coach

HIKI NŌ
Hawaiian Value: Ha’aha’a

 

This episode is the third in a series of six shows in which each episode focuses on a specific Hawaiian value. The Hawaiian value for this show is ha’aha’a, which means humbleness and humility. Each of the following stories reflects this theme:

 

The top story comes from the students at Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School on Kauai. They feature a Kauai resident named Moses Hamilton who learned humbleness and humility when he had to start all over again after a tragic car accident that left him a quadraplegic. While undergoing re-hab, Moses took up mouth painting (painting by holding and manipulating the paint brush in one’s mouth), and is a now a successful artist who sells his paintings at a shopping mall in Hanalei, Kauai.

 

Also featured are student-created stories from the following schools:

 

Ka Waihona o Ka Naauao (Oahu): Uncle George, a native Hawaiian stand-up paddle board instructor in West Oahu, exemplifies humbleness by giving away something of great value – paddle board lessons – for free.

 

Roosevelt High School (Oahu): A Roosevelt High School student uses his experience growing up in poverty-stricken countries to instill a sense of humility in his fellow students.

 

Lahaina Intermediate School (Maui): A retiree-turned-elementary-school crossing guard proves that a humbleness of spirit comes in handy when dedicating your life to the safety of young children in your community.

 

Mililani Middle School (Oahu): After years in the spotlight as star quarterback for the UH football team, Garrett Gabriel choses the much more humble profession of counseling.

 

Iolani School (Oahu): The value of ha’aha’a, or humbleness, teaches us that we are neither indestructible nor immortal. This realization may have saved the life of a coach at Iolani School.
Waianae High School (Oahu): This story explores how a family in West Oahu deals with a very humbling experience: the onset of dementia in the family matriarch.

 

This episode is hosted by Aiea High School in Honolulu.

 

This program encores Saturday, Aug. 20 at 12:00 pm and Sunday, Aug. 21 at 3:00 pm. You can also view HIKI NŌ episodes on our website, PBSHawaii.org/hikino.

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Skippa Diaz

 

Original air date: Tues., Nov. 2008

 

Legendary Farrington High Football Coach

 

PBS Hawaii honors legendary Farrington High School football coach Skippa Diaz, who passed away on August 30, 2014.

 

In this episode recorded in November 2008, Leslie Wilcox talks story with Skippa about relocating to Wisconsin to help care for his in-laws; his philosophy on football and life; the importance of education; and much more.

 

Skippa Diaz Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

Skippa Diaz is a big guy with a big heart who has had a big influence on the students he taught and the athletes he coached. He’s best known as the head football coach at Farrington High School for two decades, starting in the 1980s. Many who avidly followed his career are unaware that Skippa and his wife Mary spent more than four years caring for family members in Wisconsin. We caught up with Coach Skippa Diaz during a visit back to the islands.

 

Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, produced with Sony technology, is Hawaii’s first weekly television program produced and broadcast in HD, high definition. It’s in Sony’s DNA.

 

Aloha no. I’m Leslie Wilcox of PBS Hawaii. Mahalo for joining me for another Long Story Short. Before Skippa Diaz coached football, he played football at Farrington High School in Kalihi, where he was an all-star lineman, and Oregon State University, where he earned all-conference honors, and even played for professionally in the Canadian football league. But as a boy, Skippa Diaz was too big to play football.

 

You were a big guy, even when you were a little kid; right?

 

Right. Oh, I was a bambula. Yeah. I mean, I was such a bambula that I loved to play sports, particularly football, but unorganized. When it became organized, they put weight limit on you. [CHUCKLE]

 

So how big were you?

 

I was bigger than the average bear. [CHUCKLE]

 

I heard you were two hundred pounds in third grade.

 

Yeah. [INDISTINCT] say about that. But you could be a hundred pounds [CHUCKLE] to play football, and I was a hundred eighty, two hundred. And so, I never got to play football when I was eight through when I was fourteen.

 

What’d you do instead?

 

I ended up doing a sport where they didn’t weigh me; I went swimming, and I swam at Palama Settlement. Jeff Yamashita, Lincoln, and several of the other guys, Larry Oshiro; they’re all from Palama Settlement. And I tell you, the guys that were around … you know, when we were young, we were looked at and said, No, he ain’t gonna make it. You know. But lo and behold, majority of them came out preachers, policemen, firemen. They were hardworking people. And ministers come up from the group that I was around. And it was affected by the people who were at Palama Settlement, or at the various schools that we went to. They helped mold us. And even my parents at home. So, education was always a major aspect for me, and I’m glad I did get into that area. Because it allowed me to do stuff with kids, and affect their lives somehow during their lifetime.

 

I would think that a big guy wouldn’t be that fast in the water, but I’m told you were fast.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

You were a competitive swimmer.

 

Well, I did okay.

 

Butterfly?

 

Fly was my stroke. But I liked the I.M. the individual medley, too. See, there’s two kinds of swimmers. There’s sinkers, and there’s floaters. I was a floater. And it’s easy, you know. When you’re buoyant, you stay on top of the water. When you’re a sinker, three-quarters, you gotta almost swim straight up to stay above the water. And I think I allowed that to make me do what I was doing.

 

Bill Smith, the world champion swimmer; he said that if you kept at it, you could have been an Olympic prospect.

 

Him and I were of the same mold, but yes, he said that. I don’t know. You never know, when you start a new track, you know. When I was fourteen, fifteen, I finished swimming and I went with football and track, because I think it was more popular at the time.

 

You know, some of the guys who go back a long time with you said … you know, I was asking, Why has Skippa been so effective with players and with young people? And they said, That’s because he came up the hard way. So, my question to you is, how tough is the hard way?

 

Well, low income, you know, and I had seven sisters and brothers, and Mama had hanai’d about another seven of us.

 

Living in Mayor Wright Housing?

 

Mayor Wright Housing; right.

 

How big was your place, with fourteen kids?

 

Was three in a bed and two in a bed. [CHUCKLE] Was a lot. And over the years, when one went, then another one came in. Mom took care of a lot of kids, besides us.

 

What did your dad do?

 

Dad worked at Pearl Harbor. He was working on the boats. And then, when he had his heart attack, he couldn’t work anymore, so he spent a lot of time going to the library. And I was the book carrier. The guy was a tremendous reader. He could read almost a book a day. I mean, those fat ones, too. But I was the guy who had to carry all those books from Mayor Wright, down Kukui Street to get to the library. And then, he ordered another one, and I’d pick ‘em up and go back. I was the carrier for that.

 

Did you mind doing that for him?

 

No, no; I didn’t. ‘Cause I found a lot of good solace in the library. Lot of different stuff; I got to reading a lot of things. I think that’s one of the reasons I became a history teacher, because of the amount of reading I did with Dad.

 

When your mom kept bringing more kids in the house, did you ever think, Oh, what about me, Mom?

 

A few times.

 

Or, how small is the dinner gonna be tonight? Did you ever have those thoughts?

 

Oh, yeah; indubitably. But somewhere, somehow, she managed to spread it all around, and everybody had something to eat. And I did a lot of different kinds of things. I shined shoes, and I helped wash cars, and stuff like that.

 

Did you keep the money, or did you give it to your family?

 

All went to Mom; all went to Mom. Everything went to Mom. I felt like I was contributing to the family that way.

 

Well, when you have a lot of kids, she has less time to divide up; right?

 

Oh, yeah; yeah, yeah, yeah.

 

So, you probably could get into some big trouble on your own.

 

Yes; yes. A person could do that real easily. And I got on the outskirts of that area, but I didn’t think I was getting into that kind of trouble. Mom and Dad were always very educationally inclined. They felt that we needed to go to school, and my aunts and uncles steered me in the right direction. I had coaches, and I had teachers that straightened me out. I had a principal at Central Intermediate, Mr. Manual Kwon. Oh, jeez; he let me know which way to go in the door and go out the door. And he got it across to me in no uncertain terms. I sort of liked that. I liked when somebody put a line down and said, Hey, you do this or you do that. And it’s nice; life is good when you have things that you know you gotta do, and then you do it.

 

It’s structure.

 

Structured; yes.

 

And that’s how you coach too; right?

 

I coach that way, too. You know, with the upbringing from my family, my sisters, as well as Mom and Dad, I made education the top of the rung. You do that first. If you come play here for us, you get your grades squared away, you make sure that you kiss Mama and Daddy every morning. You know, I required that. Sing the alma before and after practice, every practice. Before you know it, they get out on the field, and they’re doing stuff, besides themselves, for somebody else. And you get good results when you get a kid to take in those terms to go ahead and do it because of Mom, do it because of my friends. You got somebody pushing you to do something right, like Tom Kiyosaki, or Mr. Shigemi at Likelike Elementary, and demand that, and you know, you end up doing it. Mrs. Chun, sixth grade, Likelike Elementary; she was beautiful lady, but she put the law down, and I followed the law. If I did something wrong at school, when I went home, my mom and dad just chastised me for not being a good guy. So, I got my upcomings because of my family and the people in the community, and you know, that’s what made me do what I did. Go to college, play some sports, get an education, come back home. And my dream job was Farrington High School.

 

You went to OSU?

 

I went to Oregon State University.

 

And you know, my daughter went there, and so, I’ve traveled there in the last ten years. And today, it still is a very white bread university. How did you do over there? Did you feel at home?

 

Oh, yeah. Yeah. Well, there was a large community of local kids.

 

There’s a Hawaii Club, in fact; right?

 

Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. All up and down the coast. Oregon competes with Oregon State for the luaus, who’ll do a better luau. But we had a lot of kids that you could fall back on when you get lonesome for home. And Rockne Freitas and I were going to school together at the time. And then, we had all the other kids that we knew from Maui, from Molokai, that was going school over there. Made it easier for us to make that transition.

 

Throughout his life, Skippa Diaz has navigated some pretty big transitions. After earning bachelors and masters degrees in education from Oregon State University, Skippa returned to Hawaii. He taught and coached at Washington Intermediate, and at Kalani, Waialua, Mililani, and Farrington High Schools. Skippa’s wife Mary, also a lifelong educator, was vice principal at Waialua High and Intermediate, and at Roosevelt High School. In 1995, a major health crisis gave the two of them a wake-up call, so to speak.

 

You’re a big guy, but you used to be a bigger guy.

 

Yeah.

 

In physical stature.

 

Yeah; yes.

 

What happened?

 

Well, I just ate too much, and I had a condition called sleep apnea. And I didn’t realize I had that. I just thought I was … I thought I was sleeping at night, but I get up in the morning, and I was tired. And this went over about a six, seven-year period. And ended up, I had not a heart attack, but congestive heart failure.

 

Because of lack of oxygen?

 

Because of lack of oxygen. And the way I got that one was, when you get sleep apnea, your air passage closes up. And when it does, you ain’t got no air coming in. And I took a sleep study after I got into the hospital. They took me to Kuakini Hospital to give me a sleep study, and what I found out was, when I’m sleeping—they have this thing called episode. It’s a period of time when you don’t take in oxygen at all. And usually, the episodes range from twenty to maybe sixty times at night that you stop breathing. And I think when I was there, I had thirty-seven times when I stopped breathing for almost two minutes per episode.

 

It’s a life-threatening problem.

 

Oh, all the way; all the way. See, oxygen gotta go all through your body so you can function well. And the darn thing was breaking down in my liver and my lungs, and all of that.

 

And you were toughing it out, thinking, I don’t feel so good.

 

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

 

But I’m going to work.

 

I going, I going. I going do ‘em, I going do ‘em. But I was at a meeting one day, and George Kamau was our trainer. And he looked at me and he says, Hey, something wrong with you. He took me in his truck and took me down to the hospital, and they diagnosed me and said, Hey, this is what you got, man.

 

And they told your wife.

 

Told my wife; yeah.

 

Almost make-die-dead.

 

Yeah, yeah, yeah. He almost passed. But somehow, you know, they helped me; it’s possible for me to stay alive. And that was in 1995.

 

Did you feel like you were …

 

Oh, I …

 

I mean, you must have been getting so little oxygen and feeling so exhausted.

 

Oh, yeah.

 

And then carrying this weight around.

 

Oh, yeah. That was big-time scary. [CHUCKLE]

 

In fact, I don’t know if they gave you that great a chance.

 

No, no. They thought it would be, you know, this guy; better bring the priest in.

 

Yeah.

 

But somehow, it didn’t occur. I don’t if the Lord said, Hey, wait. [CHUCKLE] Thank you, thank you.

 

What has changed, then? You’ve lost weight. That’s been the plan, right, to lose weight?

 

Yeah, yeah, yeah; yeah, yeah. And maintain one good healthy lifestyle. And for me and the wife, we’ve retained, at least for the last four years that I’ve been away from home, we made it a point to swim a minimum of three times a week. And that really helped.

 

How are you getting the oxygen you need?

 

With sleep apnea, what they do, they give you a—certain ways that they can do it. Mine was, I have a machine called a CPAP machine. CPAP; acronym for continuous positive air pressure. And it’s like a machine that’s operation reverse of a vacuum cleaner. Instead of sucking the air in, it blows the air out, and it’s a box about this big. And it has a flexible hose, and then some Velcro to wrap around your forehead. And then, you have what I call the opihi. Now, I promote that to anybody I know who has sleep apnea, or they snore a lot. That’s a big sign. I tell them, Hey, go get one sleep study, and if the stuff is at the level it is, go use the CPAP machine.

 

Some people who die, quote, in their sleep; that’s sleep apnea.

 

Yeah; it’s sleep apnea. It’s doing that. And it’s really something that can be avoided.

 

By 2004, Skippa Diaz was helping to lead the City’s Parks Department, when another health concern led to another major transition for him and Mary. Not his own health, but that of Mary’s parents and Mary’s disabled brother Butchie. Coincidentally, Skippa had a brother-in-law and a brother named Butchie. This transition took the couple to Wisconsin for more than four years.

 

My wife found out while we here that Mom, Dad, and Butchie were going to be put in a home, because Mom and Dad couldn’t take care of Butchie.

 

They were in their nineties.

 

They were in their nineties; yes. Mom was ninety-four, and Dad was ninety-five. And my wife told me, You stay here, because I had a pretty decent job with the City and County.

 

Deputy Director of Parks.

 

Right, right, right. And she said, she’s gonna go up there and take care all three of them. And it took me a month, and I said, Timeout, I cannot do this, I gotta be with my woman. And I said, I’m going up, too. So, I retired, and then I went up. And jeez, I had a good job. But then, I found out that I don’t care what job you got, if the person you love with all your life is not with you, it’s a miserable life. So, I went up there.

 

Had she already gone when you figured that out?

 

Well, you know, she was always with me, so I figured, I can handle. Mm-mm. I couldn’t handle. [CHUCKLE] So, I went up there. And then, that’s when I just had a tremendous revelation that, you know, when you take care the people you care for, when they need the help, there is gonna be reward. Not financial, but you know, your brain going stay right, you’re gonna be able to go to sleep real easy, you know, when that’s finished. But the journey took four years, four and a half years, but it’s just something you do. And I feel real good that I went and did that.

 

And it wasn’t a hobby. It was a fulltime, twenty-four/seven commitment.

 

Twenty-four/seven; yeah. That’s what it is. And it was my wife, too. At first, she was taking care of three. You know, just to take care of one, twenty-four/seven, is a mean chore. You put two, or three. Oh. So, you know, I had Butchie twenty-four/seven. Mary was taking care of Mom, and then we both could take care of Dad because he was just using the two canes. He went from the two canes to the walker, from the walker to the wheelchair. And same thing with Mom. You could see, you know, in the tail end of their lives, they have certain things they’re gonna do, and that digression is gonna end up with them leaving you. But, whoo; couldn’t beat it.

 

Yeah.

 

All the money in the world ain’t gonna make me want to do something other than what I did these past four years.

 

There’s this great picture of you and Butchie.

 

Oh. Yeah, yeah. This one has always … [CHUCKLE] this guy, he used to smile, and he used to tap me on my shoulder when I was going too fast. You know, I’d be swimming in there with him. Yeah; this guy was … he was just the apple of my eye.

 

Downs Syndrome, autism.

 

Yes.

 

He was in a wheelchair.

 

He broke his hip, and he was just confined to a wheelchair.

 

I notice you never say brother-in-law. He’s your brother.

 

He’s my brother. From the day I saw him, I said, I get two brother Butchies. Was really a great feeling to have both of them. But this one here, he was something else. Dad was something else, too. The guy was ninety-nine years old, and he could remember stuff. I mean, I’m sixty-three, sixty-four; I’m forgetting stuff. And the guy was ninety-nine, and we’re talking about a certain person. I don’t know the guy’s name; boom, he remembers the name. We’re playing cards, and he tells me what my score is. And I said, I got this much. We’re playing cribbage. He says, No, you got two more points. I go, Ah.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

And he’s correct. And he’s ninety-nine years old; he was just superb. When he got sick, you know, hard to slow down the movement of that. But he was a darling. He was one father.

 

You know, sounds like you live your life so that you don’t have regrets.

 

Oh, yeah. Yeah. You going get small stuff in the way, but you gotta put your heart in one position, and find out where that bugga aiming, and you go that way. And it comes out pretty good.

 

And your heart’s always right?

 

So far; so far. With my wife, with these guys, yeah. With my family, yeah.

 

Do you think after being married for decades already, you got to know her better then?

 

Oh; yeah, yeah. That’s the part that came full circle. I says, Hey, this is the right one, I got. You know? I don’t know if she’s saying that about me, but [CHUCKLE] as far as that is concerned, it’s really something. Boy, if I had to pick a thing I did that was pretty good, it was that. To be with my wife from now until whenever. I’m totally involved in what she does, and know she is in mine. From day one.

 

It seems that Skippa Diaz takes pride in everything he does. Whether it’s caring for family, or molding young people, or competing in athletics, he puts his whole heart into it. His warmth and energy can light up a room and deeply touch people. Evidence of that? Half a dozen teachers at Farrington now were his students, practically the entire coaching staff for his football team played for him. And his secret? He’s got heart.

 

I developed an acronym; and the acronym was spelled HEART, H-E-A-R-T. H refers to humility, the ability to listen to another person and bite your tongue if he’s saying something that’s different than what you want. But being humble is a quality that is really, really sought after for a lot of people, but never acquired. But humility is a good one. E, education. That one was very, very significant in my family’s upbringing. A, attitude. A positive attitude, making sure that whatever the goal, or whatever the project, you set yourself out to be positive and get the darn thing done. R, responsibility. You gotta be responsible for all the things that you do, and sometimes for the things that your friends and your loved ones are doing. But being responsible in that manner has some beautiful connotations that grow from it. And the, T, of course, stands for team, team sports. So, I always tried to slip those five things in on the kids in conversations and developments, and it helped; it helped. And I always wanted to try to emulate Lorin Gill King. I don’t know if that many guys know him now, but he was one of my favorites. And like Tom Kiyosaki, all these guys, they gave me the juice to go ahead and try to do something good. And if you can do it for a person, that’s pretty neat. And the kids, you know, when I walk down anywhere in the community, and I hear that word Coach, I think that’s better than Skippa. And it’s really like one parent would feel, the goodness, because of what the kid is doing. I just pop my buttons all the time. Right at Farrington High School right now, I got about six kids that played for me, that are teachers over there. Now, what better thing that you can see than a kid make the circle and follow you down the road? And it’s nice to see that stuff happening by people that I worked with and coached. That’s good stuff.

 

And all of his athletes remember his crushing handshake at their first meeting, letting them know in a friendly way from the get-go, he’s nobody to trifle to with. Skippa Diaz came up the hard way, and came out on top, using strength of heart and strength of mind to inspire others all along the way. The latest move for Skippa and Mary; transitioning back to Hawaii after caring for their ohana on the mainland. I’m so glad Coach Skippa Diaz stopped by PBS Hawaii to join us for this Long Story Short. Mahalo piha, Coach. I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou kakou.

 

Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is produced in HD by PBS Hawaii with Sony technology. High definition; it’s in Sony’s DNA.

 

So, the people in Wisconsin call you Skipper.

 

Yes.

 

And do you forget sometimes and say, Oh, are you pau?

 

Yeah; oh, yeah. When I start talking fast, my friend up there, all the guys up there, they say, What language are you speaking? But they know pau, or we go. We go; you know. Ainokea. [CHUCKLE] They pick up on that. But good people in Wisconsin. At least the area I came from, you know, they’re always watching you, but they know you. Oh, boy; they’re just like Hawaiians, but speaking English. They’re real good people.

 

What do they call the aloha spirit in Wisconsin?

 

The Wisconsin spirit. They call it that. That’s what they do.

 

They really do?

 

Oh, yeah, yeah.

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Victor Marx


 

As a young boy growing up in Lafayette, Louisiana, Victor Marx was beaten, electrocuted, and tortured by his stepfather. By the time he graduated from high school, he was “using drugs, fighting and stealing.” It took the discipline of the United States Marine Corps and faith in God to help him recover from his traumatic childhood. Today, Victor Marx dedicates himself to helping troubled and abused youth and traumatized war veterans.

 

Victor Marx Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

You know, most people who are victimized as a young kid will feel an X on them, ‘cause it doesn’t stop. It’s typically not an incident. And for me, the instability of fourteen schools, seventeen different homes, all the different stepfathers coming in. You know, one’s a murdered, one was in prison. I mean, just the craziness of it, you believe, that becomes normal as a kid. Again, you can’t process as right. But for me, I will say this. I never wanted to give up, because I just kept thinking, When I’m older, when I’m older, I’m gonna have a good life.

 

Victor Marx survived the upheaval and abuse he suffered during his youth, growing up to become an excellent shooter in the U.S. Marine Corps, a martial arts master, and a weapons instructor. Now, he uses his lethal skills to heal troubled youth. Victor Marx, 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. Victor Marx is known for many things, including his seventh-degree black belt in Keichu-do karate and Jiu-jitsu, fourth-degree black belt in weapons, and a record time in fastest gun disarm. A resident of California, and the founder and president of All Things Possible Ministries, the Louisiana-born Marx once operated a martial arts business in Honolulu at the Ward Warehouse. At the time of our conversation in 2015, Marx travels around the world, offering hope to young people who are suffering from abuse. Before he was able to become an inspiration to others, though, he had to first recover from the severe trauma of his own childhood. In a way, it started even before he was born, in Lafayette, Louisiana.

 

I was born in the 60s, and I had three siblings already. My mother, who was young, she had her first child at sixteen. Their marriage didn’t make it, and they were divorced when I was born. My father actually became a drug dealer and a pimp. And the night that I was conceived, he actually put a gun to her head. Didn’t claim me when she was pregnant. He actually told her, That ain’t mine. Didn’t call me a kid; he said, That ain’t mine. Because she had gotten into other relationships already. And the next man she married we call Mr. K in the book. You know, this wasn’t like some drug dealer on a street corner. This was an educated man who had served in the military, who had been in counterintelligence.

 

So, he seemed like a respectable man.

 

Correct. And at the time, he actually even owned a bookstore, a college bookstore. Hemmingway was one of his favorite reads. And you know, my mother—I think she was twenty-two at the time, four children. You know, she’s thinking, Ah, okay. But something intuitively knew he was kinda messed up.

 

He was horrifying. He would torture you.

 

Yes. Yeah. Yeah; you know, there was perversion, but there was also intentional, what the experts would say, torture. You know, being electrocuted, being dunked in a tub until I would pass out. I remember waking up on the cold bathroom floor to him breathing into my mouth. And I’m sputtering. And he just said, Boy, don’t ever forget I’m the one that gives you life. And those are what I call lies based on reality. And until you really come to exchange those out for what the truth is, a person will remain really hamstrung by what’s happened in his childhood, ‘cause that’s implanted into you, becomes part of your fabric. ‘Cause as kid, all you can process is … I wasn’t breathing, I am now, he was the one dunking me in the tub, holding me in. I guess he does give me life. Actually, I thought he was my biological dad. I wasn’t told, you know. But I want to share this publicly. He wanted to seal to what he had done to me. And the way of protecting themselves, abusers will always use fear. Fear of death, or whatnot. And he actually had brought me to a house one night out in the country, early morning. It was a little wooden house, and there was single light in it. There was another guy, and there was a hole in the floor. It was wooden floor. And then a hole had been dug. And I thought at that point, This is when I’m gonna die. And you know, fear is a different thing. When you’ve experienced terror for a while, your mind associates. There’s no fight left in you. You just yield. And for him, he was having a conversation with man. And I remember hearing the guy say, I don’t want to do this anymore. And my stepfather was a very good communicator. He made him relax. He said, Oh, I understand. When the guy relaxed, he hit him. He cracked him and knocked him unconscious. And he was a fighter. But when he drops, he handcuffs him and he drags him up to this hole, pulls him up on his knees, handcuffed. And he pulls out a pistol, his pistol. He said, Come here, boy. And then, he put the gun in my hand said, You’re gonna shoot this man. And he raised my hand. And the guy is semi-conscious, and he sees what’s going on. Because I think he thought this was what was gonna happen to me, and now it’s happening to him. And you know, I have the pistol to the back of his head, and I remember trying to pull the trigger, and I couldn’t. And I don’t know if it was the pounds per square inch. You know, I was seven. But I’m squeezing, and I can’t pull it. And I feel his hand come over and grab my wrist, and then his right hand comes around and he slips his finger over mine, and he presses until the revolver goes off. When it fired, it hit the guy in the back of his head, and it killed him. And then, you know, he pushed his body into the hole. And then he told me, Boy, you know, this is your first kill.

 

Wow.

 

And he buried him, and he took that pistol and wrapped it in a handkerchief. And he said, If you ever tell anyone what I’ve done to you, it doesn’t matter how old you get, he said, I’ll tell the police that you killed this man, and I have the pistol with your fingerprint on it. And he said, They’ll electrocute you. And I knew what electrocution was, ‘cause he’d done it a few times. And so, it sealed and instilled in me a fear where I never talked about that ‘til I was an adult.

 

What a horrible thing. And your mother didn’t know this, any of this stuff was happening?

 

She did not know.

 

Victor Marx acknowledges he can’t substantiate this account. He said he as a kid did not know the location, the body was never found, and the crime was not reported. Marx’s mother finally escaped from her marriage to Mr. K, but she continued to marry men who were abusive to her children. By the time he finished high school, Victor Marx had already been in trouble with the law. Rather than go to jail, he made a decision that took his life in an entirely new direction.

 

You didn’t join the Marines ‘cause you wanted to.

 

Well, yeah; it was … again, at that point in my life, I’d just graduated high school. Hallelujah. But I was spiraling, using drugs, fighting, and stealing. And again, for me, stealing was my way to say, This world owes me, and they’re gonna start paying me back. And every opportunity that I could take advantage, I would. But I got caught, and I was looking at being sentenced because of my stealing and getting in trouble. So, my best option at that point was to join the United States Marine Corps. And I did, and that’s what really kept me from going to jail, ‘cause they would have prosecuted me. And the Corps was a very good thing for me, ‘cause, one, it was structured, disciplined, and it showed me that life isn’t about being fair. So just, you know, suck it up, buttercup, and time to do the deal. And it worked for me tremendously. And I really like the Marine Corps. Never loved it, but I liked it. So much, I put ink on my shoulder. And you know what? They were able to teach me skillsets I didn’t have before, which gave me a level of confidence, including starting to train in the martial arts, shooting. You know, I hunted as a little kid, but when they taught me how to put ten rounds into a target of a man from five hundred and forty-six yards without a scope—

 

Wow.

 

–that gave me a skillset that, you know, felt good. And again, there was there, ‘cause you know, I’m training, martial arts, karate, jujitsu, kempo, judo, anything I could, boxing. ‘Cause I said, If I can’t beat a man this way, I’ll beat him this way, ‘cause I never want to get hurt again. So, that was kinda my driver.

 

And you did well. But you didn’t want to stay in; you left after, what, three years?

 

Yeah; I did one term of enlistment. And I had actually got in trouble while I was in, which I was facing, you know, brig time. Again, there was a pattern. ‘Cause you can only do things for so long, but your character and your baby’s gonna tell on you. And I was in trouble, was facing some stuff. And actually, this was when my biological dad came back into my life, which is really the redemptive aspect of this whole deal. You know, really, an absentee father all my life. At that point, I’m twenty. But really engaged me, apologized for not being a father. Which blew me away. He wanted to call me son in a letter, which made me mad, ‘cause I thought, You don’t have a right to call me son. But he told me had a spiritual encounter that really changed his life, and it’s not about perfection, but the direction of his life had changed. So much so that he said, Why don’t you come visit me?   And the Marine Corps actually let me go visit him, ‘cause they knew the circumstances, you know, I’d never known him. And they just said, You come back to face your court martial. I said, Okay. I said, I’ll be back. And I went, and it was interesting getting to really spend time with him in depth.

 

This was the pimp. This was the guy who held a gun to your mother’s head.

 

Yeah; yeah.

 

The guy who wouldn’t claim you.

 

Yeah; by all means, he was a loser. He was a loser as a father, and had justified his own absentee. And so here he is; his life, I can tell is different. And okay, not perfect, but different. He cared about me, and I knew he wanted to make a new start. So, I gave him an opportunity, and it was really through seeing his faith of a life change that, you know, really impacted me so much that I had a life change through faith. And you know, I told him; I said, Well, I’m going back to face court martial. What should I do? And I had developed an elaborate lie—it was a pretty good lie, to try to get me out of it. Which it wouldn’t have, but your mind thinks it will. I’ll never forget; he looked at me and he said, Son … learn from me. Just tell the truth. ‘Cause a lie, you gotta keep it going. And I was like, Okay. I went back, and I actually told them the truth. You know, I didn’t fight it; I said, I’m guilty. You know, I told them; I said, I was gonna lie. You know, I said, but here’s the truth. I did this, this, and I deserve my punishment. And they were actually so taken back, because my nickname, my handle on the Marine Corps was Thumper.

 

‘Cause you were a hothead?

 

I was a hothead. I tell people it was because I like the little Bambi bunny.

 

 

 

You know, in the movie, the little bunny, Thumper. But it’s because I liked to thump people back then. And so, they were all shocked, and I’ll never forget the commanding officer who presided over it, he said, Well, this is a shock. And he goes, You are gonna pay the price for the crime, you’re breaking the code of military justice. He said, But I’m gonna suspend the sentence; you won’t have to do brig time, but I’m keeping you to your barracks. Which was unbelievable. And it really was the first time in my life, first time, that I thought, Telling the truth is a better way to go.

 

And was your dad for real? Had he really had a conversion?

 

He did.

 

He changed?

 

He did. Which, it stuck all the years until his passing. You know, twenty-something years. And again, I’m grateful that coming to faith or you know, finding a higher power, it’s not about perfection. But the direction of your life changes. And you know what? It not only worked for him, it worked for me.

 

Victor Marx’s acceptance of his father didn’t turn his life around immediately. He would still have to come to terms with the trauma of his childhood before he could start to put it behind him. And his newfound faith would play an important role in his healing.

 

I can see you saying, Why did God allow all that to happen to me? Why couldn’t He have kept me from some of it and distribute it equally?

 

Right. You know what? That is such a great question, and one that anybody who’s suffered, it’s an honest question.

 

Right. It’s the old, Why me?, question.

 

Yeah.

 

A variation of.

 

Right. And for me, it came in a dramatic form where, you know … because you know, I’d been to church as kid, and those things. You know, Jesus loves all the little children of the world. And I’m like, Yeah. No, I believed that, ‘cause He’s good, so He loves all the kids, just not me. That’s how you start to process it as a kid, because bad things happen. And I’ll never forget when it changed for me. And it was actually a counseling appointment, as a result of it. This old country boy counselor, boot-wearing Texas guy. And he was just like, Hey. But he had all kinda degrees on his wall, so he knew what he was doing. He just said, Well, you know, where was God in all this? If He’s so loving, and He can stop evil, why did He allow it to happen to you? He said, Why don’t you ask Him? And I remember telling him, You need to shut up. That you need to just stand down; that’s not a question I need to ask God. And he’s like, Why not? Because … and this is real, and it’s deep, but people who’ve been … people who over a lifetime or a number of years have experienced disappointment and failure again, and again, and again, and you assign it to God, you know, Why don’t you give me a better break, why don’t you give me better parents, I mean, I’m stuck in hell, or whatever it is … to ask God that question, for me, I’d rather have a false hope than not have … the right answer, and have my hope dashed forever. And people in their heart know if they’re living off of false hope. Well, He’s—oh, and it’s okay. But the reality is in your heart; you’re just too scared.

 

Well, I can also see you having a really difficult time with this, because if God is your Heavenly Father … you know, the fatherhood record was really bad on this Earth.

 

Exactly. And it is hard not to assign that. I remember when someone first told me, Oh, God is your Heavenly Father. It was so offensive to me. I thought … uh, negative. You’re kidding me? But in my mind, I thought, Well, He must be some sadistic, crazy, unloving God. Maybe somebody else. You know, I’m the stepchild. You know, I’m getting the leftovers. But what changed my life and the lie that I believed is, I finally asked God that question.

 

What were the circumstances of asking Him?

 

I was in a counseling appointment, and I just said, God, where were you? You know, Jesus, if you’re so loving and you love the kids, what about me? Why did you allow it to happen to me? I’ll never forget, I remember my eyes were closed, and I saw the room, a room where a lot of abuse had happened. And I saw it so clearly, and I saw my stepfather, had a beer in his hand, he had a belt wrapped around his hand. He was getting ready to, you know, beat me with it. He had me lay down on the bed in my underwear; he would just—you know. And I saw everything so clearly. And then, I saw what I knew to be an image of Christ, a spiritual being appearing. And I thought, Okay, great; now turn and touch my stepfather’s heart and blow it out, kill him right now. That’s what I wanted, remembering this. But it would have been the truth. It would have been my own fantasy. The reality of what really happened to me was, right before he got ready to hit me, my stepfather is rearing back, I’m grabbing the sheets. ‘Cause the way he would hit you, he would hit you, bam [SLAP], and then he would wait. He’d wait ‘til all your little muscles relaxed from being tense in anticipation, you relax, and boom [SLAP], he’d hit you again. And he’d do it slow, until you gave up, ‘til there was no more fight in you. And right before he hit me, this image of Christ turned, kneeled, and placed his body on top of mine and sunk into mine so that He would take the greatest part of the beating for me, to allow me to survive. And I knew, if that’s a God who loves me and will share my suffering, that’s a God I can trust. I think God’s heart breaks for all the injustices that happen, all the evil. That’s not what He wants; it’s never what He’s assigning to children. You know, it’s the choice of evil people making horrible choices.

 

Victor Marx turned his skill in martial arts into a business, and he started teaching karate. He met Aileen, another believer, and a nationally recognized fitness instructor. She was at the leading edge of fitness kickboxing. And soon, they began working together, opening their own gym after they were married. An invitation from a youth pastor in Honolulu to teach a Christian karate school brought Marx and his growing family to the islands. Despite all the good things happening in his life, he still could not shake the horrors of his past.

 

I like that martial arts, good martial arts, does have a way to teach a person a code of honor, and understand the impact you can make on someone. So, I’ve used it for good. When we had our martial arts center here underneath, you know, the Spaghetti Factory at the Ward Warehouse as one of our locations, we had so many people come in to fight me because I’m this Haole from the mainland, and you know, what are you doing here? And, you know, some things got physical, which changed some people’s minds or hurt some people’s feelings, because they tried to get physical. But I made more friends. You know, I was able to use my words, not necessarily my fists or chokes, or cracking somebody. But it gives you a level of confidence that in a situation. You know, I’m looking at young guy who’s like, Oh, you’re so good. I’m thinking, Oh, my gosh.

 

You sound like you speak Pidgin. You’ve got that inflection.

 

Hey, we were here long enough. My children were raised here, my first three. When we went back to the mainland, I’ll never forget; my son’s out playing in the yard. He comes back, he’s playing with kids there. He goes, Dad; he said, there’s so many White kids here.

 

I said, Come here. I said, You are white. And he’s like, Oh, oh! So, you know, he got his Pidgin, still talks Pidgin. So, I love the islands. I have a little home here. We consider this home. We spent so many years here, through good and bad times.

 

How many years here?

 

We were here ’95 to ’01.

 

And you say some of them weren’t good years?

 

No. I mean, I had challenges emotionally that people didn’t know about.

 

Ah …

 

Right? It was part of my healing. You know, in martial arts, in many ways, I’ve reached the pinnacle. At least for myself. Here in Hawaii, huge student enrollment, you know, large staff. I mean, we were making an impact. ‘Cause after we got over the few things, people realized, Oh, you care about our keiki. And then, training adults. Yeah. And you know, we brought the fitness kickboxing here; it was just great. It was a great time. But I was having emotional problems hidden, and I would never tell anybody. Nobody knew that I was at Queen’s in an observation room, because I had horrible thoughts about hurting myself, or other people. You know. But I chose in that moment to go, I’m so unstable at this moment. You know. We lived at the top of Tantalus, you know, and man, I was having bad thoughts about, Oh, I have a good insurance policy, and I’m causing so much pain for my wife, you know, through my behavior, and all this. I’m like, you know, Maybe I should just end it, let her take the money and go. And I tell people, when someone wants to commit suicide, it’s not always just a rash deal. Sometimes it seems like a logical answer. I tell folks, it’s a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Don’t give up; get help. And I did, particularly that night by driving down, checking myself into Queen’s, and I’m glad I did.

 

So, you’re saying that when you accepted God, accepted Jesus into your life, it wasn’t like it took away all your pain and problems.

 

No. It took away my past sin, because that’s what He promises, to lift the burden; that’s what the scriptures say. But it didn’t take away the challenges I would have because of my past. But the greatest thing is, He promised me He would redeem it. And I love redemption. You know, redemption is when somebody drinks a soda, throws the can side of the road, someone else comes by and says, Eh, this trash to you, but it’s money to me. And that’s what God did for me; He picked me up. He said, Other people consider you trash; I’ll redeem your life, watch what I do. And again, sometimes the greatest faith is just never giving up.

 

Do you have flashbacks?

 

Seldom anymore, because of the counseling and therapy I’ve gone through. But I still feel deeply. And what I’m glad about now is, my suffering has been turned. That purpose; I’ve learned the purpose. There is a purpose in the pain, is to help others who are still suffering, you give them hope. And that’s what I feel like I’m called to do.

 

Through their All Things Possible Ministries, Victor and Aileen Marx have dedicated themselves to advocating for youth who are troubled and abused. They help people, including war veterans who’ve suffered trauma, and they travel around the world to facilitate the rescue of children who’ve been abducted and trafficked. Mahalo to Victor Marx, now of Marietta, California, for sharing your 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.

 

My story is one of redemption. ‘Cause a lot of people experience abuse and injustice in their life, but I’m pretty happy to share. That’s why we do it so much. And actually, I didn’t do it ‘til later in life. I was in my late thirties before I started telling my story.

 

Is that because you didn’t want everyone to know the gory details?

 

Yes. You know, I stayed away from it because, really, in a lot of ways, I hadn’t healed from some of the trauma of the past. So, you use coping mechanisms, whether it’s excelling at a certain thing or staying away from other things so you don’t get triggered, or never wanting to revisit any of that. I kinda used all of ‘em in that way to protect myself. But when I took time and really trusted that the process of going through healing and counseling would make the greater difference in my life, it’s turned out really good, not only for me, but helping others.

 

[END]

 

Dr. Wayne Dyer:
I Can See Clearly Now

 

In the most personal program of his career, Dr. Wayne Dyer offers an intimate conversation about what his own personal experiences have taught him: There are no accidents, and all the choices we make and actions we take weave a life tapestry uniquely our own. Exploring the five principles that have guided his own choices, Dr. Dyer shows why it is important to have – and act on – a burning desire, why life’s lowest moments can reveal our true purpose, and how the principle of love allows us to see our lives more clearly and reach our greatest awareness.

 

INSIGHTS ON PBS HAWAI‘I
How Can We Better Care for People Who Suffer from Serious Mental Illness?


People who suffer from mental illness in Hawai‘i often have difficulty being diagnosed and finding and accepting treatment. Some end up on the streets, exacerbating an already booming homeless population. And Hawai‘i’s only state mental hospital is overcrowded, with some employees saying it’s unsafe for patients and staff. How can we better care for people who suffer from serious mental illness?

 

INSIGHTS ON PBS HAWAI‘I is a live public affairs show that is also live streamed on PBSHawaii.org. Your questions and comments are welcome via phone, email, or Twitter. You may also email your questions ahead of time toinsights@pbshawaii.org.

 

Your questions and comments are welcome via phone, email and via Twitter during the Live Broadcast.

 

Phone Lines:
973-1000 on Oahu or 800-238-4847 on the Neighbor Islands.

 

Email:
insights@pbshawaii.org

 

Twitter:
Join our live discussion using #pbsinsights

 

INSIGHTS ON PBS HAWAI‘I
How Can We Best Help the Homeless?

 

Efforts to deal with Oahu’s homeless population, such as moving them out of parks
and off sidewalks, have only shifted them away from businesses, leading to more
sidewalk tents in Kaka‘ako and Kapalama. Now City Council members want the Mayor
to consider using the former Hilo Hattie site on Nimitz Highway as a homeless shelter.
What could the State and counties do to help? How can we best help the homeless?

 

INSIGHTS ON PBS HAWAI‘I is a live public affairs show that is also live streamed on PBSHawaii.org. Your questions and comments are welcome via phone, email, Twitter or live blogging. You may also email your questions ahead of time toinsights@pbshawaii.org.

 

Your questions and comments are welcome via phone, email and via Twitter during the Live Broadcast.

 

Phone Lines:
973-1000 on Oahu or 800-238-4847 on the Neighbor Islands.

 

Email:
insights@pbshawaii.org

 

Twitter:
Join our live discussion using #pbsinsights

 

LEAHEY & LEAHEY
Laura Beeman

 

Jim and Kanoa Leahey, Hawaii’s father-and-son sports reporting duo, prove that the liveliest discussions happen with family and friends at the kitchen table. Join them as they talk story with special guests about “sports and other living things.”

 

 

LEAHEY & LEAHEY
Saint Louis Head Football Coach Cal Lee

 

This episode’s guest will be Saint Louis Head Football Coach Cal Lee.
The Leahey’s will be talking Coach Lee’s big game against Kamehameha this week in the ILH Semi-Finals.
Plus, moving forward from the UH Football team’s win over Wyoming.

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Neva Rego

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX: Neva Rego

 

Original air date: Tues., Apr. 1, 2008

 

Hawaii’s Voice Coach to the Stars

 

Neva Rego is known by many as Hawaii’s Voice Coach to the Stars, the wind beneath their wings, with a list of vocal students that includes Robert Cazimero, Tony Conjugacion, Jimmy Borges, Jasmine Trias and Jordan Segundo, and a waiting list with more than a hundred names.

 

Leslie Wilcox sits down with Neva to discuss how she followed her musical dreams, and how she shares her training and experience with her vocal students.

 

Neva Rego Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

Aloha no and welcome to Long Story Short. I’m Leslie Wilcox with PBS Hawaii. We’re about to sit down with Neva Rego. Never heard of her? Neva is known by many as a Voice Coach to the Stars, the wind beneath their wings, with  a list of vocal students that includes Robert Cazimero, Tony Conjugacion, Jimmy Borges, Jasmine Trias and Jordan Segundo, and a waiting list with more than a hundred names. Neva Rego—next.

 

Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox – produced with Sony technology – is Hawaii’s first weekly television program produced and broadcast in HD. High definition… it’s in Sony’s DNA.

 

Neva Rego is an extraordinary woman because she did an extraordinary thing. She followed her dream. Her wish was to be trained in a classical, Italian style of singing, the kind she’d been listening to on records since she was a child. So, at the tender age of 18, not long after World War II, she hopped on a freighter and shipped off to Italy to seek her destiny. She didn’t speak Italian and she didn’t even know the name of the technique she was seeking. It turned out to be bel canto.

 

It’s very hard to explain. It’s easy to listen to. What I think about it is, it’s so legato, meaning tied together; it’s all beautiful singing without pushing, without smashing those poor little notes. You know, it’s just gorgeous, beautiful singing; very legato. And free. I mean, if you’re singing bel canto, you’re not killing yourself when you hit a high note. It just—Pavarotti is an example of bel canto.

 

You know, my dad was a radio DJ and when I wanted to work in television I said, Dad, how do I use my voice? And he said, Do it the bel canto way. And of course, I had no idea what that meant. And he said, Take a candle and light it and put it in front of your mouth and speak, but make sure that you don’t blow that candle out.

 

Right.

 

No clue what he meant. And of course, when he spoke in front of it, he knew how to use his voice. But how does the candle relate to bel canto?

 

It doesn’t blow out. I’ve tried it so many times. It’s because your air is utilized with your voice, and no [BLOWS] comes out. No spurts of air or anything. It’s amazing.

 

And so that should help you as a performer to have a career over time, that you don’t destroy your vocal cords.

 

Oh, yeah. You don’t hurt yourself. And then it’s easier. Singing wise, you’re using your diaphragm and not your throat muscles to hold it up, you know, like some singers do.

 

So tell me a little about what life was like for you growing up. You were in Ka‘imuki.

 

Right; on 18th Avenue. And I’m still there. And I must say, we had a beautiful childhood, my brothers and myself. And at that time, there weren’t that many houses around us. You know, we had a lot of empty lots and little foresty-looking places that we built our clubhouse and all the kids would gather after school there. And I must say, it was a lovely time.

 

And you went to what school?

 

I went to Sacred Hearts Academy. And loved it. The nuns were wonderful, and I think they were a bit instrumental in my learning languages. Because all the nuns at that time were French, and I remember studying Latin and the teacher taught to us in French. How do you like that? And we had a lovely sister from Germany, Sister Polaneya, and she was a fabulous musician.

 

Now the girls at Sacred Hearts Academy are primed to go to college, and have professional careers. What was the goal in those days?

 

In those days, I do believe that a lot of the girls strived to be nurses or teachers. There weren’t that many kooky ones, like I was. [chuckle]

 

And how were you kooky?

 

Well, I wanted to something in music. I wanted singing; I loved it. And you know, here’s this little kid from Kaimuki, wanting singing. And you know, I don’t know why, but I felt it. As I recall, when I was seven years old, I heard this beautiful aria on the radio with this Italian singer. And I remember telling my mother that was the most beautiful thing I ever heard in my whole life. All of seven years, yes? And Mother said, You really loved it? I said, Oh, I love it, I just love it. Well, that did it. Mother went down to House of Music, at that time in Waikiki, and she kept buying all these records of Italian singers. And well, that whetted my appetite for opera.

 

What were the other kids on the block listening to? What kind of music were they listening to?

 

They were mostly in Hawaiian. And I loved Hawaiian; but there was something about opera that was for me, I felt. You know. And if nobody else liked it, that’s okay; but I did.

 

What appealed to you about it?

 

Oh, I loved the language, first of all. The Italian language is so beautiful to sing. You never have a bad sounding word in it.   You know, everything is so fluid and beautiful. And the drama, the music; I mean, it’s just glorious. Opera is complete, I feel. You have acting, singing, dancing, tragedies, happiness; everything all rolled up in one. You know? And that appealed to me.

 

So Italian opera was speaking to you from the time you were seven years old.

 

Seven.

 

And you’re singing at Sacred Hearts Academy.

 

M-hm.

 

And looking at graduation.

 

Yes. And then I said, I think I want to go and study more music. I was looking all over for it; I had seven teachers here, and they were wonderful; all seven of them. But it was not what I was looking for. I kept hearing this other thing in my head, and even though all my relatives told my mother that they were sorry for her, because they felt that she had only one daughter, and what a shame she was crazy.

 

[chuckle]

 

So I thought, never mind, they can’t hear what I’m hearing. So I convinced my mother and father that I had to go to Italy. So my mother said, Oh, my god. You don’t know Italian; what are you gonna do? But you know, when you’re 18 you think you have the world in your hand; you can do anything. So I said, I’ll learn it; no problems. So [chuckle] off I go on a on a freighter to Italy.

 

You know, some people follow their dreams to find fortune or fame or truth. Neva Rego heard a beautiful sound and followed it all the way to Milan, Italy simply to seek its beauty. Today, with air travel and cell phones and the internet, traveling halfway around the world, alone at that age, may not seem so remarkable. But to do it, at that time, seems so foreign.

 

Who did you go see? I mean, who did you know in Italy?

 

Well, before I left Honolulu, I was singing at the Hawaiian Village. And Rossano Brazzi, this Italian actor, he heard me singing, and he said, You know, senorina, you should be singing opera. And I said, Oh, I’m going to. And he said, Yes? I said, I’m going to Italy. And he said, Oh, wonderful. He said, I write to La Scala for you. And I thought, Well, that’s very kind, you know. But when I got to La Scala, I realized that [chuckle] it was so silly, because it was like shooting mosquitoes with a cannon; it was that ridiculous. I wasn’t ready for anything, except maybe to clean it.

 

[chuckle]

 

You know. And but the maestro was very nice, Vittorio di Sabato. He was very nice, and he understood my plight. And he told me, Oh, senorina, I will get you a teacher and this and that. So I got set up with this teacher.

 

How did you pay for this? Were your parents funding this uh, adventure?

 

Not really. I mean, they gave me a little in the beginning, ‘cause I didn’t come from a wealthy family. We were medium, you know. And so I had saved money when I was at the Hawaiian Village. And then just before I left, I was fortunate to get an Atherton scholarship, Atherton Foundation scholarship.

 

M-hm. They’re still giving –

 

–thanks to Bob Midkiff.

 

Still in business today, helping folks.

 

Still in business. So that really helped me. And I thought, Maybe I’ll stay a year and see how I do, you know. I think I’ll understand well after a year. Oh; after a year, I didn’t know beans yet. So I knew I had to stay on. And there was no more scholarships; my mother and father helped me a bit, without a doubt. But then I started to get jobs; little jobs. I’m not ashamed to say that I cleaned a few houses in the beginning, because I didn’t know the language. And then I started to teach English, which I think was horrible, because I didn’t really understand the grammar. [chuckle] And poor Italians would study with me, but they were mostly interested in speaking.

 

Conversation.

 

You know, conversation. And then later on, I got a job with the designer Pucci. And that started me working in haute couture. And I went on from him to Valentino and I was with him for seven years. And all the while, studying.

 

Now, were you dreaming of becoming a huge Italian opera star?

 

You know, I have to say no, I was not. Because I was so interested in this bel canto technique, that that’s what I kept looking for. I was trying to find it. And after two and a half years with this maestro from La Scala, I wasn’t finding it. And I was so embarrassed to tell my family that I didn’t find it yet, in Italy, two and a half years. So I didn’t tell them.

 

Did you think maybe you were chasing a phantom, that it really didn’t exist, it was something you heard, but you really couldn’t learn?

 

I knew it existed; I just couldn’t find it. You know, and I didn’t know where to go. And so I quit La Scala, the maestro from La Scala, and and then I must say, I passed about three months of sheer depression. [chuckle] I just said one fine day to the dear Lord, If you really want me to sing, you better show me the way, because I’ve exhausted everything. And so now, I leave it in your lap. If you want me to find this elusive little thing, you will let me find it. And so I stopped worrying. But that night, I had to get out of my little apartment, because I was getting stir crazy, you know. And so I went to La Scala to hear a concert. And I heard this girl singing. She was studying with me before at Scala, but she had left—she was gone about a year. And she was singing divinely; just what I was looking for. So I thought, How could that be; she must have found someone. So I was sitting in the opera house in the very top, which we call the chicken coops, yes?

 

M-hm.

 

And I rushed down, but somehow I was too late; and I missed her. So I was so upset and depressed, because I didn’t know how to get a hold of her. And I remember walking home; I couldn’t even take the tram, because I was crying. And so the next morning, I got up, still depressed. I said, I’ve gotta get out of here. So I went—in Milano, they have this big galleria in the middle of town, glassed in, and you have a coffee, you know. And it’s a nice diversion; people are walking to and from. And I was sitting down and all of a sudden, here comes this girl that sang the night before, walking down. Wow; I ran after her, and I said, Ciao; I said, I heard you sing last night; it was just beautiful. And she said, Oh, Neva; did I find a teacher. I said, I can hear it, I can hear it. And she said—I told her that I left that maestro, and she said, I wondered when you were gonna get smart. You know. I said, Yeah, but I didn’t know enough to know I didn’t know. You know? And so she said, What are you doing now? I said, Absolutely nothing. She said, Well, I’m going to a lesson; come with me. So I followed her to the lesson one-hour lesson, and I sat in a little corner, and I listened to lesson, and I cried for one hour. [chuckle] Cried. Because it was like there was so much emotion, because it was like something I was looking for, for so long and I found it. And so afterwards, the senora came over to me and she said, Senorina Neva, she says, are all Hawaiians so emotional? And I said, No, Senora, I said, you know, it’s just because I was looking for you since—I was trying to find you since I was seven years old. And she looked at me, and she started to cry. And we hugged, and it was love from then on; for 22 years, I was with her. Yeah.

 

What’s her name?

 

Her name is—was Magda Piccarolo. She was a lyrica leggiero soprano, and she sang all over. She sang at Scala and in America at the Met.

 

So you continued to have lessons with her for twenty-two years?

 

Yeah; twenty-two.

 

And you became a singer in Italian opera houses.

 

Italian opera. I first started off in concerts, because that’s what everybody does to get going; get your feet wet sort of thing. You know, and then you get a little role here and a little role there, and it just starts getting better and better.

 

What was your favorite role?

 

There’s so many. Gosh. Lucia is beautiful; Rigoletto is beautiful. I love La Sonnambula, but we never do it, because it’s very classical, it’s very bel canto, and maybe boring. But the singing is beautiful. And those are ones I love.

 

To sing in opera houses in Italy. To live and achieve a dream. Can you imagine? Neva Rego did what she loved and loved what she did. And that’s what I love about this story!

 

You know, I love the language. And I love the people; they’re so wonderful. You know. When I first went to Italy, it was not too long after the war, so people were still quite poor. And we didn’t have a refrigerator in the house. And there was no washing machine either. [chuckle] You’re looking at it. And you know, it’s difficult to wash sheets in the bathtub.

 

You did that for years?

 

I did all of that.

 

Ah.

 

Yeah, I really learned well. You know. And then I realized, silly Americans, when they complain; how beautiful our life is in America. And I think anybody who speaks against America should go abroad a while. Then you will how wonderful our country really is. You know. I know we are having problems now, but I mean, you know, the life is beautiful in America.

 

You stayed how many years; 26 years in all?

 

Twenty-six years. Really. It’s a lifetime, isn’t it?

 

Had you intended to come back? I mean, were you going to come back?

 

I think I might not have. The the thing that pushed me back was, in the late 70s, the man responsible for opera in Italy—he’s the one that subsidizes—that part of the government subsidizes opera. It was a Communist who got in. And when he got in, he decided no foreigners were gonna sing.

 

How high had you risen in the hierarchy of opera singers? Were you a big deal?

 

Well, I don’t think so. It was hard to get to be a big deal, because it was so political.

 

M-m.

 

You had to do so many things; you had to make sure an empresario liked you. [chuckle] And I didn’t wish to go further than that. So I just struggled along and sang and it worked well. But say that I got to the jet stream top; no.

 

And was that okay with you?

 

That was okay. Because I didn’t start off to be a big opera star. I started off looking for this technique. [chuckle]

 

And you found it—

 

I found it.

 

–and then you practiced it, and –

 

And now, I’m teaching it.

 

Neva Rego is a professional voice coach, teaching her beloved bel canto in her longtime family home in Ka‘imuki.

 

I never intended to teach. Never. But when I arrived home, after Italy, I thought, What am I gonna do? So I decided I was gonna go to Seattle. Because Seattle had good opera. And I was still young enough. So, then my father got ill.

 

M-m.

 

And had a stroke. And so that determined what I should do; I should stay home and take care of him. Because my brother was taking care of him all those other years, ‘cause Mother died so young. And so I stayed home, and this man came over and did an article on me in the paper. And the phone started ringing. And that’s the wonderful part of the story; it hasn’t stopped.

 

You have a waiting list this long. How many people are on your waiting list to take lessons?

 

Well, it used to be 200; right now, I think it’s down to about 100, 120. Which is nice; it’s security.

 

So the world started beating a path to your door; people wanted voice lessons from you.

 

Right. And one of the ones that came was Robert Cazimero.

 

How old was he then? Was he a young singer, just starting out?

 

This was in the 80s, early 80s.

 

In the 80s.

 

They were just from Manoa—

 

Sunday Manoa.

 

Sunday Manoa; and Robert came to me and said, You know, I’m having to lower my keys, and I don’t like that. He said, So I thought maybe if I studied a while, you’d help me. So 15 years later [chuckle]–

 

Now, why fifteen years?

 

Well, because he didn’t want to leave. He kept saying, No, I need it. I said, Robert, you don’t need lessons anymore; you know it so well. But we got on so well; he’s wonderful.

 

And this is not something that’s a quick fix, right?

 

No.

 

A student has to commit himself or herself.

 

Oh, yeah. With poppy music, I would say two years, two years and a half. Classical, forget it; six and seven. And you can’t learn it overnight; it’s not like you learn to play piano overnight. You know, you just need time. And anybody can learn to sing, if they wish it.

 

You are such a popular voice teacher. What kind of criteria do you have in accepting a student?

 

Just that they really want to learn, and that there’s a voice there.

 

So tell me some of the people you’ve trained over the years.

 

Well, as I said, Robert Cazimero. And I had Shari Lynn at that time too. She’s been great. And Jimmy Borges, and Tony Conjugacion. At one time, on Broadway, I had 17 people. Really. That was great for me, but it was kind of sad, because I wanted one at the Met.

 

[chuckle] Don’t ask for much.

 

And everybody was on Broadway. I said, Oh, my lord; what am I doing? You know. We even helped Richard Chamberlain study, Betty and I, and gosh; there’s so many.

 

Well, and just recently, American Idol came along and—

 

Oh.

 

Didn’t I hear your name with Jordan Segundo and—

 

Yes.

 

–Jasmine Trias? After the competition, though; not before.

 

After. And Anita Hall, Les Ceballos is one of mine too; a dear one. Jasmine, Danny Couch, and John Koko from Makaha Sons. You know. So there’s a long list, and they all are like children, like my kids that I never had.

 

How interesting that a lot of these people distinguish themselves in singing before they had lessons from you, but they were motivated to learn—

 

More. And you take Jordan, for example. He’s singing so well now. I’m so proud of him. And that he’s such a nice boy. And I really want him to get ahead. And he’s learned very well. He never misses lessons, he’s so enthusiastic. See, that’s—

 

Now, he didn’t win American Idol, obviously. Do you think he would have gotten farther if he’d had the lessons earlier?

 

Without a doubt.

 

How would his voice have changed?

 

Well, he would have—now, he has a complete range. He sings down the bottom, he goes all the way to a B-flat, and a high C. He never had those notes before.

 

How about Robert, because he had wonderful training at Kamehameha, I would think.

 

Yes. Robert can go to a B-flat like that too. You see, what you do with the technique is, you tie the voice together. Especially people like Jordan and Robert; you might sing with your chest voice here; but then the minute you get near what we call the break, the passagio, you have to have a different placement for those high notes. So you have to blend in the bottom to the top, and you learn to go over that transition very smoothly with study. And they do it; beautiful. Listen; listen to Robert. After all these years, he still sounds glorious.

 

And after all this time, it’s still bel canto for you.

 

Yeah, it’s still—

 

You’ve never heard another type of vocal technique that works as well for you?

 

No; I’m in love with bel canto.

 

And so your mother didn’t raise a crazy daughter after all?

 

No, I don’t think so. I hope not. I don’t know if others feel that way, but I’m in love with what I’m doing. I love it.

 

Mahalo to Neva Rego for sharing her stories with us today. And thank you for joining me for them. That’s all the time we have for this Long Story Short. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Ciao bella and aloha hui hou kakou!

 

Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is produced in HD by PBS Hawaii with Sony technology. High definition. It’s in Sony’s DNA.

 

My name is not really Neva; it’s Aggreneva. And everybody gets all twisted ‘cause they don’t know who she is. But my mother named me after a Russian opera singer, and her name was Agraneva Schlovanskaya. I’m kinda happy Mother stopped after Aggreneva. Mother never told me that I had this name. I knew it was a kooky name; at school, they called me Aggrevacious. You know how school kids are. Anyway, all of a sudden, I said to Mother that I was in love with music and I wanted to do music. So Mother said, Well, you know, I think I’ll tell you about your name. And she told me about Aggreneva Schlovanska, who had come here years ago with some Russian group. And they sang at Hawaii Theatre. Isn’t that interesting?

 

And your mother obviously had a love for opera.

 

Yeah. But I was the one that was gonna make it my life.