendships endured over the years, and he considered his co-workers family.
Community was important to Lio. Especially the Samoan community. Lio and his cousin Imi Tuilaepa were instrumental in organizing the first Samoan Social Services program in Santa Ana, which provided services to the Samoan community in all of Orange County. Lio and Imi knew that many Samoans grew up playing cricket, so they were involved in establishing the first cricket field in Mile Square Park.
Some of Lio's favorite things were to travel back home to Samoa any chance he could get, gathering everyone together for his famous barbeques, Mustangs, Camaros, football, good music & food, singing, dancing, playing card games and the ukulele. Family time was especially important to him.
Lio was blessed with three granddaughters and a grandson. He said this was his life’s most precious gift. The continuation of his ancestral line was important to him, and seeing his grandchildren grow was his greatest joy. He was a funny and unconventional grandfather. Unconventional makes for the best kind of memories!
Unfortunately, he sustained an accident in 2012, which left him paralyzed from the neck down—but not for long! Lio believed in God’s Will, the power of the mind, and to trust in the Lord with all of your heart. He moved into French Park Care Center and worked diligently in rehabilitation until he regained partial mobility! Lio’s therapists always respected his great attitude, mental strength, and deep commitment towards his goal of walking again one day. He never gave up, and he never missed a day of rehabilitation. Lio never lost his love and passion for martial arts, and attributed his physical and mental fortitude to it.
He quickly became a big part of the French Park community, and was elected President of the Patient Committee for several years. Always looking out for the underdog, he worked earnestly to make certain the residents' voices were heard, and advocated for them in all aspects. He had many friends, and was well liked and respected in that community.
Lio always spoke of fa’a Samoa. Loyalty and family at the heart of everything, love & respect for our elders, the importance of community, and being good stewards of our earth. He will be remembered as one of the first Samoan pioneers to take part in the martial arts community in the 60s & 70s, for his strength, kindness, smile, laugh, determination, Samoan Warrior spirit, heart for others, amazing BBQs, love for the 49ers and the game of football, his ukulele, his love and loyalty to his daughters, grandchildren, family & friends, and his unwavering faith in God.
Lio lives on through his two daughters Leona and Melanie, and his four grandchildren Madison, Katelyn, Miranda and Kane. He will remain forever in our hearts.
2 Timothy 4:7 “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”
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