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LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Rose Tseng

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX: Rose Tseng

 

Original air date: Tues., Sept. 28, 2010

 

Leading the University of Hawaii at Hilo into the Future

 

In this edition of Long Story Short, Leslie Wilcox talks story with Rose Tseng, who recently stepped down as Chancellor of the University of Hawaii at Hilo. Tseng oversaw the transformation of UH-Hilo into a world-class university, leading the way during a 12-year era of growth, innovation and expansion.

 

Tseng’s life story starts in China during World War II. Coming to the US as a college student — speaking little English — she distinguished herself as a student, teacher and ultimately the first Asian-American woman to lead a four-year university.

 

Since arriving in Hilo in 1998, Tseng has dedicated herself to improving educational opportunities, solving community issues and promoting international cooperation and understanding. In addition to being a scholar, scientist and educator, Tseng is known for her talent in bringing together people, resources and communities to set goals and achieve a common vision.

 

Rose Tseng Audio

 

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Transcript

 

Hawaii should really unite the world through—I mean, whether it’s culture, the political. We are in between East and West. If we could be the model for the world, then you will have better world peace. I think the world is one place. If people understand each other, there should be less war. And there will be less competition, but more collaboration. But Hawaii kids have to learn that first.

 

Rose Tseng is a product of East and West. She was a Chinese immigrant who came to the US as a college student, and came up through the academic ranks to become the first Asian American woman to lead a four-year institution of higher learning. In a dozen years, as chancellor of the University of Hawaii at Hilo, Dr. Tseng was a catalyst for innovation and growth. Her story is next, on Long Story Short.

 

Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawaii’s first weekly television program produced and broadcast in high definition.

 

Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. If you don’t live on the Big Island, you may not recognize the name Rose Tseng. But once you’ve heard her story, you’re not likely to forget her. When Dr. Tseng became chancellor of the University of Hawaii at Hilo in 1998, she brought a can-do spirit, a collaborative approach, and a sense of urgency that would transform the school during her twelve-year tenure. She was born in China, and given the name Yun-Li. Both of her parents were medical doctors who took care of patients, regardless of ability to pay.

 

You started life in northeastern China, in the same province that gave us Confucius. What was that early childhood like?

 

Well, I was five when I left Shandong, which the Confucius was born. I have no relation with him.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

But you know, I remember I was the third in the family. We have a pretty good house, but it’s a courtyard with four quarters. We are the south quarter, and my family, four of us, and my parents, live in there. And the north quarter was the [INDISTINCT] for grandparents, and the relatives. And we were comfortable. But my mother was always working. Sewing, and things like that, even though she was a doctor.

 

Your mother was a professional who was raising her children at the time she was working.

 

M-hm.

 

Did she talk with you about the whole concept of having it all, and what her opinion of that was?

 

My mother came from a traditional family, so she also tell me, You have to be good woman and mother, and lady, and granddaughter, you know, whatever mother eventually too. So I had to learn how to sew, and I have to learn to—I mean, being a woman means you have to manage the house with little money. And she is pretty perfectionist, and she taught us that woman has even more responsibility than man. But still, you have to be good in the world. You have to compete with the world, ‘cause she showed example. Because her skill, she was able to make the living, and carry the responsibility for the children, and for a lot of money in the family came from her clinic. ‘Cause my father get—you know, public servant is very little money, beginning of Taiwan. So I am the second daughter. We have older brother, my older sister, and me. I would say … come to me, she didn’t have a really, really strong hope for me to be the best in the world or something. But she just feel like, you have to do your best, do your best, do your best. Contribute. [CHUCKLE]

 

So it was by position of child, what the expectations were?

 

Yeah. My older brother got the highest expectation. He has to be perfect in everything. By the time when I get there, I had to be good, but I don’t think I have to be the first in my class all the time.

 

After World War II, Rose Tseng’s family moved to Shanghai, and then to Taiwan, to avoid the spread of Communism.

 

What was Taiwan like for the family who had just arrived?

 

Taiwan was very rural and very tough that time. ‘Cause right after second world war, Japanese moved away, and China, Taiwan is Republic of China. And there’s nothing. No school, and nothing. [CHUCKLE] No economy. I mean, the agriculture was bad, everything was bad. So we move in, my mother is a pediatrician and gynecologist. And they found jobs. Yeah, they found jobs in a military hospital first. And my mother finally, with four kids, she couldn’t work, so she had a clinic in the house. We had to help out. No babysitter, nothing luxury, but we get clothes, we got food, and we go to school, public school. And so we had a pretty tough—not really, really poor, poor life, but not luxury at all.

 

A lot of people would figure, since both parents were physicians, there’d be affluence.

 

No; no, not in the old days in Taiwan right after the war. Taiwan was very poor. Actually, we were not the poorest. Some of my classmate had no shoes. Some of my class—well, I even personally didn’t have anything more than maybe one pair of shoes. And we had to make our own clothes. Even when I was twelve, I have to make all my uniforms myself.

 

Did your parents communicate values to you about work, and community?

 

Yeah; yeah. I think that’s what daily, they showed us. Even though they were kinda poor, they have a clinic in the house, my father immediately come back from the hospital, university hospital and medical school hospital, he had fulltime job there, make very little money. But then he come back, he immediately take his clothes off, and treat the patients. And many of the patients don’t pay. That time, they don’t have money. So my mother kind of help out, and she did the kids and the mother, and the father does the surgery and all that. I know they were busy all night, and on the weekends. Very little pay. But I see them doing that. I thought, Well, that’s life.

 

Did your parents, as physicians, encourage you to go into the medical field?

 

Not really. Actually, they probably told all of us, Don’t become physician. Or they kind of, maybe informally, we saw how they do, seven days a week, and the house is open for the public all the time. And we decided, none of us want to be physician. They think scientist or educators are the best. And they also don’t like us to make money, either. They said, Making money is not good. So in a way, none of us went into business. We all become scientists or—

 

What was the bias against making money?

 

I don’t know. My parents just tell us from—they warn, people who are rich are not as good as people who are poor. Or something like that.

 

Did your father ever explain why he was willing to take in people that he knew would probably never pay him?

 

I think it’s kind of—I don’t think they had to say it. Basically, we grew up that way. When the patient comes in, we all have to disappear, or go to the back yard.

 

When there’s a need, you fill—

 

Yeah; m-hm.

 

—the need.

 

M-hm. We saw them doing that. And I think, yeah, maybe it’s just their education, their life, and they just show us. And they’re very happy. We saw them busy, but they were happy.

 

Her parents’ work ethic was reinforced by Rose Tseng’s teachers, who recognized her potential, and encouraged academic excellence.

 

They would say, You’re good, but you’re not working hard enough. You have to work hard enough. And that was when I was thirteen, my seventh grade, actually eighth grade teacher tell me I didn’t work hard enough. And lo and behold, I started working hard enough. I got everything. And I got exam from the high school entrance exam, which was big deal. And I thought, Well all I have to do just little hard work. So from then on, this teacher told me, You’re good in math, science, but you’re not really good in PE. You better learn PE. I thought, Oh, I don’t like PE. But then she told me, But you cannot be successful, you’re not healthy. So a lot of things is hard work by somebody influence you all along.

 

When you were born in the same province where Confucius was born, my guess is, you were not named Rose.

 

No. [CHUCKLE]

 

How did you get the name, Rose?

 

Actually, my teacher was a Catholic nun. She said, Hmm, you all have to pick a name. She gave me a long name, and then Rose. And Mary, I think. And you know, I thought, Oh, I want a shorter one. But Mary was in every textbook, so I don’t think I want Mary. So Rose was the one. [CHUCKLE]

 

And Rose is a nice, classic name.

 

Yeah, I thought. And I understand the color, and I understand, I mean, I understand what a rose is. So I said, Okay, I’ll pick that name. I never knew I will stick to this for the rest of my life. I thought was using a lang—but I never use Yun-Li anymore.

 

Rose Tseng started college in Taiwan, where she studied chemistry and engineering. While she was away at school, her parents moved to Ethiopia to work for the World Health Organization. When Rose went to visit them, she caught the travel bug, and decided it was time for a move of her own.

 

I told them I’m not going back to Taiwan, and I’m gonna apply for some college in the United States. And I look in the United States, I decided the east, west, and I got admission for East Coast, West Coast, UCLA, and the university in the East Coast. And Kansas State, I decided. And I told them I’m going to Kansas State. They said, Hmm, okay. I mean, they didn’t say one thing or the other too. They gave me like—I remember, a thousand dollars in 1962, not a whole lot of money. That’s the only money they gave me. From then on, I was on my own.

 

So you began applying for scholarships?

 

Yeah; I did. And I thought Kansas was cheaper, a little bit than UCLA, like maybe a hundred dollar cheaper for tuition per year. But that make a difference. So then, I went to work in a lab, and I work in the summer as a waitress.

 

What about the language? When did you learn English?

 

Actually, I did not learn alphabet until twelve … seventh grade. And I went to school a year early, so in seventh grade, I was twelve. And then I didn’t learn English until, really, Ethiopia. I went to Ethiopia, and I didn’t know how to speak, except English, so I start practicing. By the time I get to Kansas, maybe two months later, I was fine. I was able to understand enough, ‘cause I took—I mean, I was a pretty good student in high school. So I took all the English grammar, writing, and when I went to Kansas, most people thought I could speak English. But there were things that I really didn’t understand. But yeah, I just learned by trial.

 

And no problem getting a job, no problem with your schoolwork?

 

Mm, no, no problem with schoolwork. Schoolwork, my math and science is so strong, so my chemistry, I get A’s. But I remember taking speech communication; that was tough. I remember taking American history, and social science; that was tough, because I have to do all these questions in certain time. I understand it, but I’m slower to reading all these long questions. But it was tough for the first couple years.

 

 

Rose Tseng earned her bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Kansas State University, and then, once again, she headed West with a scholarship to UC Berkeley, where she would earn her master’s and PhD in nutritional sciences, with minors in biochemistry and physiology.

 

Kansas was very nice, I learned everything. But I miss ocean too much. I grew up in Taiwan, and I miss ocean. I also miss tofu.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

I also miss—

 

Not a lot of that in Kansas, right?

 

No; no. And vegetable and fruit, and fish. And things I missed too much. So Berkeley gave me a scholarship, and actually I had scholarship, and then for Berkeley fellowship to match up tuition and everything. And so I went there. And of course, Berkeley is a good school, too.

 

Let’s talk a little bit about meeting your husband. Because he would become your lifetime companion.

 

Right, right. And we met in Berkeley. And he was a graduate student, I was a graduate student. We both came from Taiwan. And we got to know each other. And we met in the library. We were studying in the library, so we’re both are not rich. So we go to movie together occasionally.

 

But same values and—

 

Same values.

 

—you could understand his profession as well.

 

Uh-huh, uh-huh.

 

And then, how did you decide, when it came time to go into the working world, whose career led?

 

Well, I think that part, I’m still traditional Chinese—was traditional Chinese. I married, change to his name, I felt that must be done. And then I was following him. And I finished my PhD earlier, but I did a year post-doc, waiting for him to decide where he want to go.

 

And then you went where he wanted to go.

 

M-hm, yeah. He want—

 

Which was?

 

San Jose. He got recruited to IBM. So he moved to San Jose, which is not very far from Berkeley.

 

And then you found a job there—

 

M-hm.

 

—as well?

 

M-hm, m-hm. Actually, I stayed home for half a year, trying to say, I don’t need to work anymore, I can just enjoy life with a little kid. My first daughter is one year old that time. But I found myself immediately got into San Jose State, teaching part-time, and San Jose City, teach chemistry part-time. And then I start feeling I’ll enjoy the teaching, and enjoy research, so I went back, and they recruited me fulltime. And then I found the first Department of Nutrition and Food Science at San Jose State when I was like twenty-seven.

 

And when you became the chair of the department—

 

M-hm, m-hm.

 

—was that where you wanted to end up?

 

No, I did a lot of things by chance. Because they didn’t have a department chair, and they asked me to do it, I did it. [CHUCKLE] And I think I just kinda grew into it, because I was developing new curriculum, I was doing research, I was advising students. So I got into it.

 

But in the back of your head, it wasn’t, and after this, I’m gonna go do that?

 

No. Not really. I think if you look back, I just happened to be in the right place, and people asked me to do certain things. It just gradually happened.

 

 

What she calls chance, led Rose Tseng to take on more and more responsibility. Her ascent took her from teacher, to chair, to dean, and ultimately, chancellor; first, at a California community college system, and then at the University of Hawaii at Hilo, where she became the first Asian American woman to head a four-year university. Along the way, she developed a reputation as a skilled matchmaker, with a talent for bringing together the people, resources, and funding to make things happen.

 

I like knowing people, and I like to build teams and how to work together. So I think basically, now I look back, maybe I was born or happened—I had the opportunity to learn these things, and I enjoy learning it. And when I learn it, I’m not very strong leader in a way, I don’t tell people what to do. We kinda work together. So I’m a facilitative kind of leader. At least in San Jose State, they tell me I was more, and even the union told me, You’re not a true, true management. You’re more like us.

 

But that—maybe—I don’t know what the standards were then, but now, the standard is collaborative leadership.

 

Yeah. Actually, I feel like I was born to do that. And I didn’t know that was the kind of things you should do. I mean, now at that time, I told my father, I’m not, I’m not the kind of dean people think I should be.

 

You don’t tell people what to—

 

Yeah.

 

—do, and when.

 

I don’t tell people. My father says, They want you. If they want you, they must see some good about you. You’ve been there for many years, they know you. So I think collaborative facilitating and not bossy, but still have the vision.

 

Were you recruited for the job of UH Hilo chancellor?

 

I love Hawaii. I went to Hawaii for every vacation. And lo and behold, somebody nominated me for the UH Hilo job. So anyway, so it just came my way. And so I decided to apply, decided to send my thing in the last day. And it fits. It fits, because I want to get a smaller place, I want to go back to research, and meeting with people, and get culture and science. I’m a scientist, but with really understanding of culture and minority culture, and indigenous culture. I love to learn that. So it fits after a while, I thought, Well, this is my destiny. I go around the world, going back between East and West.

 

Well, you say it fits. But I can think of a couple of reasons why it might not have fit. For one, you’re a hard-charging leader, and Hilo sometimes resists change. It wants things done on its own time. And you were from the outside, too.

 

M-hm, m-hm.

 

Two things that could have kiboshed the deal, as they could have really hurt you, unless you figured a way around them.

 

I think I was maybe took me a little while to figure out. But I did ask community, What do you want? I said, I came in from outside, don’t ask me for the vision of the university. Even though I was a couple years ago, I was on the accreditation team for UH Manoa, so I knew a lot about UH system. So I thought Hilo was intriguing, because this is the second university in the State of Hawaii, and still hasn’t really polished

 

No, and it was feeling very, very marginalized by—

 

Right.

 

—the UH system.

 

A little bit, I think, the people there all feel that way. So go back to, I came in, first few month, I learned and tried to ask the community, What do you really want? And they say, What’s your vision? And I said, I don’t really have a strong vision. I want to get better, but I want to get the university better, the community better, and the State better, help the State better, and getting East and West connection better to Hawaii. And very vague. But then they gave me input. I had a survey, literally, being a scientist. And I taught research methodology, I did a survey. And everyone fill in. I couldn’t believe people fill in six-page things what they want to do. So I came out with goals, and finally followed the goals. Making university better, making more native Hawaiians, and making culture and science together, and getting more resource, getting university bigger, getting true, true residential university. And a lot of things fits what I like to do. And they came from the community, not just from me.

 

I know you’ve said that the success of a university is tied to the community’s success.

 

M-hm.

 

And both can help each other.

 

M-hm, yeah.

 

How did you go about connecting the two better?

 

I think my purpose is, if we all want certain thing together, like in Hilo, the leadership together, whether it’s union leaders, whether it’s a business leader, or community builder, native Hawaiians, we eventually see the same thing. Want to be a better place for the next generation, and want Hawaii to be a better place.

 

Everybody wants the place to be better, but so many have different ideas about how to do that. And you’ve had to navigate some interesting—

 

Yeah.

 

—contradictions or schisms between, say, Western science and Hawaiian culture, and the feeling about Mauna Kea being a sacred place.

 

Yeah. That’s one, people tell me is very, very difficult. I didn’t find it that difficult. ‘Cause I want, first of all, it’s sincere from my heart. I really believe native Hawaiians have so many good culture, good language that we really, as a Hawaiian state, especially in Hilo has more native Hawaiians. We have to make that the best. So I encourage them and support them, and they are good. So we got a new building, we got a new PhD program, and all that. And they’re the best. Then, I have science. I’m a scientist myself. Hawaii, out of the whole place, is a natural resource. How do we protect the nature, protect the culture, and protect the science, and make the science best. Everybody have the same goal now. I would say not everybody, the majority of people says, We want the best for the children. And of course, more science, better science, as long as our kids can get involved. And that’s it, that’s it. Your kids has to get involved. Because we cannot have a foreign scientists only, even though I may be coming from mainland, but I see myself as a resident of Hawaii now. I think my university had to deliver some education so that the future—the world best telescope, like thirty million telescope, had to be able to hire our students. And they see the future, they could be the best scientist, they can get Nobel Prize, they can get discovery. And they have the hope. So we’ve been—and the Imiloa Astronomy Center is one thing Senator Inouye helped me to build that, and he has the vision, and I carry through pretty much with the help of everyone. That’s integrate culture and science. So now the kids in Big Island and everywhere understand science and culture can integrate or can help each other. And it can be the best of both worlds. We have many native Hawaiian kids are in science field now, and they’re doing very, very well. And they actually are probably better scientists, because they have the interest in their heart than many people who just become skillful, but no passion. They have the passion of protect the mountain, passion of understand the universe. They have the passion of everything they learn.

 

I wonder how many of those of us who are outside Hilo realize to what extent the campus changed during your twelve years as chancellor.

 

I’m pretty proud of that. It’s not myself. The Legislature helped, the community people helped, the students helped, the faculty helped. But we have the same goal. When we work together, things happen.

 

We just don’t have time to list everything that blossomed while Rose Tseng served as chancellor of UH Hilo. Just to give you an idea of developments on her watch, the school added ten new bachelor’s degree programs, six master’s degrees, and two PhD programs. It launched three new colleges, a foreign exchange program, and nine building projects. Student enrollment went up fifty percent, and funding for research grants more than tripled.

 

The metrics from your tenure are very impressive. But what do you think was the most fun and notable, in terms of what you did? Because this took—it was all leadership, and it took a lot of people, but what was the fun of it for you, in terms of what you did during the day?

 

I don’t know what’s the most fun. I think the fun during the day is to see students. And I think that’s why I decided to move from a big place to a smaller university is, the students know me, and I see them—all kind of students. The native Hawaiian, the international, the mainland students, the Oahu—and they just love it.

 

Can you define, perhaps, the essence of your tenure?

 

I would say, I did my best. This place is a better place for the community, and for the people. And in certain ways, unite the world better through East and West connection. And the kids, they are better citizens, and better global citizens than before. That’s just increment, but to the point of more broader impact to the world. And the kids are enlightened to be global citizens.

 

You didn’t move to Hilo until a dozen or so years ago. Do you think you’ve found the place where you’ll live the rest of your life?

 

Yeah, I like Hilo. I really, really like—actually, I like Hawaii. I think I learned a lot, the last twelve years, from Hawaii. Especially Hilo, because I live there. People are so sincere. People are so pure. And they don’t get mad. You could be the meanest person there, I think you can get mellow.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

And so I enjoyed Hilo. The people say they’re slow, they’re whatever. I find they’re just so patient. I mean, most Hawaii are like that, too. I think all the Western people should come to Hawaii to learn the real aloha spirit. Not just fake aloha spirit. The sincerity, the people, the goodness of people. And you know, Hilo is really—people are very, very nice.

 

Your whole life, it sounds, you’ve been twenty-four/seven. What do you do when you’re just—do you ever have a time when you’re doing nothing, and really thinking about nothing? Just mellowing out?

 

I love education, but I don’t always like twenty-four/seven. So I decided that I need to step down, then I can have a little life, then I can still do education, and still do things for the community. And I don’t think I will ever just stay doing nothing, just for myself, and just enjoy. I don’t think I’m that kind of person yet. Maybe when I get a little older. Right now, I still would like to contribute. And I’m helping. I don’t want to be running the university, but I want to run things that helping the university, helping Hawaii, helping the State.

 

Rose Tseng’s advice for students graduating from high school and college is to travel, read, meet people from other places, and always keep learning. All things she continues to do, herself. Although Dr. Tseng stepped down from the chancellor’s position at UH Hilo in June 2010, retirement was not what she had in mind. She told us she’ll make herself available to help in advancing the goals of UH Hilo, and she’ll keep working for more East-West exchange. For Long Story Short, and PBS Hawaii, I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou kakou.

 

For audio and written transcripts of this program, and all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit pbshawaii.org.

 

For young people, I would say, read, learn, and learn from everybody. Confucius said you have learn from any three—I mean, if you are among any three, he said he can learn from the other two. Even Confucius. So I feel like I’m humble, I need to learn from everyone. And I think young people should just learn.

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Lawrence Tseu

 

Original air date: Tues., Jan. 17, 2012

 

Nationally Recognized Honolulu Dentist and Philanthropist

 

Leslie Wilcox talks story with Lawrence Tseu, a nationally recognized Honolulu dentist and philanthropist. As a boy who grew up poor in Kalihi, Lawrence shined shoes and sold newspapers to pay for his tuition at St. Louis. Dr. Tseu talks about the joys and struggles of growing up in a hardscrabble neighborhood and his journey to dentistry.

 

Lawrence Tseu Audio

 

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Transcript

 

Like the old saying goes, you can take a boy out of Kalihi, but you cannot take the Kalihi out of the boy. It’s hard to forget the past, where you grew up. It’s always gonna be a part of you, even though you’re not living there anymore.

 

He was a resourceful kid on the streets of Kalihi and Chinatown during World War II, and his journey has taken him from poverty to the pinnacle of philanthropy in Hawaii, and beyond. The life of Lawrence Tseu of Honolulu is next, on Long Story Short.

 

Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawaii’s first weekly television program produced and broadcast in high definition.

 

Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. In this edition of Long Story Short, Dr. Lawrence K.W. Tseu is accustomed to being asked for money, and he has a soft spot for those in need because he knows what it’s like. He grew up poor during the Depression, started working when he was just nine years old, and eventually rose to become a local titan of philanthropy. Lawrence Tseu once lived with a loving family in what he recalls as a hut on the wrong side of the tracks.

 

We know you as a kid from Kalihi, but you actually were not born in Hawaii.

 

No, I was born in Hong Kong, because my dad is from Hawaii, born and raised in Hawaii. And after college, he went to Hong Kong to try his luck in business, and he met my mother who’s from Shanghai, and I was born in Hong Kong. And when I was three years old, we came back to Hawaii.

 

Now, your father was an educated man with a master’s degree.

 

Yes. Well, he was in the First World War. He volunteered, actually, at seventeen, forged his parents’ signature to go to France to fight. And he received three Purple Hearts and participated in seven major campaign battles. So, on his way back on the troop ship, he stopped by in New York and decided he wants to get an education. So, he worked his way through Columbia University, and then got his master’s degree from New York University, NYU.

 

But then, you grew up poor in Kalihi.

 

Yes.

 

Could he not get the job he wanted?

 

Well, here’s what happened. When he went to Hong Kong to try his business, he was quite successful, met my mother in Shanghai. And my mother, of course, came from a very wealthy family in Shanghai. The father was the major owner of a large department store called Daisun, who was in competition with Wing On Company in Hong Kong and Shanghai. So they were quite wealthy. When my grandfather passed away, my uncle took over the business kinda, and he wasn’t a very good businessperson, so we kinda lost some money. So my dad said, Well, maybe let’s go back home and try our luck back in Honolulu.

 

And how did it go in Honolulu?

 

Well, when he came back, he started a rattan furniture business, and all of his supplies came from the Philippines. So when the war started, of course, he lost his supplies and his material to make furniture. So at that point, we were quite destitute. No income, no business, and so we just went bankrupt.

 

And so, what did he do? How did he fight the Depression?

 

Well, he was an in engineer, and so, he went to work for the Navy. And then we kind of built ourselves up again from working for the Navy at Pearl Harbor during the war.

 

What was life like in Kalihi? What street did you live on? What was your neighborhood like?

 

The area that I grew up on was considered the poorest area of Kalihi. You had the area below the railroad track, and the area above the railroad track. And the railroad track is actually Nimitz Highway right now. Now, the best area of Kalihi was Kalihi Valley. That was considered the Waialae Kahala of Kalihi.

 

And what was it like living there?

 

Well, we had a small house, just cold running water, and no garages. It was a very simple small, little hut, actually.

 

Did you play on the street?

 

Yes. Yeah.

 

You didn’t go to parks or anything?

 

Oh, no; there wasn’t very many parks then. The only place that really had grass was the Bishop Museum. And so, my brothers and I would go to the Bishop Museum every so often, so we can run on the grass to get that good feeling. You know how it feels to run on the—

 

And how did you get around? How did you get up to Bishop Museum?

 

Oh, we walked. There was no such thing as a bike, or riding something. We just walked. Everything was walking.

 

Now, you started working at a very young age, and it wasn’t because you were hired, it was because you made your own job. What was that all about?

 

Well, right after the Pearl Harbor, my mother said, You know what, now’s a good time to make money. I said, How? She said, Well, you go shine shoes. I said, But I never shined shoes before, I don’t know how it’s done. So, I asked my neighbors, to help me make a shoebox from an orange crate. So my brother and I, my older brother, he’s just about thirteen months older than I am.

 

And how old were you?

 

I was nine and a half, and he was ten and a half. So we managed to somehow make a shoebox, and we went to town to buy polish to shine shoes. Now, we never shined shoes before. We don’t have no idea how it’s done. [CHUCKLE]

 

And how did you set the price?

 

Well, it was ten cents a shine.

 

Oh; okay. That, you knew; okay.

 

Yeah, that, I knew.

 

Well, where did you go to get your customers?

 

We’d go to town. And at that time, there were a lot of sailors.

 

Ah …

 

See, sailors are the only one that shine their shoes. The soldiers had these boots, so you can’t shine the boots. So sailors were mostly ninety-nine percent of our customers.

 

What was your corner? Did you have a special place?

 

Yes. The Kalihi bunch was right across the street from Hawaii Theater on Bethel Street. And we used to call that Battle Street, because we had to defend our area.

 

Was there competition among the Kalihi boys?

 

No, no.

 

All friends?

 

We all helped each other, yeah.

 

Do you think that says something about the Kalihi neighborhood?

 

Well, maybe because the poverty and the closeness, we kinda stuck together. So we were the only ones in town that had what you call a gang to protect our area. So, the other shoeshine boys were just stragglers. They’d come and go, and different areas. But we had our set street, and it was very, very lucrative.

 

Were there other ways to make money, besides shining shoes?

 

I don’t know whether I should … well—

 

It sounds like you should. [CHUCKLE]

 

[CHUCKLE] Well, there was another way that I used to make my money, besides shining shoes and selling papers. These young sailors, they’d come into town, and they want a good time. Prostitution was legalized, and so they would show me, bad pictures and say, Hey, sonny boy, where can I get some of this? I said, Oh, I know where. And they said, Well, take me to the place. I said, Oh, I’m not gonna take you unless you pay me first. They say, What do you mean? I said, Well, you each give me a quarter, and I’ll take you folks, and show you.

 

More than shoe shines.

 

Yeah. Oh, yeah, I clean up. [CHUCKLE] Some days, I really did well.

 

And you were how old, now?

 

Ten years old; I was ten. So, once we arrived at the place, I said, Okay. We called them mates. I said, Okay, mate, here’s the situation; this corner is Caucasian. We used to call them Haoles. I said, This corner is Haole girls, it’s ten dollars. Across the street is local girls, but young and pretty, it’s five dollars. And I said, on this corner is older local girls, it’s two dollars.

 

Wow.

 

I used to be the grocery boy for one of the madams. And every Saturday, I would meet her at, I think, about ten o’clock in the morning, and I would go Chinatown shopping with her. And I would carry her bags, and then we would go back to the house of prostitution.

 

Did your mother know you were doing this?

 

No, I wouldn’t dare tell her.

 

And how long did you do that? Starting at nine and a half.

 

Yeah, until the war ended.

 

And how much of a help was it to your family? Oh, well, what did you with the money? Did it all go to your family?

 

What I’d usually do was, at the end of the day, I would cash in the coins for dollar bills. And on a good day, on a Saturday, we’d make as much as ten dollars on a good day. So I would cash it all in for dollar bills, and we’d bring it home to my mother. We’d give it to her.

 

The whole thing?

 

Everything.

 

You didn’t even go get a soda?

 

No. In fact, we never ate lunch, when we were shining shoes. We saved as much money as we can. So one day, my mother said, Oh, what did you folks have for lunch? I said, We don’t eat lunch. And she said, Why not? We want to save the money. So she gave us a good scolding and said, From now on, you have to go to eat, and you have to eat lunch. So right on Pauahi and Bethel Street was a fountain. The old fashioned fountain where you come up on a stool, and sit and be served on the counter.

 

Yeah, right. Ice cream floats, and everything.

 

Yeah, right, right. So what we did was, between my brother and I, I would eat first, because was younger. So we’d order a tuna sandwich and two Cokes.

 

And you’d have half sandwich each?

 

Yes.

 

Oh.

 

We would split the sandwich. [CHUCKLE]

 

Because you were saving money.

 

Yes.

 

Still.

 

So I would have my own Coke, and my brother would have half the—I eat half of the sandwich, and then when I’m done, he would hop on the stool and he has his half of the sandwich. [CHUCKLE]

 

So that ten dollars, how much did that help your family, in the money of that time?

 

Well, in the early 40s, ten dollars goes a long ways.

 

I understand you started going to private school, and paying your own tuition?

 

Yes.

 

Could that be true?

 

Yeah.

 

As a fifth grader?

 

The tuition then at St. Louis was only hundred fifty dollars a year. And when you shine shoes and make maybe three, four dollars on a weekday, and then maybe seven, eight bucks on a Saturday—

 

Oh, you were doing it weekdays, too?

 

Oh, yeah, after school. So that’s why John Henry Felix always said, Oh, we make more than our parents.

 

Was that true, literally?

 

Well, almost. Yeah, we did make some good money.

 

Now, he was a Papakolea boy that you kind of took under your wing, your gang joined up with.

 

Yeah.

 

And he’s your close friend to this day. And he has a PhD, he’s been a City Councilman, he’s a business magnate.

 

Yes. He is what I call a success story.

 

Right about this time, you decided you wanted to be a dentist, at this early age.

 

Yes, from the age of twelve, I told myself, I want to be a dentist.

 

Why?

 

While I was in Puuhale School, all the poorest of the poor were entitled to go to Palama Settlement for their dental work. To be poor, you don’t qualify. You gotta really be destitute, practically, almost. So I would get my dental checkup by going to Palama Settlement, see? And one time, I had a very, very passionate, gentle dentist that it was so painless, and caring and careful. That impressed me so much that I said, Someday I want to be a dentist and be like him.

 

And from that time on, you were used to pretty much taking care of yourself.

 

Yes. After the war, I got a job as a service station attendant, or a mechanic helper, but I’m always working, since I was nine and a half.

 

So after you graduated from St. Louis, you had a goal to go to college.

 

Yeah. Well, I wanted to go to college, but didn’t have money, so I joined the service. And so, I joined the Air Force, because I didn’t want to dig foxholes. We come from a very patriotic family. My dad, like I said, at seventeen, signed up for World War I. So, when we became of age, he said, You know, freedom is not cheap. There’s a price for freedom, and I want all of you boys to go in the service. I don’t want to see you guys get drafted. So my oldest brother went in the Navy, my other brother went into the Army, airborne paratrooper, and then my younger brother went into the Marines, and I went into the Air Force.

 

So you’re in the service, and you’re earning a GI Bill, right?

 

Yes. So, the GI Bill I got was seventy-five dollars a month, and if you’re married, you had an additional seventy-five dollars. So a hundred fifty dollars, I started college.

 

You got accepted to dental school after college.

 

Yes. So of course, in college, I had to work my way through college, because the GI Bill didn’t cover all of it. And then she worked as well, yeah?

 

And did you have kids while you were still in college?

 

Yes; yes, uh-huh. So when I started dental school, I had two children already.

 

And dental school, I always think of that as, it’s a professional school, and people don’t work while they go. But you worked fulltime in dental school.

 

I had to work. There was no choice. So what I used to do was, school gets through at five, and I would to go to school, and reach my workplace at six. So six to twelve every night, and then I get home by one o’clock. And then I would eat my dinner, and study, until six-thirty, and then I’d get up to go to school.

 

And was the dental training what you hoped it would be? Did you love it? Because this is something you had decided so long before.

 

Oh, I enjoyed every minute of dental school. I really enjoyed the challenge, and what I’d learn every day was new, that I graduated tops in my class, in spite of working.

 

And you went to a very good school, as well.

 

Yeah. Northwestern, at that time when I applied, was the number one dental school in the country. It was known as the John Hopkins of dental school. Most pre-med students would apply to John Hopkins, most or all pre-dental students want to apply at Northwestern.

 

So you not only got in, but you were top of class.

 

Yes. My children would ask me, Hey, Dad, what makes you so motivated? And I would say, I’m tired of being hungry and poor, and people looking down on me, and I want to make something out of myself to escape the stigma of Kalihi.

 

Now, your kids didn’t have that stigma, and presumably, they didn’t grow up in Kalihi.

 

No.

 

So, do you consider them blessed, or do you think maybe everybody needs to grow up in Kalihi and understand the hardship

 

Well, that’s a very good question. Because I let them know that I grew up in Kalihi, and that it takes a lot of discipline and appreciation to get out of Kalihi, and that what they have now, they should appreciate because they don’t have to go through the hardship to learn what I’ve learned.

 

But do they have the same motivation you did?

 

Well, for some reason, they must have, because they all did quite well in their professions.

 

Have you actually retired? Because it seems like you’re at your office a lot, you’re still involved. And if you retired, you must have done it fairly recently.

 

Yes. Well, after my wife passed away, before she passed away, she made me promise her that after she’s gone, that I would quit my practice. Because, she feels that even while she was alive, I put so much hours into my practice that without her, probably I might work myself to death. So she said, Okay, Honey, you gotta promise me, when I’m gone, you have to quit your practice and enjoy life. So, a year ago April, April 1, 2010, I officially completely cut myself off from my practice.

 

And do you miss it?

 

I miss my patients. The dental work itself is a source of income, but I miss the interaction with my patients. They were like family. Every six months on their checkup, it’s a nice family reunion. I remember their kids, and their accomplishments, and it’s kind of a very, very pleasant reunion. And I miss my patients. I love ‘em all, and they’re really precious to me.

 

While Lawrence Tseu was busy running his dental practice in Honolulu, a mutual friend introduced him to the woman who would become his second wife. Bo Hing Chan was raised in China, educated in Europe, and lived in Hong Kong. She came to Hawaii to vacation, and to seek business contacts for a jewelry enterprise.

 

She’s the daughter of a famous general and the former governor of Canton. And she came on vacation to Hawaii, and we met through a friend. I never believed in love at first sight. But after I met my wife … it can happen.

 

Did she feel that way, too?

 

Yes, exactly.

 

She had inherited wealth, and you were self-made.

 

Most Chinese don’t give the money to the daughters; they give it to the sons. A well-to-do Chinese family would send their children to Europe, at that time, to be educated. And that’s where my wife went, to Oxford, and University of Paris. But the girls are not deprived of any conveniences or comfort, but they don’t inherit money. If they do, it’s a very small amount.

 

But your wife built a fortune?

 

On her own. She was quite an entrepreneur.

 

So you had a very close relationship, and she really influenced your thinking about a lot of things.

 

She’s very philanthropic in many ways, so she said, With the money that we have, we should share our blessings; so do continue to help the underprivileged and help the poor. You can’t take the money with you anyway, and you can’t spend it all, so do some good with it, and help the underprivileged.

 

Is that something you had been involved in before?

 

 

Well, I think I got part of it from my grandfather. Most people don’t realize it, but my grandfather, when he came from China to help the Damon family, promote religion to the Chinese, he established the um, Palolo Chinese Home with the Damon Family to help the single Chinese men that had no place to go when they got old. So I think I must have inherited some of that tendencies to help.

 

I have to say that it’s such a blessing to have the money to share with others. How do you decide who to give to?

 

Well, my criteria is mostly to help the underprivileged children. But it all started because I was poor myself, and my dad always mentioned, and my parents of course, mentioned that education is one way to get out of poverty. So I thought, if I can help educate the underprivileged, that would get them out of poverty. Some people inherit wealth, yeah, and they can do well with the money. But if you have an education, to me, that’s one way to meet up with the wealthy, to be on an equal level playing field, so to speak.

 

What other projects have caught your attention?

 

Healthcare is also important. I’m involved with the American Cancer Society, because my sister and my wife passed away from cancer, so I have special feelings to help the American Cancer Society.

 

What’s the gift you’ve given—and you’ve given millions of dollars to charities. What’s the one that’s given you the most personal pleasure or pride?

 

University of Oxford is, I think, one of my greatest accomplishments as far as getting involved with that institution. It was through, of course, John Henry Felix, and of course, my wife got her master’s degree from University of Oxford. So that’s how there’s a tie to Oxford.

 

Don’t you have buildings named after you at the University of Oxford?

 

The newest building at Harris Manchester College was named after my wife and I because of our contribution to that college.

 

And you also have contributed to the construction of a medical institute?

 

Yes, I established the Tseu Medical Institute at University of Oxford to do research in diabetes, AIDS, and cancer.

 

With the major exception of Oxford University, Dr. Lawrence Tseu tries to put his money to work here in Hawaii. Among the many organizations he supports are the nursing schools at Chaminade University, and the University of Hawaii, the Boy Scouts, his alma mater St. Louis School, and he also sits on a number of nonprofit boards.

 

Does life look really different to you in retirement? I mean, do you care about really different things?

 

Not really. Because while in practice, I was also involved in a lot of nonprofit organizations, and when I retired, I just spent more time with the nonprofit organizations. So there’s not any difference, really. In fact, I spend more time now, because I have more time to devote to them.

 

You were married for most of your life, most of your adult life.

 

Yes.

 

What’s it like being single now?

 

Well, let’s put it this way. I enjoy my independence. I can come and go as I please, I don’t have to account to anybody what I do. And that’s very comforting.

 

So it’s a good place to be?

 

Yes, yes. I had a good marriage, and I enjoyed it, and I don’t think anybody can replace my wife. So, no use looking. So I’m happy with my present situation. Independent, flexible, and go as I please, and come as I please.

 

You’ve talked about the adversity of being poor. Has there been another adversity that you think has shaped you? Because, you know, you learn more from failure than from success, and from hard times than from successful times and happy times.

 

What affected me most was the death of my family and my loved ones, yeah? My sister, my parents, and my wife. That kind of made me look at life with a different view, that life here is only temporary, so it’s better to help others than give, than to receive. So that has been sort of my philosophy in life.

 

The seed of that philosophy had been planted early on, inspired by a poem that resonated with Dr. Lawrence Tseu, even as a young man with few resources and an abundance of ambition.

 

My sister gave me a book, a poem book my Kahlil Gibran, who was a very famous poet. And I read through the book, and this one poem caught my eye that I felt was something that I would like to do and follow as a way of life in the future. So I can read it if you don’t mind.

 

I’d love to hear it.

 

The poem goes like this. I expect to pass through life but once. If therefore, there may be any kindness I can show, or any good thing I can do to any fellow being, let me do it now, and not defer nor neglect it, as I shall not pass this way again. So, I feel that if I’m gonna do something nice, I better do it now, because I may not be able to have the opportunity to do it again.

 

You’ve had a long life, but do you feel life is short?

 

Well when I was shining shoes, it seems like only yesterday. That’s how fast life went by.

 

I suppose, if you enjoy your life, no matter how long you’ve lived, it’s not long enough.

 

Yes. You still want to do more, and you still want to help more. There’s never enough time to finish your objective in life.

 

Is there something you really need to do, before you pass this way?

 

Well, I think I’ve done all that I wanted, and accomplished all that I wanted to accomplish. I’m very satisfied camper.

 

That’s a lot. I don’t know how many people can say that.

 

M-hm. No, I don’t regret, and I’ve done everything that I wanted to do. I wanted to be a dentist, I wanted to be a pilot and fly, and raise a family, and help people, and establish whatever I can to be a Good Samaritan. So, I’ve accomplished everything I wanted. There’s nothing I regret that I have not done.

 

Wow. So, does that mean you can hit the snooze button?

 

I can check out any time. [CHUCKLE]

 

This conversation took place in 2011. In his eighties, Dr. Lawrence Tseu is not slowing down, let along snoozing. He continues to rise hours before dawn each day, to keep up his commitments, not only writing checks, but connecting people and doing everything he can to support the educational and charitable causes close to his heart. And the kid from Kalihi has made many trips to support work at the buildings at Oxford University in England, which bear the names of Dr. Lawrence and Bo Hing Tseu. For PBS Hawaii and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Mahalo for being with us.

 

For audio and written transcripts of this program, and all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit pbshawaii.org.

 

My dad gave me a lot of advice, and so did my mom. What I remembered very clearly was what he told me one time. He said, Son, the average person learns from experience, but a wise man learns from experience of others. So when I hear things, and I listen, I would learn from what I hear, then I try to avoid that mistake.

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Kent Untermann

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX: Kent Untermann

 

Original air date: Tues., Oct. 30, 2007

 

Hawaii Entrepreneur

 

An entrepreneur with an inspiring story of success. Kent Untermann’s career has included playing football at the University of Hawaii, training at the Dallas Cowboys’ rookie camp – and turning a swap meet business into an operation that generates $15 million dollars a year.

 

Leslie Wilcox sits down with Kent to hear how he said goodbye to his NFL dreams and applied himself to success in another field – the picture framing business – starting the Hawaii company Pictures Plus.

 

Kent Untermann Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

Aloha! And mahalo for joining me for another Long Story Short. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Today we get to hear stories from an entrepreneur with an inspiring story of success. Kent Untermann’s career has included playing football at UH, training at the Dallas Cowboys’ rookie camp – and turning a swap meet business into an operation that generates $15 million dollars a year. We’re going to sit down with Kent to hear how he said goodbye to his NFL dreams and applied himself to success in another field – the picture framing business – starting the Hawaii company Pictures Plus.

 

That preseason injury that took you out of the NFL, off the Dallas Cowboys team; what was it?

 

Well there was actually a pulled hamstring. I pulled my hamstring really badly on a workout when I was first with the Dallas Cowboys. There was a lot of misconceptions. I never actually played in the NFL; I had tried out with the Cowboys. So I want to make sure that I’m clean on that.

 

So you were trying out — you were at a rookie camp?

 

Yes; I was at a rookie camp. It was in the spring of 1985. And they were trying to rehabilitate and get it better, and by the time the season came around it still wasn’t ready, and Tom Landry, who was the coach at the time had said I could come back the following year, which I intended to. But then the injury just didn’t cooperate.

 

And how hard was it to leave your NFL dreams behind on the floor?

 

It was very challenging. I had to do a lot of soul-searching. But I really decided, and I could have pursued it, because it wasn’t as though it was really a career ending injury. However, I just decided that it was time to move on. And it was a tough decision, but it was the right decision.

 

Move on to what?

 

Well, move on to re-channeling my energies. I put a lot of effort and energy into football and I realized that I wasn’t gonna retire from football. Meaning that I was gonna do something after I played football anyway. So the sooner I decided to move on, the sooner I could start that next career, whatever that was gonna be.

 

So you’d already developed the discipline. Now you just needed a place to put that discipline. That’s a really good way to say it.

 

Yeah; a lot of disciplines were developed from my athletic career.

 

Is it true what I heard – that you went from trying out for the NFL to trading at a swap meet?

 

Yeah; there was a lot of people that thought I was really crazy, saying, ‘Kent, you can still play at the NFL and all’s you have to do is go back and try again.’ And perhaps I could have made a team. But once again, I had decided that I wanted to move on. I was very entrepreneurial and didn’t mind starting literally at the bottom. So that’s a true story.

 

You probably knew of other football players who didn’t give it up, and kept trying. Did you ever regret, ‘Ah, I should have given it one more shot’?

 

No; because I decided when I, at the time that I made the decision, I was gonna have no regrets. And so if there was a little piece of me that still wanted to pursue that then I was gonna pursue it. And so I decided at that time, if I was gonna let go, I had to let go completely. And I didn’t want to be exactly what you described. I saw so many ex-football players—and there’s a lot of ‘em. And football is kinda like acting; it’s a game of chance. And there’s a lot of good actors and good football players that never got a chance to play at that level. And so I made a conscious decision at that time, I never wanted to be one of those ex-football players that said they coulda done it.

 

So you came back to Hawaii where you’d gone to the UH Manoa; and how is it that you find yourself at a swap meet at that point?

 

Well, fortunately my wife Laurie was going through the nursing school, and we had made a commitment to each other—we weren’t married at the time, but we kinda knew that we wanted to spend the rest of our lives together. She was in the nursing school and had about another year and a half. So I had to kinda preoccupy myself with something, and had an opportunity to work for Ford Motor Company on a temporary basis. They had a bunch of extra goods left over, told me I could have ‘em, and I went and sold them at the swap meet. So that’s kinda how it all began.

 

And what was beginning?

 

Well, little would I know, it was the beginning of kind of an entrepreneurial career, which was the start of Pictures Plus.

 

And how did you get onto the framed pictures?

 

Well, I was buying and selling a bunch of different things at auctions and trading things. And I was a marketing major and I’d just find out how to market something and then I’d be out of it. And so I wanted to find something that was, that I could sell on an ongoing basis. And there was an opportunity at the time to sell these framed pictures. And so I decided to bring those in, since it looked like something that would do well at the swap meet.

 

And they did, obviously.

 

Fortunately they did; yes.

 

So from there you to a large, very successful business. What are your gross revenues?

 

Currently, they’re just over fifteen million dollars today.

 

And that’s back going back to what, 1986 starting at the swap meet?

 

Yeah, started in 1986. I actually used my small signing bonus, five thousand dollars at the time with the Dallas Cowboys, to start buying and selling things there.

 

And how easy was it to go from there? I mean, it’s a huge jump from the swap meet to this very large, multi-platform business.

 

Well, there was a number of steps along the way to get there. We obviously, fortunately at the time, the swap meet really allowed us to be successful to take those other stepping stones. But it’s been, whatever it is, a twenty-year process. So it didn’t happen overnight.

 

Did you have a model you were building on or a mentor advising you on this?

 

No, it’s really evolved. I think I’m very opportunistic, and so I recognized that there was an opportunity in a marketplace that I thought that custom framing and framed art was overpriced. And so I thought if we could buy well and bring it to market and convert it at a more affordable price that we would be able to scale and make a larger business out of it.

 

And what, among the services you provide and the products you offer, what’s your best source of business?

 

Well, our largest sales volume is custom framing, where a customer brings in something and we frame it to their specifications. It is our highest profit margin, but it’s also our highest cost of doing business. It’s extremely labor-intensive. We’ll spend thirty to forty minutes with a customer designing what they want, with no guarantees that they’ll agree to it. And then we have to make that exactly to their specifications. So it takes a lot of labor, and we try to give great value in our business. But it’s very challenging to keep that kinda price-service quotient in line.

 

And you know the rap Hawaii has as a bad place to do business. What have you found along the way?

 

You know, I’m a little bit of a contrarian, so I believe if something’s really tough, there’s opportunity; if something’s really good, then there’s opportunity. And we have been successful in Hawaii, I think, because some of the barriers to entry have been more difficult for businesses. So if you can be successful, I should say, because it’s just as challenging for everybody. But most recently, I’ve found it more challenging, just because of the low unemployment rate. And our product is very labor-intensive. So it’s been tougher lately.

 

Does that keep you from expanding, you think?

 

Yes, it does. We’re fairly done expanding. I think that we’ve penetrated the market about as well as we can. We’ve probably even gone into some markets that maybe we shouldn’t have. They’re just not large enough markets to support the way that we do business.

 

Did you imagine when you started at the swap meet that you were gonna be running a fifteen million dollar a year business doing picture frames?

 

You know, I can’t say that I did. At the time, I always like to plan and project ahead, and I thought we’d have a five million dollar a year business. So it’s tripled my expectations.

 

For you though, failure doesn’t seem to be an option. Actually, you see failure as a possible opportunity, right?

 

Yeah, I never look at, I never consider things a failure. I’ve made hundreds, thousands, I don’t know how many bad decisions in business and everything else. But every one of those is an opportunity to learn from something that you didn’t. And I’ve actually grown and gained more experience on a bad decision than I have on a good decision.

 

But it really, I mean, you can fail a second time too, in terms of what you do with that, quote, opportunity.

 

Right. You can, although if you do it right, the hope is that you learn from that, so you don’t fail again. Even though you could, but I always look at it as an opportunity. So it’s, to me, it’s not a failure unless you continue to do the same thing over and over again.

 

I take it the word ‘driven’ describes you.

 

I think that’s fairly accurate. Yeah; I think I’m relatively driven and have always been fortunate to be that way.

 

That’s one of the things I love about this show. I get inspired by the people I meet and the stories they tell. We’ll hear more from Kent Untermann – coming up… on Long Story Short.

 

So you wear many hats. Obviously, besides being a businessman and an entrepreneur, you’re a father, you’re a husband. Which of your roles tends to define you most?

 

Ooh, that’s a good question. You know, I’m fortunate I enjoy every one of my roles so much. I think the most challenging thing is to find that balance. But I enjoy I’ll say I enjoy being with my family the most. Absolutely, no question about it.

 

It’s interesting. Usually it’s women who talk about balance when they’re asked about what they enjoy most or what their biggest challenge is. You sound like an active dad.

 

Yeah, I’m very active. And fortunately, I just love my children, and we just have an incredible relationship. And so it’s very easy. I don’t look at it as a chore; gosh, I gotta be a dad. I really enjoy being with my wife and kids, and so it comes real natural.

 

And yet, the business has got to be all-consuming. But you work with your wife in the business.

 

I do work with my wife. Unfortunately, or fortunately, for the family she retired a couple of years ago. And she kinda ran the whole back end of it, and I run the whole front end of it. Since she’s departed, the back end of it, it’s been more responsibility on me, which has been better for the family. But I’ve been encumbered with more challenges since she’s been gone.

 

You know, many years ago, I was at UH Manoa commencement address by the late Herb Cornuelle. And he said that the most important choice you make in life is not your career but your choice of spouse. What do you think?

 

Wow. Absolutely. I have actually mentored my kids with two things. One was, be the bigger person. And then at about twelve years old, I told my wife now we have to ingrain in our kids the most important decision you make in your life is who you marry. It influences the rest of your life. So I could not agree more. I have an incredibly fabulous wife, I’m proud to say.

 

And you’ve been through more than one career.

 

Yes, I have.

 

But not more than one wife.

 

No, no, no. I have a wonderful wife and cannot say enough great things about her. And the benefit of living with someone that you are in love with, and supports you so well, is just beyond words.

 

So those were your two messages for your kids. Those were your foremost messages.

 

Yes; until my kids were about twelve years old, we just ingrained into them, be no matter what they did, it was always about being the bigger person. What that meant was, if kids did things to ‘em, it’s kinda the sticks and stones will break my bones type thing. But um, really trying to mentor them to rise above situations. And so we called it uh, you know, be the bigger person.

 

And the other was choose your spouse wisely?

 

Well, who you decide to marry will be the most important decision you make in your lifetime. So in other words, really think about that, and think about it real deeply, and how – don’t just end up with somebody. We wanted to start real young, so that perhaps when they were older and they were making a decision, if it wasn’t the right decision that we had already hopefully influenced them in the right way at a younger age.

 

You expect a lot of discipline from yourself. Do you expect that of your children too?

 

Yes. Nothing more than I would expect of myself, of course. But yeah, there is definitely a level of discipline I would expect of them.

 

Speaking of discipline; is fitness important to you now?

 

Yes, it is. I don’t – I feel a lot better when I’m taking care of myself. And it’s back to the balance thing; sometimes it’s hard to justify to work out for an hour because that’s an hour less with the family, an hour less in the business. But it’s very important to me, and I try to work out four or five times a week, and make sure that that happens for the benefit of everybody, including myself.

 

I know you do a lot of thinking and you like strategy. I’m surprised you didn’t consider becoming a coach.

 

You know, my wife always brings that up. I don’t know why I don’t have any desire. Probably because I’ve been out of football so long, I don’t really have a very high opinion of my ability to think as a coach strategically. I’m so far removed from it. I would probably enjoy working with the players and kids mentoring them. That aspect intrigues me. But the strategic and X’s and O’s part, I’m too far removed from.

 

So have you been watching the UH football team?

 

Absolutely. Enjoying every single game.

 

You played in ’81 to ’84 under Dick Tomey.

 

Right.

 

And June Jones was around too.

 

June Jones was the quarterback coach. I worked closely with him in my junior year.

 

And could you tell me your thoughts about how the program has progressed or moved along?

 

Well, I wish that I was a quarterback or receiver in the current offense. I’ll be the first to admit that. Back when I played as a tight end, which they don’t have any offense now, we weren’t sure if they knew that we were eligible. We thought they thought we were just an extension of the line.

 

[Chuckle]

 

And maybe that’s why June got rid of the tight end. But no, it’s been really enjoyable to watch. I think that June and his staff have done just a tremendous job. And it’s really been neat, kind of an entrepreneur and as an ex-UH athlete, not to knock Von Appen, but hear the, for lack of a better word, excuses that we heard back then about, oh, we can’t do it ‘cause we don’t have this and we don’t have that. And today, they still don’t have those things, yet they’ve found a way to be successful. So I really admire the job that they’ve done.

 

As you look at some of the controversies going on in Hawaii? The Super Ferry, which may have shown us a tipping point where people are just kind of tired of so many changes, you know, or a sign that they just see a lack of control? Do you find yourself feeling that way as well?

 

I actually find myself on the opposite end of it. I’m really disappointed in the behavior. I’ve been involved in a few things, and I’m all about people having a voice. I think having an opinion is wonderful. I think it’s wonderful that people can express themselves.

 

I think sometimes it’s how you express yourself. And just as far as an opinion on the Super Ferry, I think it’s great for the interisland folks, for commerce reasons and all that. But without getting into detail, it’s just the behavior I have seen on how people are reacting to certain things, I’m disappointed in, frankly.

 

Are you concerned at the direction Hawaii is going in for your kids’ sake?

 

What I’m most concerned about is, I have an opinion of the people of Hawaii are the most fabulous people in the world. And that’s why I’ve chosen to reside here. I, despite the challenges, I’m here because of the people. The people in this island are the most wonderful people in the world.

 

That’s right. This is your adopted home. You’re from Northern California, right?

 

Yeah. I’ve lived in California, which is a pretty nice place. But you know what? The people in California don’t measure up to the people in Hawaii in any way, shape or form. And I’m here because of the people. And so the recent behavior of the people is what’s disappointing to me.

 

Mm hm. What advice would you give somebody starting with, as you did, a modest sum with which to start a business in Hawaii?

 

Well, I think first of all, that’s the best way to start. I think it’s much easier to start small. Because when you start small, there’s not a lot of risk. I started with five thousand dollars. You know, the worst thing that would have happened is, I would have lost five thousand dollars; not the end of the world.

 

But it’s all you had, right?

 

It was all I had. But how hard is it to start over with almost nothing? I mean, starting from nothing, or almost nothing, it’s sort of nothing. So I think starting small is actually easier. I think the key to starting your business, though, is first of all you’ve gotta really want to have your own business. If you just sorta think you want to have your own business it’s not a good idea. ‘Cause it’s gonna be tougher, harder and more challenges. But like anything, if you really want it, I think you can be successful with it. And what’s an obvious mistake people make that they don’t realize going into it?

 

I think it’s maybe identifying their strengths and weaknesses, really being honest with yourself. Sometimes we have a tendency to think that we’re better at more things than we really are. And so if you could start in a business where your core competency or your natural skill sets could be leveraged more often, you have a higher chance of being successful.

 

You sound like you’re into the challenge and the process, and the achievement. Where does money fit into the equation?

 

I think money is more important just as far as meeting the needs of your employees and our family. Of course, my family comes first. So really meeting the needs of our family. But I have to say at times I’ve gotten too caught up in just, yeah, enjoying what you do to the extent that you sometimes take your eye off of the pure business and economic side of it.

 

Family first. Finding balance. Coming up next – we’ll ask Kent Untermann to share his vision for his business. One of our PBS Hawaii viewers asks this question. What inspires you, and who inspires you?

 

What inspires me. I think I enjoy working with people, whether it’s my kids and just the interaction, and the other thing that inspires me is just making things happen. I really enjoy taking something and trying to make it better, tweak it, noodle with it. So I think I’m inspired by making things better, improving things, adding value to it, and looking back and seeing what you’ve created. I think that drives me.

 

You talked about the difficulty hiring people in this kind of tight labor market. Are you concerned about this widening gulf between the haves and the have nots in our society here?

 

You know, I’m becoming increasingly concerned about that. I’ve watched the Gold Coast on the Big Island, and you just see these incredible dwellings – multi-million dollar houses going in. I just thought, who’s gonna service those people? How are those people gonna continue to be serviced? Even in our business, where we’re looking for service-oriented people and what we can afford to pay, and what those people can afford to live on. There’s a real gap there and a real mess. And yes, I’m very concerned about that.

 

And as an employer, I mean, if the folks you want to hire can’t afford to live here, then your business goes flat. Or worse.

 

Absolutely. We’re very employee-driven and uh, the service levels we provide to our customers are through our employees. And that’s how we provide the service that we do. And it’s increasingly challenging to be able to accomplish that.

 

A lot of business folks are concerned about workforce development, which many interpret to be the need to educate future workers better, have a stronger educational system. Are your employees, do they come to you qualified?

 

Well, I believe that we need to invest in our employees. So I’m really big on training. And no matter how much training we do, and how much we invest in training, it still seems to be not to be enough. I think anything that we can do, the State can do, the community can do to grow our people is money well spent.

 

Now that you’re bringing custom and other picture frames to all of Hawaii, are you planning to go beyond these shores?

 

We have been talking about going to the mainland for a number of years, and scaling it. Unfortunately, we’re not there yet. We have things that we have resolve and areas that we need to get better at. And I just want to be careful that I don’t expand too far too fast and end up in a bad place.

 

Although if Hawaii has presented a lot of hurdles that perhaps other states don’t have, perhaps you’re already ahead of the game to go somewhere else?

 

It’s really insightful that you’re saying that, because you’re right. Having to ship everything in, the cost of doing business in Hawaii – we’ve done national studies and we’re substantially less than the cost of doing custom framing on the mainland, even with all the added burden and cost of being in Hawaii. So you’re correct. We plan way further in advance, everything gets shipped in on containers.

 

Your land costs are so much higher.

 

Right. The rent is higher, the land is higher, the shipping costs are much higher, the labor costs are much higher. So you’re correct. We’ve had the benefit of that discipline.

 

So what’s keeping you back? What are the things you have to resolve before you decide to move on?

 

Well, I’m just not convinced that – the way that we do things here in Hawaii, it’s a hub and spoke. Everything goes into the central facility and then goes back out to all the stores. We handle all of that art. I don’t think that that’s scalable. So what we’d have to do on the mainland is just make frames. And I’m not convinced that we can do the volume that we do here in just making the frames and not handling the artwork. But I know that we couldn’t handle the artwork on the mainland in the scale that we would need to. So that’s what we have to figure out.

 

What about selling to uh, a mainland business?

 

Actually, I’ve spoken with my kids and they would like to, at least at this age—

 

How old are they?

 

Seventeen and fifteen. So we’ve had a family discussion. At least at this point in time, they would like to be involved in the business. And so as long as they want to be involved in the business, I would enjoy working with them. And we have other good employees that we’ve given equity to. So selling is really not something that we’re looking at.

 

That’s a wonderful retention method; giving equity to employees.

 

Yes; we’ve given equity to five of our key employees that have just been with us and really helped us grow our business. And so we basically just went back to them and said, ‘Hey, we appreciate what you’ve done and want to give you a – it’s not a large piece, but a small piece of the business, just kind of as a thanks.’ And so that they have some equity in it also.

 

So actually, you’re in a uh, good spot if, because most family businesses have trouble making it to the next generation, and so many mom and pops have died because of that.

 

I think we have a little bit of an advantage in that we’re vertical – so we make what we sell, which also has its challenges. And we’re scaled large enough that we’re a little insulated. In other words, at the level that we’re at, we’re able to get enough good resource – I think it’s really hard when you’re very small, so you’re limited on resources. We’re also insulated in – what we do and how we do it I think is an advantage. But there’s still all the challenges that everybody else has, for sure.

 

So what do you think you’ll find yourself doing in the next ten years, if you could project?

 

I think that I’m gonna enjoy – my son has two more years in high school, and my daughter has a year. And I’m definitely gonna enjoy those years. Every spare moment I have, I’m gonna be spending with them. When they go off to college, I’d like to think that I will be a part of that in some way, shape, or form if they’ll allow me to. And then after that, I would like to think that one or both of them will come back into the business, which will be kind of a whole new, inspiring, reinvigorating thing to get involved with them. And somewhere along there in that ten-year timeframe, I’d like to think that Lori and I will be able to spend even more time together.

 

You know, you talked earlier about something that I think a lot of people would like to know more about. It’s the idea of pursuing a dream and actually getting there. You know, you were just knocking on the door of the Dallas Cowboys at rookie camp, and then you had to give up your dream, or part of it was taken away, part of it you had to choose, okay, I’m not going ahead with that.

 

I think when it come – at least for myself, and I can only speak from experience it was my dream and it was my passion, and I was driven for it since I was five years old that it was my dream to play in the NFL. So it – I can’t say that it was easy to switch gears. But I think a lot of it is if you really back off a little bit. Playing in the NFL, owning a business, whatever, it really comes down to enjoying life and being driven and enjoying what you’re doing. And so really, it was just a matter of switching gears. It was the same thing. And so whether I’m the owner of a picture framing business or a health club or an NFL football player, it’s really making sure that you allow yourself to do things that you’re passionate about and enjoy it.

 

Inner drive. A passion to succeed. The relentless pursuit. And a love for family and our islands. All part of the character of Kent Untermann. I enjoyed his stories. Mahalo to Kent – and to you – for joining me for another Long Story Short.

 

I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou kakou!

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Emma Veary

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX: Emma Veary

 

Original air date: Tues., Oct. 21, 2008

 

Hawai‘i’s Elegant Musical Treasure

 

Emma Veary, a beautiful singer with a beautiful voice, was a class act in town back in the ‘70s, headlining shows at the Halekulani and Royal Hawaiian Hotels. She socialized with Hollywood celebrities and was married for a time to Aku, the highest-paid disc jockey in the country.

 

Today, the elegant Emma Veary is a respected Hawaiian musical treasure whose signature tunes include Kamehameha Waltz and E Maliu Mai. The 78-year-old great-grandmother now lives a quiet life with family members on Maui. Emma Veary sits down with Leslie Wilcox to share stories that begin with young Emma singing professionally at the age of 5.

 

Emma Veary, Hawaii’s Elegant Musical Treasure Part 1 Audio

 

Emma Veary, Hawaii’s Elegant Musical Treasure Part 2 Audio

 

Download: Emma Veary, Hawaii’s Elegant Musical Treasure Transcript

 

Transcript

 

Emma Veary, the beautiful singer who was known as “Hawai‘i’s Golden Throat,” performed in the most prestigious venues in Waikiki and socialized with Hollywood celebrities. Today, Emma Veary remains a Hawaiian musical treasure.

 

Aloha no; I’m Leslie Wilcox of PBS Hawai‘i. And I’m very pleased you’re joining me for this Long Story Short with the elegant Emma Veary. We’ll sit down with her to share stories next.

 

Emma Veary began performing at the age of 5 and came of age during World War II. She would headline at the top venues in Waikiki – the Royal Hawaiian and Halekulani Hotels. And she performed in New York City. Today, she lives a quiet life near family members on Maui and recalls small-kid-time in a loving Hawaiian household in Kapahulu.

 

Your mom was full-blooded Hawaiian?

 

Yes, she was full-blooded Hawaiian.

 

What about your dad?

 

Daddy was hapa. And we always said he had this much Hawaiian in him, you know. But um, he had some half- brothers. So I was always saying, Well, it’s either whole or nothing. [CHUCKLE] Rotten kid. [CHUCKLE]

 

Your dad worked at the harbor? Honolulu Harbor.

 

Oh, yes, Dad worked for Young Brothers. He was a tugboat captain. And I always tell everybody, Do you know I knew Mr. Jack Young, and Jack Young, Jr. who owned Young Brothers? Because we used to go down with Dad all the time.

 

Today, we don’t think of them as real people. It’s a corporate name.

 

Yes. No, we knew them. And so we’d go down there, we’d play pool with the guys. I’m an old garbage mouth as a result of that. Hanging around with the stevedores and the tugboat guys, you know; oh, boy, I have to watch it. But we used to go down there and play. And Mom would go do her business, she’d come get us, and we’d go home. And the nicest thing about that when he was working there, Dad ran the pilot boat. And in those days, Dad would take his tugboat, go Aloha Tower, pick up the pilot, and take him out to Diamond Head. And so as kids, we would go down with Dad, and he’d say, All right, be quiet. And we’d sit in the back of the tugboat. You know, and it was just so much fun. And on moonlight nights, it was just great. We all used to sing all the time. And because nobody had any money, what do you do? You sit down and you enjoy yourself and play music, and sing and dance. And of course, because we were from a poor family, we always had an ukulele. My brother used to play the ukulele, my sister danced, and I sang. And that was our entertainment, that was what we did because we didn’t have money. You know. And the neighborhood kids, we had a little thing going where, in those days, they had Party Pack, which was a drink like a Coke. And it was a tall bottle, and they had strawberry, root beer, and orange. And they would give you a dime a bottle, I think, or five cents a bottle. So the neighborhood kids would collect all of these bottles, and on the weekend, we’d take it all down to Koga Store [CHUCKLE] down the street, and get our money, and pool all of our money together and say, Okay, we’ve got so much money. We can go to Hawaii Theater or Princess Theater. But if we ride both ways—‘cause we were in Kapahulu, now; if we ride both ways, we cannot have no popcorn or crack seed. So let’s take a vote. Maybe we ride one way, and we walk home; then we can have our crack seed.

 

That’s a long walk home.

 

So we’d go. We’d go to either Hawaii Theater or any of the theaters in town, which are no longer there, except Hawaii Theater. And we’d see our movie; and then we would play all the way down Kapiolani Boulevard, all the way to Kapahulu.

 

And how old were you then?

 

Up to Winam. We were just—oh, my; we were like twelve, thirteen and …

 

That’s a nice little workout.

 

Yeah. We’d play all the way home. You know, and at that time, there weren’t many buildings on Kapiolani Boulevard. And it was just papyrus and coral. But we would just play all the way home, and then we’d peel off and say, See you. You know, when we’d get to Winam Avenue in Kapahulu, peel off and say, Okay, we’ll see you at school.

 

What was the rule about when you had to get home?

 

Our rule at home was we had to be home, bathed, and ready to have dinner at five-thirty.

 

Why, was that when your—

 

That was just—

 

–dad came home—

 

–the rule.

 

–or something?

 

Yes. Because Dad came home from work at that time, and we’d all sit down and have dinner. And we were all in our pajamas, getting ready to go to sleep, you know, after that. Do your homework.

 

M-hm. You didn’t think you were missing out on anything material when you were a kid?

 

You know, I was always working. I started working when I was five. I’ve been singing since I was five, because I discovered that people wanted to hear me sing. And they would pay me. And being from a family who didn’t have a lot of money, wow. I would—I had a special letter from the Liquor Commission so that I could go sing in clubs.

 

At age five?

 

At age five. And Mother would go with me. And I sang at all the big clubs. And at that time, later on, as time went on, all of the celebrities used to go to the Waialae Country Club; that was the place to go. And I used to sing there on weekends. So I had the pleasure of meeting all these lovely stars. And of course, one couple that you don’t know, but there was Rochelle Hudson, there was Bette Davis, and there was Dorothy Lamour. And I had the pleasure of meeting Dorothy as a child when she was a very young woman, and again when I was working at the Halekulani. One night they told me, Emma, Dorothy Lamour is here tonight. And I went, Oh, my god. So I pulled out a medley of her songs, and sang them to her, and reminded her about when we met when I was a child. And she said, Oh, my god, she says, after hearing you sing those songs, I never want to sing them again. [CHUCKLE]

 

Aw.

 

But she was such a beautiful, beautiful woman. And at that time, we had so many theaters. You can’t believe how many theaters we had that had shows.

 

Live shows.

 

Live shows. There was the Princess, the Hawaii, Liberty, Queen’s, King’s, Palace, Pawaa Theater, Kewalo Theater. These are all no more.

 

They were movie houses? They were—

 

They were movie houses.

 

–musical acts?

 

No; they were movie houses, but they would have music you know, between the shows. Like Radio City Music Hall. You know, they would have some come on and perform in between the movies.

 

That was standard in those days—

 

Well, they—

 

–in theaters?

 

They used to have a lot of that going on; yeah. So I used to go and sing at all of these theaters. And I sang at Hawaii Theater so many times.

 

I know you walked back from seeing the movies when you were a—

 

Yes; yes.

 

–a kid. How did you get around in those days when you were a very young singer?

 

My mother was always with me. My mother always took me wherever I had to go; she was always there with me. And she used to sew my little gowns and my curls, long curls—I had long hair way down my back, and she’d make these long curls with ribbons, you know, like. And then I met—while I was going through that phase, in 1941, Joe Pasternak came to Hawaii and saw me perform somewhere, and asked me to come to Hollywood, and he would groom me to become a star. And we had said okay. And I was supposed to leave on the 8th of December in 1941. And on the 7th, the war started. So he called me and he said, you know, to my mom, Does she still want to come? So my mother says, You have to ask her. So I got on the phone. I said, Well, Mr. Pasternak, I said, inasmuch as there’s a war going on, I’d rather stay home with my family. So I lost out on that one.

 

True; the State went into martial—

 

Yes.

 

Well, it wasn’t the State then.

 

Yes.

 

It was a Territory—

 

Yes.

 

–went into martial law, and—

 

Right.

 

–blackouts.

 

Right. And I didn’t want to be away from my family if there was a war. So I gave up that—

 

You must had some thoughts about that, what if.

 

What if.

 

What if.

 

Oh, yeah, sometimes. But I never go there. I see what’s happened to so many of these kids, that were at that point in their lives going through Hollywood, and what has happened to them. [CHUCKLE] And I got, there but for me—you know, I’m lucky not to have gone through that.

 

And you have a very wonderful career here.

 

And oh, I had a wonderful—

 

Now, what—

 

–career here.

 

How would you describe your singing? I mean, you have—well, one, you have this wonderful, elegant look; but you have this …

 

Well, I started—

 

–formal—

 

I started—

 

–style.

 

–out wanting to be an opera singer. And I had the goods to do it. And I went to New York when I was fourteen, and—all alone—and went to a girls’ school. And I stayed—I talked to the International House people who just— they were apartments, it was a home or a huge place for foreign students, college students. And I befriended some college students, and then I went to see the manager of the International House and asked if they wouldn’t allow me to come and stay there on weekends, because I had no family. And so they allowed me to do that. So when I wasn’t in boarding school, I would be at the International House, and I discovered Broadway. And at that time, all the biggest Broadway shows were on: Carousel, Song of Norway, Bloomer Girl. All of these shows were on Broadway at the time, and I fell in love with Broadway, and decided, okay, I can sing a little bit of opera, but I’d like to sing a little bit of Broadway too.   And that’s how I came into being able to—fortunately, I could pull it off. I could sing a little opera, I could sing a little operetta, I could sing some Broadway, and I could sing some popular songs. Then I could combine my Hawaiian music with that, and that’s how I became an act when I came home.

 

Now, why did you come home? I mean that’s—you know, New York. If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.

 

Right, right, right. Well, you know, I kept going back and forth to New York, and I did a lot of summer stock there. And of course, I did do some shows here. I did at the Honolulu Community Theater. And that was after I was— let’s see; was I was married at the time; yes. But I did some shows here with Donald Yap, who’s still here. And loved it. And I was just going over some tapes the other day, doing Carousel with the Honolulu Community Theater.

 

How do you hold up?

 

Pretty good.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

I’m still doing pretty good. [CHUCKLE]

 

And looking back at what you sounded like then, do you—were you all that, that you thought you were at the time?

 

You know what? I was shocked that—I was amazed. [CHUCKLE] You know how sometimes you don’t know what you have, when you have it?

 

Right.

 

I was amazed with some of the things I could do vocally.

 

M-hm.

 

I still, you know, I still sing, I still work. But I miss—I always say I miss my old self. I miss my voice. It still works, it’s still great, but it’s not where it was because I’m not where I—you know.

 

Well, for those who weren’t living here, or weren’t alive in the 70s, your name was the class act around town. You were the headliner at the—maybe the first headliner at the Halekulani Hotel.

 

Yes; yes. They didn’t ever have an act there. And Hal, Aku—

 

Your husband at the time.

 

I was married at the time. And I talked to him about doing the act. And so we went down and we were at the Royal Spaghetti House, and when we decided we wanted to leave that venue, and come to Waikiki. So he went and talked to the Halekulani, and talked them into putting me on the lanai there. And because of the way the room was, I said, I’ve got to design a stage that would work for me. So I had an H and I would put the piano in either side of the it was an H like that, the piano here, the piano there, and I had around H, and I could work here, I could work here, and I could work between the pianos. And so they built the stage that I wanted, and they built me a dressing room. And on opening night, I went to work at the Halekulani, and they had put a drape down in the back where the ocean was, to keep people from looking in. And so I said to them, Excuse me, what is that there? And they said, Well, that’s to keep the people out. I said, You know, you have one of the most beautiful views in Waikiki. And I said, I want you to take that away. They said, Well, we paid five thousand dollars to build that thing. I said, Well, I don’t want to go on if you’re gonna have that there, because there are people passing by; they will become fans, they will become clients after and come into the show. I said, So I’m not gonna go sing until you put that silly thing up.

 

So they wanted to block the—

 

Yeah, block— Block you— Yeah.

 

–from the beach, even though it was an—

 

Because the people—

 

–outdoor venue.

 

Yeah, because the people would look in.

 

Well, it’s fun—I have a different point of view on that. My vantage point was, I was one of the beach people. You know—

 

Right, right.

 

–the rug rats out there—

 

Right.

 

The kids and—

 

Yes; yeah.

 

–and the young adults who—

 

Yes.

 

–who were taking advantage of the free music in Waikiki.

 

I used to—

 

You could go up and down the beach, and—and—

 

I used to call them my—

 

–sit in the sand.

 

–my scholarship crowd. And eventually, they all came in. And they would come in and have dinner, and see the show. And they’d tell me, I’m the scholarship friends, you know. And I’ve met people on Maui; I’m friends with ali‘i at—the Lavender King of Maui. And people come to up him all the time, and they know that we’re friends, and I helped him get the business started. And he said, you know, people come up and say, I used to be here scholarship crowd. You know.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

And I went, Oh, my god. [CHUCKLE]

 

That’s right; they knew what time your show started, and they were there early.

 

And you know—

 

But they weren’t in the—

 

Right, right, right.

 

–chairs.

 

And New Year’s and Christmas, some friends would show up, just to be cheeky, and they’d get their wine and everything, and sit on the sand, and watch me. And I’d go, shame on you. [CHUCKLE]

 

And that was a phenomenon that I think a lot of people have forgotten or didn’t know, when there were live showrooms in—

 

Yes.

 

–Waikiki, and there were the cheap seats on the beach.

 

Right. Right, right, right. But you know, I felt like, hey, where would I be without these people?

 

M-hm.

 

They are also people who will eventually come to see me. My fans are very precious to me. And I communicate—people call me, I talk to fans, and I have a relationship with my fans. Because I wouldn’t be who I am without them.

 

In those days, wasn’t it called, at the Halekulani—

 

M-hm.

 

–the Coral Lanai, where you performed?

 

Yes; it was on the Coral Lanai, yes. Yeah. It wasn’t House Without a Key; it was— No; it was—

 

–Coral Lanai.

 

–the Coral Lanai. Yeah. Because the House Without a Key is next door; it was next door. Yeah. Yeah.

 

And then you were a headliner at the Monarch Room as well.

 

And then after I left—

 

The Royal Hawaiian.

 

–there, I went to the Monarch Room. And performed there for a number of years. And that was interesting.

 

It was very interesting, and of course, there, I had a big orchestra. Which was another you know, style of work. Because the other, I had either two pianos or piano and a harp. And then I went to a thirteen-piece orchestra after that, with a piano player.

 

What was the most requested song when you were at the Monarch Room?

 

You know, everybody had their own different songs that they wanted to hear. Of course, everybody wants to hear         h     h   t , because that was—

 

That’s—

 

–the signature song. That was the signature song.

 

And also, a song written by Irmgard Aluli.

 

Oh;

 

Yes.

 

. Yes; that was also another signature song.

 

Emma Veary’s social circle included some of the biggest names in radio and television at the time– Hawaii Five-O actor Jack Lord and his wife Marie; singer Jim Nabors; comedienne Carol Burnett; and Hal Lewis, the highest-paid disc jockey of the time, better known to radio listeners as J. Akuhead Pupule.

 

I remember when it was announced that you would marry Hal— [CHUCKLE] –Aku—

 

Right.

 

–Lewis. I—it seemed like such a mismatch, ‘cause he was this—

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

–wild and crazy man, and you were this elegant, serene, beauty. How did that happen?

 

You know, that was so funny. I was sitting at home one day, and the phone rings, and this voice says, Hello, this is J. Aku Head Pupule. And I hung up the phone. [LAUGHS] And then he said—the phone rang again, and he says—

 

You thought it was a crank call?

 

Yeah. He says, Excuse me, he says, this is—he says, Don’t hang up on me, this is Hal Lewis, J. Aku Head Pupule calling. I said, Yes, what can do I do for you, Aku? And he says, Well, I’m divorced, and I want to marry you. [LAUGHS] And I hung up the phone again. [LAUGHS] Hung up the phone again.

 

Did you think it was him that time, or you still thought it was a crank call?

 

I knew it was him, ‘cause I recognized his voice. And I said, You’re crazy. I hung up the phone. And so he called back, and I said, Okay, I will talk to you if you’ll just be civil, and what is it that you want? He said, Well, I’m divorced, he says, I’d like to take you to dinner. I said, Okay, if you don’t you know, go crazy on me, I said, I will go to dinner with you.

 

What did you mean, go—

 

Because—

 

–crazy on you?

 

Well, start talking silly, like I want to marry you, et cetera. And because he had always been good to me, on the radio. When I was singing with the symphony, and working around town, he always used to—since I was little, he used to play my whatever.

 

And promote you.

 

Music, and promote me. So he comes over, and I said, well—I told my mother and my children; I said, Well, J. Aku Head Pupule is going to take me out to dinner tonight. And they went, What? [LAUGHS] And I said, That’s all right, I have to be nice; he’s been nice to me all these years, you know. And so he comes to the door, and he knocks on the door. And I open the door, and he says, Will you marry me? I slammed the door on him. It was the funniest meeting we’ve ever had. And finally, I said, Okay, don’t talk silly; I’ll go to dinner with you, let’s go to dinner. We went to dinner, came home. Then he said, Well, I want to—you know, I want to meet your daughters. You know. So we went out to dinner, and he tried all of the shtick that he could. Oh, and the first night we went out to dinner, he took me—we went to the top of the Ilikai.

 

M-hm.

 

And so we get up there, and he’s trying to impress me, naturally. We get up there, and the girl says, Yes? He says, I need a table; my name is J. Aku Head Pupule. And she says, I’m sorry, we don’t have a table. [CHUCKLE]

 

And he looks at me, and I start giggling, and he says, My name is J. Aku Head Pupule. And she said, I don’t care who you are. [LAUGHS] She was brand new to the islands; she didn’t know who he was. And he couldn’t get in. And what kind of a name is that—Aku Head Pupule?

 

I am hysterical.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

I’m laughing so hard. Finally got the manager; they said, Oh, god, Hal, come on in. And they took him in. You know. But that’s how we met. That’s how we met. And then we took our children out, and he was a really nice man. I used to tell him, Why are you so abrasive? He said, Who the hell would listen to a nice guy; I get ‘em so goddamned mad that they won’t—they can’t turn me off. And that’s what he did.

 

Because they didn’t know what he would say—

 

Yes.

 

–next.

 

Yes; yes.

 

But was he really that brash?

 

No, he was a real nice guy. He was a really nice man. You know. But—

 

So did you start to feel pitter-patter and flutter-flutter, or when did the—

 

Oh, oh—

 

–romance begin?

 

Oh, oh, gosh. [CHUCKLE] But he was—you know, he was a really nice man.

 

M-hm. And did you have fun times together?

 

Oh; oh, did we have fun times together. Yes; we had a lot of fun together. But people say, Well, why did you get a divorce? I said, You know, it’s very difficult when you have two people; one works during the day, the other one works at night. Hal comes home from work, he goes to play golf, then he comes home to see me. I am walking out when he’s coming in; okay? When I get home at night, he’s asleep. He get up, and he goes to work. There is no—how can you maintain a relationship? We managed for ten years, eleven years living that way, but it’s not easy. It’s not easy to maintain a relationship on that you know.

 

So it had nothing to do with his abrasive—

 

Being mean or—

 

–ness or—

 

Yeah. No, no, no, no. He—

 

And the story about him was that he was the—everyone said he was the highest paid disc—

 

Yes—

 

–jockey—

 

–he was.

 

–disc jockey—

 

In—

 

–in the country.

 

In the country; in the country. I guess in the world, if you want to go there, because we—you know, he was. Definitely.

 

Does that mean you got accustomed to a life of luxury?

 

Yes, yes, yes. But I have to tell you this; I got the—I did the down payment for our home. [CHUCKLE]

 

Just because you have it—

 

For—

 

–doesn’t mean you—

 

For—

 

–keep it.

 

Yeah. For—also for a home in Kahala, yeah, that we loved.

 

And then after you got divorced—you didn’t marry again?

 

It took me a while before I married again. I did marry one more time. Actually, I’m a mother—I have two daughters. I’ve got two real daughters. I got nine fake kids. [CHUCKLE] I have children from wait; two other marriages. And there are nine of them. And they still call me Mother. They all moved to—a bunch of them have moved to Maui, and what they said was, What do we call you now?

 

Because—

 

I said, What did—

 

–of the divorce?

 

Yeah. What did you call me before? I divorced your father; I didn’t divorce you. [CHUCKLE] You know, so they still all claim me, so I kind of got a big bunch of kids around. They’re all grown up now, with children.

 

The move to Maui about sixteen years ago. You live—

 

Yes.

 

–near your daughter, Robin.

 

Yes. Robin, interestingly enough—I have two daughters. Noe is a kumu lomi lomi; she’s a lomi teacher. She has taught all over the world. She’s been to Switzerland, she’s been to Germany. She’s taught in Japan, and she loves her work. And she has two boys. And one of them has a son. So I have that great-grandchild. And Robin, who has become a musician, and is very successful at what she does, has three children, and two grandchildren. And so we’re kind of growing here, you know.

 

And Maui is now—Maui is a preference over Oahu at this time?

 

For me? Oh, yes. Yes.

 

And now, you are a great—

 

Great.

 

–grandmother—

 

Yes.

 

–who appears to be ageless.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

Would you mind saying how old you are?

 

I’m seventy-eight.

 

And don’t look it and—

 

And so—

 

–don’t feel it?

 

Sh-h. I feel it. [LAUGHS] I might not look it, but I feel it. No; I’m in good health. I’ve never, you know, drank or smoke. I’ve worked, and it’s managed to keep me young. Just the work itself, you know. And just the attitude that—I won’t let anything pull me down. I look at the world with different eyes, you know, than when you were– you just grow as you get older. And the aches and pains happen periodically, and you just say, Okay, so what. [CHUCKLE] Just keep going, you know.

 

Emma Veary, Hawaii’s “Golden Throat” from the golden days of live music in show rooms up and down Kalakaua Avenue. The liner notes on one of her albums read: “Where in Hawaii can we find the class act – the best entertainment? Emma Veary at the Monarch Room of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel.” Written by Emma’s Kahala neighbor back then, none other than Hawaii Five-O star Jack Lord.

 

Mahalo to Emma Veary and to you for sharing company with me on Long Story Short. I’m Leslie Wilcox of PBS Hawaii. A hui hou kakou.

 

My mother was a very intelligent woman. You know, when she was a young girl, they gave her a scholarship to go to school—where was it, I guess the Mormon people, because you know, she was so bright. And she chose not to. But she was always reading, and reading. That was her thing, and she got us all reading; and my entire family reads constantly. Because of wanting to learn, and understand more about life, et cetera. And that’s how—she always was that way; she always read from her childhood, up until she was, you know—still, when she lost her speech and I was taking care of her, she was still reading. You know, and writing notes to me.

 

 

 

Part 2

 

 

Many Islanders know of Emma Veary, the elegant singer who once headlined at the best Waikiki show rooms. But do you know that as a child, she lived at the Waikiki Natatorium with her family and more than twenty at-risk boys? Aloha no; I’m Leslie Wilcox of PBS Hawaii inviting you to join me for a conversation with a few surprises. Singer Emma Veary has lived an extraordinary life. We’ll share stories with this Na Hoku Hanohano Lifetime Achievement award recipient, Emma Veary, next.

 

Emma Veary’s strongest influence was her late mother, Nana Veary, a pure Hawaiian woman raised in traditional ways. Nana Veary dedicated her life to a spiritual journey and she loved everyone, including the rich-and-famous and the homeless. At one time, Nana took in so many boys (today we’d call them at- risk youth) that the family actually moved out of its rented home in Kapahulu and into the Waikiki Natatorium.

 

So you were a small family, but—

 

A small family of five.

 

–in blood, but not in terms of relatives. [CHUCKLE]

 

Oh. A huge family. You know, hanai here, hanai there; all these people. Mother would bring kids home who were on the brink of being delinquents, and help straighten them out. And one story is, you know, one evening, my dad comes home and everyone was asleep already. And we had a little two-bedroom home.

 

Where was this?

 

This was in Kapahulu on Winam Avenue. And we had this little two-bedroom home, and Dad and Mom slept in one bedroom, and three kids slept in the other bedroom. And we were all grown—you know, we were teenagers. And he comes home, the lights were out, everybody was asleep. And we hear this crash, bang, and this cursing and cussing. [CHUCKLE] My mother had brought home about twenty one boys who were on the brink of, you know, having problems.

 

Twenty-one?

 

And they were all asleep in our living room. And Dad fell over all of these bodies that were asleep, and he didn’t know who was there, or what was happening. He was panicking. And here, Mother said, Oh, that’s all right, Dad, these boys are having problems, I brought them home, they don’t have a place to stay to live. So here we are, with all these kids there.

 

Were there unlimited resources to feed all these mouths?

 

Oh, no; no, no. They’d go ahead, and everybody, whatever we had, you eat. If we don’t have, you don’t have.

 

So these boys, twenty one strong, come to your small house in Kapahulu.

 

Right.

 

And the landlord—how’d the landlord feel about that?

 

You know, in those days, nobody cared. It was interesting; it was interesting because when I was little, we used to be within twenty feet of the road on the sidewalk on a main thoroughfare, and we would take our pillows and blanket, and our little goza mats, and go and sleep out all night long. They can’t do that anymore. But this is what Hawaii was many, many years ago. And I miss it.

 

And when the twenty one boys moved in that night and—

 

Oh; yeah.

 

–and in subsequent days, your mom wasn’t worried about you, as this pretty teenager in the house?

 

No, no. The boys used to take care of us. It was a different time than it is today. It was just absolutely amazing. They adored us. You know, and we had our favorites. And they would you know, we’d con them into doing all the work that we had to do. And the boys came and went. People would come and go in our lives. Nobody just stayed.

 

Can you share with us some names that perhaps we might know?

 

Well, we had Keo Nakama there; well, Johnny Costello.

 

Who’s a musician.

 

We had Jimmy Kaku, who was also a musician and a singer. And Richard Kauhi. And he’s quite an icon to the Hawaiians.

 

Well, were most of the boys musicians? Was that the common bond? Or was the common bond being futless, and having-

 

Yeah. [CHUCKLE]

 

–nothing else to do?

 

A lot of futless, but a lot—they were musicians.

 

I’m trying to relate to your family moving to the Natatorium with all these boys.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

How did that happen? What was that like?

 

Well, we had rented a home, and the people who owned the home, their daughter was coming back and they wanted the home for her, so we had to vacate. So Mother, who was working at the Natatorium at the time with Walter Napoleon, said, Mr. Napoleon, I need time off; I have to find a place to live. He says, What do you mean? She said, Well, we have to give up our house and find another. He said, Don’t go anywhere. He says, You just stay here and work; I’ll fix it up for you.

 

What did she do at the Natatorium? What was her job?

 

She was the matron of the Natatorium; whatever that meant. And she would hand out the towels and the keys, and everything. But she was also the lifeguard matron. She didn’t know how to swim. [CHUCKLE] She said, I don’t know how they gave me that; I can’t even swim. She said, And here I am, the head of the lifeguards. But he said, Okay, Hannah, we have three rooms underneath the bleachers. He said, And one bedroom for the children, bedroom for you and Barney, and one for just like a living, you know, and kitchen. And then we walked right outside, from being under the bleachers, and there was a little bathroom, private bathroom for us.

 

But did he know you were gonna bring all those boys?

 

Well, the boys were beach boys. A lot of them were from the beach. So they would go home to their families. They had families, but Nana was the only one that could make them tow the line. And so they would come and, you know, visit, and go. And the first thing we did in the morning was jump in the water, and swim. The last thing we did at night was jump in the water and swim, before we went to bed. And because the bleachers—we never spent time in those bedrooms. The bleachers were heated from the sun, warm. We would just lay our mat there. After we jumped out of the water, we’d get a towel, towel-dry ourselves, lay down. We didn’t need any blankets or anything, because it was warm from the sun, the day’s sun.

 

You know, in my lifetime, I have swum in the Natatorium.

 

Oh, my god.

 

But I don’t recall it as being particularly clean.

 

No; it—

 

Was it clean back then?

 

Well, I don’t know. Because it wasn’t concrete on the bottom. It was sand; it was sand. They built it on the sand, and I don’t think they ever—it wasn’t like a regular pool that has a bottom on it. Because we used to go down and pick up sand, and bring it up. You know. And the water just came in through the holes on the side. Overnight, it would more or less clean itself out. And then, you know, everybody comes swimming. And at night, the waves would come in, and the tide would just clear. You know, but you couldn’t see the bottom.

 

And over time, I’m sure it got—

 

Oh, I’m sure; I’m sure. Yes, yes.

 

More and more deteriorated condition.

 

Right. And at that time, they were having swimming meets there too. And I know Ohio State used to come over. That’s where a lot of the Hawaiian boys went to school. And they used to have the meets there, while we were there.

 

Wow. So it was big time.

 

Yes, yes. Oh, we used to have fun, ‘cause we lived under the bleachers. We’d just go home, and we didn’t have to go anywhere at night, you know.

 

You didn’t feel a loss of privacy, or wishing for the kind of homes your friends had?

 

No. Never. We were just very happy with our lot. You know. And grateful.

 

And your mother says that that was probably the happiest time ever for her.

 

Yes. And I was going to Kamehameha at the time too, at one point. And I’d take the bus and go to Kamehameha School, and then come home to the Natatorium. [CHUCKLE]

 

Emma Veary loves sharing stories about her family – especially her mother, Nana Veary, who wrote this book, “Change We Must,” chronicling her spiritual journey. Nana immersed herself in Hawaiian theology, then Christian Pentecostalism and Zen Buddhism – literally traveling the globe in her quest for spiritual truths.

 

Your mother negotiated so many changes in her life. In fact, she seemed to do so effortlessly. She went from revering nature and speaking to the Hawaiian deity figures—

 

Yes. Right.

 

–to Christian Pentecostalism.

 

Oh, gosh, yes. [CHUCKLE] To metaphysics. [CHUCKLE]

 

You know, she seemed to have the two belief systems coexist. She still believed in the Hawaiian way,

 

and—

 

Yes; yes.

 

–when she went to neighbor islands, she would ask the guardian spirits to allow her to come and partake of the joy of the islands.

 

Uh-huh. M-hm.

 

And yet, she believed in the Christian God. In the past, people had said, You gotta pick. You know, Queen Kaahumanu; Hawaiian ways out, Christian ways in. But she seemed to—she wanted both.

 

No. Yes. And this was her whole journey, to just balance—put them all in balance, and take a little bit from each, and put them all together, and make her own little thing. Which is what we lived by, and I’ve lived by, and I still do live by. A little bit of this, and a little bit of that, and make your own thing. I think that was her whole journey, is getting everything she could possibly learn about spirit and—and religion, et cetera, and putting it all together, and making this one thing that she could work with.

 

We know Nana Veary as this renowned spiritualist whom people came from far and wide to consult and see, and spend time with.

 

Yes. Right.

 

What was she like as a mom, starting out when you were a little baby?

 

I mean, she was just—you know, she was just our mom; that was it. And interestingly enough, when we grew old enough, we chose to go on her spiritual path with her. And that’s what made life most interesting. Because whatever she was studying, we were studying. And we were chanting in Chinese, Japanese, Tibetan or whatever she was doing; we were doing it. So we were living her life, her book, with her; which I still do. You know.

 

For all of her life, she was in tuned spiritually, and went on these journeys for truth.

 

Yes. Right.

 

How did you and your brother and sister fit in?

 

Well, you know, again, we all joined emotionally, spiritually with her in her journey, and she’d come home and tell us what was happening with her. And we’d all exchange whatever was happening with us. And we enjoyed learning about the other parts of the world, and what their belief system was. And whenever she went anywhere, she always came back with all these wonderful tales to tell us, you know.

 

Now, so you’re a grown up yourself, and your mom’s on this spiritual odyssey.

 

Right.

 

You didn’t think, H-m, how come only my mom is out there—

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

–in India searching for truth?

 

You know, we were sharing our mother since we were kids. You know. And we enjoyed sharing her with people. We felt so blessed to have her that we thought, Oh, let’s share her with everyone. You know? And that was our attitude about it. You know, share her with whatever. And I know she was lecturing at one point at UCLA. And this young student got up in the auditorium and he said, Excuse me, Mrs. Veary—trying to be smart like all students are—and he said, I understand the Hawaiian are a dying race. And she says, Let me come back to that after I finish my lecture. Okay. After the lecture, she said, All right, young man, I’ll answer your question now. I prefer to think that the Hawaiians are not a dying race; they are very busy creating an international race. Take my little granddaughter here; come here, Debbie. She says, This little girl is French, English, Spanish, Hawaiian, Japanese. She says, How more international can you get? She had a standing ovation. [CHUCKLE] But, you know, that’s how she thought.

 

And did she bring to you her aha moments, her epiphanies?

 

Yes. We used to sit and have these discussions about what was happening in her life, and what was happening in ours, and how we were growing. And we didn’t we didn’t go out an awful lot; we didn’t enjoy doing that. We liked to stay at home with the family. You know, we did a lot of things together.

 

And she said that she just learned that there’s just not a big place in one’s life for negativity.

 

Yes.

 

So she tried never to say—

 

No.

 

–anything bad. Did she succeed at home? I mean …

 

Well, we had our—

 

As far—

 

–spankings and everything. I mean, if you want to call that negative. But—

 

But could she be positive about so many things?

 

Yes; yes. She taught us to see only the good. And I have trouble with one child who only sees good, and she will not see the other. I said, There is also something that is not good here, and you have to find a balance there. You know. You just can’t see only good, good, good, good, good; because not everyone is made up of the two.

 

Do you think your mother saw the negative, but chose not to acknowledge, really?

 

Yes; yes. That is non-acknowledgement of it, and nullifies it.

 

Are you that way too?

 

Yeah. I think I—

 

It sure takes away the petty things of life, doesn’t it?

 

Yes; yes. I know I’ve sat one night and I said to myself, You know, Mom, I’m—this is very interesting. I talk to myself a lot at home.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

Because I live alone, and the children are in the other house. And I said, You know, it’s interesting; I think I have gone past you now spiritually. You know? Where you were—in my journey, because—

 

You picked up the baton and ran—

 

Yes, yes, yes. And I said, Which for me is very interesting. You know. I think I’ve passed you. Nanny-nanny- nanny. [LAUGHS]

 

How do you think you’ve passed her? In what ways have you been able to grow?

 

I’ve really been able to put what she spoke of into action. You know. And I have found that it works in so many areas in my life. You know. And of course, I think one of the biggest areas is the financial area.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

That I’ve been able to, you know, make that work for me. So I always says, Hey, Mom, I think I’ve gone past you; ha-ha.

 

Because she never mastered her finances?

 

No. No; because I’ve learned so much more since she’s been gone, just by going inward and you know, trying to go—taking the baton and go further with it.

 

M-hm.

 

See how much further I can get. Because the world has changed an awful lot since she’s been in it, and you have to make changes. You have to make changes.

 

Nana Veary, Emma Veary’s mother, attracted many people to her through her welcoming personality. She even drew the interest of tobacco heiress Doris Duke who called young Emma “Tita,” a Hawaiian word for “sister;” and whom Nana and Emma affectionately called, “Lahilahi,” a Hawaiian word for “fragile.” Nana Veary and Doris Duke seemed an unlikely duo. But the two bonded in friendship, traveling and searching for universal truths together.

 

How does your mom—

 

How did they meet?

 

–who is the lifeguard matron at the Natatorium—

 

Yes. Okay.

 

–meet this heiress, Doris Duke?

 

She was at a little dinner party at the old Lau Yee Chai, and she was there—I think she might have been there with Daddy Bray.

 

We should say that Daddy Bray was a fully credentialed kahuna.

 

Kahuna; yes, yes. And he loved Mom, they used to get together all the time. And so he called Mom after the party, and he said, You know, Miss Duke wants to meet you. [CHUCKLE] And Mother said, Daddy; she said, I have so many friends already, I don’t need anymore. [CHUCKLE] But she and Mother had some crazy, crazy times.

 

They traveled the world together?

 

I think Mother went around the world with her three times. And of course—

 

Wow.

 

–this was wonderful, because—

 

Was this just a vacation?

 

Well, she loved India, and she’d always go to India. But they would go all over the world, and Mother would be seeking, and she’d go right along with Mother. And you know, just see what Mom’s up to.

 

And what did your mom find in her search?

 

Oh; she went to a lot of places. She went to—but Mother was always seeking, finding different places to go to— spiritual places to learn about the religion of the place, and just trying to incorporate it into what would work for her. So it’s kind of an international thing that she was trying to create herself a spiritual, what is it—her spiritual journey was trying to get all of these religions and make them work together, as one.

 

A few times on these trips, she said her intuition saved her life, and that of Doris Duke.

 

Yes, yes; yes, she told me about that. It was interesting things happening that way, you know.

 

Did you experience that from her when you were a child? Did she seem to know, have intuition or psychic ability?

 

Well, interestingly, my sister had it. And I had it; and I have it. But I don’t use it; I don’t use it at all. We were all kind of—we all saw. But I always tell my mother—I said, You know, my so-called, for lack of a better word, ministry is music.

 

M-hm.

 

I said, I sing, I heal through singing, you know, that’s my calling, and that’s what I love to do. So I leave that all to you guys, and you know, do my thing.

 

There were many people who were attracted to your mother’s personality or—

 

Yes; yes.

 

–abilities. Who are some of the others who are well known? Doris Duke. You mentioned Jackie Kennedy?

 

Oh, yeah. Well, Jackie came and was a friend of Doris’. And my children kinda grew up down at Shangri La with Auntie Lahi. And so it got to the point where every time—when Jackie met the two children, my two daughters, she asked if they would play with Jon-Jon and Caroline. So Robin became Jon-Jon’s buddy; she took care of  Jon-Jon. And Noe, Cathy, became Caroline’s friend. So this went on for a number of years; whenever they’d come over, Jackie would call me and say, Emma, this is Jackie. I said, I heard you were in town. And she said, Can I borrow your two beautiful daughters? I said, Fine. You know, and they’d go. And I never really met her ‘til months—‘til years later when I was in New York because I don’t like to push my—you know, I don’t ordinarily tell everybody my last name, just so I want to be normal. I don’t want to be that lady that’s up there somewhere. Because the whole attitude of your relationship changes.

 

So does that mean you didn’t enjoy the star treatment when everybody knew your name here, and was familiar with your work?

 

I’m me. [CHUCKLE] You know, it’s nice that somebody says—you know. But I get embarrassed. [CHUCKLE] I still do get embarrassed when people say, [GASP] And I’ve actually been out sometimes, and if I look—if you pardon the local expression, junk, no makeup, goofy, right? Somebody say, You know, you look just like, I’ll say, You know, they tell me that all the time; thank you so much, I’m so flattered. And I’ll walk away.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

And whoever is with me says, Why did you do that? I said, Oh, ‘cause I look junk.

 

[LAUGHS]

 

Both Emma and her mother Nana Veary were well-known figures in Hawaii. And they shared many of the same sensibilities, going back to Nana’s traditional Hawaiian upbringing. As was common in those days, Nana was hanai – adopted. She was raised by her grandmother (whom she called her mother) and Nana spoke the Hawaiian language of her elders.

 

In those days, it was the old Hawaii, and the old Hawaiian language, which was rich in metaphors. And the missionaries came along and changed that.

 

Yes. Well, you know, even the pronunciation. Mother, when she spoke Hawaiian, it was melodious, and it was soft and gentle. You know, I’d hear her talk, and I’d hear someone else talk, and it was like a different language. You know. It was KalAkaua.

 

M-hm.

 

KalAkaua. KUhiO. You know. But soft, not guttural, like they do today. You know, it was just—

 

Did you grow up speaking fluent Hawaiian?

 

We weren’t allowed to speak Hawaiian at that time in the schools. They weren’t allowed to speak Hawaiian at all.

 

Could you understand your—

 

So I never—

 

–mother and father?

 

I could understand, but I could never speak it. We never learned. And then Mother taught Hawaiian later on, but we were grown up and had families, so we didn’t really learn. And I’ve always felt terrible about that. But when I heard that Aunty Nona didn’t speak Hawaiian, I felt good.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

I said, Okay.

 

It was the time.

 

I’m okay. Yes. And she said the same thing; they weren’t allowed to speak Hawaiian, you know.

 

I know you know this book—

 

Yes.

 

–well. If I could just point your attention to this part where your mom writes, The language is a riddle—speaking of the—

 

Yes, yes.

 

–Hawaiian language. Before the missionaries came and converted the language into the written word—

 

the Hawaiians used figures of speech in language—that was like poetry.

 

Yes. Right.

 

I was fortunate, she says, to be taught to speak Hawaiian in the old way. My mother taught me to speak the language softly, without saying anything negative, or elaborating. Leave the details out, she said; speak softly.

 

Speak softly. So beautiful. Well, you know, it’s like, The Heavens weep, and the arth flourished. That’s how you said it was raining. Now, that is how poetic and how beautiful, you know. And it was just beautiful to hear her talk.

 

And why leave the details out? What was the point of being instructed to leave the details out?

 

Yeah. You waste a lot of energy with details sometimes. You know? It’s unnecessary, you get to the point; you get where you’re going without all the little stuff in between. You know, as people age, I thought, and maybe I’m wrong. I thought change became harder to navigate. And maybe the truth is, it’s human nature to resist change.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

But not for your mom. She said, I let changes take place in my life; I know they must, and I know they will. I accept all change as a spiritual adventure, and begin the discovery of God in every new condition.

 

Right. Yes, yes.

 

That’s saying a great deal, because there are—

 

Right.

 

–so many things that are hard to let go of.

 

Right; right. And of course, one of her things is, Let go of all negativity.   o not give them power. And that’s a big one; that’s a biggie. And I’ve been working very hard on that one. [CHUCKLE] And I think I’ve done pretty good with it. And she says, rom the highest peak of my consciousness, I look down upon the nothingness of things and see instead the beauty of God in all, for He is all. And I love that. I absolutely love that.

 

And you know from her life that those aren’t just words.

 

Yes; she lived it. She lived it. And I’ve tried to live by that. By what she taught me. And it works; it does work.

 

Emma Veary is a treasure filled with surprises – kind of like a box of chocolates! Mahalo to Emma, and to you, for joining me to share stories from a remarkable life in Hawaii on Long Story Short. And thank you too, to those who’ve written us notes expressing appreciation for our efforts to inspire viewers through quality programs on PBS Hawaii. I’d like to express my appreciation to you for your support and encouragement. I’m Leslie Wilcox of PBS Hawaii. A hui hou kakou.

 

One day, I was sitting around, and someone called and said, you know, I am a healer from New Hampshire, and your mother comes to me all the time. And I sat in my little cottage, and I said, Mom, you go and see everybody around the world; how come you’re not coming to see me? [CHUCKLE] And I could just hear her laughing and saying, My dear, you had me all of those years; you know, let me go. [CHUCKLE]

 

Do you think she’s still a presence?

 

Well, she is a presence to a lot of people you know, that we’re not aware of. But people will meet me and say, you know, that Nana has come to me. And I go, Oh, doo-doo-doo-doo, here we go, you know.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Meli Watanuki

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX: Meli Watanuki

 

Original air date: Tues., Oct. 14, 2009

 

On Location at Kalaupapa

 

Like many Hansen’s disease patients at Kalaupapa, Meli Watanuki experienced loss from a very early age. Diagnosed with Hansen’s disease at eighteen, she was abandoned by her husband who took their young son with him. Years later, their bond could not be reconnected. Yet she explains how she found happiness and a new love by choosing to live in Kalaupapa. She and fellow Hansen’s disease patient Boogie Kahilihiwa voice their contrasting views on whether or not children should be allowed into Kalaupapa. This is the third in a series of Long Story Short shows shot on location at Kalaupapa on Moloka’i.

 

Meli Watanuki Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

It’s funny to me … I get big family, and only me. Maybe God, they tried to tell me something … better you stay, you know, prayer. Prayer, that’s the only way you can do. So I think, I’m not too sure. Only God knows why they went make me sick.

 

She’s lived what most folks would call a tough life: diagnosed at eighteen with Hansen’s disease, a husband who left her and took their young son with him, surviving the passing of her second husband. But, with her deep faith in God, Meli Watanuki found comfort.   Today, her enveloping smile conveys a sense of peace and happiness. She stays busy as manager of the Kalaupapa Store, and she has two homes, one, right on the beach. But, life in the settlement is not without controversy. Later, we’ll also talk with bookstore operator, patient Clarence “Boogie” Kahili-hiwa, and compare the patients’ thoughts on the longstanding ban against allowing children into Kalaupapa. But first, let’s meet Meli Watanuki, on Long Story Short.

 

What was your early life like, before Hansen’s Disease?

 

My early life, there was um … go school. And those days, in American Samoa, is … my family is poor. So I was in the school, a Catholic school in American Samoa. Then my father and my sister, you know, they cannot get money for pay my school. Those days, it’s about fifty cents, those days. Then they went take me away from school, because I was just about in sixth grade. But they went take me away. So I go in the public school, after that, I never finish my school. So I stay home, to help my nephew and my nieces to clean … wash their clothes, cook for them and I help my sisters.

 

How old were you then, when you dropped out of school?

 

I think I was about fourteen.

 

And when did Hansen’s Disease enter your life?

 

Was 1952.

 

And you were how old?

 

I think I was about sixteen–was about eighteen. I was eighteen already at that time.

 

How much fear was there in your town about leprosy?

 

At that time, I thought–just like, when you go in the hospital, Queen’s, and then it’s just come out three—three, four days. And when I found out at that time you cannot come out until maybe—according to the doctor, they tell me the first time, Maybe you going stay about few months. And that’s why that went click in my mind, and I will start already cry, because you know, it’s the first time, I get that kind sick, but I don’t know how I went get. So my sisters, they come and visit me … just like it’s a jail. You know what I mean? And American Samoa so strictly … when they get the cage, they get all around the hospital. When the doctor come in, to go inside the hospital, they get big kind tub. They get Pine-Sol. Whenever they go in the compound where all the patient.

 

M-hm.

 

And then when they go out, they take out their shoes, they go on top and they stand inside the tub with clean the feet.

 

How did that make you feel when you saw that?

 

That went make me more scared.

 

Was your family afraid of you?

 

No. My family, because when I came back from Western Samoa, they take me in the hospital. And then I found out that my sister, she died. So her kids had to come see me. They never get scared. They just come hug me.

 

In the days before there was effective treatment, a woman with Hansen’s Disease had to give up her child, to be raised by others. In the 1960s, there was hope that you could be cured of the disease, and that someday, you’d be reunited with your child. In the case of Meli Watanuki, it was NOT her disease that kept her from re-connecting with her son…

 

So how did you get to Honolulu?

 

Okay. [chuckle] So when I parole, when—

 

They called it a parole?

 

Yeah, parole, just like you’re discharged from the sickness.

 

M-hm.

 

Yeah, the Hansen’s Disease. So my stepsister was here, and my stepmother. They know that I went discharge from October the 19th,1958. So they told me to come here in Hawaii. And I said, Well, I’m not too sure, but they said, You come, come, I will … you just come out from the hospital. So that’s why I came Hawaii. And then I married, and then I moved out. So …

 

You thought all your troubles were behind you. You got married?

 

Yes; yeah.

 

Did you have a baby?

 

Yeah. I have one child, and it’s a boy. So 1964, I just see because when I come Samoa, I don’t know where to go pick up my medicine. So I thought it’s finished already. And they said you’re supposed to go take your medicine. I said, No, I did not, because I don’t know the hospital. So I went to go take test, and just few weeks and then they call me. I said, Yeah. You set up something with your baby, and your husband, and then you gotta go Hale Mohalu. I said, Oh, fine. And I feel that I better not stay there, because with my baby, I don’t want my baby to get sick, because he’s too young, I think only three years old. So I set up things, and I talked to my husband. And my husband think, just like you go hospital, and few days come back. [chuckle] But end up that was not. Then he came visit me with my son, and they see all the fence around. But they get plenty other Filipino there too at Hale Mohalu. So they was talking about—and he say, They talk Filipino. And then end up that was the last day I see him and my son. They never come back. So …

 

They saw the fence, they—

 

Yeah.

 

They heard the talk.

 

Yeah.

 

And your husband took your son away?

 

Yeah. He take my son away.

 

So you didn’t see your son from the time he was three

 

No.

 

’til the time he was in college?

 

No.

 

Did you have contact?

 

Yeah; we never contact, because—

 

‘Cause you could not find them.

 

—don’t know how, you know. But that lady was so nice to me. And the mayor did send me his picture, and his address. When I look, was my son. But big already, the boy. So then I went go try to contact the social worker, the State social worker. Then her and I, we worked together. So finally, we contact him. I called him in Philippines. And end up, he wants to come back. So I told him, Fine. Uh, what I gonna do, so I ask what’s happened uh, the father. He said the father went remarry, and they buy one house, and the father died. And end up the stepmother went kick him out from the house.

 

M-m.

 

I said, I think so that lady [INDISTINCT]. So okay, I try to bring you back. I bring him back here. And the social worker, we was work together that time, so he came. And then me and my husband, we tried to take him back to college to finish up here in Hawaii. But when you are not taking care of your son when small and grow up and just like they won’t listen to me, because it’s different life.

 

Did you ever achieve—

 

No.

 

—a bond with him?

 

No.

 

So you lost your son at three.

 

Yeah.

 

And even though you tried, he was never part of a bond again.

 

M-hm.

 

You seem so matter-of-fact when you talk about it. How much does it still hurt? I know you’ve talked about it, you’ve had time to deal with it, but—

 

Yeah.

 

How are you with it?

 

I feel hurt. It’s hard for me, trying to … go help him and tell him, your mom love you. You know, that … you can do whatever you want to do, but you find a job, supposed to work over here at that time. But …

 

And now, nothing?

 

Nothing. He never come back, he never call, no write. So I just let it go.

 

Like other patients living at Kalaupapa in 2009, Meli Watanuki is free to go, but chooses to live there. She was deprived of her liberty for years. And when the cure came, she was exposed to the stigma, fear, and prejudice that Hansen’s disease patients of the 1960s encountered. Out of that experience, patients came to view a life at Kalaupapa with state support—not as exile, but as refuge.

 

Now, why did you come to Kalaupapa? You weren’t banished, you didn’t have to live here.

 

Well, because I feel that … I feel happy. Because when I came here, they was really good, and they tell me, Anytime you can go Honolulu, you can go, Las Vegas, you can call anyplace, but this is your home. So, oh, okay. And I really, really happy to stay here. Yeah.

 

And how’s your health?

 

My health is okay. Only I have asthma. So it’s taken care, you know, every time I go see the doctor, yes.

 

So the Hansen’s Disease is not a problem?

 

Oh, no. It’s finished already. Yeah. ‘Cause nothing, just like how before.

 

So you’ve had so much loss in your life. Is that how you see it?

 

Well, I really [INDISTINCT] happen with all these thing. I go—you know, I pray a lot when I came here. I pray so much, for set up me and take away all that sad to me. Yeah.

 

Because you had so much sadness, and you needed it to be gone?

 

Yes.

 

And did the sadness go away?

 

Yes. Now, I’m happy right now. Plus my husband there, and they’re so nice to me.

 

‘Cause you remarried another time.

 

Yeah.

 

This is your third husband.

 

Yeah, this is the third husband.

 

And he’s not a patient.

 

No.

 

How did you meet him?

 

Over here. He came here, you know, ’81. And ’81, my husband, he died.

 

So your third husband was already here as a worker, not a patient?

 

No, no. He came over here eighteen—1981. So he just start work, and—

 

Oh, you had met him in Honolulu?

 

No.

 

Your third—

 

Because me, I no go around Honolulu. I scared.

 

Okay; so how did—

 

Yeah.

 

So you met him here?

 

In Kalaupapa, yes.

 

What was he doing? What was up?

 

Um, anyway, he in 1981, and he just start work. He just came work here. So him the one that was doing… my other husband’s graveyards. And after that, they was helping me, uh other things for anything I need. And those days, when—1981 when one kokua they come in patient’s house, they gotta go in the office to sign. You know, I going be at a patient’s house. And then gotta put the name, who’s patient, yeah. That’s how those days. Yeah, 1981.

 

So he happened to be the kokua—

 

Yeah.

 

—who was cleaning your husband’s grave, and then who was helping you out—

 

Yeah.

 

—in your—

 

Yeah.

 

—transition.

 

And I never ask, because I don’t know him. But I saw his work. He’s a carpenter.

 

Oh.

 

Yeah. And so after that, uh everything, and then he said, Okay, if you need anything, I can come and help you whatever you need. I can help you. That’s what he said. So you know, I no need help because they get the State workers. But he work in the State too. Yeah, at that time.

 

So when did romance blossom?

 

[chuckle] Oh, Leslie. [chuckle] That was um, ’82 to uh … 1995. Then that’s why and I told him that, Okay, you know what? Time for me. Either you marry me or not, then you stay. You go, you move out, and I stay my house. And I never know that Father Damien was going be [INDISTINCT]. I really don’t know, so and I told him, Okay, um, all this time, I never take communion, because I cannot take communion, and I live with somebody. I cannot do that. So … 1995 … the first week of April, I told him, Okay today is the day. Either you move out … or we marry. If we not marry, you move out. If we marry, then you stay. That’s all you know, I cannot do this, no communion, I only go church and pray. And then he said … I want to marry you. No kidding? Are you sure?

 

[chuckle] And he wasn’t kidding. [chuckle]

 

He was not kidding.

 

In May of 1995, the newly married Meli Watanuki and her husband Randy were accorded the honor of visiting Rome and meeting the Pope, and bringing back home to Hawaii a relic of the beloved Damien. Meli and Randy had only just returned from their honeymoon, when they were encouraged to go to Vatican.

 

That was quite an honor, wasn’t it? Were you chosen for that?

 

We never know.

 

The pope chose you?

 

Yeah. The pope was … what the story uh, you know. After we came back, and I wanted to find out how we went come through with this. And so they said the pope went uh, tell the uh, the bishop … you know, for take me and my husband, we just got marry. So I said, that’s why I get all this thing? They said, Yeah.

 

And what was the relic?

 

The relic?

 

Yeah.

 

The relic was a nice koa. Was really nice. And they get his hand was inside. And when we stand over there with the pope and you know, all them. And then they bring, uh, you know, so just put our hand on top, me and my husband. I said, Okay. And then they went bless us.

 

What did you feel when you held the relic, which was—

 

Well, I—

 

—Damien’s hand?

 

I really feel just—you know, all that time, just I only chicken skin. My face was funny, was all uh, you know. Because I never know is something is going be like this. I never know in my life I gonna, you know, see the pope, face-to-face with him. Oh, and … I kissed two times, on his ring. Oh, the man is …

 

You know, so many people have done good things at Kalaupapa for the patients. So many–just people have sacrificed. What does Father Damien mean to you?

 

Well, Father Damien’s mean to me because he was a priest, and he work hard for the people. He work hard for the poor, poor people. And, you know, really love to God and take of the Hansen’s Disease. He no care what … either become sick, but that’s how his … his heart is for God, and take care of the people. Take care of the poor. Yeah. And I know he, just like he is a local boy in Hawaii. Even though he come from Belgium.

 

Children are a very sensitive subject in Kalaupapa. At this time, in 2009, children under the age of 16 are not allowed in the settlement. This age-old rule was first put in place to protect children from the disease, and to save patients from ridicule and embarrassment. Times have changed, with some patients pressing to hear the sound of children in their midst. Meli Watanuki and Clarence “Boogie” Kahilihiwa are on opposite sides of this debate.

 

BOOGIE:

I’d like to see the children before I pass. I’d like to see the children come here and visit, and stay like a normal visitor, like if they say, Well, you have your own house, you can stay in your … whoever invite. They’re gonna be your sole responsibility, because anything go wrong, everything gonna fall on you. And I’d like to see that. Not only for the patients, but for everybody who’s working here.

 

LESLIE:

We were talking about the controversy that broke out when one of the patients wanted children to live here.

 

BOOGIE:

Father Damien loved the children especially. And to ban the children over here, maybe their own thoughts. You see, before, couple years back, we had people who just followed the next friend; they couldn’t think for themselves. If you said no, then I will say no. I don’t look at it that way. I look it as for myself, how I see everything. And the majority over here say no, well, I’ll go along with that. But not in my heart.

 

MELI:

When I came here, all the old folks, they talk about, they no like children to come here, because some of the kids, they no understand the sick. Even though, it’s no more sick, they still might get scared of the people. They might… they going make fun on the people. And another thing—the kids, they get sick, and there’s no more medicine here for the kids. No more doctor. And over here, they no more school for the kids. What they gonna do over here? They no more nothing here. That’s why we went block that. And they was going take us to court. Yeah. She was going to take us to court because of that. And we said, No. So what’s happen, she went call her niece to bring her baby down at her house. But I don’t know who when the reporter that went take the pictures.   And the little kid, they was on the carpet. We be careful on that. And that’s when show on the TV, I feel myself that was not right. Because no can tell there might—the kids, they going get the sick. Even though they no more the sick, but they gotta remember that so long they get the person to sore on the feet, gotta be watch out. If they get the kids, because the kids is soft, the body, and the blood is. And that’s why that is no-no. And that’s why they was told us they going take us to court. I said, Okay, that’s fine.

 

Very rare for Kalaupapa to have this—

 

Yes.

 

—kind of division.

 

Yes. How many times they threaten us. And we said no.

 

Yeah; the folks who didn’t want children here—

 

Yeah.

 

That long-time rule prevailed.

 

Yeah; that’s right. Because when I came over here and I hear a lot about all the rule about the kids, they no allow that here. I forget what year after that, they went open up, went open up one year. The couple was a patient here, they went bring the kids. Just about ten years old, ten and nine. So what they do, right in the front our house … they use that dakine, the skateboard. And one of the old man, they coming from the other side, up, they go, pick up the [INDISTINCT]. You what’s happened? The kids went go right in the front of my house. They went go like this. The old man, they went go straight to the stone, he went cut up.

 

M-hm.

 

And smash his car.

 

Yeah; and we were advised when we came to be very careful in—

 

Right.

 

—driving, or watch out around you, because patients may not have good visual or they—

 

Right.

 

—they may be slow to react, because of—

 

Right.

 

—physical impairment.

 

Right; right.

 

If you go to Kalaupapa, where gravestones are never far away, where history is alive, you can imagine St. Damien walking the same pathways, seeing the same, beautiful views, breathing the same ocean breeze. In a life full of twists and turns, Meli Watanuki’s faith never wavered. Faced with so much tragedy, she found comfort in god. And with the canonization of the priest she always regarded as a saint, Meli’s faith is made even deeper. Thank you, Meli and Boogie, for sharing. For Long Story Short and PBS-Hawaii, I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou kakou.

 

MELI: Yes. I’m happy, and just like I come more close to Father Damien. Because I pray a lot for him, every day, every morning. And I go over there, just like I go talk story with, you know, Father Damien. I just say, Father Damien, please to um, help this settlement, people gotta behave themselves and be kind one another.

 

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Chipper and Hau’oli Wichman

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX: Chipper and Hau'oli Wichman

 

Original air date: Tues., Sept. 20, 2011

 

Heading the National Tropical Botanical Garden

 

Leslie Wilcox sits down with Chipper and Hau’oli Wichman, a longtime husband-and-wife team who head the National Tropical Botanical Garden on Kauai. Chipper, chief executive officer of NTBG, grew up on Oahu in a privileged family but attended Roosevelt High School. His wife and executive assistant Hau’oli had modest beginnings in Nanakuli before her family moved to Kahului. The two reveal how the Hawaiian language and Hau’oli’s tutu led to the couple’s romance and discuss their “bigger kuleana” of land stewardship.

 

Chipper and Hau’oli Wichman Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

For me, the work that we’re going is just like being on a fifteen-foot tube ride. It’s amazing. You get the same kind of adrenalin, same kind of feeling of satisfaction that we’re doing something pretty extreme, and pretty meaningful with our lives.

 

They came from different backgrounds, but found a common purpose in their personal and professional lives. This couple is working overtime to protect nature, culture and community. Chipper and Ha‘uoli Wichman are next, on Long Story Short.

 

Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawaii’s first weekly television program produced and broadcast in high definition.

 

Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. In this edition of Long Story Short, you might think taking care of gardens would be a mellow line of work, but for Chipper and Hau‘oli Wichman, it’s a high stakes, twenty-four/seven venture. This couple complements each other at work and at home, and together, they’ve forged a life, a profession, and a mission to preserve nature and culture in Hawaii, and beyond. The Wichmans’ story starts with a seed, planted decades ago by Chipper’s grandmother, that has grown into a garden tended with passion and intensity by this dedicated duo.

 

Tell me about each of your backgrounds. What was it like growing up, when and where you grew up? Chipper?

 

Well, I was born in 1957, and Hawaii then was really so much more relaxed. I remember never having to lock the doors on the house. And we spent every summer on Kauai with my grandmother, which just really was just one of those fond memories that really influenced us in the course of our life.

 

And what were your interests as kid?

 

Well, started with baseball and stuff like that, but graduated pretty quickly into water sports. And love surfing; surfing became really pretty much the focus of my life as I was growing up.

 

And did you have a vision in your head at that time of gardens?

 

Not at all. I was not on the garden or plant track at all.

 

You were all water.

 

It was like surf, surf, surf, and when the surf wasn’t good, we’d go diving, and really just enjoyed growing up around the ocean and being part of that.

 

Now, your parents sent you to some very private pricey schools; Hanahauoli, Punahou.

 

Yeah.

 

And your dad was an attorney.

 

M-hm.

 

But you didn’t continue in the private school mode; you went to a public school, Roosevelt for your high school years.

 

Yeah. I guess you could say maybe I was a challenging teenager, and didn’t probably really appreciate the opportunities they were giving me in terms of education when I was growing up. So, we had a little parting of the ways, and I really enjoyed going to Roosevelt. And for me, what it did also is, Roosevelt with Papakolea right there, is it really connected me with our Hawaiian community. That was a real benefit for me. And certainly, I think, to a large degree, Punahou recognizes that, and celebrates the fact that, you know, we’re here in Hawaii and the Hawaiian culture. But you get to a place like Roosevelt, where it’s not pretend, it’s for real.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

And back in the day, there was still Kill Haole Day. And so, you know what I mean?

 

How did you fit into that scenario?

 

Hey, I made friends with the biggest mokes right away, man.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

That was—that was my buddies.

 

And that worked. [CHUCKLE]

 

Yeah. Sure, was good, because in the end, people really see right through your exterior and see who you are on the inside, what kind of a person you really are and what your values are. And I think that was what made me successful at Roosevelt.

 

Do you have regrets about not being more into school at the time?

 

Very much so. And I didn’t really truly appreciate that until after I had worked for several years at the garden, and had an opportunity to go back to school. And when I did, I went to UH Manoa, got in through the community college system. And what I found was really amazing. I saw a lot of kids that were eighteen-year-olds, and they were there because Mom and Dad said, You gotta go to school, you gotta to the University after you graduate. And they didn’t have a strong interest, they weren’t driven. I was there, totally like a sponge, and for me, it was awesome. Whereas, I practically almost flunked out of high school, I graduated from UH Manoa with a 4.0.

 

And you went up to get a master’s.

 

Phi beta kappa.

 

Yeah.

 

I mean, so it’s more than the grades and everything. It was a learning opportunity, and I continue to benefit from that for my entire life. So it’s really—I regret not having taken advantage of those opportunities my parents provided for me, but on the other hand, everything in my life has been there for a reason. I don’t regret the fact that I got to really connect with our Hawaiian community at that early age.

 

The School of Papakolea is a good school.

 

Absolutely.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

Still get plenty friends from there.

 

So, Chipper, it seems like you were born from a privileged kamaaina family.

 

M-hm.

 

Grew up in Honolulu.

 

M-hm.

 

Mostly. And, you’re from a Nanakuli family of modest means. You’re the first person in the family to go to college.

 

That’s correct.

 

And Hau‘oli, tell me about your background in Nanakuli.

 

Yes. So I grew up in Nanakuli, born and raised there. Born in ’58, so Farrington Highway was two lanes. And my grandparents—we lived in my grandparents’ home. And later, we moved next door, ‘cause my aunt lived next door, then she moved to Maunawili. So, we were always with Grandma, and family was always around. The aunties and uncles that lived in the neighborhood, everyone was our cousins, and we played and went to the beach, and just enjoyed life out there in the country.

 

And went to public schools in the area?

 

Yes. Nanaikapono Elementary, then Nanakuli Intermediate.

 

Tell me about your dad. ‘Cause you have this great story about him digging holes.

 

Well, he graduated from Waipahu High School, and got a job at Hawaiian Electric. And his first—well, one of this first jobs, he was a laborer, and he had to dig the holes for the electric poles. He became a foreman, and eventually retired from Maui Electric, where he was the superintendent of construction there.

 

That’s right; you moved to Maui for your—is it high school or college years?

 

High school; high school. Yeah; I was fourteen, and then we moved our whole family of—I’m the oldest of five, and we moved, and my dad started working there in the early 70s, first as a foreman, and then, superintendent when he retired.

 

What was it like moving from Nanakuli to—what part of Maui?

 

Right in Kahului. Well, it was a big change for me. And I was kind of wondering, Should I stay in Nanakuli and live with my grandparents? But no, we just all moved together to Maui. And the school I attended was Maui High. So it was a feeder school, and all country folks from upcountry and Paia and Haiku all came to this one school. So, it was really easy. It wasn’t like I was coming in as a stranger. Everyone came together at the school.

 

Everybody had to meet at the school.

 

Exactly; yeah.

 

Though they didn’t know each other at the time, Chipper Wichman also went from Oahu to a neighbor island at about the same age, but for very different reasons. As Chipper recalls, his parents had reached the end of the rope with their fifteen-year-old son.

 

They were a little worried about you for a while back there.

 

They were very worried.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

They were very worried. And you never appreciate that until you become a parent.

 

Oh, how did they act when you were kind of acting up at Punahou?

 

Well, they may have a different recollection of it, but I think I’d really driven them to their wits’ end. And fortunately, my grandmother was willing to take me in, so I actually went to live on Kauai with my grandmother during that very, I’d say, pretty stressful period of time for them.

 

Which turned out to be formative in your life, because she would eventually encourage you to get an internship in horticulture.

 

That’s right; that’s right. I mean, she was a woman of great vision, and really ahead of her time, and she was such a champion of the Hawaiian culture, as well as plants. She was working to preserve native plants when she was growing up. She was born in 1901. So I mean, people hadn’t even truly appreciated our native flora and understood its threats back then. So really, an amazing woman who provided for me those seeds of conservation and research, and culture that have grown into, really, the values that have driven me in my life.

 

And you two met at UH Manoa, right?

 

That’s correct.

 

Tell us about the meeting.

 

[CHUCKLE] Actually, our first class we had together was ethnobotany, which was very appropriate, considering our lives are so involved with plants. And our teacher at that time, Dr. Isabella Abbott, who recently passed away, is really an icon in the plant world. And so being able to have her—she was in her prime back then, thirty years ago. And so, I was really looking forward to that class.

 

Did sparks fly in ethnobotany?

 

Not really. We saw each other, but we barely talked. But we do recognize that was where we first saw each other.

 

It was a big, huge auditorium classroom, so there was a lot of people there.

 

When did you meet in earnest?

 

Actually, in Hawaiian Language class, couple of semesters later. And Hau‘oli’s grandmother on her father’s side was Mama Hale. And Mama Hale was one of the manaleo, or really the kupuna who helped bring the language back after the Constitutional Convention. And she was somebody I had actually got to know very, very well, and didn’t even realize it was Hau‘oli’s tutu lady. So, later, we—actually, our first date was to go to her grandma’s birthday party.

 

Grandparents played pivotal roles in the lives of Hau‘oli and Chipper Wichman. Between high school and college, Chipper’s grandmother, Juliet Rice Wichman, urged him to apply for an internship with the National Tropical Botanical Garden. Little did he know that he would make his career there, working his way from intern to CEO. Since 2003, Chipper has run the Garden Organization, a family of tropical gardens and preserves across Hawaii, and also in Florida.

 

It really is an amazing organization, chartered by the United States Congress as a nonprofit. And that’s really confusing to people, how did that even come to be. The vision was, our founders wanted to see this organization funded privately, with private money, and not being just another federal agency. But having that Congressional charter really set the bar high. It was clear that this organization had a destiny that needed to be fulfilled in terms of making a global difference. And that means today for us, working on not only a regional scale here and helping to really fulfill immediate needs here in Hawaii in terms of stopping the extinction of plants and helping to preserve our culture, and meeting educational needs. We really have a three-pronged focus; education, scientific research, and conservation. And we fulfill all of those on both local, national, and international scales.

 

How about telling me a couple of things that people may not know about the garden.

 

We are a nationally chartered organization, chartered by the United States Congress. But that idea, that thought came out of the Honolulu Garden Club by very visionary women, including Loy McCandless Marks, who was the president. I was recently given a packet of the minutes of the Garden Club meetings from like 1954 or 1955, when they talked about creating this organization. And it’s amazing to see how it went from a Garden Club meeting all the way to succeeding in convincing the United States Congress that this was indeed an action worthy of a public law. We have the world’s largest collection of endangered species, federally listed endangered species. It’s really an amazing collection of plants, but it’s not what the visitor is typically looking for, like the beautiful Bird of Paradise that are right behind you, or Heleconia. We have amazing plants, but they aren’t collected or arranged or displayed for their beauty.

 

Are they homely little plants? Is that what you’re saying?

 

Many of ‘em are, but some are majestic trees. But they’re not what the average visitor expects when they come to see a botanical garden. Our gardens have really been developed by scientists and conservationists as these living laboratories. It’s time for us to make them public venues, so that the public can come and really get a better understanding some of these global issues and what we’re dealing with, and there is no better way to convey that than in the beauty of a botanical garden.

 

In 1987, three years after Chipper and Hau‘oli Wichman were married, their family and professional lives once again collided. Chipper’s grandmother passed away, and left him the thousand-acres Limahuli Valley on Kauai. It was not exactly a gift, but a duty to carry out her vision of protecting the valley’s natural and cultural resources.

 

This was a kuleana, that this was a responsibility to preserve it in perpetuity, but more than just preserve it. This was an area that was crying out for active management, and it took us seven years, but we succeeded in getting the State to create a special subzone called the Limahuli Valley Special Subzone, and approve a very active comprehensive management plan, a master plan for it. And today, it’s considered really one of the poster childs in the State in terms of biocultural conservation, celebrating the importance of the area as a cultural area to native Hawaiians, and restoring the cultural values, practices, as well as plants.

 

After your grandmother, Juliet Rice Wichman, gave you the kuleana, you in turn gave it.

 

That’s right. We gifted that property in 1994 to the garden, after we had put in place the special subzone, after we knew that indeed the garden could properly manage it. And when we gave that property away, our kids were pretty young. So our son was born in ’85, this was ’94, he was nine and our daughter was seven. So here we were, we gave away the only piece of property we ever owned. And they looked at us like, Mom and Dad, are you nuts or what? And in fact, I think they thought we were pretty nuts anyways, raising them out in Haena at the end of the road, with no TV, or radio.

 

And in those days, it seemed more remote.

 

It was much more remote. And, it was not nearly as crowded as it is today, and the traffic was less. It was really, really wonderful. But what impressed them were the values that they grew up with. And later, as they got older, and especially after they went to Kamehameha School and University of Hawaii, they look back on that with so much pride, and they are so proud to bring their friends and show them their home, and where they grew up. And they’re very proud of what we accomplished with that property and the gift of it. It was an important experience for us in terms of learning how to fulfill a kuleana, what it really means to malama aina, and to care for the land. Because far too often, we think of aina as a commodity to be bought and sold, and that its highest and best use is the economic return you can get from it, when indeed, the aina has so much more to offer us.

 

Hau‘oli, at what point did you get passionate about Chipper’s dream, the garden? And because you do it a hundred ten percent, so you can’t be lukewarm about it.

 

Well, it was after our children were grown up, and we started managing the Kahanu Garden in Hana. And then, I realized it was serious work, and there was a lot to do, and there was a bigger kuleana out there.

 

And you had family out there, so you saw community connections building.

 

Oh, definitely. And that was very important for us to come into a small community, Hawaiian community, but having family made it so much easier for us to get to know the other people there, and accomplish what we needed to do in taking care of Kahanu Garden and the Piilanihale Heiau.

 

So, you’ve got to give us some relationship tips, because you were together constantly, and you have such a good relationship. How does that happen? Or are you good at pretending?

 

No, I don’t think you can pretend for twenty-eight years. [CHUCKLE]

 

He’s the boss. [CHUCKLE]

 

Well, I think relationships, it’s hard work. And I hope that, if nothing else, we can convey that to our kids, is we really, really understand and believe that the future of our island, of our communities are dependent on strong families. And maintaining a marriage is never easy. It’s give and take, and it’s being able to really hear and understand the other person. I think she’ll tell you I do all the talking than listen. It’s hard sometimes when you have a dominant personality to slow down and be a good listener. So that’s something that I really try and practice. She said I’m the boss, but I think she’s got some very, very valuable ideas, and feelings, and when I really stop and listen to them, she’s almost always right.

 

What do you do when you can tell he’s not listening?

 

Sometimes, she jokes around; I gotta send you an email, even though I’m sitting three feet away, to get your attention. Because our life is so busy, I think that can be frustrating. Communication is so important, and being able have common activities that you enjoy doing together. I think many couples end up going different ways because they don’t have enough common enjoyment together. So, one takes off in this direction, and the other one takes off in that direction, and before long, your lives are kind of heading in very different directions. For us, we’re probably the extreme example of the other mix.

 

How much time on a typical day do you spend together?

 

[CHUCKLE] Twenty-four hours. [CHUCKLE]

 

All the time?

 

Yeah.

 

Pretty much.

 

How do you do that?

 

Well, you know, it’s not for every couple, but the requirement of the work that we’re involved in, in leading a major nonprofit organization, as I’m sure you well know, you live it yourself, is pretty consuming. And for us, it’s given us a chance to be able to do it together, and be together. Hau‘oli said something many years ago. She goes, It’s a good thing we do this together, otherwise, we’d never see each other. And especially now, with the extensive itinerary and travel schedule we have to do, being involved with a national board and international programs, that’s really true. And I feel very blessed that she’s really embraced it, and enthusiastically made it a part of her life. And I can honestly say, I would not be sitting here having this interview, if it wasn’t for her and all the support that she’s done. It also means there isn’t a whole lot of separation between work and home, because we go home, and we’re eating dinner and we’re talking about work. But you know what? That’s our life.

 

You have to both be passionate about it, or it doesn’t work, right?

 

Exactly. Yeah.

 

What do you contribute, Hau‘oli, and how does your working partnership go? I mean, usually, it boils down to who’s better at what, right?

 

Well, I just kind of, I guess, keep him organized, and pick up all the loose ends, and try to just do the housekeeping. And he’s just going forward, and just lot of meetings, lot of telephone conferences, and so I’m just in the background, mostly.

 

And you’ve heard him described as the man with the big vision.

 

M-hm, m-hm.

 

And that’s true, isn’t it, Chipper? You think big. You’re not making small plans.

 

That’s right. Yeah. When they asked me to become the CEO of this national organization, I knew, in fact we talked extensively about it. We knew that it would be a major change in lifestyle. We’d have to move from our family home where we raised our children, and it would mean extensive traveling and really giving up almost everything we were previously doing, in order to take this on. But it also meant that it gave us an opportunity to really make a difference on a global scale. It’s been an amazing journey for us, and I think Hau‘oli is excessively modest. She does not like the limelight, and when we have all these international meetings, she isn’t up there at the podium giving presentations. But, she provides for me some of the most valuable input, because when everybody’s gone, we talk a lot about what’s going on, and she’s really a great strategic thinker and a great identifier of people and their personalities, and what motivates them. And so, we have a lot of really important conversations behind the scenes, that people are never really aware of.

 

You’ve got another sharp pair of eyes—

 

Exactly.

 

—with another perspective.

 

Exactly.

 

And Hau‘oli, your kids are actually going in the footsteps of landscape, and land management, right?

 

Pretty much; yeah. Mikioi studies ethnobotany, and she’s taking a little time off right now traveling. But, she’ll go into a master’s, either botanical garden management or education. And our son is studying landscape architect right now.

 

What’s your goal with the gardens? Where do you go next? What’s your vision for the future?

 

Great question. We’re right now in the process of developing a new five-year strategic plan, which takes the garden really to the next level, in terms of both developing the funding base as well as really tying us in with more international programs, and making a global impact.   At some point in the course of the next five years, we also need to begin thinking about planning for the future in terms of transitions and leadership. While I’m not looking at retiring any time soon, I think it is really important to think about transitioning the organization at some point to new leadership, and assuring its sustainability. And that’s never easy to do for somebody who makes that their life every day.

 

But you’ve gotta do it, because you want the organization to go on.

 

Absolutely. Yeah. We need to understand our role in the global picture and how those factors outside of Hawaii affect what we’re doing, and as well as the fact that what we’re doing here can be a leadership model to help others around the world. And I think Hawaii has a lot to offer. We were at a meeting a couple weeks ago that was convened by the United Nations on the global strategy for plant conservation. Several of us from Hawaii went and gave presentations. And Hawaii is a microcosm of the world. We’re dealing with all of those issues, whether it’s endangered species, invasive plants, overdevelopment, lack of water. We’re dealing with it here, and yet, we’re dealing with it on a small enough scale that we can develop models that can then be scaled up and applied to larger areas. And I think being able to put Hawaii on the world stage will help us. It will leverage our work in Hawaii in a tremendous way, as well as, I believe, contribute significantly to making the world a better place, and helping other countries with their strategies.

 

Do you ever resent the gardens for the toll they take on you and your personal relationship?

 

I don’t think so. I mean, it’s just a wonderful place to work. It’s a very healing place to be in. Of course, some things are very intense, but to me, the garden is a very healthy and healing place for us.

 

And having common goals is huge.

 

Exactly; yeah.

 

We really do try and protect our weekends, because those are having time for yourself, and even if it’s just working in the yard, or working in the taro patch, or walking in the garden, or walking on the beach, it is important.

 

Chipper and Hauoli Wichman pursue their conservation and research efforts across the State, the Continent, and around the world. They lead a frequent flyer lifestyle. A big part of their mission at the National Tropical Botanical Garden is to educate the public, and share their tropical treasures. So, if you get the chance, they’d welcome your visit to the award-winning gardens on Kauai and Maui, as well as in Florida. For Long Story Short, and PBS Hawaii, I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou kakou.

 

For audio and written transcripts of this program, and all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit pbshawaii.org.

 

I accepted the directorship of that garden on three conditions when our chairman of the board called me up and asked me to take it on. I said, Under three conditions; one is, I’m the captain of the ship. We’re gonna have to make some hard decisions, and you’re gonna support it; don’t question it. Number two is, we’re gonna make good on every promise we’ve made to the Hawaiian community there. And number three is, I need some money. [CHUCKLE]

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Leona Rocha Wilson

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX: Leona Rocha Wilson

 

Original air date: Tues., Mar. 30, 2010

 

Maui-Based Entrepreneur and Inventor

 

Leslie Wilcox talks story with Maui-raised and based entrepreneur Leona Rocha Wilson, a one-time national spokesperson for the home sewing industry and inventor of the “fashion rule”, a tool still in use today. Leona is also a passionate advocate for education, and uses her Maui-based cable show, Go School, No Come Like Me, to inspire people through stories of lives transformed by family support of education. Her colorful life, which included a stint in the military and writing a book, is a shining example of how to constantly reinvent oneself.

 

Leona Rocha Wilson Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

 

This is from Khalil Gibran, the philosopher. And he said that we are a collection of broken mirrors; each piece reflects those we’ve met along the way.

 

Leona Rocha Wilson has collected many shiny chapters in her life since she was born in a small Maui community that no longer exists. She invented a device well known to people who sew at home and she became a successful East Coast businesswoman. Today she advocates passionately for education, hosting a Maui-based cable show, Go School, No Come Like Me. Next on LONG STORY SHORT.

 

Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawaii’s first weekly television program produced and broadcast in High Definition.

 

Aloha Mai Kakou, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Leona Rocha Wilson is not coy about her age…72 when we spoke on Long Story Short in 2009. I’m mentioning this because she looks younger and when she talks about her generation, you’ll need to know that it’s a generation that grew up with sugar as king. Leona moved back to Maui after a successful career on the continent. Her first years were spent on a sugar plantation located between Paia and Haiku. Its name was Hamakuapoko Camp, but residents called it H-Poko. Leona’s father was a truck driver and her mother cleaned houses and worked at the cannery. Her family was eventually able to buy a home in “Dream City,” better known today as Kahului. Leona, the youngest of six children, attended Maui and Baldwin High Schools. In years to come Leona was influenced by mentors whom she credits with helping her achieve success as a businesswoman, as a national spokesperson for the home sewing industry and as an inventor of the “fashion ruler”, a tool still in use today. Leona Wilson’s self-determination was forged early on, inspired by the example of her grandmother from Portugal.

 

My grandmother gave up her life, actually, to come to come to Hawaii. She and my grandfather came over with my mother, a nine-month-old child, to get on a ship to come to a place that she had never seen before, no one else had seen. They spent six months traveling. And my mother—my grandmother coming here never, ever to see her mother again. Never, ever to see her sisters and her brothers, and her aunties and her uncles. My thinking was, if my

 

grandmother gave up so much, I owe her, I really owe her, and I owe my grandfather to be the best person I could be.

 

And how did you go about doing that?

 

Ah, my mother. [chuckle] My mother, remarkable woman, fourth grade education, and my father, probably the brightest man I’ve ever met with a fourth grade education. My mother had more common sense than a hundred people. Her common sense was the very thing that helped the entire family.

 

What kind of common sense? Give me an example.

 

Well, give you an example. Being raised in the plantation, she realized that that was a very small part of the world. And so she said to all of us, Upon graduating from high school, go to the mainland, go see what else is happening there.

 

Had she ever been to the mainland?

 

No. No. Now, my father did, but not my mother.

 

Go to sights unseen.

 

Yes. Go try, to see. You don’t want to end up with your life saying, I should have done that, and I should have done that. She said—here; so upon graduating from high school, she gave us—not me, but my sisters and my brothers, a roundtrip ticket to the mainland. Her feeling about that roundtrip ticket was that, if you went to the mainland and you found that you wanted to remain, you could cash in that ticket and use it to live on.

 

M-m.

 

And if you didn’t, you always had that ticket to come back. She was so sensitive to everyone’s needs that in her bedroom, she had three statues; [chuckle] the Blessed Mother, St. Joseph, and Christ. And under those three statues, she put five dollars, ten dollars, and twenty dollars. The entire family knew where that money was, and she told all of us, If you need money, you know where it is, under one rule. And the rule was, if you take it, you must eventually replace it. Her sense of dignity, if you will, we didn’t have to ask for money. When we worked, we gave everything back to our parents, and they used it to support the family. So the family became very, very important, and to this day remains very important. My sisters and brothers, which is really one of the reasons I came home, to be with the family.

 

Do you remember instances of sibling rivalry? How come he gets that, and I don’t have that, kinda thing?

 

Oh, no. You know what? No, not ever, but I can tell you this. My sisters were so attractive [chuckle] that one of the things I made up my mind was, which is why I became the student, was that my sisters were so pretty, and I couldn’t match up to them. So I said, Okay, if I can’t be what they are—that’s where the only competition came in, was that I was gonna be the best student I could be. And so I studied really very hard, and tried to get the most out of education.

 

Because that was what … we knew in our family that the one thing that was going to propel us, if you will, or move us forward, was education. In high school, I was a fairly good student. Not the best. I was a song leader, so I spent more times being a song leader than I did … uh, though I was okay in school. When I graduated, or before I graduated, my mother and I sat down. And she said, What are we gonna do? I said, Well, Mom, I can go to University of Hawaii. And she said, Do you know how much Daddy makes? We can’t afford it; there is no money. I said, What if I get a scholarship? Even then, I can’t afford it. She said, I don’t want you to work in the fields. I think we can do—I think you should do more. And so we sat down, and we tried to figure out the best way for me to get an education. Well, the one thing that came come—kept coming up was the military. You go on the GI Bill, you join the service. I had to join the service for three years. And the reason I did that was that she decided that I should be a dental technician. Where that came from, I can’t tell you. She actually originally wanted me to be a hairdresser. [chuckle]

 

But the military didn’t pay you to go to college.

 

[chuckle] There was none in the military, right?

 

You know, I know a number of men of your generation who went to the military and got wonderful educations on the GI Bill. But you know, you’re the first woman I’ve met—

 

Really?

—from Hawaii who’s done that. How many were there in your group? When—

 

Well, I think when we left, from Maui, I think we had something like four, maybe a little bit more. I’m not sure. But there were just a handful of us, just a handful.

 

And I have to tell you, Leslie that was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my entire life, was to leave my mother, leave my father, and my sisters and my brothers. To this day, feel that it was the very thing, though, that gave me the strength to continue to pursue the wonderful life that I have enjoyed.

 

Leona Rocha Wilson grew up in small-town Maui, rich with ethnicities and mutual respect. Her military experience was a wakeup call to the realities of racial segregation on the mainland.

 

The first thing they told us that first weekend in Anniston, Alabama, that we could not, us White—supposedly White folks—could not go with the other local girls to town, because the prejudice existing in those days. So I remember; they said I couldn’t go with my friends, so I stayed home. I didn’t go. I mean, I stayed in the barracks, didn’t go. It was difficult, it was really difficult.

 

What ethnicities were your friends?

 

They were a mixture. They were Asian, they were Hawaiian, they were Filipino. They were a mixture—my friend, Yvonne Yamane was a mixture.

 

And segregation was in full swing.

 

Was in full swing. We had to use separate bathrooms, separate toilets. Not in the military, of course, but certainly in town. And I then went to Fort Sam Houston, Texas, where all the dental technician schools—school took place.

 

What was interesting about that was that we were the first group of women to go into the dental technician school. And we started, I think, with probably about seven, eight, maybe ten women and thirty, or forty, or fifty men. And only four of us graduated.

 

Why is that?

 

All the other girls dropped out, it was so difficult. And two of the girls—one was a girl from Oahu, and one was myself, and the other two were mainland people. And so we were the first group of women to graduate. So it was dental technician. But then I ended up going to uh, Fort Belvoir, Virginia and they put me as a dental assistant. And that’s where I got my training. And during the entire time I was in the military, and I have to tell you this ‘cause I did bring those bonds. My mother again [chuckle] said, Well, Leona, you know what? You’ll have the GI Bill when you come out of the service, but you’re also gonna need money when you come out. Out of the money that I got every month from the military, I had to send home two US savings bonds. I ended up sending home the bonds. And I have them to this day.

 

Oh, you never needed them?

 

Well, actually, I did cash in a few. But the rest, I kept, because it reminds me that, again, how important parents can be and should be, and if not parents, grandparents and aunties, and uncles, in the development of a child’s life. Uh, this is from Khalil Gibran, the philosopher. And he said that we are a collection of broken mirrors; each piece reflects those we’ve met along the way.

 

After her military service Leona Rocha Wilson moved to Brooklyn with her husband, whom she married while in the service. She was ready for new things, including a new profession. She just didn’t know what it was going to be.

 

 

People ask me, Did you want to study fashion in high school? I mean, did you draw pictures and no. I had no idea.

 

And you didn’t want to continue on with your dental career?

 

I worked at it for two years in New York, on Madison Avenue. I had a wonderful mentor there. He taught me how to speak English, he’d read the paper to me and I—

 

What do you mean, he taught you how to speak English?

 

Well, what he taught me was there is an educated way of saying something or an uneducated way.

 

Well, how were you saying things?

 

Give you an example. I used to say, Well, this is cheap. He’d say, Leona, this is inexpensive. [chuckle] So there are ways in which you can use more educated words, and he was trying to help me with those words.

 

So, social graces in terms of language.

 

Yes, and I’d serve tea. I was working for him and he was on Madison Avenue, so he taught me how to speak properly to people, how to serve tea, which we would probably see two or three patients a day, and so I had plenty of time. He taught me about the stock market. I listened to him during that time. So he was a wonderful mentor. I think to grow, you must listen. And there will be many, many people in your life that will share many wonderful areas of improvement for you. And I did listen, and I did work at it. And for him, I’m very grateful. So I worked for him for a while, then I went to 7th Avenue, and I worked for a woman called Eloise Curtis. She was a designer. I worked there as a secretary, switchboard, whatever. I went to secretarial school too; that was something else I did. I worked for her in the garment industry, and she taught me how to dress. And it was interesting, because I had no idea, I had no idea what size I was. Coming from Hawaii and in the military, I had no idea what size I was. I mean, it was just—

 

How did you dress?

 

Well, not well, obviously. [chuckle] ‘Cause Eloise said, We’re gonna have to do this for you.

 

She hired you, though.

 

Yes, she did. She did. As a matter of fact, at one point, I helped out with her sample modeling, and I think I was a size one. That was long—Leslie, a long time ago. [chuckle] Many, many sizes ago. And so she did help me to dress, to understand, scale and proportion and color, and my figure in relationship to what would be appropriate for me. And after her, I went to work for the aviation industry as a secretary. And at that point, I was married, I got pregnant. And when I was pregnant, I realized that the maternity clothes were awful. They were so ugly that you ended up—I looked at it—and expensive. So then I said to myself, Hey, you know, why can’t I sew my own? So at that point, I looked to see what other classes I could go to, and went to the Y or YW, and they had a class on sewing. And I decided to sew my maternity clothes, and it was at that point I decided that fashion was great. Here I was married, I was pregnant, I was working during the day. So that being said, I had to go to school at night.

 

That was the only way, because we needed the money, I had to work. So that’s when the GI Bill came into play. And I went, got the GI Bill, went to Fashion Institute of Technology. Now, not even knowing there what I wanted to study, I signed up for pattern making. This is why you gotta go out there and find out what you don’t like, and then do something so that you know what you do like. And I didn’t like pattern making.

 

[chuckle]

 

All those numbers, and math is not my strong suit. So I ended up saying, I don’t want to be a pattern maker. So at FIT, then I went to see one of the teachers, and I said, Look, is there something else. He said, Yeah, why don’t you study apparel design. And that’s where you drape fabric, and you don’t have to worry about math. [chuckle] And so I decided to do apparel design and it was at that point that eight years at night later, I finally got my degree in apparel design. Though, I must say, with the help of my husband, the father of my son, my mother-in-law. Because without them, going to school at night would not have been possible.

 

You continued to work?

 

I continued to work.

 

And take care of your child, and go to school.

 

M-hm; yeah. And on weekends, that’s all I had time to do, was to do my work, my homework. And I did graduate with honors, which was an incredible task for me, and I’m very proud of it. My son came to my graduation at Carnegie Hall, interestingly enough. So people say, How do you do these things? I can only  say that my mother gave me this wonderful sense of positiveness. She was so positive; it’s like, go do it. What’s the worst thing can happen? You fail, so what? At least you know you don’t want to do that or you’re not good at that.

 

It’s not a waste of time to find out you don’t really want to do this.

 

No.

 

While sewing her own clothes Leona Rocha Wilson came up with the idea of creating a tool to assist the home sewer. With no clue of how to market her design she reconnected with her former mentor Joe Barta who became a trusted advisor. Manufacturing her new device led to the creation of her own company, Fashionetics.

 

Home sewers had no idea how to change dress patterns. Dress patterns is made for a standard size, which is, I think, a ten. They might have changed it now, ‘cause we’re getting a little bit larger. But the average size was, I think, for size ten. And some of us were down here, and some of us were a little bit larger than the ten. So dress patterns—and some of us have sloping shoulders, and some of us have full breasts, and some of us have large hips and small hips. So the variance in figure types required that you take this pattern that you purchased and change the pattern to suit your figure.

 

And until you invented the fashion ruler, people were just eyeballing it?

 

Well, they would fold the pattern, or they would kind of do what the pattern companies told them to do, which is primarily work from inside the pattern. And so when I came up with the fashion ruler, we used that fashion ruler to do the same thing a professional would do. And that is, if you want to change an armhole, you take that part of the ruler and you put it on the armhole, and you lower it, you raise it. It was—it’s simple. It makes—it was just—it simplified changing dress patterns to customize it for you personally. Now, how I got into [chuckle] a little bit more difficulty was this. I had the ruler, I had designed the ruler, and I went—

 

Was it exactly the same as the ruler a professional uses, or was it—

 

No, it was a—

 

—different?

 

—combination. The fashion ruler is about three or four professional rulers made into one.

 

I see.

 

So I just combined all the lines into one. It was just simple. But I’d not thought of it until my mentor, Joe Barta, said to me, Go ahead and try to do your own.

 

And so when I created this ruler I needed to have a—it was plastic, I needed to have a mold made, which was very expensive. I needed packaging. I needed marketing. And you know, I designed the ruler, but I had no clue about these other areas. So I went back to Joe Barta and I said, Look, I have the ruler. He was the one that found the next person for me to be involved in, to make the fashion ruler. We then created the fashion ruler. We packaged it, and were ready to sell it and bring it to the retail stores. Now … new ruler, no one ever saw it before. So what that says is that nobody knew how to use it. [chuckle] So I had to go out to the stores to teach women how to use these rulers. And that’s how I got started, talking with women, which I just love. I travel the country, I show them how to change dress patterns using the ruler, and that was the very thing that got me involved with television and set my company up. I did get a US patent, I created more rulers and more devices for the home sewing industry. So have I ever worked in the garment industry to create fashion? No. I started my own business called Fashionetics.

 

An inventor.

 

 

Yeah. It was fun.

 

And were they big selling items?

 

Oh, it’s being sold today, as we speak

 

Leona Rocha Wilson also authored the book Discover Fit Fashion and You and married her mentor, Joe Barta. After his death she sold her business Fashionetics and took on a new challenge as a national spokesperson for the home sewing industry.

 

I got this call from Simplicity, and they said, Would you want to do television? And I said, Look, I’ve never done television, what do I know about TV? He said, Leona, you can talk. [chuckle] So based on that, they sent me to California. We did a shoot. They said, [INDISTINCT]. Carol Lawrence was the hostess at the time. She did the show. And she and I had the best time. Oh, we just loved each other. We had a great time, we laughed and had a good time. By the time I left the set, the producer asked me if I would take on the show for the following season, which I did, which was on Lifetime Cable, which is Lifetime today. And we did the sewing show. And that got me started on—I’d never done television. But I remembered my mother saying, What’s the worst thing can happen? They send you home; what’s the worst thing can happen?

 

And it was a national cable show.

 

M-hm.

 

Wow.

 

And from that, Simplicity needed a spokesperson. A lobbying firm in Washington came to Simplicity; they said, Leona, would you like to travel the country doing all their television show for—you remember the thing called, Made In USA, Crafted With Pride, Made In USA? Well, I was their spokesperson. They sent me throughout the nation to do all the television shows, AM Los Angeles, New York Today Show, you name it. And I did it for them in order to represent them on television, radio, and newspaper.

 

Leona Rocha Wilson became the first woman president of the national organization, the American Home Sewing Association, comprised of fabric companies, sewing suppliers and sewing machine makers. Industry giant Vogue/Butterick would woo Leona away from the Simplicity Pattern Company to become its national spokesperson. And eventually Vogue/Butterick’s owner

 

would woo Leona into marriage. At the time of this conversation in 2009, Bill and Leona Wilson had been married for more than two decades. Bill has been a strong supporter of Leona’s continuing efforts to promote learning. Her show on Maui Community College’s cable television channel showcases individuals whose lives have been transformed through family support for education.

 

They wanted me to sort of have a little bit more educated title for the show. But I insisted that Go School, No Come Like Me took us back to the plantation days. It was when they would say, Go school, no come like me. You don’t want to work in the fields, better yourself, become the best person you possibly can. Leslie, I’m sure you’re aware that for every hundred students that enter our high schools here in Hawaii, twenty-two drop out of school. Nationally, we have a higher—thirty dropout nationally. The dropout rate really, really bothered me and my husband. So we came up with this program, Go School, No Come Like Me, and it’s to bring attention to the dropout rate and to reach the parents, the grandparents, the aunties, and the uncles, this one small segment, to let them know and to listen to stories of people who have made it … not necessarily always financially, but have lived fulfilled lives because they have had and they pursued an education. And so what we’re trying to do is reach these parents, these families in their homes so that they know that it takes more than just raising a child. The input that they have, and the friends and families they have play an important role. So, Go School, No Come Like Me, we have wonderful people that we’ve interviewed, people who have taken three jobs. Harrison Miyahira today owns a company that has over four hundred people and has in forty different countries, came from Kuau, and today, went to school to Purdue, starved, and today owns this company, HM Electronics. These are the stories that just inspired me, anyway, by listening—chicken skin kind. We hope that through Go School, No Come Like Me, and Maui Community College, that people will be aware of the dropout rate, and will be aware that it takes a lot to make up or to influence a child to be the best he—or she can possibly be.

 

I think of your life, you did devote yourself to school, but you also did a lot of learning informally through mentors.

 

Oh, yeah. I continue to. I continue, continue to learn. I’m learning about building. We have a farm now. I have a farm; I’m a farmer. Look at my nails. [chuckle] I’m a farmer. We have three hundred koaia trees that we put in. I fertilize it. I have someone that helps me with it, but I’m out there pulling weeds. My sister Patsy and I; she’s eighty-two, and the two of us, typical Portuguese people, right?

 

[chuckle]

 

I’m back to the soil again. I’m raising trees, and I’m learning about it. It is a most enlightening—it give me purposeful living when I am learning.

 

An endowment scholarship for students attending Maui Community College has been established by Leona and Bill. The community college’s cable channel 55 is the home of her show, Go School, No Come Like Me. Thank you, Leona Rocha

 

Wilson, for sharing your “Long Story Short,” and thank YOU for joining us on PBS Hawaii. I’m Leslie Wilcox. A Hui Hou Kakou.

 

For audio and written transcripts of this program, and all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit pbshawaii.org.

 

And once you find that passion, to make that commitment that you’re going to do everything you can to accomplish that goal. And during that time, and even after that, you cannot lose sight of your own self respect. You don’t lose sight of your word. All of that plays—that part, who you are, you don’t lose it. You maintain it, and you manage to fulfill your dreams by pursuing and making that commitment to that passion.

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Takeshi “Tak” Yoshihara

 

Original air date: Tues., Dec. 10, 2013

 

A Quiet Struggle

 

There’s a humble man living in Honolulu who isn’t one to let people know of his extraordinary history. We finally persuaded him to sit down and share it.

 

Takeshi “Tak” Yoshihara is the first Japanese American admitted to the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, MD. He also is a former internee, whose family was held for three years in so-called “relocation centers” that America built during World War II. Now retired after a Navy career as an officer, Mr. Yoshihara recounts in A Quiet Struggle what life was like living in internment camp cubicles. Despite that loss of freedom, you’ll hear him express great gratitude for his country and what it’s done for him.

 

Takeshi Yoshihara, A Quiet Struggle Audio

 

Download: Takeshi Yoshihara, A Quiet Struggle Transcript

 

 

Original air date: Tues., Jan. 7, 2014

 

An Historic Journey

 

After hardships during the Great Depression and World War II, Takeshi Yoshihara became the first Japanese American appointed to the U.S. Naval Academy. In this conversation with Leslie Wilcox, Takeshi talks about what made him an unlikely Naval Academy candidate, and his journey through the ranks and, eventually, to Hawaii.

 

Takeshi Yoshihara, An Historic Journey Audio

 

Download: Takeshi Yoshihara, An Historic Journey Transcript

 

Transcript

 

Part 1: A Quiet Struggle

 

I like to say that there was this great injustice to me, but on the other hand, what the country has meant to me, the opportunities that were offered to me, far outweigh the injustice.

 

For three years, Takeshi Yoshihara and his family lived in two small cubicles in a Japanese American internment camp. The experience, while traumatic for the young Takeshi and his family, did not leave him bitter. In fact, this Nisei would grow up to be a U.S. Navy officer, and make history in the process. Takeshi Yoshihara, next on Long Story Short.

 

Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawaii’s first weekly television program produced and broadcast in high definition.

 

Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. More than one hundred ten thousand Japanese Americans were sent to internment camps after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. What was it like to live in these camps? Tonight, Takeshi Yoshihara of Honolulu shares his story, which begins with his father’s arrival in American more than a century ago.

 

Your father came to the United States when he was a teenager. Why did he come?

 

I think he came, as so many from that part of Japan came; their economic opportunities were very limited.

 

What part of Japan was that?

 

It was called Hiroshima – ken, so it was in the vicinity of Hiroshima. And Japan was having a very difficult time economically, so a large number of Japanese immigrants came during that period in, probably the early 1900s. He arrived in maybe 1905, or somewhere in that time as a teenager. He was one of those recruited to work on a timber mill that was being built in the middle of a forest not far from Seattle, but on the foothills of the Cascade Mountains.

 

So, when he wanted to get married, what did he do?

 

Well, on his trip back, he had complained that he needed a wife. And so, while he was there, his father and my mother’s father made some kinda deal that they would send a young lady after my father returned to the United States. And sure enough, a few months later, she arrived by herself on about a fifteen – day journey aboard ship.

 

So, his parents picked his wife for him?

 

Oh, yes; oh, yes. And they were from a neighboring family.

 

Well, what was your life like as a boy in the sawmill camp?

 

Well, I came along as the fourth child in a family that was to grow to eight children. My parents were living at that time in a small village. I’m not sure I would call it a village. They called it a camp, Japan Camp. I lived there until I was eight years old, but I still remember going to Japanese schools, learning Japanese culture, and especially the values of Japanese that I still remember to this day, and has contributed to my life. And it was a wonderful life. I think all my brothers and sisters look upon that period there as the most stable and happy lives, beginning lives.

 

Even though there wasn’t much materially.

 

Nothing materially. We lived in a little old building that people would call a shack now. But as a youngster, it was comfortable and warm, and we enjoyed it.

 

But it wouldn’t last. The Great Depression hit, and the sawmill closed down. Takeshi Yoshihara’s family was forced to find a new home, and a new way of life. Not easy for a family from a foreign country who could speak little English at the time.

 

My father had a neighbor from Japan who was farming a strawberry farm in Oregon. He and his wife had done very well, and they lived in what we considered a very fine home. Through their compassion and kindness, they invited my whole family of eight to live in their home. And there were two of them, and eight of us, so we kinda took over their home for a year. And he offered my parents both to work on the strawberry farm, and that continued for about a year until my father, his friend’s encouragement, thought it was a good time to start his own strawberry farm. And that’s what he did. Now, the home we lived in, and I can remember this very clearly because first thing one noticed is weeds growing out of the floor. Over the years, the land had shifted, and the roof leaked, and there was no water or plumbing.

 

Definitely a fixer – upper. [CHUCKLE]

 

[CHUCKLE] Fixer – upper would — not much to do to …

 

So, it was a property that probably nobody else wanted, and your dad —

 

Oh, it was an absolutely abandoned house. And I remember, to contain the leaking roof, we got these big vegetable cans of tomatoes or something, gallon cans, and we’d put it wherever it rained. And that was our —

 

And walked around the cans.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

I’ve done that. [CHUCKLE]

 

That’s right; you did that as well.

 

[CHUCKLE] But not with weeds growing up out of the floorboards.

 

We didn’t have water, we didn’t have sewage, or we didn’t even have electricity. So, we had a kerosene lamp, and …

 

How did you keep warm?

 

Well, we had blankets, so we kept warm all right. And stoves with plenty of wood to heat up the stove. They had a wood stove.

 

Strawberries take two years to grow. During that time, Takeshi Yoshihara’s family wouldn’t make much money, but the family was willing to make the sacrifice to become successful farmers. Then, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, and America joined the Second World War.

 

It was really a shocking incident for them. And of course, your reaction is, what’s gonna happen to us? They were aliens in the United States. Of course, we who were born were American citizens. They feared for a time that they would be picked up and put into prisoner of war camps. And then, I remember we got visits from the local FBI and the police. And here, they knew nothing; they could hardly speak English, and were just doing their business, but they felt intimidated. And then, there was a curfew that came along, and they were restricted from going anywhere. So, it was a heightened and stressful time for them.

 

Could you feel your parents’ fear?

 

I could always feel their fear, very definitely. I could feel their disappointment. But I never felt their despair. First of all, they were virtually in survival mode without income, working hard, and their concerns were primarily keeping alive. I mean, feeding their children, having shelter for them, sending their children with clothes to school.

 

Because those two years had been so very hard.

 

Very, very difficult years.

 

But you’d think they’d say, Oh, now what? How can this get worse? But you said they didn’t feel this way.

 

Well, when that notice came, they weren’t prepared to abandon the farm. Even through Pearl Harbor and all, they had worked dawn to dusk, tried to keep up the farm, not knowing what’s going to happen. But when that notice appeared on that telephone pole, they realized that this was it, there’s no alternative, they’ve got to leave the farm.

 

It was a heartbreaking decision. Takeshi Yoshihara’s father found a friend from church who agreed to run their farm and pay off their debts. The family was then sent to a relocation camp in Portland, Oregon.

 

They had taken two – by – fours and just built cubicles throughout this large pavilion area with very high ceilings, and used canvas as a doorway for the opening. So, if one were to look upon what we called our assembly center, it would be looking down from the ceiling and seeing all the open ceiling area, but it would look like an egg crate, and you could see maybe twenty, thirty families in each. And every family was given one little cubicle.

 

Now, could you look over the wall and see the next family?

 

If we stood on our beds, we could look over the family and see them fighting or having a good time, or whatever.

 

So, there was no audio privacy, no visual privacy if anyone who wanted to look.

 

That’s right. And especially in a situation like that, it would be surprising how noisy the night times were. All kinds of noises; people arguing, playing, that sort of thing. So, it was very … there was not much privacy. Then they had an area where we lined up to eat in shifts on picnic benches. But it was supposedly for a short time, so we endured it. The worst part was, right next to this exposition center was large stock butchering facility. Just next to it.

 

In operation?

 

In operation.

 

A slaughterhouse?

 

Slaughterhouse; that’s the word I’m thinking about, a slaughterhouse. And we could sense the effects of all the slaughters going on, especially when the wind blew in our direction. It was almost nauseating; it was so bad. And that was combined with one of the hottest summers in Portland. And Portland can get very hot and humid, and without ventilation, it was just suffocating. The authorities were telling us, Well, we’re putting you in here to protect you. And some of the in — I say inmates, but internees [CHUCKLE] looked up and said, How come the rifles are pointing at us instead of the other way if they’re protecting us? So, they changed the name assembly center, I don’t know if for that reason, but we never used it again. It became a relocation center.

 

Relocation; when we say that today or we say internment camps, there’s a significant minority of people who will correct you and say, You know what, let’s call it for what it is, that’s a euphemism, it was a concentration camp. What’s your feeling about that terminology?

 

I’ve looked up the word concentration camps, and technically, concentration camps is correct. As I understand, concentration camps is a place where people are imprisoned, not because of what they do, like crimes, but because who they are. And we, of course, were all homogeneous Japanese blood. So, in that sense, concentration camp is the correct term. But from my own perspective, and my deep appreciation for my country and what it has meant to me, I hesitate, because if I were to say it, I would feel like I’m getting close to a Nazi concentration camp. We were not treated unfairly. There was a lot of compassion, understanding by the authorities.

 

So, day – by – day, you were treated well, but did you think it was the right thing to do to bring people together like that, for that reason?

 

As a youngster, I didn’t think much about that. My parents didn’t really think much about that, because, here again, it’s the perspective of my family who were really in survival mode, being relieved in a sense. Have all our meals provided, have a good roof over us. So, the word they used so often was “shikata ga nai”, which means, it can’t be helped. And that was their attitude.

 

So, accept it.

 

To accept it, and do the best they can with it.

 

Takeshi Yoshihara and his family stayed at the relocation camp in Portland for four months. By then, they were ready to leave because of the stench and cramped conditions. This time, the family was forced to take a train to a more permanent internment camp in Idaho called Minidoka.

 

They had built this camp for ten thousand people to house them with all the facilities, all the utilities, and the main buildings were like Army barracks. They were very, very hastily constructed of wood framing, and covered with black tar paper. You could almost see holes through some of our walls. The floors were bare wood panels, and a little potbelly stove sat in the middle of the room to provide heat. So, when we got there, I remember we were issued canva — I guess they call them ticking, where you stuff straw in to make mattresses out of. And we were all given a satchel bag and taken to a place with a big pile of straw, and made our own mattress and returned to our assigned rooms, where there was a canvas cot. And that was our house for the next three years.

 

One room for a family of eight?

 

No; I think it was family of six children and below, it was one family; one room per family. We had eight children, and we just couldn’t physically fit into one – family, so we were given two families. And I think we were kind of the privileged families in the camp, because we had two. Everybody we knew had one room, and we had two rooms, and so my parents lined up … let’s see, seven cots in this one row for all my brothers and sisters. And they had one infant, so they took the other room and put the infant with them. And no chairs, no furniture, not else; just a place to sleep.

 

And was there a cafeteria? Nobody cooked without a stove, I take it.

 

That’s right. In addition to the barracks, they had … well, the barracks were arranged in blocks for about two hundred and fifty people in a block. And within that block, they had built a central mess hall, and washing facilities, and toilet and shower facilities where we all used it together.

 

How did that work, exactly?

 

Well, as a teenager, it was one of the most sensitive time of my life, privacy especially.

 

I think you were in sixth, seventh, and eighth grades while you were in camp?

 

That’s right; sixth, seventh, and eighth grade. And I remember being so shy about using the facilities, because both the showers and the toilet facilities were all lined in a row, with no partition between them.

 

Men and women in different facilities?

 

In different facilities, but —

 

But no stalls for toilets.

 

No stalls; no stalls for toilets. And so, sometimes I would get up like three o’clock in the morning, just worrying about whether anybody would be there with me. [CHUCKLE] But that never went away. I felt very, very humiliated. And I would have preferred at that time, those years, going back to that survival mode where we had an outhouse; one whole outhouse. I would rather have had that than the modern toilet facilities we had in camp.

 

What was day – to – day life like?

 

Well, I always have to compare it with how it was before. Before, we were in survival mode, working on a farm, walking to school each day. No friends; just hard work. All of a sudden, we’re in this community of ten thousand people, lots of kids my age. And it wasn’t long before the new normal took hold. And the new normal meant lots of play friends. You don’t have much to play with, but if you get a ball or football, a lot of good times. I didn’t feel like a minority in camp. The new normal took on a life of its own, because the camps were designed for all the residents to find some employment, and everybody who wanted to work found some employment. My father became a garbage collector, and my mother worked as a helping hand in the central mess hall.

 

So, the internment camp would pay federal wages?

 

I’m not sure federal wages; they got sixteen dollars a month. Doctors got nineteen dollars a month.

 

Woo – hoo. [CHUCKLE]

 

[CHUCKLE] So they were the upper class in camp. But they were mostly paid sixteen dollars a month; that was the going rate. And that’s like fifty cents a day.

 

So, was there a Minidoka School?

 

Well, when we went there, of course, ten thousand people arrived suddenly. They had built all these barracks. The first question was, Where will be put the children in school? And the only answer was, in the barracks rooms. No blackboards, just one room. Of course, the next thing they had to do was find teachers. Where are they going to find teachers? Some were teachers already in their professions, but certainly nowhere near the number needed. So, if one had a high school diploma, he or she became eligible to teach elementary school. And I think that was the case when I first went there. A young girl, I’m sure she was just a high school graduate, but taught, and taught very well. And I don’t regret in any way the quality of the education I received, even under those circumstances.

 

When the war ended in 1945, Takeshi Yoshihara’s family was grateful they were finally leaving the internment camp, but also anxious. They’d lost everything before, and once again, they had to start over and create a new life from scratch.

 

With my family of eight children, that was an army to take care of, and I know my parents worried a lot about it, where should they go. But one day, they heard from a church in Seattle that offered to make their basement spaces available for us, and they would take care of us and shelter us, and feed us until something better came along. So, we happily accepted. That resolved my parents’ survivor fears, I should say. And, so they accepted, and everybody received a train ticket or bus ticket, and twenty – five dollars per person spending money.

 

Even your infant brother?

 

Absolutely everybody; everybody that breathed got twenty-five dollars. Which we thought was very generous at that time. And so, with that, I forget, I think we took a train to Seattle, and the people at the church were there to greet us and to take us to their church. And it was a wonderful beginning, and I consider it a blessing from God that He interceded and found a place where we could start a new beginning.

 

A month later, the Yoshihara family found a place to live in Renton, Washington. And though there was anti – Japanese sentiment in the post – war United States, Takeshi says the family never felt discriminated against, not by neighbors or his classmates when he started high school.

 

How was your first day in school?

 

First day in school; well, of course, I had a lot of reservations walking into that school. But, I think the principal and the superintendent, and the authorities had done a marvelous job preparing for my classmates to receive me. And I was just amazed at how welcoming they were to me. But all of a sudden, I was going from a place of ten thousand others that looked like me, to a place where nobody looked like me. There were only, I think, two other Asians in my high school class; everybody else was Caucasian. So, of course, I felt being a minority again, and a minority of one is a very small minority.

 

Feeling as though he didn’t quite fit in, Takeshi Yoshihara struggled to make friends in high school. Without much of a social life, he focused on academics, and that paid off. After graduation, he would go on to become the first Japanese American admitted into the U.S. Naval Academy, and have a successful career in the U.S. Navy, where his nickname was “Tak”. Mahalo to Takeshi “Tak” Yoshihara for sharing his story. And mahalo to you for joining us. For PBS Hawaii and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou.

 

For audio and written transcripts of all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit PBSHawaii.org. To download free podcasts of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, to the Apple iTunes store, or visit PBSHawaii.org.

 

And how was your school experience at Annapolis as the first and only Asian in the class?

 

Well, it was more than that, because here, I had come from a family … well, we were at the chopstick stage, for eating, and all of a sudden you go there. Formal dining table, linen covered white tablecloths, and all the utensils out. All of them. And I’m looking at it, and looking to the side, left and right, and figuring out what’s the proper utensil to use.

 

You didn’t have computers in those days, so you couldn’t do a Wiki How. [CHUCKLE]

 

That’s right.

 

Which one is which?

 

That’s right.

 

 

 

 

Part 2: An Historic Journey

 

Have I experienced failure? Many times. Have I stumbled along the way? Many times. Have I faced dead ends during my career? Certainly.

 

Takeshi Yoshihara is a humble man who holds a special place in history. After growing up in poverty and spending three years in a Japanese American internment camp, he was chosen to do something no Japanese American had ever done before. Takeshi Yoshihara, next on Long Story Short.

 

Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawaii’s first weekly television program produced and broadcast in high definition.

 

Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Takeshi Yoshihara’s childhood on the West Coast was not easy. His parents lost everything in the Depression, and again during World War II. At one point, he and his family of eight lived in a leaky shack without electricity. Despite his hardships, Yoshihara persevered and made history just out of high school. His journey started in 1949, with an invitation from a member of Congress; a letter that this self – described loner never expected to receive.

 

If I had my choice, I would have picked anybody but myself. And I’ll tell you why. Here I was, such an introvert; I lived my own life, I was not socially aware. On the other hand, those attending the Naval Academy, I think ninety percent were varsity athletes, they had letters or stripes on their sweaters, and they were class presidents and Eagle Scouts. And the only thing on my resume, aside from my grades, was the fact that one semester during lunch, I volunteered to be –they called it a patrolman. So, I got to wear the belt, and during lunch hour, I stood at the crosswalk to let students cross. And for that, I got a certificate, which is the only recognition that I had ever received in high school. But the congressman wrote me this letter saying, You have done very well in the competitive examination, I’m considering appointing you to the Naval Academy, but don’t say anything about it, because I have some policy issues to address before you’re notified. So, we agreed to that announcement as an opportunity. For me, it was that or nothing. I’d tried for scholarships; nothing came along, and I was resigned, as so many of us in those days, to find a job probably in gardening and earn some money for the family. So, this was my only chance. And what a wonderful chance, I thought, because they won’t charge you tuition, they won’t charge you for your food or for your room. In fact, they would pay you to go to school. And accepting it was beyond my dreams. And so, we waited, and sure enough, a month later came and he sent another letter saying, You are appointed to the Naval Academy.

 

It was a big deal. Takeshi Yoshihara was the first Japanese American appointed to the U.S. Naval Academy. However, Takeshi was worried he’d never spend a day in class for several reasons. For one, he’d have to pay his own way across country from Washington State to Annapolis, Maryland, and he feared he would not pass the physical exam.

 

Well, I had been wearing these glasses since freshman in high school.

 

That’s what you were worried about; your eyesight.

 

I was worried; very worried. Because that was the leading cause of people being disqualified in the physical.

 

Ah …

 

What I did was, I just prayed to God that He would heal me, and I just took off my glasses and for the last few months, the strength of my eyes, I think [CHUCKLES] …

 

Wow.

 

The other thing, of course, is, I got sick on anything that moved, whether in a car or a bus. I’d never been on a boat, but I can imagine being on a boat.

 

So, you were a seasick person applying for the Naval Academy.

 

That’s right. And I had deep reservations about that; very deep reservations. Yes.

 

That’s a lot of reasons not to do it, isn’t it? I mean, you have find you way for free, you were broke.

 

That’s right; that’s right.

 

You didn’t have the eyesight.

 

That’s right.

 

But you did it anyway.

 

Well, we had a family debate about that. And my older sister was a strong advocate, because she had a lot of fears about me, I guess, not being able to survive in that environment in the first place. So, she was the one that said, You must get a roundtrip ticket, because it’s cheaper, and will make sure you get home. But my argument made out that I’m just trusting God; He’ll find other ways for me to get back, and this is my step of faith to just buy a one – way ticket. So, that sounded good to the rest of the family. [CHUCKLE] So, I appeared before the physical, would you know it, the first question on this long list of do you or do not things, have you had this illness or that illness; the first question is, Do you have a serious problem with seasickness?

 

And your problem was serious; right? I mean, you got sick in cars.

 

I got sick in cars.

 

Yeah.

 

I paused a long time, and I think I answered all the other questions to come to that. And I decided, well, for one thing, I want to be truthful. I don’t want to say no, and they find out a month later that I should have checked yes. And besides, the good Lord’s gonna carry me through whatever direction He wants anyway, and if this isn’t for me, there’s something else for me. I felt that faith. And so, I checked, yes.

 

You do get seasick?

 

I get seasick. And as far as my eye examination, I think it was at the end of a hectic day for the medical technicians, and I think they just kinda waved me through.

 

And so, Takeshi Yoshihara became the first Japanese American sworn in as a midshipman at the U.S. Naval Academy. His nickname, Tak. As part of his studies, he had to spend two summers on a ship; he did, in fact, get seasick. He was so violently ill on his second tour that he almost got kicked out of school.

 

Well, the saying goes, when you get sick, you’re afraid you’re gonna die, then you get so sick so you’re afraid you’re not going to die. And I was in that latter stage for three weeks coming back. I wished I could jump over the rail and just end it all, because it was that bad. But when I got back in the fall, the authorities convened the board, and they said, Reports are that you’re unfit for the Navy, and we’re going to discharge you now, and will not let you permit to go any further, you will not graduate with your class, and you’ll be just discharged. And I agreed with everything they said, except I said, Well, if you look at my records, my very first physical questionnaire and every subsequent one for four years, I put what I honestly thought I was, which is seasick, and nobody questioned me about that. And I think that took them aback a little bit, and they checked it, and they called me back and said, You know, you’re right, we should have kicked you out before you entered. But now that you’re in, we’re gonna make sure that we give you the opportunity to graduate. You’ll get your diploma, but you will not get a commission to be an officer in the United States Navy.

 

How was your school experience in Annapolis as the first and only Asian in the class?

 

Well, it was more than that, because here, I had come from a family… well, we were at the chopstick stage, for eating, and all of a sudden you go there; formal dining table, linen covered white tablecloths, and all the utensils out. All of them. And I’m looking at it, and looking to the side, left and right, and figuring out what’s the proper utensil to use.

 

You didn’t have computers in those days, so you couldn’t do a Wiki – how [CHUCKLE]

 

That’s right.

 

Which one is which?

 

That’s right. And that went with so many other things. I never really learned how to Make a tie, for example. We had to wear neckties a lot. And all those other things I had to learn.

 

The things that were common to the other kids who were kind of BMOCs, big man on campus in their hometowns.

 

That’s right; that’s right. So, I think that’s part of the wisdom of the Naval Academy, that they never let you be assigned into a single room. They know that you could get help from your classmates and your roommates, and I think that’s a good way that they have there. So, I always had classmates or roommates throughout my four years, and I think that was a good experience.

 

And they mentored you, to an extent?

 

Oh, yes. We just became best friends. But being plebes — we were called plebes as soon as we were … as we took the oath of office as a midshipman, which all students at the Naval Academy are called. It was a shock and awe experience, because what they do is, they immediately do everything to strip you of any of your personal habits, personal ways. What they want to create is an empty bowl in which they start building up your character, your personality, your habits, things like that. So, I think maybe some of these hard football programs when they go out to football camp, they may face that kind of circumstance too, where they want to break you down, then build you up. And that was called Plebe Summer, and for seventeen hours a day, for six weeks, the one single thing you have is pressure. Physical pressure, mental pressure, moral pressures.

 

And the pressure, you mean to say, it was never racial discrimination?

 

I never experienced racial discrimination.

 

Even right after the war like this?

 

That’s right. I experienced a lot of mischievous tricks, but never racially motivated.

 

Eighteen – year – old Tak Yoshihara adapted to life in the Academy. In the beginning, he struggled to stand out in a very competitive field.

 

You wouldn’t believe how competitive in those days the Naval Academy was. It was important whether you stood tenth, or twelfth, or a hundred or five hundred. And we started out with twelve hundred. Everything was based on competition. It’s changed a great deal now, but back in 1949, your class standing was the most important thing, and it was cumulative over four years. And there were people in my class that were repeating classes that they had taken. My best friend at our wedding, who lives here, he had already graduated from Yale in engineering. I don’t know why he wanted to start all over again, but he was taking the exact same class in engineering. So, he played Bridge most of the time. But, here I was struggling, thinking I might what they called bilge out, which is flunk out, which many did. But, I loved academics, and that was my source of self – esteem in high school. My only source of self – esteem was to get good grades, and so, I worked twice as hard as anybody else, and I’d take home my grades, and my parents would be happy for me, and I would feel built up.

 

So, you had the discipline.

 

I made the discipline, because that was a good source for building up my own self – esteem, when I had nothing. And so, I carried that through the Academy, and I kept plugging away, and plugging away, and plugging away. And I’d start climbing up the ladder, so to speak, in my class standing. But then, every week, you knew where you stood. You took a quiz in every class every week, and on Saturday morning they’d put your results on a board in numerical order. So it was very, very competitive.

 

Did you enjoy that competition, the academic competition?

 

I don’t think anybody really enjoyed that competition. And I might say there was one exception. Everybody took the identical course, except we had a choice in language. And, we had a choice of French, German, or Russian. I chose Russian, because I knew everybody had taken French or German in high school, and I wanted a level playing field. And sure enough, nobody had taken Russian before, so that was my entry into foreign languages. But everything else identical course, identical exam, and then at the end of the week, you knew where you stood.

 

Well, from twelve hundred with whom you started, how many ended?

 

Nine hundred and twelve. And they left for a number of reasons. Just the environment was not good for some, and academics were not good for some. So, I don’t know why they left, but there was about a thirty percent reduction in attrition.

 

So, that must have been some day when you graduated.

 

Yes.

 

How did you celebrate?

 

Got married two hours after graduation.

 

So, you were busy with something other than Annapolis?

 

[CHUCKLE] I was very busy with my studies, but along the way, I met my wife Elva, and just fell in love with her. She had gone to a college in Boston, and transferred to Johns Hopkins University to get her bachelor’s degree in nursing. And she graduated at about the same time that I did from the Naval Academy, so we were both wondering where we’re going after we graduate. Of course, I was in the Navy, and not a place that she would travel to, I’m sure, so we decided best that we get married, and that’s what happened. [CHUCKLE]

 

The year was 1953; and while Tak Yoshihara was a newlywed, he thought his chance at a career in the U.S. Navy was over, until, one of his instructors at the Academy stepped forward.

 

He was an officer at the Academy who had been grievously injured during the Pearl Harbor attack or the Japanese attacked on his ship, on his battleship. And he had come from three generations of admiral, and he had every expectation to succeed as part of his family tradition. Well, I didn’t know him well; I just took one lecture from him, but he heard about it. Well, as a result of Pearl Harbor, he had lost his leg and he was the only officer on campus walking with a wooden leg in uniform. So, they had made an exception for him. And he contacted me and said, I know a remote part of the Navy you’ve never heard about where officers never need to go to sea, and I just want to know if you’re interested in serving in the Navy. Well, I jumped at that, because it would have been a shame for me to complete Annapolis and be reported that I was discharged for being unfit for service in the Navy. So, I jumped at that, and within a matter of a week or so, he had gone to Washington, D.C. and had a waiver prepared for me so that I could ultimately join what was called the Civil Engineer Corps in the Navy.

 

But first, you had to get a civil engineering degree?

 

Yes; that meant I had to wait a year, and I would be sent to a very nice school called Rensselaer Institute of Polytechnics, a private college in Upstate New York, where I got my bachelor’s degree in civil engineering, and then I received my civil engineering degree and became officially a part of this navy that I knew nothing about.

 

And what did you do as a civil engineer in the Navy?

 

Well, first of all, I had like ten different stations. [CHUCKLE] But my first trip was out to Midway Island. From New York, traveled.

 

So, definitely not the cushy first station; right?

 

No.

 

With the atoll. [CHUCKLE]

 

It was middle of the Pacific. You’ve heard of Midway Island.

 

Gooney bird central.

 

It’s only one mile by two miles. And when I got there, Elva was pregnant, and the day our son arrived …

 

Did Elva give birth on Midway?

 

Yes. She was the first one that year to give birth on Midway; it was in March. And it coincided in 1957, when a tsunami hit the Pacific that very night.

 

Oh!

 

So, she gave birth while I was out clearing out the airfield which had been inundated with trash and everything else. And so, we have memories of our little time in Midway together. [CHUCKLE]

 

You know, nothing you’ve described has been really easy so far in your whole life.

 

Well, no, I thought it was not that difficult. From Midway, I went to Las Vegas, and nobody knows that there’s a naval base in Las Vegas.

 

Who would think a landlocked state, right?

 

They don’t now; they did it for a very short time, and I happened to be along when they needed somebody to be in Las Vegas. So, I had an interesting career there. But the rest of my career was more peanut butter type things, where I built things, and took care of the sewage and the roads, and everything else, interspersed by opportunities for education. And that’s what I loved so much to do from way back. That was a passion for me that I developed in high school. I always had a passion for education; still do.

 

That passion for education drove Tak Yoshihara to get two master’s degrees, and a PhD, while serving in the U.S. Navy where he rose to the rank of Captain. At one point, he was sent to Vietnam, where he was the deputy in charge of construction for all U.S. military services. He helped build ports, runways, and barracks during the war.

 

Periodically, the Navy … I think it’s kind of a carrot – and – stick approach. When you get to the point where you’ve completed your obligated service, or thinking about leaving and maybe going to school, or getting a job somewhere, they’d put this carrot out and say, If you’re interested in graduate school, we’ve got a few openings and you’re welcome to apply. And so, you can understand how grateful I am, how the Navy changed my life. Here, I may have been a laborer as a gardener following in my father’s footstep, or being here in Honolulu, living in paradise. So, I credit a great deal to the wonderful, wonderful government that I’m so proud of.

 

Somehow, I just don’t picture you ordering people around.

 

Well, I don’t either. I would have never thought … entering the Navy in any form, whether it’s the lowest enlisted man or anybody, being able to get up and shout, Don’t give up the Navy, or Don’t sink the Navy, or these famous sayings that thank God, I’ve never been in that position to do so.

 

But you’ve led men.

 

Yes.

 

And later, women.

 

My styles have been very different, and I’m grateful for that opportunity.

 

Well, what was your military style, your naval style?

 

Well, I like to say that whenever I had people under me, I never forgot my roots. I wanted to be an encourager. I try to find ways for people to realize their hopes and dreams. I was a helper, and a leader can be a helper.

 

In 1974, after twenty – five years in the Navy, Takeshi Yoshihara retired and moved to his wife’s hometown here in Hawaii. Soon after, he took a job working for Hawaii U.S. Senator Spark Matsunaga.

 

I worked for him; I agreed to help him for two years. Elva was teaching at the Kapiolani Community College, so I felt I could take off two years, and they were one of the most wonderful years of my life. A senator who is one of one hundred most powerful people in the country, being senators, and I saw the world in a different light from power; the power that they have.

 

Did that necessitate a move to D.C.?

 

I moved to D.C. We kept our house, and Elva took her second year of teaching as a sabbatical, and so, we lived the second year in Washington, D.C. Had a marvelous time. Going to that capitol every day, and just being in awe of all the senators and congressmen, and hearing them speak, and that sort of thing. It was a wonderful experience.

 

There you are, back to government service. Did you do other government service?

 

Well, I returned, and the federal government established and wanted me to head a Federal Energy Office out of the Federal Building here, which I agreed to do, and it covered the entire Pacific. I did that for three years, and through Governor Ariyoshi, I got the privilege of starting the first State Energy Office in the State. I did that, and then I later worked for Governor Waihee. Both governors were wonderful people.

 

Throughout Tak Yoshihara’s life of ups and downs, his love for his country and his faith in God never wavered.

 

Very much so, Leslie. I’m glad you mentioned that. Because, how can a family of eight children be so blessed.

 

In the Depression, during a world war.

 

We’re still all alive; all eight of us, from eighty – eight to seventy. And our closeness is as tight as can be; and it’s because of one thing, God at the center of each of our lives. Have I experienced failure? Many times. Have I stumbled along the way? Many times. Have I faced dead ends during my career? Certainly. Well, what got me through is, in every case I had stretcher bearers, beginning with God maybe sending people on the way. They could have been friends, family certainly, people praying for me. God has given me the opportunity that I’ve sometimes taken, where I could pray for others, where I could, in raising my children act as a stretcher bearer in their growing up. And then, when I took command or supervised people that I had to lead, I could be a stretcher bearer for them. I could inspire them, I could encourage them, I could hope to see them fulfill their aspirations; and to that extent, I was a stretcher bearer. So, we can all identify, if we’ve gone through life’s trials and triumphs, as both being a patient as well as a stretcher bearer. And we’re blessed.

 

Takeshi “Tak” Yoshihara watched his younger son follow in his footsteps. David Yoshihara also graduated from the Naval Academy and also became a Captain in the U.S. Navy. And just before our conversation in 2013, Tak and his wife Elva happily celebrated their sixtieth wedding anniversary. Mahalo to Takeshi “Tak” Yoshihara, the first Japanese American ever appointed to the U.S. Naval Academy and a career naval officer. And mahalo to you for joining us. For PBS Hawaii and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha, a hui hou.

 

For audio and written transcripts of all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit PBSHawaii.org. To download free podcasts of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, go to the Apple iTunes Store or visit PBSHawaii.org.

 

Does Elva speak Pidgin at all?

 

No, she does not at all. I mean, she’s third generation, so her parents were like me; they spoke English. So, she never spoke Japanese or Pidgin. She grew up in this area, and I think she understands pidgin.

 

I’m sure she does.

 

Well, yeah, we all do to a certain extent. I love Frank DeLima.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

I can understand him. [CHUCKLE]

 

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Sam Low: Raising Islands

 

As a crewmember on the Hokulea, waterman Sam Low experienced the chicken skin moments when, as the canoe would approach a Pacific island, the island itself would appear to be raised out of the distant horizon as the canoe sailed closer. As a documentarian, author Sam Low heard the vision, fears and dreams of master navigator Nainoa Thompson and those involved with sailing the canoe.

 

Transcript

 

Nainoa has said that early on he’s been hindered by a fear of failure. Do you know how he resolved that? Because he certainly succeeded.

Courage. He resolved it by being courageous, I think. It was Nainoa’s job to be the first Hawaiian in perhaps a thousand years, after that devastating accident, devastating loss of Eddie Aikau, to take the canoe as navigator on the first voyage in a thousand years that a Hawaiian has navigated. So, naturally, he was fearful. He was fearful for his own ability, but he was fearful for his people. Because if he failed, that would have been, Oh, Hawaiians, yeah. I have the feeling that his father helped him understand that there’s a deeper mission. That everything is based on helping your community, helping your people, and that your fear or your immediate reluctance is nowhere near as important as pushing through it to get that mission accomplished.

In researching his book, Hawaiki Rising, Sam Low spent hours interviewing his cousin, Nainoa Thompson, talking to him about the double-hulled canoe Hokulea, and what drove his dream to voyage in the wake of his ancestors. Sam Low, next on Long Story Short.

Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawaii’s first weekly television program produced and broadcast in high definition.

Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Sam Low was born and raised in Connecticut. His Hawaiian father left the Big Island to attend prep school on the Continent, where he got married, never to return home again. Their son Sam inherited his father’s love of the ocean and of boats, and grew up spending summers at the beach on Martha’s Vineyard, where he still lives at the time of our conversation in 2014. Sam Low made his first trip to Hawaii as a young naval officer, and has been coming here ever since, connecting with his family that includes Nainoa Thompson. Sam’s background as a documentary filmmaker, his ocean skills, and his family connections eventually led him to become a crewmember on Hokulea, where his role on the voyaging canoe was that of the documentarian. His job was to observe, and through that, he got to experience what life is like sailing on a canoe in the middle of the ocean, thousands of miles away from land.

My role on Hokulea has always been as a writer, as a documenter. Usually, on Hokulea, you’re a crewmember, and so that’s basic. You know, you stand your watch, and you do all that. But you have another role as well, which is, you could be a cook, you could be a watch captain, you could be a carpenter, or you could whatever. And my role was as documenter. And so, that fit, you know, what I had been doing for so many years prior to that, going out and documenting, either filming or writing about, or doing a thesis at Harvard about a way of life that I wanted to bring back and I wanted to give you, wanted you to have this gift. I have seen this, I have been there. And now, I want you to have it. And that was a perfect blend of what the job was. As a documenter, the kuleana, or actually as any crewmember, the kuleana on Hokulea.

Isn’t it interesting that all your interests sometimes come together and inform each other into one wonderful culmination?

Yeah. I probably never would have gotten on the canoe if it hadn’t have been that I did have this skill of being able to write. And of course, it didn’t hurt that Nainoa was my cousin, and I had a relationship with him. I was invited on the voyage to Rapa Nui. And that was actually my first trip on the canoe. The voyage to Rapa Nui was supposed to be the hardest voyage, because the prevailing winds are against you. And so, Nainoa had predicted that it would have to be tacking into the wind. So, this would be a zig-zag all the way. So, what was maybe, I think about seventeen hundred miles could easily become three thousand miles, if you had to tack. So, he chose a veteran crew. He had on board those folks like Tava Taupu, and Michael Tongg, and Snake Ah Hee, and Bruce Blankenfeld, and you know, Kalepa Baybayan. The best of the best. They set off. Now, I should say that this was the first voyage that I was actually invited to go on. But Nainoa wasn’t quite sure about me. I had made one voyage on the escort boat, and that went fine. So, he just wasn’t sure, and he put me on the escort boat and he said, You’re gonna be on the escort boat for four or five days, we’re gonna see how it goes, and if everything’s going okay on the canoe, then we’ll bring you over.

Why was Nainoa unsure about whether to have you on the Hokulea? ‘Cause you’re a waterman, you’ve been around water all your life in different kinds of craft.

Right; but you have to remember that on that voyage, there were the tested men, they were the best of the best. These men had probably voyaged thirty thousand, forty thousand miles. Not only that, they’re surfers, and they’re athletes.

And did Nainoa figure you could document it just as well from the escort boat?

I think he knew I couldn’t do that. But I think he wanted to just be sure. I think he wanted to go out and to see, and if it was a slog, and it was what he expected it to be, the most severe test of endurance, then maybe I would have stayed on the escort boat. But it didn’t turn out that way; it turned out to be easier. And so, I think that’s why he invited me.

So, it had to do with physical conditions?

Physical training.

Not fit?

Not fit. Not like those guys. No; uh-uh. Those guys, well, look at them. I mean, look at Tava. You know, look at Snake. All of those guys are watermen, all the time. You have to remember, New England, it’s the winter, so I get to swim four or five months out of the year. I was not in the kind of shape that those guys were, so I think that’s what his reservation might have been. So, I think on the fifth day, we got word that they wanted me to go over. And I’m like, Yes! And it was one of those rainy, kind of drizzly days, not a lot of wind, and I was rowed over by one of the crew on the escort boat. And Hokulea is up here, and I kind of crawled in. You crawl over the hulls, and then you crawl up over this canvas kind of space shield. And I remember crawling out and looking up, and there was Mike Tongg. His appearance is like this gentle, loving Buddha, you know. He has that kind of loving appearance. And the rain was just dripping down off his face, like this. And he was looking down at me with this beneficent smile. He didn’t say a word; just … Welcome, good to see you. And so, I just immediately felt at home with Mike’s blessing. He’s such a veteran on that canoe. But Nainoa had felt that we had to be prepared for the slog of wind. But as it turned out, fortuitously, at that time of year, down in the roaring forties … I hope I’m right, but I think that we were probably up around twenty degrees south. And down around forty degrees south, there were a number of low pressure areas that were spinning storms up toward us, spinning wind up toward us. And so, they broke the trade winds, and they created following winds. So that Nainoa seeing that, set off basically in a storm, and sailed along with the wind coming from behind, spun up by these storms down in the roaring forties, until that storm went through, and then we were kind of the calm. And then the trades would fill in again, and we’d do a little tacking, and then another storm would come along. And we made the trip so much faster than what was predicted, that we got there a week before our welcoming party.

Nice when storms are your friends.

Yeah; yeah. So, it turned out to be a lot easier in terms of the crew, and in terms of the endurance than we thought it was gonna be. More difficult from the navigation point of view, because often you would have cloudy skies. In fact, on that voyage to Rapa Nui, two or three days before Nainoa found the island, we started to have cloudy skies, and he had no real sight of his guiding star. He was steering pretty much by swells, and he was navigating by dead reckoning. So for three days, he was navigating by instinct, trained instinct. And on the day that we sighted Rapa Nui, the winds shifted. He was going to do a zig, and instead of doing a zig, the wind shifted and kind of pushed us in the direction that he thought we wanted to go. And he said, We’ll follow the wind; we’ll just stay, we’ll follow the wind. Hokulea knows where she wants to go.

Now, when you can’t navigate by stars, does he sleep at all? I mean, because he’s always watching current conditions.

Yeah; he is. Well, when you’re not navigating by the stars, you’re navigating pretty much by the swells and the wind. Of course, the wind was gyrating around and changing, so he was using the swells to navigate. Normally, if he’s alone on a voyage, then he will sleep in catnaps. He’ll sleep for maybe twenty minutes, thirty minutes, and then jump up and be awake for, say, eight hours, and then lie down for twenty or thirty minutes, and jump up. And he’ll do this for thirty days at a time. One of his great fears on that first voyage in 1980 was he wouldn’t be able to stay awake. That’s Mau’s secret, not mine; I can’t do that. But it was one of those first, as he calls them, the doors of perception had opened. One of those first doors that opened was that when they set sail out of Hilo and started on the voyage, after about fourteen hours, he decided he was really tired, he was gonna take a little nap. And he lay down, and he lay down for about fifteen or twenty minutes, and he jumped up and he was refreshed. And he said that was the first kind of sense that there is something in navigation, there is something in accepting the challenge and the risk that comes from another level, and that he was able to that, on that first voyage. And that’s what he normally does. On this voyage, the Rapa Nui voyage, he had Kalepa Baybayan on board, he had Bruce Blankenfeld on board; he had trained navigators with him. So, he could sleep.

If you don’t have enough sleep for enough time, I mean, I would think your judgment becomes impaired. So, I guess you have to have a limited goal in terms of time? How do you do that?

He does it for a month at a time.

Amazing.

I have no idea; I couldn’t do it.

So, maybe because you have a goal and you’re trained, and you’re generally in good shape, you can manage your mind and your brain cells for that amount of time.

Yeah; it’s a mystery to me, how he can do it. You know, it’s always chicken skin if you’re crew, and/or a documenter particularly, my job being to watch everybody, and to record. But you know, I’ve watched Nainoa pretty intently, and it’s always that moment when he says, Post lookouts, land is near. And then, I would get to go ask him, Well, what’s going on? He’d say, Well, I think Rapa Nui is there. And he put Max Yarawamai, who is Carolinian, who has great eyesight, he put him on watch. And about five hours later, there it was, Rapa Nui. And it was pretty much where he said it was. And Rapa Nui is tiny. And so, he found this island after seventeen hundred miles.

After sailing to Rapa Nui, Hokulea navigator Nainoa Thompson invited Sam Low aboard the canoe for the trip home. This second experience gave Sam even more insights into how Nainoa used nature and his intuition based on experience to guide him to exactly where he wanted to go.

The second voyage I got to make was from Tahiti to Hawaii. And we’d been at sea for, I think, about twenty-four, twenty-five days. Had lots of storm on that particular voyage, lots of squalls. I’m going to say it was the twenty-fifth day, I forget exactly, Nainoa turned the canoe downwind. We’d been headed into the wind all the time to get to the east of the Hawaiian Islands, and he turned downwind. So, we knew something was up. And steering downwind on Hokulea, the sails are on either side, wing-on-wing, ‘cause the wind is directly from behind. And we were steering that way for a while. We couldn’t see anything; there was this gentle mist wafting over the canoe. You could feel the sun, but you couldn’t see it. Visibility ahead was maybe oh, I don’t know, half a mile.

And during this time, do you say, Hey, Nainoa, what’s going on? Or do people not talk about what’s up?

Well, I got to be bratty, because I was the documenter. So, I didn’t say anything for a while, but we went wing-on-wing, and then the wind changed slightly, and so one of the sails came over. So, now, we’re sailing like this. We felt that. And around six o’clock, I saw Nainoa was just back there on the navigator’s platform, just peering intently ahead. Again, this mist was coming over. We couldn’t see anything; I couldn’t see anything. So, being a documenter, I get to go back and say, you know, What’s going on? He said, Well, Hilo is right there. After twenty-five hundred miles, twenty-five days, Hilo is right there? So, I said, How do you know? And he said, Well, do you remember when the sail, when we couldn’t sail wing-on-wing? Well, that’s because we got into that place where the winds are coming and being broken by Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea, and churning around the island. And so, that wind shift, that gentle wind shift told me that we’ve gotten into that zone where the winds are breaking. You know, these mountains are fourteen thousand feet high. And he said, Look ahead, you see that mist seems to stall, it seems to slow down. So, I looked. Yeah; okay. Keep going. I know I couldn’t see it. And he said, If you look—the sun was starting to go down. If you look on either side, you can see it’s kind of dark ahead of us, and it’s a little bit lighter there.

You couldn’t see it?

I couldn’t see it. And so, I wrote it all dutifully down. And then we sailed on for a while, and then he tacked. And I said, Well, why’d you tack? He said, We’re on the Hamakua Coast, and I don’t want to get too close. Of course, none of us can see this. This is after twenty-five days. I don’t want to get too close, and Hilo is right over there. And so, I said, Okay; write it down. And then, we all felt it. And we all went over to the rail, and the whole crew is standing there looking, and Nainoa said Hilo is there, and they know Hamakua must be there. And we waited for about fifteen minutes, and then fortuitously, that low cloud layer lifted; just lifted. And there it was, the twinkle of the coast, Hilo over here, the lighthouse. And at that moment, Nainoa just said, We’re home.

Wow.

After twenty-five days. So, that’s the chicken skin, that when you’re navigating with someone like Nainoa or Kalepa Baybayan, or Bruce Blankenfeld, or Chad Paishon, or Shorty Bertelmann, any of these great navigators who have dedicated their life to merging with the signs of the sea, and you have the privilege to be on a canoe after that much time, and to see land is there, exactly where they say it is.

What happens over the twenty-five days, say, of a voyage? Is there a lot of talk? Is there a lot of laughter? What do people do, day-by-day?

I think it depends a lot on the crew and on the chemistry of the crew. And I think it’s all of that. But if I think back on it, I think more of a kind of … quietness, actually. I don’t think so much of laughter; there’s that. I don’t think so much of talk; there’s that. I don’t think so much of music, although there’s that. I think of the quietness of being at sea, and the feeling of being out in an immense ocean, completely alone, and you don’t see another ship, you don’t see another person, you don’t see land, and you get into kind of a rhythm of watch-standing, of being alert, and being relaxed, and being alert, and being relaxed, of the stars turning, and the moon and the sun. And there’s a blending with that diurnal rhythm so that it’s a meditation you get into. I think it’s a mediational state. I think it’s a very relaxed state. I think that even in storm aboard a vessel like Hokulea, which is so staunch and so seaworthy, and so sea kindly, that you’re not afraid. You know that if you do everything right, if you follow the instructions of your captain, if you bring the sails down, if you stand your watch properly, you’ll be fine. So that’s not it. It’s not anxiety, it’s not fear; it’s contemplation, it’s meditation. And actually, I think for most of us, say after five or six days, you’re just in the rhythm, and then when the canoe turns down and the navigator says, We’re there, we’re almost sort of like saying, Well, that’s good, we can have a hamburger, we can have a beer, but you know, why don’t we just keep going. ‘Cause you’re in this world. You’re with your crew, you’re with the weather, you’re with the canoe, you’re in this meditational almost Buddhist, Hawaiian meditational state, and you don’t want it to stop.

Sam Low started working on a book about Hokulea after he returned home from the Rapa Nui voyage in the year 2000. At first, he didn’t know what would be in the book, but it finally came together, and Hawaiki Rising was published in 2013. It tells the story of Hokulea, Nainoa Thompson, and the Hawaiian Renaissance.

There was a period of time, and I think it was uh, 2010. See, I’d been working on this book for ten years. I mean, I didn’t really know that I’d been working on it for ten years. I was just recording, and I was writing articles. The first idea for a book would be a picture book, and then I went off and did my grandpa’s book. And I got partway there, and then I came back onto this. But there was a time, I think it was 2010, when I did have a chance to interview Nainoa very extensively. I was living in the family compound, and the guest house is, you know, a hundred yards from his house. And I would sit and wait, and every time he came out, I’d say, Hey, Nainoa, how you doing? You know, and he’d say, Not today, Sam, not today. Okay, okay. And then, How you doing? Yeah; okay, come. And so, we’d sit and spend two or three hours with a tape recorder, and I think the exchange did help him bring together all his experiences. Well, it was certainly great for me, because I was able to get this raw material for Hawaiki Rising. But I think it also helped him bring together his own experiences and correlate that, and put it together into kind of a set of values and a philosophy. It’s his philosophy, but I think in being able to exchange with another person who he was fairly intimate with, that it did help him in that. And at that time, about three years ago, the concept of moolelo became very important. And he expressed that; he said, You know, we stand on the shoulders of heroes, and it’s very important that as we move forward around the world, that we look back, and that we celebrate and bring with us the spirit of those people who made all of this possible, and the lessons that we learned from them, from his father Myron Pinky Thompson, from Mau Piailug, from Wally Froiseth, from Ben Finney, from Herb Kane, from all of those who had built the canoe, who had the vision of the canoe, who had sailed the canoe, and that evolving vision, that gift that they gave to all of us who’ve sailed on the canoe. He wanted that to be celebrated, and part of that was the book, Hawaiki Rising. It is a celebration of those heroes whose shoulders we stand on today. He expresses in Hawaiki Rising very clearly how fearful he was of that time of his first voyage. You have to understand that everything depended on it, that the canoe had capsized, that they had lost Eddie Aikau, and that Hawaiians were on the cusp of being able to, through voyaging, and all the other arts as well, not just voyaging, but Hokulea was the symbol of the Renaissance. Through voyaging, to recapture this great pride of ancestry. And the canoe had capsized. There was a great deal of anxiety, which he expresses in the book. And he pushed through, and he discovered deeper reserves, I think, of courage and of a sense of connection to his ancestors that allowed him to enter a world of understanding and of comprehension that was deep and that was powerful.

You went back and talked to a number of the people we associate with Hokulea over the years. What did some of those conversations yield in terms of insight about the voyages?

Well, they were key. The book is made up of what I like to think of as a chorus of voices. See, I’m not in it. It’s not my story. I’m the person that’s behind the camera, if you like, or that’s writing the story, singing the song, I hope. And I had this opportunity to interview dozens and dozens of crewmembers, and I wanted the book to be a chorus of voices. I wanted it to be told in the voices of the people that experienced it, not an impersonal narrator, a personal narrator. And I didn’t know that that would work. It’s like an oral history. And I’ve been very interested in oral histories, something told directly, authentically from the person who experienced it. So, the opportunity—and of course, I was very kind of shy and bashful. I mean, Tava Taupu, and Snake Ah Hee, and Herb Kane, and Nainoa and Pinky, and Marion Lyman-Merserau, and Dave Lyman. I mean, these are heroic figures to me. So, to have the honor that they would sit down and talk with me was terrific. And I didn’t want that to end. You know, so writing the book, you have to eventually do that; right? But the great pleasure was to have those moments, those intimate moments with people on whose shoulders we all stand on, and to have them tell me their story. That in itself, was the process, is sometimes more important than the product.

Through the eyes and ears of Sam Low, we all get to experience what it’s like to sail aboard Hokulea as she makes her way across vast oceans, guided by the stars and other natural elements, to faraway destinations. Mahalo to Sam Low for sharing his stories with us, and mahalo to you for joining us. For PBS Hawaii and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou.

For audio and written transcripts of all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit PBSHawaii.org. To download free podcasts of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, go to the Apple iTunes Store, or visit PBSHawaii.org.

Pinky evolved a philosophy that came out of voyaging. He said, You first have to have a vision, and you have to have a vision of an island over the horizon. And once you have that vision, then you have to formulate a plan to raise that island from the sea, Hawaiki rising. And then, you need to have discipline to train, to achieve that plan. And then, you need to have the courage to cast off the lines, and then you need to have the aloha to bind your crew together to find the island. So, those are values that were inherent in Pinky’s view in voyaging, and also in the world, and also all cultures of the world. So, he brought this philosophy from the past, brought it to the present, and made it a possible future. And Hokulea is voyaging around the world with that philosophy in mind.

 

[END]

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Guest Archive

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX: Guest Archives

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A

 

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Isabella Aiona Abbott

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Abbott

Joy Abbott*

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Bob Apisa

Bob Apisa

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Loretta Ables Sayre

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Agbayani

Amy Agbayani

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Maenette Ah Nee-Benham*

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Clyde Aikau

Clyde Aikau

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Senator Daniel Akaka

Senator Daniel Akaka

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Henry Akina

Henry Akina

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Viswanathan Anand

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LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX: Bryan Andaya

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Andrade

Carlos Andrade

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Ariyoshi

George Ariyoshi Pt. 1*

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Phil Arnone

Phil Arnone*

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LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX: Paul and Grace Atkins

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Dr. Tusi Avegalio*

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Awai

Nake’u Awai

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Gail Awakuni

Gail Awakuni

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Keola Beamer

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Aunty Nona Beamer

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Dr. Billy Bergin

Dr. Billy Bergin

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Mary Bitterman

Mary Bitterman

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Jimmy Borges

Jimmy Borges: The First Verse

Jimmy Borges: The Ballad Continues

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Michael Broderick

Michael Broderick*

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Desotos Brown

DeSoto Brown

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Minnie Jean Trickey

Minnijean Brown Trickey

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Jim Burns

Jim Burns: A Local Boy*

Jim Burns: His Own Man*

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Christine Camp

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Daniel Case

Daniel Case

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Lee Cataluna

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Ben Cayetano

Ben Cayetano

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Momi Cazimero

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Robert Cazimero

Robert Cazimero

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LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX: Roland Cazimero

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Leslie Wilcox

CELEBRATING MOMS*

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Clarissa Chun

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Jack Cione

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Clark

John Clark

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Linda Coble and Kirk Mathews

Linda Coble & Kirk Matthews*

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Jerry Coffee

Jerry Coffee*

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Sam Cooke

Sam Cooke

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LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX - Courage in Captivity: Three POWs' Stories

Courage in Captivity: Three POWs’ Stories

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Victoria Cuba

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Gavin Daws

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Dedrick

Layla Dedrick

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Frank Delima

Frank DeLima*

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Jon De Mello

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Skippa Diaz

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Walter Dods

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Mitch D'Olier

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Mark Dunkeley

Mark Dunkerley

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Ron Edmonds

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Enos

Solomon Enos

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Espiritu

Peter Rockford Espiritu

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Denby Fawcett and Bob Jones

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Francis

Ed Francis*

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Paula Fuga

Paula Fuga

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LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX: Linda Furuto

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Glenn Furuya

Glenn Furuya*

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Long Story Short Rose Galera

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Edwin Gayagas

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Heather Haunani Giugni

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LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX: Ed Ginoza

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Gon

Sam Gon*

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LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX: Guest Shep Gordon

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Goto

Ralph Goto*

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Alice Greenwood

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Hoala Greevy

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Richard Ha

Richard Ha

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Wong Hadar

Jasper Wong and Kamea Hadar*

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Haili

Rachel and Lorraine Haili*

*Audio not available

Rachel and Lorraine Haili Transcript

 

 

Haines

Frank Haines

Frank Haines Audio

Frank Haines Transcript

 

 

 

Al Harrington

Al Harrington*

*Audio not available

Al Harrington Transcript Pt. 1: A Cup Half Full

Al Harrington Transcript Pt. 2: A Life of Gratitude

 

 

 

Leslie Wilcox

Hawaii as Home*

*Audio not available

Hawaii as Home Transcript

 

 

 

Gerri Hayes

Gerri Hayes*

Gerri Hayes Audio

Gerri Hayes Transcript

 

 

 

Holly Henderson

Holly Henderson

Holly Henderson Audio

Holly Henderson Transcript

 

 

Will Henderson

Will Henderson*

*Audio not available

Will Henderson Transcript Pt. 1: Humble Beginnings

Will Henderson Transcript Pt. 2: Life Lessons

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX: Jeannette Paulson Hereniko

Jeannette Paulson Hereniko*

Jeannette Paulson Hereniko

Jeannette Paulson Hereniko Transcript

 

 

Sharon Hicks

Sharon L. Hicks*

Sharon L. Hicks Audio

Sharon L. Hicks Transcript

 

 

Jessie Higa*

*Audio not available

Jessie Higa Transcript

 

 

Marion Higa

Marion Higa*

Marion Higa Audio

Marion Higa Transcript

 

 

Ryan Higa

Ryan Higa*

Ryan Higa Audio

Ryan Higa Transcript

 

 

Hokulani Holt

Hōkūlani Holt

Hōkūlani Holt Audio

Hōkūlani Holt Transcript

 

 

Pegge Hopper

Pegge Hopper

Pegge Hopper Audio

Pegge Hopper Transcript

 

 

Mamo Howell

Mamo Howell

Mamo Howell Audio

Mamo Howell Transcript

 

 

Claire Hughes

Claire Hughes

Claire Hughes Audio

Claire Hughes Transcript

 

 

Mahina Eleneki Hugo

Mahina Eleneki Hugo

Mahina Eleneki Hugo Audio

Mahina Eleneki Hugo Transcript

 

 

I

 

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Senator Daniel Inouye

Senator Daniel K. Inouye*

Senator Daniel K. Inouye Audio

Senator Daniel K. Inouye Transcript

 

 

Robert Iopa

Robert Iopa*

Robert Iopa Audio

Robert Iopa Transcript

 

 

Mike Irish

Mike Irish*

Mike Irish Audio

Mike Irish Transcript

 

 

J

 

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Denby Fawcett and Bob Jones

Bob Jones and Denby Fawcett*

*Audio not available

Bob Jones and Denby Fawcett Transcript

 

 

K

 

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Ku

Kū Kahakalau

Kū Kahakalau Audio

Kū Kahakalau Transcript

 

 

Kawika Kahiapo

Kawika Kahiapo

Kawika Kahiapo Audio

Kawika Kahiapo Transcript

 

 

Clarence Boogie

Clarence “Boogie” Kahilihiwa

Clarence “Boogie” Kahilihiwa Audio

Clarence “Boogie” Kahilihiwa Transcript

 

 

Kalama

Corbett Kalama

Corbett Kalama Audio

Clarence “Corbett Kalama Transcript

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX: Mick Kalber

Mick Kalber

Mick Kalber Audio

Mick Kalber Transcript

 

 

Kalekini

Danny Kaleikini

Danny Kaleikini Audio Pt. 1: The Early Years

Danny Kaleikini Audio Pt. 2: Ambassador of Aloha

Danny Kaleikini Transcript Pt. 1: The Early Years

Danny Kaleikini Transcript Pt. 2: Ambassador of Aloha

 

 

Amy Kalili

Amy Kalili

Amy Kalili Audio

Amy Kalili Transcript

 

 

Kamae

Eddie and Myrna Kamae

Eddie and Myrna Kamae Audio

Eddie and Myrna Kamae Transcript

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX: Sam Kamaka Jr. and Fred Kamaka Sr.

Sam Kamaka Jr. and Fred Kamaka Sr.

Sam Kamaka Jr. and Fred Kamaka Sr. Audio

Sam Kamaka Jr. and Fred Kamaka Sr. Transcript

 

 

Shim Kanazawa

Shim Kanazawa*

*Audio not available

Shim Kanazawa Transcript

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX: Guest James Kauahikaua

James Kauahikaua*

 

James Kauahikaua* Transcript

 

 

Sabra Kauka

Sabra Kauka*

Sabra Kauka Audio

Sabra Kauka* Transcript

 

 

Kaulukukui

Thomas Kaulukukui Jr.

Thomas Kaulukukui Jr. Audio Pt. 1: Legacy of Public Service

Thomas Kaulukukui Jr. Audio Pt. 2: On Leadership

Thomas Kaulukukui Jr. Transcript Pt. 1: Legacy of Public Service

Thomas Kaulukukui Jr. Transcript Pt. 2: On Leadership

 

 

Kawakami

Barbara Kawakami

Barbara Kawakami Audio

Barbara Kawakami Transcript

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX: Guy Kawasaki

Guy Kawasaki

Guy Kawasaki Audio

Guy Kawasaki Transcript

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX: Sarah Keahi

Sarah Keahi

Sarah Keahi Audio

Sarah Keahi Transcript

 

 

Kealoha

Kealoha

Kealoha Audio

Kealoha Transcript

 

 

Keaulana

Brian Keaulana

*Audio not available

Brian Keaulana Transcript

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX: Kent Keith

Kent Keith

Kent Keith Audio

Kent Keith Transcript

 

 

Keller

Nora Okja Keller

Nora Okja Keller Audio

Nora Okja Keller Transcript

 

 

Kelsey

Quinn Kelsey

Quinn Kelsey Audio

Quinn Kelsey Transcript

 

 

Kim

Harry Kim

Harry Kim Audio

Harry Kim Transcript

 

 

Larry Lindsey Kimura

Larry Lindsey Kimura*

Larry Lindsey Kimura Audio

Larry Lindsey Kimura Transcript

 

 

King

Samuel P. King

Samuel P. King Audio

Samuel P. King Transcript

 

 

Knapp

Terence Knapp

Terence Knapp Audio

Terence Knapp Transcript

 

 

Victoria Kneubuhl

Victoria Kneubuhl

Victoria Kneubuhl Audio

Victoria Kneubuhl Transcript

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX: Nanci Kreidman

Nanci Kreidman

Nanci Kreidman Audio

Nanci Kreidman Transcript

 

 

Ku'uipo Kamakahi

Ku’uipo Kumukahi*

*Audio not available

Ku’uipo Kumukahi Transcript

 

 

Kurisu

Derek Kurisu

*Audio not available

Derek Kurisu Transcript

 

 

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Kitty Lagareta

Kitty Lagareta*

Kitty Lagareta Audio

Kitty Lagareta Transcript

 

 

Olin Lagon

Olin Lagon*

*Audio not available

Olin Lagon Transcript

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX: Jimmy Lee

Jimmy Lee

Jimmy Lee Audio

Jimmy Lee Transcript

 

 

Lee

Juliet Lee

Juliet Lee Audio

Juliet Lee Transcript

 

 

Lessons on Leadership

Lessons on Leadership Audio

Lessons on Leadership Transcript

 

 

Sam Low

Sam Low: A Hawaiian Yankee*

Sam Low: Raising Islands*

Sam Low Audio Pt. 1: A Hawaiian Yankee

Sam Low Audio Pt. 2: Raising Islands

Sam Low Transcript Pt. 1: A Hawaiian Yankee

Sam Low Transcript Pt. 2: Raising Islands

 

Patti Lyons

Patti Lyons

Patti Lyons Audio

Patti Lyons Transcript

 

 

M

 

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Makia Malo

Makia Malo Audio

Makia Malo Transcript

 

 

Kepa Maly*

*Audio not available

Kepa Maly Transcript Pt. 1: Lanai and the Spirit of Place

Kepa Maly Transcript Pt. 2: A Sense of Connection

 

 

Daniel Martinez

Daniel Martinez*

Daniel Martinez Audio

Daniel Martinez Transcript

 

 

Victor Marx*

Victor Marx Audio

Victor Marx Transcript

 

 

Coralie Matayoshi

Coralie Matayoshi*

Coralie Matayoshi Audio

Coralie Matayoshi Transcript

 

 

Colbert Matsumoto*

Colbert Matsumoto Audio

Colbert Matsumoto Transcript

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX Guest Kevin Matsunaga

Kevin Matsunaga*

Kevin Matsunaga Audio

Kevin Matsunaga Transcript

 

 

Linda Coble and Kirk Mathews

Kirk Matthews & Linda Coble*

*Audio not available

Kirk Matthews & Linda Coble Transcript

 

 

The Maunakea-Forths

The Maunakea-Forths Audio

The Maunakea-Forths Transcript

 

 

McKinney

Chris McKinney

Chris McKinney Audio

Chris McKinney Transcript

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX: Guest Glenn Medeiros

Glenn Medeiros*

Glenn Medeiros Audio

Glenn Medeiros Transcript

 

 

Peter Merriman

Peter Merriman*

Peter Merriman Audio

Peter Merriman Transcript

 

 

Merwin

W.S. Merwin

W.S. Merwin Audio

W.S. Merwin Transcript

 

 

Maile Meyer

Maile Meyer

Maile Meyer Audio

Maile Meyer Transcript

 

 

Marie Milks

Marie Milks Audio

Marie Milks Transcript

 

 

Tom Moffatt

Tom Moffatt*

Tom Moffatt Audio Pt. 1: The Making of a Showman

Tom Moffatt Audio Pt. 2: A Life of Entertainment

Tom Moffatt Transcript Pt. 1: The Making of a Showman

Tom Moffatt Transcript Pt. 2: A Life of Entertainment

 

Susan Moore

Susanna Moore*

*Audio not available

Susanna Moore Transcript

 

 

N

 

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Nahulu

Nola Nahulu

Nola Nahulu Audio

Nola Nahulu Transcript

 

 

Namba

Anne Namba

Anne Namba Audio

Anne Namba Transcript

 

 

Napoleon

Nanette Napoleon*

Nanette Napoleon Audio

Nanette Napoleon Transcript

 

 

Nishimoto

Warren Nishimoto*

*Audio not available

Warren Nishimoto Transcript

 

 

Puakea Nogelmeier

Puakea Nogelmeier Audio Pt. 1: Advocating and Promoting Hawaiian Language

Puakea Nogelmeier Audio Pt. 2: A Puakea Nogelmeier on the Hawaiian Language

Puakea Nogelmeier Transcript Pt. 1: Advocating and Promoting Hawaiian Language

Puakea Nogelmeier Transcript Pt. 2: Puakea Nogelmeier on the Hawaiian Language

 


Keone Nunes

Keone Nunes

Keone Nunes Audio

Keone Nunes Transcript

 

 

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P

 

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Frank Padgett

Frank Padgett

Frank Padgett Audio

Frank Padgett Transcript

 

 

Norbert Palea

Norbert Palea Audio

Norbert Palea Transcript

 

 

Parsons

Richard Parsons

Richard Parsons Audio

Richard Parsons Transcript

 

 

Paty

Bill Paty

Bill Paty Audio

Bill Paty Transcript

 

 

Payne

Catherine Payne

Catherine Payne Audio

Catherine Payne Transcript

 

 

Ginny Pressler

Dr. Ginny Pressler*

*Audio not available

Dr. Ginny Pressler Transcript

 

 

Sean Priester

Sean Priester

Sean Priester Audio

Sean Priester Transcript

 

 

Q

 

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R

 

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Karen Radius

Karen Radius Audio

Karen Radius Transcript

 

 

John Rampage

John Rampage

John Rampage Audio

John Rampage Transcript

 

 

Rapozo

Wayne Rapozo

*Audio not available

Wayne Rapozo Transcript

 

 

Rego

Neva Rego

Neva Rego Audio

Neva Rego Transcript

 

 

Keali’i Reichel

Keali’i Reichel Audio

Keali’i Reichel Transcript

 

 

Benny Rietveld

Benny Rietveld Audio

Benny Rietveld Transcript

 

 

Rice

Joe Rice*

Joe Rice Audio

Joe Rice Transcript

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX: Monty Richards

Monty Richards

Monty Richards Audio

Monty Richards Transcript

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX: Sarah Richards

Sarah Richards

Sarah Richards Audio

Sarah Richards Transcript

 

 

Richardson

William S. Richardson

William S. Richardson Audio

William S. Richardson Transcript

 

 

Henk Rogers

Henk Rogers

Henk Rogers Audio

Henk Rogers Transcript

 

 

 

Crystal Rose

Crystal Rose

Crystal Rose Audio

Crystal Rose Transcript

 

 

Skylark Rossetti

Skylark Rossetti Audio

Skylark Rossetti Transcript

 

 

S

 

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Marlene Sai

Marlene Sai Audio

Marlene Sai Transcript

 

 

Saiki

Pat Saiki

Pat Saiki Audio

Pat Saiki Transcript

 

 

Roy Sakuma

Roy Sakuma

Roy Sakuma Audio

Roy Sakuma Transcript

 

 

Sanga

Ty Sanga

Ty Sanga Audio

Ty Sanga Transcript

 

 

Scott

James Scott

James Scott Audio Pt. 1

James Scott Audio Pt. 2

James Scott Transcript Pt. 1

James Scott Transcript Pt. 2

 

Susan Scott

Susan Scott

Susan Scott Audio

Susan Scott Transcript

 

 

Bob Sevey

Bob Sevey

Bob Sevey Audio Pt. 1

Bob Sevey Audio Pt. 2

Bob Sevey Transcript Pt. 1

Bob Sevey Transcript Pt. 2

 

Hedda Sharapan

Hedda Sharapan*

*Audio not available

Hedda Sharapan Transcript

 

 

Pono Shim

Pono Shim*

Pono Shim Audio Pt. 1: Through a Child’s Eyes

Pono Shim Audio Pt. 2: ALOHA Moments

Pono Shim Transcript Pt. 1: Through a Child’s Eyes

Pono Shim Transcript Pt. 2: ALOHA Moments

 

Jake Shimabukuro

Jake Shimabukuro*

*Audio not available

Jake Shimabukuro Transcript

 

 

Ari Southiphong

Ari Southiphong (Andy South)*

*Audio not available

Ari Southiphong (Andy South) Transcript Pt. 1

Ari Southiphong (Andy South) Transcript Pt. 2

 

 

Arc

Sr. Joan of Arc Souza

Sr. Joan of Arc Souza Audio

Sr. Joan of Arc Souza Transcript

 

 

Souza

Mihana Souza

Mihana Souza Audio

Mihana Souza Transcript

 

 

Stacy Sproat-Beck

Stacy Sproat-Beck Audio

Stacy Sproat-Beck Transcript

 

 

Candy Suiso

Candy Suiso

Candy Suiso Audio

Candy Suiso Transcript

 

 

Aung San Suu Kyi*

*Audio not available

Aung San Suu Kyi Transcript

 

 

T

 

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Kelvin Taketa

Kelvin Taketa Audio

Kelvin Taketa Transcript

 

 

Ramsay Taum

Ramsay Taum

Ramsay Taum Audio

Ramsay Taum Transcript

 

 

Cha Thompson

Cha Thompson Audio

Cha Thompson Transcript

 

 

 

Nainoa Thompson

Nainoa Thompson*

Nainoa Thompson Audio

Nainoa Thompson Transcript

 

 

Tin Myaing Thein*

*Audio not available

Tin Myaing Thein Transcript

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX: Michael Titterton

Michael Titterton*

Michael Titterton Audio

Michael Titterton Transcript

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX, Monica Toguchi

Monica Toguchi

Monica Toguchi Audio

Monica Toguchi Transcript

 

 

Tseng

Rose Tseng

Rose Tseng Audio

Rose Tseng Transcript

 

 

Tseu

Lawrence Tseu

Lawrence Tseu Audio

Lawrence Tseu Transcript

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX: Harry Tsuchidana

Harry Tsuchidana*

Harry Tsuchidana Audio

Harry Tsuchidana Transcript

 

 

Leslie and Desmond Tutu

Archbishop Desmond Tutu*

*Audio not available

Archbishop Desmond Tutu Transcript

 

 

U

 

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Kent Untermann

Kent Untermann Audio

Kent Untermann Transcript

 

 

V

 

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Emma Veary

Emma Veary Audio Pt. 1: Hawaii’s Elegant Musical Treasure

Emma Veary Audio Pt. 2

Emma Veary Transcript: Hawaii’s Elegant Musical Treasure

 

 

 

Nick Vujicic

Nick Vujicic

Nick Vujicic Audio

Nick Vujicic Transcript

 

 

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Meli Watanuki

Meli Watanuki Audio

Meli Watanuki Transcript

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT - Kimi Werner: Shaped by the Sea

Kimi Werner: Shaped by the Sea

Kimi Werner: Shaped by the Sea Audio

Kimi Werner: Shaped by the Sea Transcript

 



LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX: Kimi Werner - Life in the Deep

Kimi Werner: Life in the Deep

Kimi Werner: Life in the Deep Audio

Kimi Werner: Life in the Deep Transcript

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX: Betty White

Betty White

Betty White Audio

Betty White Transcript

 

 

Chipper and Hau’oli Wichman

Chipper and Hau’oli Wichman Audio

Chipper and Hau’oli Wichman Transcript

 

 

Leona Rocha Wilson

Leona Rocha Wilson Audio

Leona Rocha Wilson Transcript

 

 

Alvin Wong

Alvin Wong

Alvin Wong Audio

Alvin Wong Transcript

 

 

Wong Hadar

Jasper Wong and Kamea Hadar*

*Audio not available

Jasper Wong and Kamea Hadar Transcript

 

 

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Y

 

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Susan Yamada

Susan Yamada

Susan Yamada Audio

Susan Yamada Transcript

 

 

Takeshi “Tak” Yoshihara*

Takeshi “Tak” Yoshihara Audio Pt. 1: A Quiet Struggle

Takeshi “Tak” Yoshihara Audio Pt. 2: An Historic Journey

Takeshi “Tak” Yoshihara Transcript Pt. 1: A Quiet Struggle

Takeshi “Tak” Yoshihara Transcript Pt. 2: An Historic Journey

 

 

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Zig Zane

Sig Zane

Sig Zane Audio

Sig Zane Transcript

 

 

 

 

 

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