Every dark cloud has a silver lining — and young Pollyanna knows how to find it. Georgina Terry portrays Pollyanna in this heartwarming tale of a little girl whose effortless charm captures the hearts of family, friends and strangers alike.
Every dark cloud has a silver lining — and young Pollyanna knows how to find it. Georgina Terry portrays Pollyanna in this heartwarming tale of a little girl whose effortless charm captures the hearts of family, friends and strangers alike.
As a student at the University of Hawaii in the early 1960s, Sarah Keahi wanted to be an English teacher. But her Hawaiian language instructor, Dr. Samuel Elbert, saw a different path for her. “He said, ‘What about Hawaiian?’ And I said, ‘There were no schools teaching Hawaiian, you know,’” Keahi remembers. “And he looked at me, and he said, ‘There will be a day.’” Sarah Keahi went on to help establish a mandatory Hawaiian language curriculum at Kamehameha Schools, and taught Hawaiian language to generations of Kamehameha students.
This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, Dec. 16 at 11:00 pm and Sunday, Dec. 20 at 4:00 pm.
I used to tell my students that if you’re somewhere and you’re singing a song, and then you hear all the tutu’s laughing, you will know why, because you probably mispronounced a word, and you didn’t even realize it. But when you mispronounce a word, it changes meaning. And so, in Song Contest time, I would go around and talk to them about the different meanings. And so, you know, you have to draw pictures for them. So, you say the word ma‘I and mai. And so, you want to use the word mai, and you say ma‘i. Well, you know, ma‘i can be to be ill, but ma‘i can also refer to the genitals. You know, so, as in a mele ma‘i. Um, another word that comes up in songs often is the world li‘a. And li‘a has to do with yearning desire. And so, you’re desiring someone. And if you don’t put the okina there, you’re saying lia. And do you know what lia are? Like liha, they’re little baby uku’s.
They’re uku nits, baby nits. And so, then they start, Oh, no! You know. And you show them these differences, and then they realize, wow. So now, well, and you know, for many years, the students are really, really concerned about pronunciation.
Sarah Keahi expected to be surrounded by Hawaiian-ness when she started teaching at Kamehameha Schools in 1966. Instead, she found that there were no Hawaiian studies courses, and that she was the only Hawaiian language teacher. She advocated relentlessly for Hawaiian language and culture to be taught, and by the time she retired thirty-seven years later, there were ten fulltime Hawaiian language teachers, and a mandatory Hawaiian studies curriculum firmly in place. Sarah Keahi, 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. Sarah Patricia ‘ilialoha Kwai Fah Ayat Keahi is remembered by many of her students by her previous married name, Mrs. Quick. Generations of high schoolers at Kamehameha Schools took her Hawaiian language classes. In the broader Hawaiian language speaking community, she’s known as a champion who fought to perpetuate the language when it was increasingly marginalized. Today, the Hawaiian language is thriving, thanks to the efforts of Sarah Keahi and other like-minded people in the 1960s and 1970s. Sarah Keahi’s love of Hawaiian culture and language started with her family, and with growing up on Hawaiian Homestead land in Honolulu.
Well, I was born and raised on this island in Kaimuki. And we were living with my grandmother, my maternal grandmother, Sarah Keahi Smythe. Eventually, we moved to Papakolea and settled in Papakolea.
Because you were granted a homestead lot?
Right; my mom was granted a homestead lot in 1950. And when we moved to Papakolea, my mom was pregnant with my youngest brother. You know, her tenth child. And so, we moved up there in December, early December in 1950, and my brother was born in February of 1951.
Mom and Dad.
How big was your house? I mean, I can’t imagine—
–twelve people in house.
We all had bunkbeds, and of course, in those days, you only had one bathroom, you know. It was a wonderful life, we had chickens and ducks to eat.
You raised your own chickens and ducks, and then you’d have to kill them to eat them?
Farm to table.
Yeah. See, my mom would go out, get a chicken, kill it, clean it, cook it, and serve it. I couldn’t do that. I’d have to go to Costco, you know.
Well, those feathers that your mother took from the chickens; did they go anywhere?
Since she used everything.
She made feather leis.
Yes; she did.
Where did she get the time to do all that?
That’s a good question. You know. But she was an incredible woman. Her thing was, If you see something needs to be done, you do it. Don’t want to be asked; just do it. She was amazing. I mean, she was a homemaker; my dad worked. But my mom made all our clothes. She cleaned the house, and she’d put fresh flowers and plants every week. You know. She’d go out and cut things, and bring it in. And I think that’s why my love of gardening—I love gardening and I love flowers and plants. My friends would call and they would say, Who was that Haole woman that answered the phone? I said, That’s my mom. Your mom? Is she Haole?
I said, Well, yeah, she’s half Haole. You know, half Hawaiian, yeah.
So, she spoke Standard English.
And she insisted you do, too.
We had to speak Standard English in the house. Yeah. If we were outside with our friends, you know, we could speak Pidgin and everything, but when you came in, you had to speak Standard English.
Was there a drill with the kids so that the older kids would take care of the little kids, to take some of the pressure off her?
Yes; yes. And she assigned each sister, older sister to one brother. And so, we had to make sure, you know, that their teeth was brushed and everything like that. But my mom ran quite a tight ship, but she was super-organized. And then, she went out and entertained at night. My mom had studied hula in the early days. In fact, Iolani Luahine was one of her hula sisters. And so, we were involved with hula. And we were involved with pageantry and Aloha Week. And when Auntie Elsie Ross Lane was living, they had wonderful pageants every year. And we were always in the pageants, ‘cause my mom was costume director for Aloha Week. So, she even made costumes. [CHUCKLE]
What was your dad like? What kind of a match were they?
My dad was a really easygoing guy. He was really easygoing. Hard worker.
Two hard workers.
Two hard workers. You know, my dad, he would come home from work after working all day, and if there was a pail of clothes to hang up, he’d hang it on the line. If there was something to iron, he’d pitch up and iron. I mean, he was … you know. He painted our house about every five years; my dad did. We had an imu in our yard, so my dad, you know, every so often he would kalua pig and all his friends would come over. He went fishing with his friends. If my dad got extra fish, he’d share it with the neighbors.
Even though he had all these kids in the house?
Yes; yes. And my mom, she sewed clothes for our friends across the street because, you know, they didn’t have a whole lot of stuff. If we had extra whatever, you know, bananas or whatever, we’d share it with people.
Your mom was half-Hawaiian, your dad half-Hawaiian. That was the time when people were really trying to be Western, wasn’t it?
Right; right. Yeah. They were. Some people, you know, they were embarrassed about, you know, their Hawaiian. In fact, some people, you know, some of my … people even didn’t want to say where they lived. They didn’t want to say they lived in Papakolea. And Papakolea didn’t really have, you know, a very good reputation. And I think the media tends to, you know, sensationalize and maximize the negative and minimize the positives, you know. I was proud. I mean, we had people from Papakolea, Danny Kaleikini’s family, Iolani Luahine, Hoakalei Kamauu, Auntie Genoa Keawe. We had people who went to the military academies, you know. The Kukea family, Kala, Kahele, and his sister Mele. So, we had lots of people who, you know, were notable people. They don’t talk about all of those things, you know. They talk about the negative things. And I had wonderful years there. Parks and Recreation was a really wonderful program. We had a wonderful director, Mealii Kalama, and she was a very, very influential woman in my life, very firm and organized, and just wonderful, warm, and compassionate, you know.
From the time she was a little girl in Papakolea, Sarah Keahi knew she wanted to become a teacher, and she knew she’d need a good education to accomplish that, even though it wouldn’t be at the school that comes to mind first.
I think everybody who’s ever come to your class to learn has probably been surprised, if they didn’t already know, that you did not attend Kamehameha Schools.
Right; right. You know, my students would say to me, Well, Kumu, what year did you graduate? And I would say, I am a proud public school product. What? You didn’t come to Kamehameha? And I said, No, you know, unfortunately I didn’t, but I’m a proud public school product, and you know, I have no regrets. Roosevelt was a really good school, academically aggressive, and you know, I think I learned a lot from it.
As a matter of fact, your mother didn’t really want you to go to Kamehameha.
Yeah. [CHUCKLE] Yeah; she didn’t. Because you know, she said to me, Well, you know, part of the girls’ training is, they learn how to take care of a baby, and they learn how to cook, and sew; and you know how to do that. You know. You already know that. I said, But Mom, that’s not all they learn; they learn the basic stuff. You know, they have to take the classes of math, science, and English, and so forth, so that’s in addition to that. Well, she still thought it was—you know. So, I just went to Roosevelt, which was, you know, a good thing. I enjoyed my years at Pauoa Elementary and Stevenson Intermediate, and Roosevelt.
Right in your neighborhood.
At that time, there were no career days. Kids weren’t channeled into, you know, Try to think now what you might want to do for a living.
Was that something you gave thought to?
Oh, I knew; I knew from the very beginning, I wanted to be a teacher.
Well, you know, my grandmother, she wasn’t a formal teacher, but she did some teaching. And she told me about her experiences teaching. And ever since I was a little girl, my mom said, Do you know that you used to call the neighborhood kids and bring them over, and you’d play school. You’d pass out pencils and paper, and under the house, and you’d play school. And I said, Really?
You were comfortable with having authority, because you’d been in charge of a younger brother, and you’d seen your mother as the head of the household on the homemaking side.
Right; right. So, yeah. But my very first teacher at Pauoa Elementary was Manu Boyd’s grandmother, Julia Boyd. And the teachers then were very strict, like the Gladys Brandt type people. I just admired and loved Gladys Brandt. But they hapa Haole teachers, and very, very, you know, strict.
Did you get in trouble?
Oh, no; no.
You were always a good student.
I know. My brothers and sisters teased me; You’re such a Goody Two Shoes, you know. And I guess I liked school, and I did well in school. I studied hard. It didn’t come to me naturally. I mean, I had to study hard. And I did, ‘cause I really enjoyed it. All my friends said, You’re so studious. And you know, at Roosevelt I was kidded about that, how studious I was. I was one that didn’t go out very much. You know, I was such a homebody. I wasn’t a real social kind of person. Like, you know, I didn’t care to go to proms or stuff like that. My brothers and sisters would say, We go to the beach, and there you are under a tree reading a book or something. You know. I mean, I went in the water and all that, but I just wasn’t perhaps as active as they were. But we did go hiking. You know, we lived in Papakolea, and behind our house up the mountain and Tantalus, and we explored all the trails.
Sarah Keahi had always wanted to learn Hawaiian so she could speak the language with her grandmother, who was a manaleo, a native speaker. After graduating from Roosevelt High School, Sarah Keahi enrolled at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, where she had her first opportunity to learn the Hawaiian language in a formal setting.
Now, was Hawaiian spoken in the house at all?
Well, my grandmother spoke Hawaiian with my mom sometimes. And I was fascinated. You know, I would talk to my grandmother a lot, ask her zillions of questions, and I really did want to learn Hawaiian. And it wasn’t until I went to the University that, you know, I saw Hawaiian 101, and I’m gonna take this. But my mom spoke Hawaiian with my grandmother, and my dad spoke sometimes. The only time we spoke Hawaiian was when they were scolding.
Scolding; they would scold us.
And you would know what it meant?
And we knew all the scolding. Like, you know, kulikuli, and you know, some of those things.
What does kulikuli mean?
Kulikuli is the not-so-nice way of saying, be quiet. It’s more like, shut up. You know. And so, we knew those kinds of things.
You were spoken to in Hawaiian as a way of scolding you, but it was also kind of a secret language too, among the adults.
Well, yes. ‘Cause like, when friends would come over, or my grandmother would talk with her friends, it was all in Hawaiian, you know.
It was the adult language.
Yeah. They never really sat down and taught you anything, because that’s not how they do it. You know. If you’re interested, you would sit down and listen. But it wasn’t until I was in college and when I started studying Hawaiian, and then you know, I think the day when I could understand my grandmother was just like, Oh, yes. You know?
She was a manaleo?
Yes; she was a manaleo.
And you were learning textbook Hawaiian.
Right. But I had my grandmother to practice with. I was really fortunate, because when I was at the University, I worked in the recording lab at the Bishop Museum with Eleanor Williamson, who was like my second mom to me. And Ele worked with Kawena Pukui, and they went on the road and they interviewed native informants. So, I got to go. And Kawena wanted to interview my grandmother, ‘cause she knew my grandmother; they were in the Royal Society together. And she said, I haven’t seen Grandma for a long time, I think I should go interview her. So, I went with them up to my grandmother’s house, and did the interview. And so, on the way back to the museum, Kawena said to me, You know, Grandma used so many words I haven’t heard for so long. You know, it’s so nice to hear those words again. I said, They’re probably archaic; right? [CHUCKLE] Only you native speakers know those words. And you know, my grandmother was a really fascinating woman because she was born when Kalakaua was King. And she lived through the Provisional Government, she lived through the Republic, Territory, and ten years into statehood.
So, she saw all of those periods.
What was her take on statehood?
Well, she told me that on the day of the annexation down at the Palace, you know, the women who came, and she said as they saw their flag coming down, they wept, and they thought they would never see their flag again. So, they all went home and made Hawaiian flag quilts.
And my grandmother made one. She made one. And I remember there was a time when Napua Stevens was having a program at the Ilikai, and she announced that she would honor Liliu’s birthday. Anyone who has a Hawaiian flag quilt in their family, if they would bring it forth, and they would have a display of them. So, Mom took Grandma’s quilt. And it was incredible, because as you looked at all the different quilts, there was no two alike. We still have that in our family, Grandma’s Hawaiian flag quilt. She signed the petition against annexation. I have a copy of it with her signature. You know, she said the Queen was imprisoned in her own home, and how it was done. I’m amazed, because to me, Liliuokalani epitomizes humility, that in the song she wrote, The Queen’s Prayer, in verse three, she says to her people that, you know, let’s not look at the evils of men, but let’s forgive them for what they did. I mean, that to me, you know, Liliu was just an incredible woman, and I really admire her a lot.
Earlier, you said that your grandmother didn’t like the way it was done.
But did she come to think that annexation was a good thing?
Well, you know, down the road, she did say to me that other powers were looking at us too. You know, she said the Russians were here; you know, they had built a fort. The French were here. I said to her, What about the British? Don’t you think the British might have been a good thing? You know. [CHUCKLE] I mean, look; Vancouver gives Kamehmeha a flag, and Kamehameha asked, What is this? And he says, It’s a symbol of our country. So, Kamehameha has a Hawaiian flag made, and that’s why the Union Jack is in the corner of the Hawaiian flag. So I said, What about England? What if we were English, you know, under England? She goes, Well, you know, it could have been. But I think she kind of came to terms with being part of the U.S.
Was there a Hawaiian major when you entered UH?
No. In fact, I had to go see the dean. It was Dr. Elbert who actually encouraged me to consider Hawaiian.
This is Samuel Elbert.
Yes; Sam Elbert.
Who co-wrote the Hawaiian Dictionary.
Yes; and everything else. Place names.
What was he like?
Warm, you know, kind, compassionate person. I loved him. I remember when I saw Hawaiian 101, I told my grandmother; Grandma, I’m signing up for Hawaiian 101. And she said, Hawaiian, at the University? I said, Yeah. So, I walked into class, and there was this man with gray, white hair, dark skin. And I thought, Wow, he looks like a Hawaiian grandpa. You know. And I sat right in front of him and I looked at him, and I smiled. And he introduced himself, and then he said, You know, I am not Hawaiian. And everybody was like, Really? He said, I am full Danish.
And he taught you your first Hawaiian language class?
M-hm. He called me up one day after class, and he said, Now, what do you want to do when in college? I said, Well, you know, Dr. Elbert, I’m gonna be a teacher. He said, Oh, maikai, maikai. And he said, Well, do you know what kind? I said, Well, I’m thinking English. He looked at me and he said, English? English? He said, What about Hawaiian? And I said, Hawaiian? There were no schools teaching Hawaiian, you know.
It seemed like bum advice.
Because you couldn’t get a job.
I said, Dr. Elbert, there’s nobody that I know, except the University. And he looked at me, and he said, There will be a day. And he just looked at me; There will be a day.
And he was right.
And he was right.
Sarah Keahi continued her English and Hawaiian studies at the University on her way to becoming a teacher. She was set to be a student teacher at Farrington High School in Kalihi during her senior year when she received a phone call that changed everything.
When it was time student teach, I got this call from Donald Mitchell from Kamehameha Schools. And he said, You don’t know who I am, but I know who you are. And I said, Oh, really? And he said, I know you’re gonna be ready for student teaching next year, and I would like for you to come to Kamehameha and student teach. I said, Really? Wow. I said, I’m already assigned to Farrington, you know, with Marion Lee Loy. And he said, Yes, I know, and I talked with the University people, and they said if it’s okay with you, it’s fine. [GASP] So, I got to student teach with Dr. Mitchell. And that was just transformative in my life. That man was just incredible.
You had already heard of him?
I didn’t, until I got there.
And then, he turned out to be—
Yes. Because see, if you were a Kamehameha student, you would have known him. But I wasn’t, see? And so, when I got there and really mentored by him, he was just an incredible person. I consider him Mr. Hawaiian Studies at Kamehameha. I really do. Because if it weren’t for him, you know, and Auntie Nona Beamer, those two people just welcomed me with open arms and thus, you know, we began a wonderful relationship. And Dr. Mitchell wasn’t even Hawaiian. He was from Kansas. But he was culturally Hawaiian. I student taught with him, and then he went on sabbatical, and I taught. And he would come and sit in my language classes. He would actually come and sit in my language class, and then I’d go sit in his culture class and learn everything that I could. So, it was a really wonderful relationship.
What was there of Hawaiian language at Kamehameha when you went there, I think, in 1966?
Yes. Nothing. We proposed a requirement in Hawaiian culture and history for years. Seven years, I think it took. Nothing happened, nothing happened. Then the Hawaiian community, you know, got involved in it. But I think when they did a graduate survey, and the graduates said—the five-year graduate survey, that they were deficient. The school prepared them well for math and science, and all, but they were totally deficient when it came to anything Hawaiian. And as they were in college on the mainland and people would ask them questions, they couldn’t answer them intelligently. Like, where did the Hawaiians come from? Or, could you say something, could you speak your language? Or, is there a language? I mean, they were embarrassed. So, the graduates said that they were really deficient, and finally, the requirement materialized.
And you were no easy teacher. You were no softie.
No. You heard about that?
Yes. I heard so many of your students who just admire you greatly; they say, She’s tough, but fair.
And you’re really adorable, except when you’re really not happy. You know, you have high standards.
And you’re just not gonna accept less.
Right; exactly. I said, you know, you cannot expect maximum grade if you put minimum work. You know? It doesn’t work that way. When I started in 1966, I was the only teacher. I couldn’t take sabbaticals because there was no one to replace me. You know, so I had to put it off, and put it off. And finally, you know, I was able to take a sabbatical. But I’m really happy to say that when I started, you know, yes, it was only me for years, and years, and years, and when I retired, there were like ten fulltime Hawaiian language teachers.
And you taught them all, I bet.
And most of them were my former students. Yes; I’m so proud of that. I could pass the baton.
And yet, she is still Kumu Keahi. Even though Sarah Keahi has retired from teaching, she continues to share her knowledge with the community, including serving as senior editor of the Hawaiian Bible project. Not only was she able to share her love of the language through her work on the Hawaiian Bible manuscript, she calls this the best job she ever had because she got to work at home in a tee-shirt and shorts. Mahalo to Hawaiian language champion and retired groundbreaking Kamehameha Schools teacher Sarah Keahi of Honolulu for sharing your stories with us. And thank you, for joining us. For PBS Hawaii and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha, 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.
If you look across the State, a lot of people in the Hawaiian world and the Hawaiian language field are Kamehameha graduates. And I’m really happy about that, you know. Because I said to them, you know, you need to share what you know, and go out there and spread the aloha, you know, and help your people, help your people.
Growing up in Chicago, Karen Radius learned values from her working class parents, neither of whom attended high school. After passing the bar exam in Hawaii, Radius’ first job was with Legal Aid, serving some of the poorest people in Hawaii. As a Family Court judge, Karen Radius learned that juvenile girls who haven’t succeeded on regular probation needed a different type of juvenile justice system. So she created Girls Court. “Girls Court is all about…working on the relationships…within the family,” Radius explains. “(it’s) not just, ‘Did you comply with the court’s order and what the court told you to do’ … but let’s figure out your life and let’s come up with a life’s plan for you.”
This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, Oct. 28 at 11:00 pm and Sunday, Nov. 1 at 4:00 pm.
You know how bad things can be.
And I also know how good they can be. If we only focus on the things that have gone wrong, life gets to be pretty heavy and unhappy. And if you don’t see the potential in things, it’s just not right. I still get, when I’m out in the shopping center, I’ll get a girl who will come and say, Judge Radius! And I’ll say, Oh, how are you doing? What are you doing? And she’ll say, Oh, I’m graduating from Windward Community College next week. And so, we show up and give her a lei. Because those kinds of stories keep you going.
Judge Karen Radius, a resident of Windward Oahu, has spent her career seeking the potential in people facing troubled situations. Family Court Judge and the founding judge of Girls Court, Karen Radius, 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. Family Court is often regarded as a place of pain and anger, filled with divorces, child custody battles, families in crisis. Judge Karen Radius has spent decades there. She retired, but returned to serve on a part-time basis. The judge is no softy; she’s regarded as tough, but fair. In her juvenile cases, she tries to look past the pain, toward the potential good within the youth offenders who come before her. To help Hawaii’s troubled young people, Judge Radius in 2004 was the driving force behind Girls Court, an innovative program designed specifically for at-risk girls on Oahu. The judge and others in the field say that juvenile court is framed around boys, who tend to commit different offenses than girls, for different reasons. Judge Karen Radius knows firsthand about life struggles, having grown up on the south side of Chicago.
My mom is the oldest of ten. By the time she graduated from eighth grade in 1932, there were seven kids; the seventh child had just been born a couple of months before. So, her mom said to her, We just don’t have the money for you to go to high school, you need to find a job. My grandpa was a janitor, and finding a job, for him, depended on what manufacturing plants or what buildings were open, and what businesses could hire him. So, he was getting piecemeal work at about a dollar a day. So, my mother found a job being a maid and mother’s helper for a lawyer’s wife who had one son. So, after being the oldest girl of seven kids, that was a walk in the park, quite frankly.
But she had to be away from her family.
Absolutely. So, she earned a dollar a week, and she had Sundays off, so she’d come home on Sundays, bring her dollar, and her mother would give her a dime.
Yeah, yeah; absolutely.
People had to really pull together and sacrifice themselves.
Right; right. And so, the theory was that her younger sisters would all take a year off of high school, but it didn’t turn out that way. She stayed working at that job.
Never graduated from high school?
Nope; nope. She took a typing and a bookkeeping class at night school, but other than that, she didn’t go to high school.
Did she talk about that, her regrets at that?
Not so much her regrets. That’s the generation that doesn’t focus on themselves. But my sister and myself, there was no question; we were gonna get every ounce of education we could.
She was gonna do for you what she couldn’t do for herself.
That’s right; that’s right. My dad had been in the military, actually, here in Hawaii, and had gone back to Chicago and was a bus driver. And he saw her walk on his bus, and he said, That’s the most lovely pair of hands I’ve ever seen somebody putting fare in my farebox.
He said that to her?
To her. And she fell for it.
And the rest is history. Yeah; yeah.
Wow. And he stopped being a bus driver after that?
Right. When I was about three, he became a life insurance salesman, and did that ‘til he died.
So, he was a good salesman, charming?
Oh; yeah. He could tell a joke and a story. He was a schmoozer; yeah.
Judge Karen Radius became the first person in her family to graduate from high school. Her mother believed that Karen should receive the best education possible, even though money was scarce. She was accepted into George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and left the Midwest for the first time in her life.
I found George Washington. My mom said, Okay, we’ve got enough money for one semester. Go, see if you like it. We’ll do what we can; you gotta work. I went to GW ‘cause I thought I was interested in international affairs. I had read some books about Russia, and that was when the Cold War was big. And Russia seemed such a fascinating place. So, I went to study international affairs. But in my sophomore year, when you begin to think about what major you’re gonna declare, and the counselors are talking to you, I told them that that’s what I was interested in, and maybe the State Department or some kind of foreign job. And he says, Do you know what women do in the foreign service? I said, No, that’s what I’m here to learn. And he said, They stamp passports. And I was silly enough to believe him. So, I switched to political science.
So, that wasn’t true; he was just trying to … what was the point of that, of dissuading you?
I think that was probably true back then, so that would have been 1968; ’67, ’68.
So, he was trying to let you know that it may not be—
In reality, if I wasn’t willing to stamp passports for the rest of my life, which is probably what women mostly did back then, but things, as in all fields, has moved quite a bit.
So, you could have done it and broken those barriers.
Maybe. But I didn’t listen. I mean, I listened, but should have not listened. I kind of wonder what would have been, had it taken different turns. So, I went into political science. My junior and senior years, the Vietnam War booming, literally and figuratively. The protests were beginning. You know, being in campus only five blocks from the White House, there were tanks rolling down the street sometimes, and tear gas being thrown on the campus, which wasn’t fun. So, I decided, okay, I’m gonna work on The Hill, because that’s where change could come from, through senators and congressmen.
Who did you work for?
Senator Charles Mathias from Maryland; he was a progressive Republican at the time. People wrote to their senators and congressmen, and we’d get bags, and bags, and bags full of mail. And we had to respond to each piece. So, my job was, when there were over ten letters about a single topic, you’d write a form letter that sounded like you were talking directly to that person. And then, there was a machine that would … way pre-computers, but there was a machine that would match the address of the writer and the body of the letter. And then, it’d be signed, and you thought you got your own personal letter from the senator. Which he read the generalized …
So, he knew, and he knew how many. We kept count of X-number are in favor of this, and Y-number are against that. But it didn’t feel like democracy like I had studied it as political science, and I didn’t feel like we were making the kind of change that as a Baby Boomer, I thought we needed.
Oahu judge Karen Radius did not want to get channeled into a typing job, as were many women of the time. She wanted to be part of bringing change. So, she set her sights on a new career path.
One of the young male staffers who was an attorney said to me, Karen, just take the LSAT. Which is the law school admissions test. Don’t tell anybody you’re gonna take it, don’t send the scores any place. If you totally bomb out, you’ve wasted a day, fifty dollars to sign up for it, and two Number 2 pencils. So what? If you do well, send the scores some place. And so, I followed his advice, and here I am.
You hadn’t considered law school?
That’s really open. So, you went and took the test, and did well. It’s a tough test.
And what proportion of students in law schools were females then?
About three or four percent.
Is that right?
So, you were an oddity.
Did you feel like you had to prove yourself?
There were still professors who would do things like say, Can you please stand up as you give your answer, because I like to see the proportions of my opponent. And you walked in the library, and people closed the door as you entered. So, it wasn’t blatant. You didn’t get worse grades ‘cause you were a woman. You didn’t get worse classes.
It was a social atmosphere.
I had one young man say to me, You know, my friend didn’t get in; you’ve got his seat. But generally, people were nice, and I just stayed, and as more women came in, life went on.
After her second year at George Washington University Law School, Judge Karen Radius joined her college roommate Judy Sobin on a trip to Hawaii for the summer. She didn’t know it at the time, but Hawaii would become her permanent home.
I had come here to Hawaii between my second and third years of law school for a summer job, ‘cause there was no UH Law School at the time, and my college roommate had come here with her husband, and he was going to UH master’s in urban planning program. There was something about Hawaii. I just felt at home when I got off the plane.
What made you feel at home when you got off the plane? I mean, you hadn’t seen it yet.
I don’t know; I just did. I worked for Brook Hart’s firm the summer between second and third years of law school. They were doing a lot of law reform cases, they were doing a lot of criminal cases, but doing them very well, and lots of interesting cases. So, the work seemed exciting. I was meeting a lot of younger lawyers. The racial and ethnic makeup and background of so many different kinds of people. And the mountains and the ocean. You know, it just felt good.
A year later, after graduating from law school, Judge Karen Radius returned to the islands to take the Bar Exam.
I came here to take the Bar, ‘cause I had a federal job offer in North Carolina, and you could be licensed any place. So, I came here to take the Bar, hedging my bets that while I’m here studying for the Bar, I could still be looking for work here.
Because you didn’t want to go to the safe federal job?
I might own that horse farm in North Carolina now if I’d done that safe job. I don’t know. Oh; as opposed to my little plot.
But this was where you preferred to be.
Oh, yeah. I got offered a job two weeks before the Bar. Legal Aid called two weeks before.
How’d you feel about working for Legal Aid?
It was fine with me.
So, that means you served many of the poorest people in the area.
Lots of family law.
No; actually, at that point, we were divided into divisions, and I was doing welfare law. So, I was doing your benefits were stopped, or the State wasn’t complying with the Federal laws about welfare benefits, food stamp benefits, Medicaid. So, I was doing more the keep your life and soul together …
So, that means you met people and saw individual stories of things that had happened which required government assistance.
So, in two jobs, then, with the defense law firm, Brook Hart’s firm and with Legal Aid, you’re basically on the other side of the State; right?
I’m meeting the real people; yeah.
Underdogs, is what I would call it. How’d you feel about that? And it’s not big money jobs, either, necessarily.
So, is that what you were looking for? You didn’t care about the money, and you wanted to help people who needed the help, who didn’t have much? Was that a goal, or just how that unfolded?
I didn’t become a lawyer to make money. I became a lawyer because … I didn’t want to type. And because I believe that some of the most resilient people I’ve met are people who have been, quote, underdogs. And they had potential, and good things to add to the state. So, doing that kind of law was perfectly fine with me.
You saw a lot of misery.
Yes; yeah. But the people who are in the midst of their problems don’t come in with, I’m in the midst of a lot of misery. They come in with, I’ve got this problem, and I gotta solve it because I’m getting evicted, because I can’t feed my kids, ‘cause … they weren’t drama queens. Let’s put it that way. So, they had resiliency, despite the fact that they lived in situations that were really challenging. When I left Legal Aid, you knew when it was time to leave. Because I used to keep graham crackers in my desk, because the people would come and they’d always bring their kids, and their kids were always hungry. So, I gave the kids coloring stuff and graham crackers while we talked about the case. And you knew it was time to leave when you just got a little bit tired shopping for graham crackers.
After five years, Judge Karen Radius left Legal Aid for private law practice. Along the way, she married future court administrator, Russell Tellio.
So, I worked for about nine months for Harriet Bouslog, who was a legend in her own right. And then, Norman Lau and Susan Arnett and I, all three of us at Legal Aid, decided we were gonna open our own firm. So, we did that January 2, 1980. And the three of us worked together for a while, and then Susan decided she wanted to do criminal stuff, and Norman and I didn’t. So, we became Radius and Lau, and stayed that way for thirteen years, until I got to be a judge.
Why did you become a judge?
This is gonna sound really silly. When my kids were born in 1985, I had twins. And Norman and I were doing a real varied civil law practice. So, you’d have to always be one step ahead of the clients, and learn a lot of different things all the time. So, having children, I knew that I needed to specialize in something, because trying to be such a generalist was … I needed time at home with the kids.
And you had two at once.
Yes. Yeah; yeah, yeah. Yeah. You know, you have to sleep once in a while.
In 1993, Karen Radius was appointed as a judge to the First Circuit Family Court on Oahu. She presided over cases involving divorce, child custody, domestic abuse, and juvenile law. Much like her time at Legal Aid, she matter-of-factly looked for the up-side in people facing tough situations.
It’s a place you could be a peacemaker. You may not be able to stop the divorce, but if you can focus the parents on the children and on preserving the assets they have for the children’s best interest, and coming up with a visitation and custody plan that’s in the kids’ best interest, you can bring peace. Or if not total peace, at least ratchet things down. If you’re doing an adoption, that’s the fun part of family law. So, you leave the stress and the sweat in the waiting room and come into the courtroom, where there’s balloons and happy people, and pictures and congratulations. The other thing about being a Family Court judge is, if the judge can portray some kind of calm and can manage the courtroom in a way that it’s not just total havoc, the people can focus a little bit better about what they need to do, and what’s next, and how to bring some kind of resolution to the problems that are there. And sometimes, you can’t bring peaceful resolutions; you just make a decision when it happens, and they’re unhappy with you, and they’re unhappy with their life.
While working as a Family Court judge, Karen Radius began to notice an alarming trend within the juvenile cases. The number of girls who were arrested and brought to court was dramatically increasing. In 2004, she confronted the problem head-on by creating a new program called Girls Court.
In the days that I was a Legal Aid lawyer in Waianae in the 70s, there was hardly ever a girl brought to juvenile court. Girls weren’t arrested. It was all boys. And over time, the programs and the method of dealing with things were built for boys, ‘cause that’s who the system was. But as time went on, more and more girls started to be arrested. And the programs weren’t built for them, and juvenile court really wasn’t helping the girls at all. So, in about 2003, I was sitting at detention home, where you go every morning for a week in a row, every four weeks. And all of a sudden, there’s just so many girls appearing in front of me. And I’m thinking, Maybe it’s just the luck of the draw, ‘cause that’s based on who got arrested. You gotta see a judge within forty-eight hours of getting arrested. And so, I went back to the courthouse and I’m saying, you know, Boy, out of thirteen kids, ten were girls. Is it just me? Am I somehow a girl magnet? What is this? And they said, No, no, no, we still have to do some research. And at that point, forty-two percent of the arrests in Honolulu were girls. Nationally, it was about between twenty and twenty-five percent, but Honolulu was forty-two percent.
I wonder why?
We arrest a lot for runaway, and we have a lot of runaway girls. And girls tend to act out not so much against other people, although there are some assaults on unrelated people, et cetera. But there’s a lot of act out against the boyfriend, act out against the mother. And then, drugs are a problem. Act out against themselves, by taking or possessing, or dealing drugs. So, I talked to Judge Wong, who was then the lead judge of Family Court, the senior judge, and she was doing some rearrangement of people’s caseloads, and so, she wanted to move some of my cases. She says, I know you’re gonna be mad. I said, No, I’m not gonna be mad if you let me do Girls Court. She said, What’s that? And I said, I don’t know, but we gotta do something. And she said, Okay.
So, you were convinced you couldn’t fix it by transforming juvenile court.
Well, it’s still a part of juvenile court. It’s a transformation of—not every girl who gets arrested in Honolulu goes to Girls Court. Girls Court is the girls who aren’t succeeding on regular probation. So anyway, we looked at what’s going on in the girls’ life, not just what she did. ‘Cause often, a sentence or a disposition is based on, You did X-crime, X-thing, and therefore, you must do the following community service, you must do the following anger management, et cetera. But what else is there going on in her life that gets her in the situation that make it that she’s acting out like this?
And she’s a revolving door.
And she’s a revolving door. You know, she’s not going to school for long periods of time. The old days, you would put her in detention home for two weeks and say, Okay, write an essay on why education is important to you. She didn’t know. And she’d write the essay, and she’d be scared for a while, and she’d go to school for maybe two, three weeks, and then the whole thing would start again. And the next run would happen or the next truancy would happen; back and forth. So, we weren’t looking at the underlying causes. So, Girls Court is all about getting, you know, the whole family working on the relationships within the family. And the probation officers are still probation officers, but they’re also not just, Did you comply with the court’s order and what the court told you to do, but let’s figure out your life and let’s come up with a life’s plan for you.
In 2010, Judge Karen Radius retired as a fulltime judge to help take care of her aging mother and her mother-in-law. At the time of our conversation in 2015, she’d returned to work as a per diem or part-time Family Court judge.
Let’s say the top three things you’ve done in your life that you really feel proud of.
My kids, number one. And watching them grow and develop, and lead their lives, and make the choices they make, one way or the other. Girls Court … jeez.
Well, top two is good.
We narrowed it down to two.
I don’t know.
I’m just thinking from a balance of power situation. You know, this is not the old model of husband and wife, where the wife is the judge. Was that hard to handle sometimes?
Not for me. No. We didn’t bring our work home. And those times that I would say something that I wasn’t happy about something, Russ would say, Slavery ended in the 1860s, if you don’t like the job, find another one. So, okay, I’m not gonna complain at home.
And you have twins.
Tell us a little bit about them, about how they were influenced by two parents working in the law.
My son’s a lawyer, although he has a sticker on his bike and it said, Born to fish, forced to work. So, in a perfect world, he might want to fish. But no; he’s a lawyer, he’s a good lawyer. My daughter, when she was probably about five or six, I said to her, You know, are you going to work when you get married and have children? Because being old school, I still felt a little bit of guilt about, I’m working. And she says, Of course, I’m gonna work. But I’m not gonna be a lawyer; that’s boring. So, at six, she already decided it’s boring. So, she’s a scientist; she’s a biomedical engineer, and smarter than me.
Did you think of your kids as you were in court, you know, passing judgments?
Yeah; I thought about my kids. Because of confidentiality of the cases, I couldn’t talk about the cases to the kids. But I’ve said things sometimes to the kids, and my son when he was little, used to say, Mom, you always know that all, and you’re all so worried about evil stuff. You know, you just don’t know the real world.
And I said, Oh, Andrew, your father and I have worked so hard so that you don’t know about the real world.
Founding Judge Karen Radius’ concept of Girls Court has now spread to several states on the continent. At the time of our conversation in the summer of 2015, she continues to be an advocate for at-risk youth inside and outside the courtroom. Judge Radius volunteers for several nonprofits, and is the president of Surfrider Spirit Sessions, a nonprofit that uses the lessons of surfing to help transform the lives of at-risk youth. Mahalo to Judge Karen Radius of Kailua, Windward Oahu for sharing your story with us. And thank you, for joining us. For PBS Hawaii and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha, 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.
What did your mother say to you after she saw you become a judge?
She wished I’d been a beautician, ‘cause I’d be home more.
Yes; yeah, seriously. When I first went off to college, she said, Do this for you and for me. And I was, quite frankly, a little bit … It’s for me; what you do mean for you? But having a daughter now myself, I understand.
From the moment she arrived in Hawaii in 1977, Holly Henderson, a product of New York and Massachusetts, knew that she was home. But she has always thought of herself as a guest in Hawaii. This “guest” was once arrested while protesting the eviction of Hansen’s disease patients from Hale Mohalu, and since arriving here, she has trained innumerable executive directors and board members of Hawaii non-profits.
This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, Sept. 30 at 11:00 pm and Sunday, Oct. 4 at 4:00 pm.
When I hit the world, it was the 60s, and we were looking at whole different model of what society was like, and what we wanted to be and do. People do focus on the sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll, and there was plenty of that. And I certainly am not gonna deny any of it. But I also remember how many serious people there were talking about issues and what we wanted to do, and what kind of world we wanted to live in, and how to make that kind of a world come about.
Holly Henderson came of age in the 1960s, a member of a generation that redefined values and spoke up for change. For decades, she has trained and advised nonprofit leaders in Hawaii. Holly Henderson, 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. Holly Henderson has trained nonprofit leaders in Hawaii for decades. Her social conscience serves her well in advising executive directors and members of boards of directors. She’s an original, known for wisdom and wit, and for speaking truth to power as needed. At the time of our conversation in the summer of 2015, Henderson was letting go of the reins of the Weinberg Fellows Program in which she taught executive directors of nonprofits serving the poor and needy. She continued to serve as the executive director of another nonprofit training and mentoring program with emphasis on early childhood program leadership, Castle Colleagues. She is keenly observant and analytical, perhaps as a result of her upbringing as the daughter of two scientists.
I was born in Stillwater, New York to Robert William Eric and Henry Hoskem Eric. And he was an anthropologist, and she was an archeologist.
Did they travel the world like in Raiders of the Lost Ark?
Yeah. Actually, that was how they met. They met on a dig, which I think was in Turkey. And they did travel the world after that. And then, my mother came home to have my sister in 1939, when the war clouds were pretty much gathering, and I was born in 1941, two years later, three days before Pearl Harbor. So, my father was gone most of the time when I was a small child; he served in the Pacific, which was the first time he came to Hawaii.
And your father; was he more open and forthcoming?
Yes. I was my father’s pet. That is true; I was.
I could make him laugh. My start at standup comedy.
And your mom was an archeologist?
Yes, she was.
Wasn’t that uncommon at the time?
Yeah, it was. She was a biological sport, I think. And when I look at her family, I have no explanation for how that actually happened. ‘Cause she was born in 1908, you know, and there she was, photographing the steps of the acropolis as a young woman, as a young archeologist. But there was really a dark side to that, you know. The 50s were a terrible time for women. Because what happened during the war years is, the women had to basically run the country, because really, almost all the men were in that war. And actually, it was a wonderful opportunity for women to get out of the home and learn trades, and do things. But then, they all had to be stuffed back into the kitchen when the men came home.
Your mother could have gone back to work. No?
No; she was more complicated than that. She was caught, as so many of the women at that time were, between the idea of your own competence and your own interests, and all of that, and although she would never have wanted anything to do with Tammy Wynette, but that general philosophy, stand by your man and be the good little woman, and all that.
And commitment to family means staying at home.
Yeah. And it was just a very, very confusing time for women.
So, how was that bad for your mother? What was the effect on her?
She spent her whole life restless, I think. Because she had that wonderful education, she had that early career path, and never went anywhere.
Like her mother, Holly Henderson had a restless life in her younger years. She had a love of literature and a thirst for knowledge, but rejected the formality of prep school, and later, college.
It’s interesting to think of you not enjoying school, ‘cause you’re so literate. I mean, you love information and knowledge.
I loved to read, but I hated most of my schooling. Except for the last two years of high school.
Okay; so where did you go to school before the last two years? Was it at a dreary school?
It was an incredibly pretentious place. The kind of place where you called your French teacher mademoiselle. And we had gym tunics.
And I remember you called it hideous.
I bet in the eyes of other people, it was this elite prep school?
Perhaps. But it didn’t do a thing for me, except cause me to think like a prisoner.
I don’t know how old you were, but along the way, and not early, you found out that you were German and Jewish on your dad’s side.
Yes. I was thirteen.
And considering the war that had been experienced, you know, it was odd that you didn’t know that.
Well, it’s obviously deliberate that I didn’t know that.
You know, at that time, it must have been so hard to grasp; German, Jewish. At the time.
It still is. It still is.
Did you finally find happiness in college?
Never did. Nope. Wanted to get out there in the big world.
Did you know where you wanted to be in the big world?
I knew I wanted to be a writer. My parents really encouraged us to do what we were drawn to, but to work hard at it. I mean, they weren’t overly permissive about it. They just wanted us to be who we are, and I give them a lot of credit for that.
And off to college. Where’d you go?
I went to Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, and crashed to the ground because we had all been told since babyhood that the main goal in life is to get into a good college, and it was gonna be so wonderful. Well, compared to where I had just been, it wasn’t. And it was very common among the people at that school to think, Oh, I just picked the wrong college. So, we all transferred like crazy, trucked out, took leaves of absences. We were the bane of our parents’ existence, because college was a big comedown after that.
So, where’d you go? Or did you end up staying?
I went to New York University. I went to the new school, and I realized it wasn’t that I had picked the wrong place. I should have stayed in high school.
You should have stayed in high school.
In her early twenties, future nonprofit consultant Holly Henderson took a job at a respected national business membership organization, The Conference Board. She started out as an entry level typist, but a series of what she calls “flukey” events would quickly advance her career.
I actually was only working there, I guess, about a week or so. But the lady who ran the pool was interested that I was writing these stories. So one day, she came to me and she asked me if I could take dictation. So, I did, and I was able to do a version of it that passed her test. So, she took me to meet the controller of the company whose secretary had just quit. And when I walked into his office, his radio was on and was playing an aria. And I said, Oh, Puccini! And that was it. I mean, he wouldn’t have cared if I couldn’t type at all. The fact that I knew Puccini when I heard him was enough. So, I now left the pool within days of being hired, and I became his secretary, and then the following week they made him treasurer of the company. So, I was now an executive secretary. Picture this, ‘cause I was a hippie in those days; right? So, I had this long, straggly hair, and I had black tights with holes in them, and I was the bane of the actual executive secretaries. Oh! They thought that I was the most awful ruffian.
After her stint as an executive secretary, Holly Henderson became a reporter for The Conference Board’s publications. As the turbulent social issues of the 1960s swirled around her, she began to incorporate them into her articles.
So, I tried to get into it various pieces on social issues that were important to me, and discovered the most amazing thing. In the belly of the beast, there was this old guy who was there for the same reason.
To begin to get them to think a little bit differently about social issues. And so, we colluded. I was in my twenties, and he was in his sixties or so. I would report on these conferences that they had, where they invited all the Fortune 500, and they had various speakers talking on various issues. And I would write in such a way that I would … I guess I was asking diabolical questions, now that you mention it. I would go up to the speakers afterwards and ask them some questions, and those would make it into the articles. And I remember one that was about the unreliability of lower income employees. And what they didn’t know was that those employees, first of all, had to cross gang territory to get to work. So, if there was a problem, they had to go around, and they were frequently late for work, and they got a bad reputation for that. But I was trying to show the other side of what was going in these people’s lives. So, things like that; I wrote about things like that.
Lasting marriage was not in the cards for Holly Henderson. However, her ill-fated relationships would lead Holly to discover Hawaii, which would become her home.
I did not know that you had three husbands before you got here.
I did, in fact. I mean, that was what I did. I was a slow learner.
Yeah; tell me about that. You were young. How old were you at the time you were married?
The first time I got married, I had just turned nineteen.
And that was a marriage because of the morays of the times. I had drunk the Kool-Aid, I was a good girl. I wish I had already been a hippie at the time. Because I wouldn’t have married him, and that would have been a much better thing for both of us.
So, divorced, I take it.
Yes. That was the baby marriage. Yes.
But then, you also went through the deaths of two husbands.
Yes, I did.
Were those marriages happier?
I don’t know; they didn’t last very long. The first one died when we had been married for only about eight months. And then, the second one … actually, when I married him, I was in therapy because I was anxious, and the therapist felt that this was because I was coming up on the eighth month, and that I was nervous about that. And then in the eighth month, he died of a heart attack.
Two husbands died at the eighth month?
Yes. So …
So, what was the effect on you?
It was like being hit in the head with an ax or something. Yeah. That’s not the sort of thing you expect is going to happen to you once, let alone twice. But your life goes on; that’s the amazing thing. There wasn’t a whole lot of money, but there was a little. And when somebody that you love dies, and there is money as a result, you feel like you should do something special with that. And what I did was, I traveled, and I went to a number of very interesting places. I was really happy that I got a chance to travel. But the last place that I had been before Hawaii, I had gotten hassled considerably because—I mean, this was fifty years and a hundred pounds ago, so … you know.
So, you were a single woman traveling alone.
I’m a single woman traveling alone. And I just wanted to go someplace where I could wander around and feel safe, and not be harassed. So, the first night that I spent in Hawaii was on Kauai, at Coco Palms.
When you were there, Grace Guslander owned it.
Actually, Amfac owned it.
Oh, she ran it. But didn’t she own it at one point?
Yeah. I think she and Gus did, her husband. But she was the most magic person. And I really think that I am in Hawaii today because of her. Because she managed to show people what Hawaii was really about. Which is interesting, because she did it while at the same time there were the hokey things, you know.
Yes. There’s a lot of hokey-ness in a sweet way about the old Coco Palms.
With its channels of water, and its palm trees dipping into the water.
But that’s royal ground, you know, and she never forgot that it was.
How did she bring Hawaii home to you, the authentic Hawaii, from her tourist accommodations?
Oh, so many different ways. The staff at Coco Palms really was a family. And when you would go back year after year, they would whip out the pictures of their grandchildren, they would invite you to their homes. After I saw what Grace had shown me, I thought if I lived in Hawaii, it would make me a nicer person.
Did you think you weren’t nice? Not that nice?
You mean, you’re still not?
Well, I’m nicer.
It did sort of work.
Well, I mean—okay, I’m trying to figure out what you mean by that. Do you mean that you had a wicked sense of humor?
Not that. You just were not a kind person?
Not the way someone who has been born and raised in this culture is.
After several visits to Hawaii during the 70s, Holly Henderson decided it was time to make the islands her home. In 1977, she quit her job at the United Church of Christ in New York, and made the move to Hawaii. She didn’t have a job, or even a plan, but Hawaii welcomed her. She secured a position that she called a perfect fit at a human services nonprofit organization.
There used to be a wonderful man named Wally Smith in this town. And he ran Health and Community Services Council, which later morphed into Hawaii Community Services Council. I got a job with them. And it was based on a model that came out of United Way of America, to train boards of directors on what their responsibilities should be. You see why this was such an ironic thing for me. Because up until that point, being on a board of directors was often just a sort of honorary thing. They weren’t really expected to do that much.
Names on the stationery.
Yeah. And at that point, it became important that they step up and know what they were supposed to do, and do it. So, my job initially was to train volunteers, and they were volunteers, to go into all sorts of organizations all over the islands and work with them, work with the boards of directors, so that it functioned on all the different islands. And I did that for many years. And it was while I was in that job that Harry Weinberg died, and Alvin Awaya was one of his trustees, and he thought from his kitchen cabinet ideas for what to fund initially. And the Weinberg Fellows Program came out of that. And then, Al Castle, who was involved in the early years of the Weinberg Fellows Program, and still is to this day, said, You know, we really should do something like this for early childhood centers. And so then, the Castle Colleagues Program came out of that.
Holly Henderson continues to train and refine the leaders of many nonprofit organizations in Hawaii.
And you’ve been minting nonprofit executives.
No, I haven’t been minting them. They come to me already minted. But the thing is that very few people, when they’re sitting outside playing with mud pies say, I’m gonna grow up and run a not-for-profit organization. And there are management responsibilities nonprofits have that sometimes they’re not prepared for. But I know the expectations of them are merciless. Because if you think about the model that we use in the Weinberg Fellows Program, and we look at the different areas that we’re talking about in terms of governance and board relations, HR, personnel issues, financial management, fundraising, planning, evaluation.
And your core mission.
Your core mission.
And vision and values at the center of it. And then, marketing and community relations. You tell me what human being is good at all of that.
I was one of your Weinberg Fellows.
Yes, you were.
And I was one of your Weinberg Fellows in the great recession. And I recall you had a board speaker come in, who turned out to be my board chair, Robbie Alm.
And I thought, Okay, this is the Fellows Program, this is going to be high level stuff. And what happened was, just profound simplicity. I think he came in and he said something like … You guys look terrible. How can you take care of an organization unless you take care of yourself?
And it’s true. You know, everybody was just kind of working really hard, and burning the candle at both ends, and apparently, we looked unkempt or something. I don’t know, but he called it right. And then, that’s the basis on which that particular Fellows session started. You chose that as the starting point.
Holly Henderson has a deep respect and appreciation for the Hawaiian culture. Throughout her nearly forty years in Hawaii, she has considered it a privilege and a joy to live here.
The word that’s important to me is, guest. I think of myself as a guest in Hawaii. And I have been here since 1977 as a guest, and I will die as a guest. Because there is etiquette involved in being a guest, that’s why that word is so important to me. You know. When you’re a guest, if you expect to be welcomed, you do not criticize what your host says, does, eats, drinks, values … what they believe, where they go to church, how they dress. You don’t try to change who they are; you try to adapt yourself to the way they live. That’s what a good guest does, I think. But the situation of native Hawaiians in their own land … it just breaks my heart. Whether they agree with each other or not is not the point. So, it’s important to me to do what I can, which isn’t a whole lot, but to try to speak up about it.
And you made a film?
I did make a film.
And that’s the subject of it.
That is the subject of it.
To remember that you’re a guest. You don’t come here and bulldoze your way around.
Yes. Because that’s what my people have been doing for a long, long, long, long time, and have no right to, in my view.
Nonprofit consultant Holly Henderson says that one of the most important moments in her life was being arrested. In 1983, Henderson stood up for the rights of Hansen’s Disease patients who were being evicted from a State housing complex called Hale Mohalu in Pearl City, Oahu. It was to be torn down, with patients offered quarters in Leahi Hospital in Honolulu. State agents forcibly evicted the residents, and Holly Henderson was arrested, along with seventeen other protestors.
I’m proud of it. I’m proud of it. Because I think there are times when you’ve tried everything else, and nothing has worked. You have to know that about yourself, that when the time comes, if you have to go to the mat, you will. Martin Luther King said something I really like. He said, If a man hasn’t found something he will die for, he isn’t fit to live. And you just have to know that when the time comes, you’ll stand up. It took eleven years from then ‘til when they broke ground for the new place in Pearl City, but it does stand as a testimonial that sometimes you do win, if you persist.
Holly Henderson was acquitted of the charges for her protest at Hale Mohalu. Her social conscience has not diminished with time; it is felt as she trains nonprofit leaders and consults with nonprofit boards of directors. And you will sometimes see her name on well-crafted letters to the editor about community issues. Mahalo to nonprofit consultant Holly Henderson of Honolulu for sharing your story with us. And thank 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.
No matter how imaginative you are, you could never imagine a better life than fate provides. You know? I couldn’t have planned a path like I’ve had, and I’m so grateful that I didn’t try.
You clearly weren’t following a formula.
I definitely was not.
When he first came to Hawaii from American Samoa at the age of seven, Bob Apisa could not understand a word of English. Despite that initial difficulty, he excelled in sports at Farrington High School and won a national championship as a member of the Michigan State Spartan football team. He was drafted by the Green Bay Packers and went on to a successful career in Hollywood as an actor and stuntman.
This program will be rebroadcast on Wed., Aug. 19 at 11:00 pm and Sun., Aug. 23 at 4:00 pm.
So, forty-nine years before Marcus Mariotta helped to win the Rose Bowl, you were playing the Rose Bowl.
That’s correct. That’s correct. I was probably the first Samoan that played in the Rose Bowl; I’m not sure of that. When you’re raised in Hawaii, I mean, ethnically, I am of Samoan mix. Culturally, I am of Hawaiiana. When I’m raised with people here, they would have an influence on the way you look at things in life. And I knew that go up there, don’t shame your surname, don’t shame yourself, and don’t shame the state that you’re from. And that was the driving force for all of us who were up there.
Before Marcus Mariota, there was Bob Apisa, a Samoan recruited from Hawaii, who also made history on the football field nearly half a century ago. Bob Apisa, next, on Long Story Short.
Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Bob Apisa was the first all-American college football player of Samoan ancestry whose achievements helped open the door for Polynesian players like Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariot. Apisa’s athleticism made him a college football star, and led him to a long career as a stuntman in Hollywood’s film industry. However, Apisa’s early years were a struggle. When he moved to Hawaii at the age of seven, he couldn’t understand a word of English.
Where were you born?
Leslie, I was born in Fagatogo, American Samoa. And that’s adjacent to Pago Pago, American Samoa. That’s the capital of American Samoa.
But you didn’t stay there, obviously.
Fortunately for me and my family—well, there were eleven siblings. I mean, I had ten siblings, rather. I was the eleventh. There eight boys, three girls. And my dad was in the military at the time; he knew that the only way to improve our lot in life was to bring us from Samoa to Hawaii, so that we can get into or be engrained with proper uh, education. I remember sixty-three years ago when I left American Samoa in 1952. And I remember pulling out of that port, and we never seen electricity; I’d never seen it. I lived in a house that was lit up by kerosene lanterns. And I never spoke English, could not understand a word of English. And as we left Samoa, two and a half weeks later, we were pulling in at Honolulu Harbor. And the landscape of the land was just lit up, and I was on deck, and I asked my brother, George—his name was Siosi. In Samoan, that’s George. And I said, Siosi, [SAMOAN LANGUAGE]. Meaning, there must be hundreds of, you know, kerosene lanterns out there lighting this place up. And he looked at me; he said, Papu. Papu is Bob in Samoan. He said, Papu, [SAMOAN LANGUAGE]. Meaning, Those are not kerosene lanterns; that’s electricity. I had never seen a switch. We never had an inside toilet; we had outhouses. So, the confirmation of just bringing this whole new world was there. And the reaffirmation of that was the effort that we had to go out and strike it on our own. My mom and my father went up to as high as eighth grade in Samoa. They didn’t have high schools. And that was one of the reasons why my dad brought us here.
What was the hardest thing for you? I can’t imagine. The culture, the language; what was the hardest thing?
Well, the hardest thing was cognitive skills, social etiquettes; things of that nature. I remember sitting in the classroom at Pearl Harbor Kai Elementary, and when the teacher would gather the kids around, and she would read us a book, like, See Tom run; run, run, run. See Jane hop; hop, hop. And kids would laugh. And they would laugh, and that was my clue to laugh along with them, so I would feel like I’m one of them.
But you didn’t know why.
But I didn’t know why I was laughing. I didn’t know why I was laughing.
No special language lessons, or tutoring; nothing like that?
No; this was strictly through osmosis or just by being around the vicinity of being around English-speaking military dependents. Because I was brought up with military dependents at Pearl Harbor Kai Elementary. But I had teachers that helped me. I remember arriving in November, and starting school late. Because it started in September, and arriving, and then I had to re-acclimate myself. Then I got hurt. We were playing cowboys and Indians; I got shot in my left eye with a slingshot, and bled for quite some time. So, I missed more school. And as a result, I was set back a grade to repeat that same grade in order for me to get on. But I took that as an onus that I had some making up to do, but it was incumbent on me to make the move and make the motivation to move ahead.
Where did your family live, and what was it like growing up with ten siblings?
It was a very disciplinarian upbringing. My dad, I think in my lifetime, because he was a man of few words, but he’ll give you that look, and you’ll know exactly what he meant. But he was very soft-spoken. My mom was the general foreman; she ran the shop. So, she was very dedicated as a mother. She attended and made sure that we went to school. She took us there, and picked us up. You know, she was all-giving and all-supportive.
So, at the time, what public school did you go to?
I came out of Pearl Harbor Kai. I entered Aliamanu Intermediate when it first opened up. This, I think, was 1960. And I remember going to Aliamanu the very first day it opened up, and the Salt Lake City was just nothing but a salt lake and marshland.
It really was a salt lake then.
There were no buildings. There were no buildings; just that school there. But from there, I had to go on to ninth grade. They did not have a ninth grade; it was just up to eighth grade. And I had left the eighth grade, so I was going to the ninth grade. And what my brother Bill and I did—I mean, Bill was the catalyst in bringing me to the old Interscholastic League of Honolulu.
ILH. And that was the premier competition. And I think because he felt slighted—I didn’t know any better, but he felt slighted that all the friends that we were playing around with when we were little kids all went to private schools. And he felt slighted.
The immigrants got left behind.
But the immigrants were left behind. And so, we concocted a story based on Bill’s theory that if we had a district exception from someone, that we can play at Farrington. Because Farrington was in the ILH. So, we asked my uncle, Reverend McMoore—that’s the Scotch part of my family, to use his residence address over at Republican Street in Kalihi. And he said, Yeah, by all means. So, that’s how we ended up at Farrington.
Bob Apisa says he didn’t play organized football until he entered the ninth grade at Farrington High School. He was a natural at that, and other sports as well.
You did things like you were playing a doubleheader in baseball, and the coach ran you over to the Punahou relays, and you took two events there, and you came back and you played your second baseball game.
Yes; that’s very true. This is my senior year, and it was the spring of my senior year. And I had fiddled around with the track team so I can work out and do my sprints, and just starting out, because I knew as a running back, I needed speed. But he needed a shot-putter, and he knew that in my sophomore year, I tinkered around with shot-putting, and it was only about, you know, two feet or three feet and a lot of rolls after that. But I didn’t know how to acquire the skills. So, we were playing Roosevelt at Moiliili Field, and he went up to my coach, Dick Kitamura, and he said, Dick, may I borrow Bob uh, in between the games? He said, Fine. I went up there.
And are you still wearing your baseball shoes?
I was wearing my baseball gear.
I took off my baseball top and put on a FHS tee-shirt or shirt, tank top, and I wore my baseball pants and my baseball leggings, and I borrowed a pair of tennis shoes. And these were the best shot-putters from all over the State. And they were all kinda [SNICKERS], you know, laughing and giggling.
How did that make you feel? Did that make you feel like—
Well, you know, I was laughing, myself. [CHUCKLE] But anyway, I said, Well, you know, I’m gonna do the best I can. My first throw, I said to myself, All I want to do is get some height on it. And I pumped it back, and I let go, and all I heard was the crowd going, Wow! Because I had just broken the State record that was there for eight and a half years later. I mean, previous. And I’m walking around like I knew what I was doing, but I was looking for the first dog poop that I may have stood on before I came into the ring. But, you know, my second and third throws, I mean, ba-boom, little dribbles here and there. But the damage was done. I had won the shotput, I had set the State record for the shotput of fifty-six, three and three-quarters, and I broke—the gentleman’s name, I think it was Souza that was from Waialua in 1956. So, I told the coach, I’ve got a second game, so put on my uniform, and went back to play the second game of the doubleheader.
How’d you do in the doubleheader?
I hit a homerun.
It was a good night; a very good night.
It was a good night.
Bob Apisa’s athletic achievements at Farrington caught the attention of dozens of college football recruiters. He chose Michigan State University, where he became part of a national championship team known for pioneering racial integration, and for having four future Hall of Fame players, all African American. And he earned a spot in Rose Bowl lore.
I was. You know, when you’re raised in Hawaii, I mean, ethnically, I am of Samoan mix. Culturally, I am of Hawaiiana. When I’m raised with people here, they would have an influence on the way you look at things in life. And I knew that go up there, don’t shame your surname, don’t shame yourself, and don’t shame the state that you’re from. And that was the driving force for all of us who were up there. You know, Dick Kenney and Charley Wedemeyer, when we were playing, we were ranked number one in the country. We would go to Ann Arbor to play University of Michigan or go down to Columbus and play Ohio State, or go down to South Bend to play Notre Dame; the top schools in the country. And we would look at each other, kust before we’d go out on the field, we’d look at each other. We’d do this. Meaning, when we get together, we say, Don’t make … you know what.
A; of yourself. Because that’s how local boys related; don’t make A. So, we look at each other, and we knew. We were in tune.
And at the same time, Michigan State had an unusual makeup of its starters. I read that there were eleven African American starters, which was really unusual at the time, and you had far more players on the team. And then, there was you, who became the first all-American player of Samoan ancestry.
What a team.
Oh, it was a great team. You know, at that time in 1964, we had just legislated civil rights. In 1965, there was the Civil Rights Voting Act.
And that’s when you were a sophomore.
When I was a sophomore. And I looked at Bubba Smith, and Bubba Smith would look at George Webster, and George Webster would look at Dick Kenney. And we would look at each other … people of color. We said, You mean, we can actually vote for the first time? And so, there was a lot of history in that, that we had to encumber along the way. But the fact is, you look at things, and you learn from those experiences, and having African Americans who were great athletes. Being from the islands, again, you know, we had this mantra that you’re there to represent your people, you go out there and kick okole.
Here we are at the granddaddy of all the bowl games, the Rose Bowl, in—
So, forty-nine years before Marcus Mariotta helped to win the Rose Bowl, you were playing the Rose Bowl.
That’s correct. That’s correct. I was probably the first Samoan that played in the Rose Bowl; I’m not sure of that.
Bob Apisa, the fullback …
In 1966, I was a sophomore. And we were ranked number one in the country, undefeated, and we played UCLA, who we had beaten in the first game of the year. We were behind by fourteen to twelve, and I had scored a touchdown, and we went for a two-point conversion instead of having Dick kick a field goal or a point after. So, that made a difference. So, when we scored the second touchdown, we had to make up two points. And I was given that opportunity, and it’s been in lore, the Rose Bowl lore throughout the years that I was stopped by the one-yard line by Bob Stiles.
Apisa the fullback, and Bob is caught a yard short …
And Bob … I think he was a hundred seventy-pounds or two twenty-five. But he just threw himself at you; right?
Well, he was knocked out in the process. But the fact of the matter is, he did the job. And that’s the important thing. You know, you only had about four major bowls back in those days. And the Rose Bowl was the granddaddy of them all. That was The Big One. And that’s what I wanted to aspire to play in when I left Farrington, to go to a conference that would give me a shot at playing in the granddaddy of them all.
Ten months after that close loss in the Rose Bowl, on November 19, 1966, Bob Apisa played a part in history, taking the field in a matchup dubbed The Game of the Century. It was the first ever live TV sports broadcast in Hawaii.
I played in that game. And what happened was, prior to that game, throughout that week, people were just so jazzed up about the Game of the Century. We were both undefeated.
Okay. This was Michigan State, and …
Notre Dame. And Notre Dame at that time had one minority on their team. Just one. They had maybe twenty-seven in the entire enrollment, in South Bend. And that made them change and incorporate more people. But the fact that we were playing … I had a scroll with about three thousand names sent to me from my high school wishing us luck from Farrington. You know, those are cherished moments. And I remember when Dick Kenney and Charley and I got together, I said, You know, this is big-time, guys. I mean, I’m a kid from Samoa, Palama Housing to Kalihi Valley, and we’re playing big-time. People are gonna be seeing us live and direct. And that game, I think it was Governor Burns at that time, I believe it was, along with the Legislature, and they petitioned the FCC, the Federal Communications Commission, to see if they can see it live and direct. So, they got permission from them, and on the morning of November 19, 1966, there was a little satellite revolving around Sydney, Australia. The satellite was called Lani Bird. And they had that satellite beam the signal from Sydney, Australia, ricochet that signal across to Honolulu. And for the first time, you know, six hours earlier, people from Hawaii turned on their TVs, whether it’s an RCA, whether it’s the Zenith or Motorola, one of those brands, with two rabbit ears.
And with tin foil at the end of it, and with a small screen.
No cable television back then.
No cable TV. And they turned it on, they saw the splotchy black and white figures, and they finally saw the game, the first live telecast in the history of Hawaii. That’s one of the proudest moments of my life. I know I speak on behalf of my departed brothers, Dick Kenney and Charley Wedemeyer. That made us so proud. If there’s anything that we’re proudest of is that we helped facilitate this state into the 20th Century, as far as telecommunications is concerned.
After all the hype, The Game of the Century ended in a tie. Injuries sidelined Bob Apisa for much of his senior year at Michigan State. Still, he was chosen in the ninth round of the NFL draft by the late legendary coach, Vince Lombardi, who was then general manager of the Green Bay Packers.
That was a great honor for me, Leslie, because when you’re drafted by the world champions—they were just coming out of their second Super Bowl championship. And I was hoping to get onto an expansion team like the Miami Dolphins at that time, or Cincinnati Bengals. But lo and behold, I could hear vividly well Pete Roselle, the commissioner, announcing my name over the PA, and I can hear them saying, you know, Drafted in the ninth round, from Michigan State, bla-bla-bla-bla. And I can hear there’s cheering. And my heart sank in a way, because I wanted to go to a lesser team in developing. And here I am, I’m drafted by Green Bay, by Vince Lombardi. So, you know, people would see that trophy named after him on every Super Bowl, and eighty percent of the country probably don’t know who this man is. I was honored to be drafted by him. I shook hands with him, I talked to him, I negotiated my contract with him. And that’s quite an honor. The fact of the matter is, you know, to have that opportunity, to have just the experience of someone who is so iconic in football folklore. And when I see that, and I’m tracing myself back to 1952 when that young man who stood on that boat, who could not speak a word of English, and to where I am today, those are some of the moments that I’m most proudest of
You know, your career with the Green Bay Packers was fairly short, because I think you had serious knee damage; didn’t you?
Yes, I did. I signed a two-year contract with them. I lasted a year; they paid my year off. And I knew I was, you know, damaged goods to pursue an NFL career, because I paid that price during my collegiate career. But since, I’ve had prosthesis; I had three hip replacements, two on my right and one on my left, and a left knee replaced, so I walk with a shuffle and a distinct gait, and a gimp and a limp.
And other than that, you feel good?
Other than that, everything else is working.
Being a fullback, always working to move the ball forward, Bob Apisa didn’t look back after the end of his football career. He went on to a thirty-three-year career as a stuntman and sometime actor, following a chance encounter with a Hawaii Five-O casting director.
I sat there, and there was this silver-haired guy with a beard, and he kept looking at me. And I’m saying, Well, maybe I owe him money or something.
So, he finally came over. And he says, I’m Bob Busch, I’m the casting director for Hawaii Five-O. The original Five-O. And he says, You’re Bob Apisa? I says, Yes. And he says, Have you ever done pictures before? And I says, The only pictures I’ve ever dealt with are Kodak cameras and stuff like that. But he says, No. So he said, I’m giving you a card. Why don’t you give me a call tomorrow. And I had a few days before I went back to Flint. And so, I called him on a lark, and he said, Why don’t you come in, I’d like to see you. So, I went down to the studio over by Diamond Head.
Were you excited?
No, I wasn’t excited. I didn’t know what why he wanted me to come in. Because I wasn’t involved with filming, I did not know what filming was. Once again, this was a first-timer. And as I’m walking in through the door, I noticed that there were about three big guys like me. And as I’m walking through the door, Jack Lord exits his office, and he’s looking right at me. He says, Oh, you’re the guy I’m looking for. I turned behind, and I’m wondering if he’s talking to the guy behind me, but there was nobody there. And then, Bob Busch came out and made the introduction. And so, Jack Lord said, Can you come tomorrow and do a little scene with us? I said, Wow, this thing is happening so quick. I mean, twenty-four hours later, I’m asked to come in another twenty-four hours later to do a jail scene with some people, some guys. And so, I said, Yeah, fine. You know, I didn’t mind doing that just to kill time and get a day’s pay. And he said something; the dialog between him and James MacArthur, Danno at that time. So, Steve McGarrett was saying this to Danno, and then it didn’t make sense. So, Jack looks at me; he said, Bob, when I say this, just say, No, I didn’t do it, or something to that effect. I don’t quite remember. And so, when he said this, then I said, No, I didn’t do it. I was immediately Taft-Hartleyed into Screen Actors Guild.
Forty-eight hours later, no experience as an extra or anything, I went from Point A to Point Z.
Well, you were comfortable with yourself; right?
I was comfortable with myself, because, you know, I thought it was a new adventure, and I said, Ah, why not. You know. And a week later, just before I left, or a couple days later before I left the following week, they asked me if I could take jeep and squib it and drive it. I said, Hey, it’s no big thing. And had bullet holes. I mean, squibbed it and came right up to the camera, and that was no big thing. And that’s how my stunt career started. I’ve done train falls, I’ve done horse falls, I’ve done horse stampedes, motorcycles, car chases, falling off of four-story buildings into water. You know, it’s all timing. But if you’re an athlete and you have the innate skills to adjust, to make your adjustment. Before I go on a set and they ask me to do something, I’ll turn ‘em down too.
So, this is 2015, and you are how old? Seventy?
I just turned uh, the milestone of seven, zero.
So, it’s a new stage of your life. What’s it like? I mean, you’re now officially retired.
I mean, that’s another kind of career, because you have to figure out how to spend your time, what relationships to keep, and which to invest time in, and where to go.
Well, I have a great relationship with AARP. No, I’m just kidding you. I find time to do things. I can wake up and read the paper, and I go and work out, and I come back and have lunch with friends. Or the wife and I can just get up and go.
Bob Apisa lives in Southern California. At the time of our conversation in 2015, he was producing a project dear to his heart, a documentary about the Michigan Spartans’ two-year run as national champions, and the team’s groundbreaking impact on racial integration in college football. Thank you, Bob Apisa, for sharing your story with 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 Stort 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.
People always point out that Bob Apisa came first. He was the first Samoan to really make a dent in the national scene. So, you were the Marcus Mariota of your time.
Marcus Mariota is a gentleman that when I looked at the way he carries himself, I’m proud of him. He represents America. He represents the cross-section of all ethnicity; all ethnicity. And he carries himself with humility, which is from here.
As a member of the 1987 national champion University of Hawaii Rainbow Wahine volleyball team, Mahina Eleneki learned the value of discipline, teamwork, and of getting right back up after failure. Now, as Head of School at La Pietra- Hawaii School for Girls, Mahina Eleneki Hugo teaches those same values to new generations of women.
For me, athletics is definitely my success in my career. And I think it’s just there are so many things; you learn; you take risks, you fail, but you get right back up. You know, there’s challenges to be had, there’s discipline, there’s others to be considered on the team, but each person has to do their responsibility in order to make the organization work. And when somebody doesn’t, then as the head of the school, it’s my job to either fix it or make the change. And so, that kinda has that team, you know. You have to find that right combination.
That’s Mahina Eleneki Hugo, the head of school at La Pietra Hawaii School for Girls, at the base of Diamond Head. And she knows about athletic success. When she discovered volleyball in seventh grade, she dedicated herself to the sport. She was a member of the beloved University of Hawaii Rainbow Wahine Volleyball Team that won the 1987 NCAA championship. The lessons she learned as an athlete continue to serve her well. Mahina Eleneki Hugo, next, on Long Story Short.
Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Mahina Hugo was Mahina Eleneki when she played for the University of Hawaii’s Rainbow Wahine Volleyball Team. Besides being a member of the team that won the National College Athletic Association Championship in 1987, she was named the NCAA’s Women’s All Conference Player and NCAA’s Most Inspirational Player of that year. Her family nurtured and supported her passion for athletics at a young age.
Home is Kailua, Oahu. It’s Enchanted Lakes, more specifically. I was born and raised, and in fact, my parents still live in the same house in Kailua. It was a fun neighborhood, growing up. It was a fun childhood. We always played barefoot on the road, or rode our bicycles, and it was all outside. We would build our own kites, or try to build a go-cart, and the neighborhood kids would come with one piece of something to add to the go-cart to try to make it go. Mom is Caucasian from Colorado. And my dad is Hawaiian, Chinese; he attended Kamehameha Schools, and went off for a football scholarship in college, and he met my mother, and they moved and lived here ever since. Mom is Caucasian from Colorado. And my dad is Hawaiian, Chinese; he attended Kamehameha Schools, and went off for a football scholarship in college, and he met my mother, and they moved and lived here ever since.
I did; I have an older brother and an older sister. And so, I think I was always the brother that my older brother didn’t have. And so, I sort of was a tomboy growing up, and could very much hang with my brother and the football, and the this and that.
And when it came time to go to school, your parents sent you to town.
They did. I think being that Dad went to private school education, Kamehameha, and through athletics, we’re a very competitive family, and I think that’s due to both parents. They were very competitive. And so, we were all into sports very early. My brother played all the major sports in Kailua, and I found the love for volleyball probably in the seventh grade. But back then, they didn’t really have club teams in Kailua. And so, we had to travel into town to play sports. And so, I think finding a school in town made sense, because right after school, then I would go to my club practice. And I’m very proud to be a Sacred Hearts graduate, and I think it served me well.
Did you like being in an all-girls school?
You know, to tell you the truth, it’s so funny, because I don’t think I really recognized it at the time, because I had so many other things that I did that involved either guys or just other friends from other schools. I didn’t really feel like I was missing at school that sort of school. And I did my best at school, I played for the sports team. And then, I had lots of other friends from different associations of either sports or other activities. So, I didn’t necessarily feel like I felt anything different. Just the comfortability part, I could feel then, as far as not having to act a certain way or dress a certain way.
I’m not quite sure what the pressures are of having boys in class with you.
Well, it’s the comfortability, and I know I keep saying that. But it really is. There’s things like, there’s no silly questions. I mean, I think when you feel comfortable, or not having to dress up. You know, having a uniform, first of all, was a big help. And I know some people would think that’s kind of boring. But really, what the focus is, is the academics or whatever school’s all about, and not having to worry about what you look like, or if you were having a bad hair day that some guy was gonna be there to, you know, say, Oh, bad hair day. You know, I’m sure girls can do that to girls as well, but I don’t think it happens as often. So, having that comfort zone of being with peers, alike peers, I think really took off a lot of pressure. And sometimes, that pressure’s undue pressure. It’s put on by you, not others. And so, not having that, or that pressure to have to feel like we needed to do that made going to school pretty easy.
You discovered volleyball in, you said, the seventh grade?
And did you know it was gonna be something you needed to play every season?
Not at first. Actually, one of my mentors to this day—he has since passed, but in the volleyball world, Uncle Bobby, as we call him, Bobby Yomes was a mentor to me, a very good coach. And he was actually watching. My dad was a big handball player back in the day, and he was watching a game and watching my dad. And I got introduced to him through my dad. And he said, What is your daughter doing? And at the time, I really wasn’t involved in a club sport. And he said, Have her come out; we’re having practice next Saturday, volleyball. And so I said, Yeah, I think I’d like to try that. And so, we went to practice, and I pretty instantaneously fell in love with the sport.
What was it about it that made you fall in love with it?
I think at first, the challenge. Like you said, we grew up so competitive. And not being able to find it so easy when I first started made me want more and made me want to perfect. And so, it was quite funny how, Oh, I want to go back for more. As you know, there’s so many aspects of the game.
What did you like first? What was the first thing you liked?
Everybody loves to hit. So, it was that. And then, Uncle Bobby was a very old school coach. And what I mean by that is, very disciplined, could raise his voice. I mean, you know, those were things back in my day that were acceptable and parents supported it. It wasn’t like, Don’t raise your voice to my daughter. It was, You better listen to Uncle Bobby. So, it was very old school coaching, but very good coaching as far as the finer points of the game. So, you learned the basics and then each year, the details that he provided to the game, and looking at it as a chess match. And just the intricacies of the game that he shared through my years with him has been amazing.
Was that sport offered through the school as well?
So, right after the regular school season was over, then everybody would go to the different club play. So, he was one of the clubs that was available for people to try out. So, yeah.
Your parents really supported sports, as you mentioned. And you all supported each other in your sports?
Yes. I was very fortunate. I mean, I think about my parents and the sacrifices that they made for me as far as they didn’t miss one practice or one game growing up, and drove me to all my practices until I could obviously drive myself. But even when I was of age to drive, they still made every game. And even all the way through my career when I eventually went to UH, the games were back-to-back Thursdays and Friday, and they were there every Thursday and Friday. And we had a little neighborhood contingency that also came with them. And so, very supportive parents and family; my siblings would attend all the games as well.
So, you go through Sacred Hearts, and what academic subjects have captured your attention at this point?
Favorite subjects. I liked history. I enjoy reading things from the past. Math, I enjoyed. Not to say that I was really good at it, but I enjoyed it, I think credit to the teachers there. And then, believe it or not, it might be equivalent to today’s technology, but they had typing, and I thought that was pretty intriguing. I think my class was one of the first where we got the electric typewriter. So, we started our classes with the old, you know manual, then when they said, Oh, we have two new electric, we all sort of–
And they’d have speed tests; right?
Yes. And we all fought for those. But those were some courses that I think just inspired. And Hawaiian history in particular, there was a teacher that I really appreciated, and I think that’s what I loved so much about the course, was the style that she taught it in made it so interesting for me.
And at this point, teaching is not shaping up on your career horizon yet?
Not at all.
Not at all. No. You know, at this point, it was really volleyball.
What about the competition did you like? Did you like being better than everybody, or did you like winning as a team? Or did you like the way you could hit that ball?
I think at first, you start to develop your individual skills. And so, you like to see the things that you can start to do that you couldn’t do before. But the magic comes when the coach and the coaching puts it all together, and then you start winning, because each individual is taking care of what they need to. And when you put it all together, and now you’re winning game after game, or tournament after tournament, that’s exciting.
What was your role? I mean, everyone sort of finds their place on a team, generally.
Right. So, outside hitting and setting; those were primarily my roles. But the other beauty about the coaching style was that all the players had to know all the positions. And so, that was really exciting.
But you did get the positions you liked the most?
I did. I did. So, that was fun. Uh-huh.
So, the volleyball bug had begun to bite.
Mahina Eleneki Hugo practiced and competed in volleyball matches during the school year, while summers were spent at University of Hawaii volleyball camps. Her dream was to someday play on the U.H. Rainbow Wahine Volleyball Team.
I still remember this day; I was at home in the living room. This was my senior year in high school. My mother was cooking. And we only had one car back then, so my mother would take my father to work and then, she’d have to pick him up. And so, the phone rang, and it was Dave Shoji. And he said, Hi, Mahina, this is Dave Shoji from U.H. And I’m kind of the deer in headlights going—
Had you met him?
He came to one of my games. I would go to the U.H. summer camps, and so, I met Dave there, and I would attend the camps and stuff. And so, at the end of the camp for that summer, he said, Can you send me a school schedule going into my senior year so I can maybe watch your game? And so, he did come in, and we’re warming up. And when you see Dave Shoji come in, it’s like, Oh, my god, Dave Shoji’s in the room. And so, fortunately, I had a good game, and so I hadn’t heard from him, and then I received the phone call. And I remember my mom saying—I said, Hi, Dave. And my mom was cooking and she sort of looked at me, and I went …
And so, he said, You know, I’m calling to offer you a full scholarship to UH, and that would include, you know, books and tuition, and room and board, and getting a full scholarship on the team. And I just remember, Wow, thanks Dave!
And you know, kinda trying to play like I was a little Joe Cool, but not really. And then hung up the phone, and I looked at my mom, and I just screamed, and tears came down. And she said, Okay. She turned off what she was cooking, and said, I’m gonna get my purse, let’s go hop in the car, we have to go tell Dad. So, you know, there were no cell phones, right, back then. So, we got in the car to go share the news with my dad. But that was the start of it.
Were you going to UH anyway, or was this a change in course?
Well, that was my dream. Now, I know a lot of people—you know, remember back then, they had just come off of back-to-back national championships, and my parents would take me to the games and I would aspire to be some of the players. And so, it was a dream, because Hawaii was a number-one program.
So, I thought, wow, if I could get a scholarship to UH and play. And that was a dream for me. If not, I did apply to other schools and sent them, you know, volleyball materials and see. But once I heard the news, I didn’t even bother.
Did you have any trepidation? You know, ‘cause a lot of students think, Am I gonna be good enough for college ball?
Right; right. You know, I didn’t, and that’s just either being naïve to maybe the bigger picture, and just trusting that I was given so many tools. And when you’re that young and fearless, I think you don’t really put boundaries. You’re just, I got it, and I’m going for it. And that was sort of the attitude I had. And so, I just felt like, once I got it, I was thrilled, and I couldn’t wait to be out there on the court.
And how was it, when you joined that team that you had emulated or aspired to?
Well, at first, it was a bit intimidating, because some of the ones that I would go to watch didn’t graduate yet, so they were gonna be either juniors or seniors. And so, you know, it was like, Ooh. But the nice part were some of my teammates that were coming in in the same class as myself, we were the newbies together. And so, it was nice to have that comfort zone of, I’m not the only new one. And of course, Tita Ahuna, who was at Kamehameha, we’re the same age and year, we knew each other from playing all those years of high school together. And so, the two of us immediately would click and say, Okay, here we go, and let’s do this together. And so, it was okay. And once you get into the groove of what you feel comfortable doing all these years, but actually on a bigger stage and the drills were more intense, there’s a challenge there that’s very exciting. And so, it was hard. I’m not gonna say it was easy, but it was exciting and it was challenging, which I loved.
There was that wonderful ’87 year of the national title.
Can you tell when you’re on a potentially national title winning team? I mean, does it feel different than other team play?
It does, especially at a college level. You know, now you’re bringing the best of the best; they’ve all been recruited. And so, there are no weak spots, so to speak. I mean, when you’re in high school, you know, maybe you have to sort of go with kids that are there. Now, you’re actually out there recruiting. And so, the level of intensity, the level of the game—
You can’t count on a break.
No; no. And so, if you’re having an off day in your position, there’s somebody really in arrears here ready to come in and take your spot. And so, it is business in one sense, where you know, you must perform every day, because there’s somebody else there. And so, it does; it makes the joy of that special unit, when you feel that you have the right six on the floor, or the right girls coming in to sub at the right place, and you don’t lose that momentum, then there’s a magic that happens.
The magic certainly happened for Mahina Eleneki Hugo when her team won the NCAA Championship during her senior year. With college graduation came … no guaranteed future.
Did you have your future all locked up as soon as you walked out the college doors?
Can we swear on this show?
Hell, no. No. In fact, it was just one of those things where you get out, you just go, Okay, I don’t really feel like I needed to be pressing and finding a job right away. And as it landed, I applied a few jobs. I had a friend and a neighbor at the time who was in Customs as a Customs inspector, and Hey, why don’t they do part-time work. I applied, so was an intermittent Customs inspector for a while, which is all the international flights and things. And so, that was for a little while. And then, I had a friend who called me one day and just said, Hey, there’s a P.E. position at La Pietra, and the only thing is, the resumes and things are due today. And this was kind of in the morning, and I hung up, and I said, Yeah, P.E., that sounds like something up my alley that I would love. And so, got off work and put together a resume, and drove it to La Pietra, and turned it in. And so, that sort of was the next phase when I obviously got the job at La Pietra. So …
And did P.E. teaching seem like that was gonna be it for you? You really enjoyed that?
I did, for so many reasons. I mean, teaching the girls, something that I love. Working out every day and getting paid for it, having my summers off, thinking, This is pretty good life right here, and being able to catch up on some of the things. And so, I thought for a while that might be something that I might do.
But then, the lure of paperwork attracted you.
I think what attracted me was the opportunities. Because when you’re at a small school such as La Pietra, we wear many hats.
And how big is La Pietra in number of students?
We have two hundred students, and we’re Grades 6 through 12, all-girls school. Our tuition is comparable to or a little under your Punahous and some of those other schools. But you know, the individualized attention that the girls are receiving. They go to great colleges and universities, the environment, you know. I mean, the beauty. I mean, even things as simple as P.E., our girls get to make use of Kapiolani Park, they will go down to the beach and surf. You know, to be able to use what’s given to us up there as the facilities.
Come to think of it; how did you get ownership of that wonderful land?
Well, our co-founders Lorraine Day Cooke and Barbara Cox Anthony, they had daughters, and they were at Punahou back in the day. Other schools at younger ages, but eventually at Punahou. And just felt that there were differences in what they wanted for their daughters, and thought, Well, you know, it might take us trying to come up with a different type of school—or environment. Not school, but different school environment, and more nurturing, so smaller. And so, I think these two women, with their vision and direct relationship to how it would affect their own daughters, lucky for us, came up with that and they purchased the land, and the rest is fifty years old. And so, even as teachers, you wear your class advisor hat, your regular class teaching hat. There’s a lot of opportunities that exist. And so, I started getting more involved with either the different clubs, or leadership programs that we have there. And so, through the various opportunities and doors that opened up within La Pietra, I just enjoyed it, and I think administratively, did it pretty well, I guess. I mean, somebody obviously saw something in me, and I was able to develop those skills further. And then, you know, of course, it took me to assistant admissions director, and then dean of students.
You got your master’s degree along the way.
I did. Along the way, I went back for my master’s in education, and with an emphasis on private school leadership. And so, that was a great not only opportunity to get a master’s, but to network with other leaders from other independent schools. And so, those opportunities just kinda came up for me at each stage of the way, and here I am twenty-three years later at La Pietra. I’ve been with La Pietra for twenty-three years.
Well, you didn’t really jump to apply for the head of school position, though, the top position.
I didn’t. And it was quite incredible. I had been the dean of students for a while, and when our head announced that she was gonna be retiring, the board of trustees formed a committee, a search committee, and I was asked to be on that committee, and gladly, you know. But even prior to that, actually my head at the time did ask me, Are you interested in applying for the position, or in the position? And I thought about it for a brief minute or two, and then I just said, No, I don’t think so. As the dean, there were long hours involved, and I just thought, you know, my family time. I’m very family-oriented, I still love to do a bunch of activities. And I thought, I’m already spending some long days, but I still want some me time, and thought, No, I think I’ll pass. So, I joined the search committee, and had a lot to say as far as, you know, what the school was all about. And I think when I was talking to our trustees, the third meeting I walked in, and I noticed they were sort of in a different arrangement on the table, and kind of got quiet when I walked in the room. And so, I was just waiting for the meeting to start, and they said, Okay, Mahina, we need to talk to you. And I said, Oh, okay. You know. And long story short, it was just sort of they said, We actually want to offer you the position as head of school. We’ve been listening to you, we know your record here, and we’d be silly to bypass somebody who already is on the job and knows the school, and has an appreciation. I mean, they said some pretty kind words. And at that moment, you’re supposed to sound highly intelligent, of course, and being just baffled by this opportunity and what they have just presented me, it was like, Oh. I mean, I was very honored. And so, I went home, and of course, I talked to my husband, and you know, it was a no-brainer for him. I said, Well, you know, it’s not just me taking on this role; it will be you as well, you know, supporting and sacrificing the hours and whatever needs to be done. And so, never looked back, and I’m happy I’ve been able to have this opportunity.
And how long have you been on the job now in that position?
I’m going on my ninth year, this year; ninth year as head of school.
Mahina Eleneki Hugo’s ability to not only be a team player, but to become a strong and caring educational leader, grew out of her lifelong competitive spirit and passion for sports. Now, as head of school at La Pietra Hawaii School for Girls, she inspires new generations of women to work hard with self-discipline and achieve their dreams. Mahalo to former UH volleyball star Mahina Eleneki Hugo for sharing her stories for 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 Stort 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.
What did you learn about coaching people from Dave Shoji?
Dave is a wonderful individual. And it’s so funny; the joke of the team was, when I was playing with Dave, he’s a very detail-oriented coach, which in a close game it’s a wonderful thing to have. I mean, you know, we would play each girl across that net a different defense. And these were life lessons. He taught a lot more than just the game. But the joke that I was getting at was, he was also a very private man. I always said, If I got stuck in an elevator with him, I wouldn’t know what to say.
It’s not ‘til later in life where you can really appreciate and actually go back and say, Hey, thanks, Dave, there was a lot, you know, you shared with so many of us through the generations.
For businesswoman Gerri Hayes, being told that “you can’t do it” just makes her more determined to succeed. Gerri shares her survival story as a single mother of two young children who moved to Hawaii to take a human-services job that didn’t materialize. She founded a business, Office Pavilion Hawaii, providing furniture to workplaces. It was hailed by Pacific Business News as 2011’s top female-owned business in the Islands, with revenues that year of $37 million.
There’s always another way. I just find adversity … I’m there to learn something. And I have failed at a number of things. And if you don’t get the learning, then it was a real wasted exercise to have gone through that much pain.
From raising two daughters on her own, to starting and running a very successful business, Gerri Hayes has never backed down from a challenge. Gerri Hayes, CEO of the furniture company Office Pavilion, next on Long Story Short.
Long Story Short with Leslie Wicox is Hawaii’s first weekly television program produced and broadcast in high definition.
Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. How does one overcome adversity? The toughest situations can motivate some people to exceed what they thought to be their own limitations. As a young, unemployed single parent of two daughters, Gerri Hayes faced adversity. With great tenacity, she overcame her tough situation and many other challenges that followed. She’s the founder and CEO of Office Pavilion, one of the most successful woman-owned businesses in Hawaii. Life for Gerri Hayes began in a small New England town.
Did you move around a lot growing up?
No, I did not. I was born and raised in Western Massachusetts, in a very small town, Orange. Stayed in the same house ‘til I left home at seventeen, and did not have any … it was a Peyton Place. [CHUCKLE]
It was a Peyton Place?
You know, I remember when that came out, the book, I said, Sounds like our town. You know, they’re very small, very insular.
Did you have a sense of what you would be and do when you grew up?
I only had one dream, and it was to get out of Orange. [CHUCKLE]
Is that right? Why?
It was so provincial. I used to joke, and my mother even said; she said, You always said, I must have been switched in the crib, I don’t belong here. [CHUCKLE] It was one of those places, I just didn’t feel like I belonged. And then, I had a twin brother and a younger sister, and older sister, and everyone’s still there. No one ever leaves this place.
So, you’re not in step with your twin brother as far as childhood?
No. It was just like I said. I just always felt like I had only one dream, and it was to get out of Orange and go somewhere else. I graduated, actually, right after I turned seventeen. And I got a job and moved to Worchester, which is a city south of us, and knew I was out. [CHUCKLE]
And was it better for you in another town?
In the same area?
Yeah. It was just better to be in the city. I think I just needed to get out and get into a less provincial environment, and with more exposure to more things. And it was a great thing to do, to get out of Orange. [CHUCKLE]
Where did life take you from this new city?
Well, actually, here’s the good news and bad news. That’s when I found I was pregnant; I was seventeen.
Soon after you left Orange?
Right after I left home and had settled in with three girlfriends into an apartment in Worchester, Massachusetts, had the shock and surprise. They forgot that part about family planning; they didn’t teach us. [CHUCKLE]
And who was the father?
He’d been the guy I dated all through high school, and he had gone into the Navy. And of course, then there was the question of what do I do, and we ended up getting married. Which was fine.
It didn’t work out?
Of course not. I think children should never get children or have children. [CHUCKLE] Anyways. So, anyway, so I was in Charleston, South Carolina. We got married in Charleston, South Carolina. He was in the Navy. You know, it was the Vietnam War and he got drafted, so he was in Charleston, South Carolina, and that’s where my first daughter was born. And then, I went to San Diego; my second daughter Leanne was born in Balboa Naval. And then, about two years later, it just wasn’t working. You know, those marriages don’t. So I became a single parent. But then, we got divorced and I moved back to Orange.
To have family childcare?
To try to figure out what I was going to do. Yes; my mother helped, and that’s when I decided that I had to figure out what I was really gonna do with this life. And so, that’s when I went back to school and became a surgical tech.
As a single parent with no support from her ex-husband, Gerri Hayes needed to learn to survive and provide. She began training and working as a surgical technician, prepping hospital operating rooms for surgeries.
So, liked your job.
I did like my job, and found it fascinating. And it gave me a real foundation. Obviously, part of even getting that training is understanding all the medical terminology and what went on in hospitals, and how it worked. Anyways, but then there was nowhere to go. You know, you worked long hours. I’d have to be in the OR by six and take call almost every other night. So, I decided to move on, and that’s when I met this woman. I was very active politically. It was the 60s. [CHUCKLE] So, there I was. Very much a feminist, got into the anti-war movement. And I was actually at a League of Women Voters meeting where they were talking about, you know, abortion reform, and ended up meeting my mentor. She was one of the women. And that’s who I went to work for, and became her executive assistant at this family planning program, and then eventually became the director.
So, that’s a good job, right, director of family planning?
Yes. And actually, what happened was, I felt they were going at it wrong, which that’s usually how I do things. I said, Well, you’re doing this all wrong. Why would you put these clinics in a hospital?
I can understand why you’re the boss of a business now. [CHUCKLE]
[CHUCKLE] I am a little bossy. [CHUCKLE] But I said, You’re doing this wrong. You’re trying to attract these populations who are terrified of going into hospitals. And so, that’s how I co-authored an article on setting up non-hospital-based family planning clinics. The first ones in New England, actually, and then I got put into Planned Parenthood International, and that’s how I got invited to Hawaii. They wanted me to consult, because they were having the same problem.
How controversial were family planning clinics back then?
Oh; very. Very.
I mean, there had been bombings and you know, violence associated with family planning.
Family planning was—yeah. And so, that was the other thing; putting it down on a main street and in a rough neighborhoods anywhere so that women would have access without having—right? Because back then, even, if they were married, had to have the husband’s permission to go. So, it was pretty radical to set up non-hospital-based family clinics.
That’s what you did?
Yeah. Hired my own doctors and nurses, and set up this thing, and did peer counseling, and went out and spoke to Head Start groups. My belief was, obviously, having had the experience, I said, If you could stop first birth order with young women, you give them a chance to go on and really create their lives.
Did you ever feel in peril, unsafe?
Only once. [CHUCKLE] I got thrown down the stairs. Someone came in late at night, and they were … but mostly no.
So, philosophically, they decided they would take a shot.
Yeah. And I’m also very feisty, so you can imagine I wasn’t someone who was intimidated.
Where did that come from? The feistiness; and going against the grain.
I was the black sheep in my family, and I was the girl. [CHUCKLE] My mother said, If you could have only learned to manage your mouth. But my father was so domineering, and I just wouldn’t take it. And so, I have to tell you, I got the belt more times that most people should ever get one.
And you still mouthed off?
And I would just say, Fine, let’s go. Because I felt like I had to say my peace.
And you took the blows.
I took the beating. I said, You know, you will not silence me. [CHUCKLE]
So, you never had regrets about speaking out?
As a result of Gerri Hayes’ article about her non-hospital-based clinics, she was invited to Hawaii to meet with Planned Parenthood. Little did she know that her trip to Hawaii would alter the direction of her life.
So, here you were, running a family planning clinic, and feeling that you were working for a good cause.
And then I published that article, and got invited to come to Hawaii, which I had never had any interest in. And came here, and absolutely went ass over tea kettle. Thought it was the most fabulous place on Earth.
Why? What was it, exactly? I mean, besides the surf and the sun.
No, no; it wasn’t even the physi—it was the … remember, I had two daughters, and I was a single parent. And I remembered every time they—and I had asked not to stay in hotels. I said, I’d like to stay with the directors or with a staff member. ‘Cause I said, I want them to experience the people of Hawaii. So, I ended up having this wonderful experiences. In Maui, I’ll never forget, they were having a big pau hana, and then, they brought all the children. And she said, You’d never not invite the keiki. And I looked at her, and I said, Oh, my god, in Boston, you don’t understand, they’ll call me and say, Gerri, if you can find a babysitter, we’d love you come to the party. And I would always go. It was just very—your roles were really separate. And here, I realized the appreciation of the fact that you had children was really high, and and the inclusiveness. You know, so it was sort of like, hmm, this is a whole new way to look at it. So, I went back. That was June, thirty-nine years ago. And I thought about it, and then Judy said she was gonna quit her job over in Maui, and she said, Why don’t you take over Planned Parenthood Maui? So, I gave my notice, sold everything I owned, and moved here on February 1st, thirty-eight years ago.
And got here. [CHUCKLE] And just as I was coming in December, she sent me a note and said, I can’t afford to quit, we started building a house on Hana Highway. And I said, You know what, I’ve sold everything, I’ve given my notice, I’m coming anyway, I’ll figure it out.
That seems so confident. Did you feel confident?
I did; I did. I just knew I was supposed to not be back there anymore. So I moved here, and I didn’t have a job, but I had an apartment. And I figured it out. [CHUCKLE]
What did you figure out? The door was closed, you were on Maui.
I started applying for jobs, and mostly social service, like I said, so I applied for the American Cancer Society job in Kauai, I interviewed for [SIGH] all kinds of things. And then, I kept seeing how little they paid, which was kinda shocking. It still is shocking; right? The lack of value we place on social services.
And I went, Oh, my goodness, I don’t think I can do this. Well, then I saw these other ads. ‘Cause you know, you’re look at all ads. And then, I was just looking for a medical surgical salesperson to sell high level open heart equipment, packs and gowns. And so, I was like, Sounds like me. [CHUCKLE]
Had you sold before?
I’d never sold a thing in my life. I remember saying, If you can use it, you could sell it. So, I went in and interviewed, and he didn’t hire me right away, ‘cause he said, you know, he had this other nurse that he hired. And then, he called me back, and he said, Come in. And so, I absolutely found my calling.
Gerri Hayes relied on her background as a surgical technician to make the transition into medical sales. Taking the time to learn the subtle ways of island culture, and to sit and listen to her new customers was important to her success.
I came from Boston, and as you can tell, New Englanders, we’re rough, we’re aggressive. I obviously had a wicked accent then. Now, I only slip occasionally in “park cars” [BOSTON ACCENT]. But back then, I remember coming in, and then I went into every one of my operating room nurses and sat down, and I just said, I need you to tell me what it would be that I could do for you, that would make it important for you to buy from me and work with me. And they all said the same thing. Show up on time, keep your word, follow up, and tell the truth. I was like, That’s it? [CHUCKLE]
They must have liked that you asked them, too, one-on-one.
Like they mattered.
They said, No one’s ever. They said, Gerri, number one, this is Hawaii. People think they’re on time if they’re three hours late, and it’s annoying because we’re busy, we’re running an OR. And so I was like, Oh! So, I did; I just wrote it all down. And I remembered years later, I still have this whole group. Most of them are retired now, but all these directors of OR, they just said, You were the best. And they said, The other thing is because you’d used it, you knew how to do it, we could call you in, you could scrub in and help show everybody how to use the new equipment. And then we’d sit in the nurses’ lounge. You know, it was like it was very easy. And then I learned all the rest, so I had to sell operating room, but then I also had to sell other kinds of medical supplies.
Working fulltime as a single mother with no family support was a struggle for Gerri Hayes. She credits her Hawaii friends and neighbors for helping to raise her two daughters.
Must be very hard to raise children without a grandma. You know, people have family and really use them here to help them with their kids.
Yeah. That was the hardest.
How did you manage?
That was the hardest. I had … [SIGH] I don’t know. [CHUCKLE] I don’t know how I did it. Don’t know how I did it. Someone said, How did you do it? I said, You just do what you do. I had great neighbors, I will say. I lived on a sweet little street, Mikiola Drive, and all the neighbors, they all watched out for me. They just thought I was—right? I mean, it was really sweet. It was like, Eh, Mama, watch the kids, you know, ‘til you get home. So, I was very lucky. That’s again, that culture that knew and respected how hard I worked. And so, I had Walter and Harry across the street, and I mean, those kids couldn’t have done a think without them getting busted by them.
A few years into her new sales career, Gerri Hayes received an opportunity that would propel her from salesperson to running a sales operation.
Okay; so I did med surg sales, then I got a call from this man who owned a business and had a division here in Hawaii, Medical Business Interiors in Seattle. And he said, I heard you’re the best salesperson in Hawaii. And I said, Well, it’s true. [CHUCKLE] A little hutzpah. And he said, I’m looking for someone to run my territory over there.
And it’s business interiors.
Medical business interiors.
Business interiors. Okay.
This is hilarious. So, he flies over on a Sunday, and I met him at the Top of the Ilikai. After three mai tai’s, he—I should have asked for more; I left too much money on the table. [CHUCKLE] But it was like, he hired me. And so, I took over, and it was basically doing interiors for hospitals.
You mean, providing furniture for hospitals?
Providing furniture, but also having to do, you know, go out and meet with architects and designers, and end users. And the part I could do, ‘cause I understood material distributions, I could do some of this, but the rest of it was … and I learned it. Again, one of those, I don’t know where you get that piece that just says, You know what, I can figure this out. And I did.
Was it hard to figure out, or I mean, does it come easily?
It came pretty quick. But again, I have always been lucky. Had somebody, an installer. And he said, Kerry, what am I gonna do? I said, This architect’s calling me, and he wants to show me these plans. He said, I’m going with you, girlfriend. He said, Just keep asking him questions, and when he asks you what you think, say, You know, I need to think about that, and I’ll get back to you. So, we get in there. Guy rolls out the plans. I didn’t know electrical, plumbing. And I would just sit there and I’d tell him, So what’s your concept, what are you trying to accomplish? And I got Kerry sitting there, and he’s going, Sir, I don’t think that’s gonna work ‘cause the way doors are laid out. And so, he was great, ‘cause he actually knew how to do this. And he took me aside and he taught me how to read a blueprint, and he taught me all the … and so, I was very lucky. And we worked as a team.
So, this time, you were not just selling; you were running a business.
A division of a business.
Yes. So, I had to hire, and I did. I had an interior designer, and I had a logistics person to handle shipping and do all those things. But I did what I did well, and I was actually very good at knowing what I was good at, and delegating. So, I let the interior designer take over, and then I would let the gal who did the order entry, and so I think that’s why it worked. Because I also didn’t feel like I had to do it all. The ability to know what you’re good at, and then let those who do what they’re good at.
Did you do the hiring?
Were you good at reading people? And you’re still hiring, so I should ask you, Are you good at reading people?
Yeah; I’m actually pretty good at it.
Here you are working, doing medical business interiors. And things went along quite well, until they went very badly. What happened?
I absolutely loved working for MBI, and learned the whole industry while I worked for Hank. And one of the biggest jobs, and it was so exciting to win it, was the HMSA was building a new state of the art building over on Keeaumoku Street. And everybody kept saying, Gerri, there is no way they’re gonna buy furniture. I said, There is no way they’re not. How could they have you build a state of the art building, and then move that crap? I said, I have been in their offices. And he said, There’s no way the board will approve it. I said, I’m going to figure a way, I said, ‘cause I know two things. They need an emotional coat hook to hang that decision on, and I’m gonna find it, because, I said, it’s how you solve the idea.
Gerri Hayes came up with an innovative sales pitch, or an emotional coat hook as she calls it, to refurnish all of her client’s new offices. But what should have been the sale of her career had an unforeseen outcome.
The point would be, why would you have a beautiful new facility, and move all your people into it, and then move all this old furniture, when you could … I said, And I would handle the whole disposal, the sale of it, and everything, and give you a credit toward the purchase of new furniture. I said, I think it’s at least worth—I’ll write you a proposal to give the board. Fine. And he took it, and of course, they jumped on it with both feet. And it was amazing.
And it was a great sell for you.
It was the emotional coat hook, and it ended up being like a six million dollar sale. Which thirty years ago, was a lot of money. Eight floors, everything, front door to back. Everything. So, the good news and bad news was, after the job was done, that’s when I found out that my boss had put all of these expenses against the job, and there was eighty-seven thousand dollars in commission that he wasn’t gonna pay me. And my girlfriend, because she worked in accounting, said I had to sit in the meetings with these three men going, No woman should ever make that much money, and ra-ra-ra-ra-ra.
Did you get the money?
Well, the attorneys all get money. Don’t you know that? So, I ended up with about thirty-seven thousand, which is still okay. It was enough for me to say, I can go do my own thing now.
Gerri Hayes says that experience of being shut out of an eighty-seven thousand dollar sales commission left her unwilling to work for somebody else. She decided to start her own business.
You know, I went to a Pacific Business News event, and I heard that the top woman-owned business in Hawaii was called Office Pavilion. And I thought, Let’s see, what would make the most money? You know, what is that? You know, what would Office Pavilion do?
It’s just incredible to me that, you know, you’re a contract furniture provider.
And that’s what people don’t understand. Every time you go to the airport and you sit in that black and silver seating, that is Eames Tandem Sling Seating that we have done since 1976 out at that airport. If you go into a hospital, if you go into rehab, all that renovation at rehab we just did, it’s all done in this fabulous new Compass program that we do. So, I do hospitals, I do healthcare, we did Case Middle School, Iolani, UH IT that just opened, the Cancer Research Center. See, I just think of all the different pieces to this business. It isn’t just furniture. You know, I’ve done all the special operations. I have a lot of fun with special ops guys.
And you have to know how people work in order to serve them in this business.
You have to know a lot about them and their business.
Yeah. And how it’s changing for them. Part of the biggest challenge right now is really helping them get in front of the curve of everything that’s changing. Healthcare is just … everybody’s on there around this one. Right? And I mean, there’s just so many things. Part of it is, that’s why you educate yourself and you try to become a partner and a proactive solution provider, because they’re all facing—I mean, it’s becoming very competitive.
In 2011, and again in 2012, Office Pavilion was named the number one woman-owned business in Hawaii by Pacific Business News. One of those years, company revenues reached thirty-seven million dollars. Over time, Gerri Hayes’ business has expanded beyond Hawaii, to the Philippines, Japan, Korea, and Guam. As the driving force behind the company that she founded, Gerri admits it’s been difficult for her to loosen the reins for the next generation of the family company.
You could be retiring, if you wanted to.
You could be retiring yesterday.
I have started my exit strategy. I have two daughters, Wendy and Leanne and my son-in-law Bruce in the business, and they’ve been there a long time. But it’s so different, you know. I think that is the next thing. How do they learn, how do you teach and mentor people into that entrepreneurial piece, as opposed to the maintenance piece of keeping a business just running. And that is probably the challenge I’ve got right now is, they’re getting there, I’m having to shut up and back off. I think that is hardest, because sometimes we’re doing strategic business, and I can type that up and have it out tomorrow. [CHUCKLE] And I said, But then, it wouldn’t be their plan, and it isn’t allowing them to … it’s not forcing them to think the issues through.
Is it important for you that your business live on after you?
Yeah. That’s probably the biggest struggle I’m having right now. I really want my kids to see it as a legacy business that creates all kinds of things, creates jobs. We have a staff meeting Friday, the first one of the year. And look it, you have forty-two people. Now, multiply that times all the people they support, and you realize the power when you create jobs, and you create a business. It’s not about you. And I want them to know that my grandsons … I mean, I honestly look at my youngest; he was sitting here in the chair. He’s the salesman in the group. And I said, What a wonderful thing it would be to have a third generation come and sit in that chair. And I said, Your job is to take it from thirty million to a hundred and fifty million, and maybe open up Australia. I said, You know, I’ve done what I set out to do, and I’d love to see you grow it, and I’d love to see … he said, I’m going to Harvard, Grandma, and then I’m coming back and taking the chair. [CHUCKLE] And I said, But just to know. I said, Do you know what a gift a business like this is? I said, it creates a life for you, you create livelihoods for others, you get to do good in the world, you get to have all the fun and travel. I mean, I have traveled the world. My true love, besides reading, is traveling. So yeah, I want to see it live on. [CHUCKLE]
Gerri Hayes says that she has women business mentors, and she believes Hawaii is a supportive and encouraging environment for entrepreneurial women. She’s certainly a testament to that. Mahalo to Gerri Hayes for sharing her story 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 the Apple iTunes Store or visit PBSHawaii.org.
Okay; I’ve had three people say, I don’t know why you haven’t written a book. And I’m like, What would I write? And I say, Well, if I ever wrote a book, it would be called, And It Ain’t About Furniture. ‘Cause it’s about your life, and how all these things, and all the serendipity, and all the hilarious stories. Leanne said, You can’t tell these stories, Mom, when you’re with Leslie. [CHUCKLE]
One of my favorite Hawaii newspaper columns is about the marvels of the sea – and who would guess its writer grew up in a land-locked state? As a kid, Wisconsin native Susan Scott would page through National Geographic magazines, imagining herself traveling to distant lands. When she moved to Hawaii, she was afraid of the ocean. Today she loves sailing her own sailboat to distant shores. On LONG STORY SHORT, I get to talk with Susan about her discoveries and delights in living on and near the ocean.
My neighbors were two sisters; they called them the old maids in those days—it was in the 50s, and they subscribed to National Geographic, which was the enormous of my attraction to go over there to their house. And I would sit on the couch, I remember it vividly, and page through the National Geographics, which we did not have. My family were not readers. And they would explain things to me. And I remember Easter Island was a big one. I’m going there, and I’m going here, and I’m going here, I’m going here.
Susan Scott of Oahu has been to those places she dreamed about in her childhood, and then some. She’s a familiar name to those who followed her weekly Ocean Watch column in Honolulu’s major daily newspaper, which she’s been writing since 1987. Susan Scott, next on Long Story Short.
Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. In addition to her regular Ocean Watch column in the Honolulu Star Advertiser, Susan Scott has written seven books about Hawaii’s wildlife, including publications about plants and animals that live in the ocean as well as on land. Yet, having grown up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Susan Scott knew very little about Hawaii when she and her husband, Dr. Craig Thomas, decided to move here in 1983.
What was it like for you, your childhood? How would you characterize it?
My childhood was very loving and happy. We had a big extended family until my mom remarried. And she married a man who was not very enamored with children or really comfortable around children. And I was the oldest, so we didn’t get along that well. He was pretty strict with manners, and all kinds of things that I hadn’t really ever heard of before. [CHUCKLE] So, we had a hard time of it. They were heavy drinkers. Everybody in my family drank. All four grandparents, all my aunts and uncles; everybody. It was a drinking culture. It is a German-Scandinavian community, and drinking was an enormous part of the culture. I didn’t know people didn’t live like that until I left home. I just decided pretty much when I was fifteen that I was not gonna have children, and that I was gonna have a different life.
What did they encourage you to do with your life?
They encouraged me to be part of the extended family, and work in factories, and stay there. And I think the vision was that we would all stick together and do the same thing. But whatever it is, I don’t know what happens, but I think some kids just grow up with the travel bug, an adventure bug. And that was me, and I really, really wanted to do that a lot. And everyone thought I was crazy. They didn’t get it. They still don’t get it.
I left home when I was eighteen, and the first time in my life I heard a foreign language. I heard a migrant worker in Milwaukee who had been through our county to pick cherries, and he asked me a question in Spanish. I remember it vividly. I was dumbfounded. I could not believe how beautiful this language sounded. And so, he was lost, and in a little trouble, so I took him home where I lived, in a little commune kinda thing with some other hippie kids, and we found someone who spoke Spanish, and on the phone, and he said what he was looking for, a bus station and a place to sleep for the night. But it was this enormous thing. I’d never heard Spanish, I never heard any other language, really.
It was all Caucasian people in your small town, too.
Yeah; yeah. And I’d never seen Black people, or Asians, or anyone. And so, just leaving was just a really wonderful thing for me. And you know, I certainly had ups and downs as an adolescent and as a hippie, kinda wandering around, wondering what to do. ‘Cause I didn’t go to nursing school until after that. And then, that’s when I decided if I went to nursing and got an RN, I could go back to Europe and maybe live and work in Ireland. When I met Craig, uh, which was in 1980, it was the end of that whole hippie thing, and he was really instrumental in helping me stop doing drugs and alcohol, and smoking, and all of those things.
How did you meet?
I met Craig in the hospital. He was an intern, and it was his first week there, and it was my last week there.
And where was this?
In Denver. He had gotten a residency there, and I had gone to nursing school in Denver. And so, we had just met just barely as we were both off going to do different things. I was going back to school to do something else.
You had decided not to be a nurse.
Right; I decided not to be a nurse.
I think it was too indoors for me. I think I really had an adventure outdoor travel bug.
And it’s kind of hard, isn’t it? I mean, devote years to this training and this education, and you did it for a good reason, then you decide it doesn’t work for you?
Well, it was only two years.
Still, two years.
It was an associate degree. Yeah, it was two years. I didn’t feel that I could do it. I’m not sure why, exactly. I worked in seven different departments in seven years. I was a nurse for seven years. And I finally thought, I don’t think moving around the departments is gonna do it for me.
And even though it helps with my travel bug, you decided, No, try something else.
Yeah. It just didn’t work for me. And I did my pre-med courses after that, at the University of Colorado. And then, Craig finished his residency and really, really wanted to come to Hawaii and rest, and have some time off before he started working. And so, we came to Hawaii in 1983 just for the summer. And that was it; we’ve never, never even considered living anywhere else. But we always said if there’s another place we find—‘cause he likes to travel, obviously, too. If we find a place better, we’ll go there. And we still say that, but you know, the places that we’re going now are wonderful, and I really enjoy the South Pacific and the other islands, and Mexico, and the places that I’ve been sailing these last few years., but I would never leave Hawaii.
What was it about Hawaii that made you know, We’re gonna stay here, we’re putting down roots?
Well, part of it is, I feel really at home here. I think the culture is American, and there’s a lot of wonderful things about America that I really like. But I also think that the multicultural part of Hawaii really spoke to me. Well, I went to Chinese New Year and had a fantastic time. We just loved it so much. You know, we watched the lion dances and the dragon dance, and we had Chicago hotdogs. And all this different ethnic mix is really, really fun, and I appreciate that all the time. I like the mix here. And I feel like I’m always kinda traveling while I’m here at home and meeting people from different places. So, it really works for me.
The multi-ethnic cultures and people may have been Susan Scott’s initial reasons for wanting to stay in Hawaii, but there was something else here that she hadn’t discovered yet, something she probably would never have guessed would become her life’s passion.
When you came here, you enrolled at UH Manoa.
I enrolled at UH Manoa because I was so afraid of the ocean. And Craig and I both really liked Hawaii and the cultural part of Hawaii, and we loved Oahu.
You were afraid of the ocean?
I was afraid of the ocean. Well, I grew up in Wisconsin and went to school in Denver. I had barely seen the ocean. So, I didn’t know what a tide was. And when people said the surf was up on the North Shore, I didn’t know. I remember thinking, Up where?
What does that mean? [CHUCKLE] So, it was interesting to go to school, and thinking I would just take a couple of courses. And I had just come off the really hard pre-med schedule, which I’d finished, and so, it was really fun. And I had all these different people from all over the world at school. My lab partner was from Singapore, and I met a lot of local people who made fun of some of the things I said, and about the ocean, and they thought that it was just crazy that I thought, wana, for instance, was really a cool interesting thing. ‘Cause I had thought that sea urchins were plants.
I had no idea. So, the more I learned, the more interested in got, and I finally ended up with a degree in biology and a certificate in marine journalism from the Marine Option Program. So, I’m a very proud graduate of MOP.
Well, what is your job?
I’m a freelance writer. And so, I’ve contracted with the Star Advertiser, the Star Bulletin for many years, to do a weekly column. And one of the things the editors were interested in the beginning was that I would have the science point of view from the animals. So, I could write about the marine animals and marine science in a way that reporters probably wouldn’t. And so, those were sort of my sample columns, and the editor who hired me said, Well, let’s just try this for a while and see how it goes. And that’s the only contract I ever had.
And as the Star Bulletin dissolved, here you are with the Star Advertiser.
Star Advertiser; right.
You continued along with them.
Well, I was lucky. I made the cut.
Yeah; I was very lucky.
From being afraid of the ocean to essentially spending your life around it.
In it, on it, around it.
Yeah. I think part of the feedback I get for my column and my books is that the sense of wonder is still in the writing. And I feel that; that’s very genuine.
And the curiosity is the case there too.
To me, I feel like I’m in a movie sometimes; just even walking on the beach, I don’t have to get in the water. And I feel so lucky that I not only got to study and learn the science part of marine biology, but that I get to live it. You know.
Well, I love your column. And you know, I think so many people read it and say, Ah, I always wondered about that. In fact, I was gonna tell you that there was this period, I think it was a month; it was one June, I can’t remember which June, but I remember thinking, Everything you’re writing about this month, every week I open it up, and it’s something I really, really wanted to know.
Oh, that’s great. Oh, I’m glad to hear that. Yeah; I get really good feedback from the column, and it really keeps me going, keeps me interested. I think I’ll be a little old lady going into the newspaper, still writing about my experience with the ocean. But it is a lot of fun.
A lot of it is based on observation. You see something, and you wonder about it.
You do the research, and then you talk with people.
Well, and I have lots and lots of really interested readers, like you, who write me notes and say—
Yeah; what is this?
I found this, can I send you a picture? Or, Have you ever heard of this? And uh, I just feel really lucky that I have so many readers now. And I have readers in Australia, now that it’s online, the newspaper’s online. I got an email from Switzerland last week, and another from Malta.
And there are infinite things to learn about the ocean. It covers, what, three-quarters of the Earth’s surface. You’ve got a lot of material forever.
I’ll never run out of material. Yeah.
Tell me about some of the columns that have resonated most with your readers.
Well, I think that sailing columns resonate the most. And it’s interesting, ‘cause I worry the most about those being boring to people. Probably because I feel like the column should be about discovering marine animals, and I think the thing I like writing best about is, what you said, finding something and wondering how it works, and then discovering, like, Oh, my gosh, this nudibranch has its own little garden on its back. Which we have right off on the North Shore, we have a bunch of these. And so, if I’m writing about sailing, it feels more like a little bit of a travel log. Like, I did this, and then I did this, and then I did this. And I think, I’m probably driving people crazy. It’s like, Oh, big deal.
What’s the latest new thing you’ve learned?
Chitons; I’ve never seen a Hawaii chiton. And so, when my friends emailed me that from California and I looked it up, I looked it up in the Hawaii books I have and said, We have those. They wear a girdle. [CHUCKLE] This is called a girdle that goes around. I found a website by Sam Gon, who’s the Nature Conservancy biologist here, and who I’ve meet several times, and so, he had something about chitons, and trilobites. He calls the chitons trilobite imposters. [CHUCKLE] Pretenders, or something. ‘Cause he gets emails from people that say they found a trilobite.
Chiton; so that’s C-H-I-T-O-N.
Right. That was all new for me. I spent two days doing it. So, I don’t earn very good money, because I spend so much time writing each column. But I have really a lot of fun doing it. And then, I think if I quit the column, would I still work so hard at getting all the little details and getting it right? And I don’t know.
Gives you a reason to give structure to your positive wonder about the world.
Well, it does. It does.
Makes you more alert, too, I would think.
It does. ‘Cause I’m always thinking, Oh, I’ve gotta write about that.
Well, then I have to remember what kinda day this was, or what beach it was, or was it rocky beach, or sandy. A lot of my observations are not actually in the water. Which is one of the things a lot of my readers write and say, I’ve never been in the ocean, I don’t swim. I love your columns, because I can relate to it through your eyes, but I don’t feel like I have to actually get in the ocean to know about these things. ‘Cause I don’t always get in the water, either.
And meanwhile, you’ve been writing books as well. I’m fascinated by All Stings Considered. And I know everyone has asked you, I’ve asked you, when you get stung by a Portuguese Man ‘O War, which is very common, there’s always someone willing to give you their home remedy.
But do any of the remedies work, or is it just time that works?
Well, I had a doctor friend that used to say, tincture of time was the best remedy. And what we say for almost all jellyfish stings.
The reason so many things work, and everyone has so many different remedies is because it’s a self-limiting injury that goes away by itself anyway. Craig and I did some studies with the City and County lifeguards, and we had a really good time. We had unmarked bottles, so it was a blinded study, so no one knew what they were putting on. And then, we had victims of jellyfish stings fill out a questionnaire; spray this on and tell us on a pain scale how it was. And so, we had a statistician from City and County running the numbers, ‘cause we wanted to make sure we weren’t making something worse. And we had meat tenderizer mixed in a concentrated form in water, and we had Sting Aid which they were selling at the time in all the stores, and fresh water and sea water. Sea water was our control. And the statistician called us, I remember the day, and said, I think you might as well stop the study, ‘cause the sea water is so far ahead of all the others. So, that told us that it was statistically significant. So, don’t do anything. Rinse it off with sea water and go home.
Sea water seems to be an answer to so many things.
Yeah; it really is.
I always remember a prominent coach who had a progressive disorder, and I asked him what he was doing for it. And he goes, The ocean is my therapy, and it’s made me happier than anything could have.
Well, I could say the same thing. Yeah. There is something about sea water. And even walking next to it works for me. [CHUCKLE]
I don’t have to actually get in it.
Discovering new wonders about the ocean and wildlife and writing about them has never stopped being exciting and fulfilling for Susan Scott. Yet, after doing this for eighteen years, she came to a point in her life where she needed to do something different.
You know every type of animal you could ever find in a tide pool.
Yeah; exactly. Well, I’m still learning. That’s the fun of it. So, I still really find the thrill of it and the joy of it.
As your life has gone along, you’ve actually gotten more and more, well, immersed in the ocean.
Right. Yeah; I started sailing. I didn’t know how to sail before I met Craig, but uh, in 2005, I sailed to Palmyra. I learned how to sail.
Wait a minute; that’s a big jump.
First, you’re afraid of the ocean.
And then you’re sailing with Craig, and all of a sudden you’re sailing to Palmyra?
Well, I had a big midlife crisis. I had a really, really hard menopause shift in hormones, I think. I don’t know; I felt crazy. And I think a lot of women have these hormone times in their late forties and fifties, and people do think they’re crazy. People thought I was crazy. I felt like I did lose myself. I thought, I don’t know who I am or where I’m going, or what’s happening. I had been trying to write a novel, and like most novel writers in the world, it was rejected, rejected, rejected. And that’s normal, but I took that so hard. I took to my bed and didn’t get up for days. And I’m not like that at all. And so, I had a really miserable time with it, and that Women’s Health Initiative study came out that said hormones are bad for women, so I was not on hormones. And finally, I said, [CHUCKLE] I’m going somewhere. My life feels like it’s over anyway, so whatever happens, it’s gotta be better, it doesn’t matter what I do. So, I learned how to sail a boat by myself, without Craig, which was the first time. And a lot of people said, Well, he taught you how to sail, or you learned how to sail with him. Taking it myself was an entire different universe, and making all the decisions was really different.
Were you a solo sailor going across the ocean that way?
I got a job with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as a volunteer in Palmyra. They really needed some help doing a study there, and it would take four months. But they didn’t have any way for me to get there, or a place for me to live when I did get there. ‘Cause Palmyra is a pretty remote camp. And so, I thought, Well, I have a sailboat. I’ll just go there. I’ll sail there, and I’ll live on the boat, and then I’ll see what happens after that.
How long did it take you to sail there?
It took me a week to sail there, with some big catastrophic boat failures, actually. And I sailed with a biologist friend, a young man who’s still a very dear friend. And he had never been on a sailboat before or never sailed. So, the two of us were really novices. And we made it to Palmyra. We managed to patch the boat together enough to sail there, and Craig sent down the parts to fix it.
What was that failure? What happened?
The forestay broke. Which for sailors, if you know boats, is what holds up the mast and the sails. And so, we managed to save the mast.
It broke in bad weather?
It broke because it was put together wrong.
Here in Honolulu. It was new. That’s a very big deal. It’s about as bad as it gets without getting a hole in the bottom of the boat where it’s sinking. But we did fine. We didn’t know much then. I know a lot more now. I think I’d be a lot more calm now.
All the elements are bigger than yourself, and can combine against you.
Yes. And I learned too, that you’re really dependent on the boat for your life, but you’re also dependent on your wits to fix the boat, because things break all the time. The most common conversation among sailors is what big thing broke, and what did you do. And I wrote a book about it called, Call Me Captain, which is a really big part of my life. I’ve been writing that for a long time. And University of Hawaii Press is publishing it.
It’s so hard to write about yourself, I would think.
It was very hard. I actually had a wonderful editor from San Francisco, a really good editor who’s a professional editor, and she helped me. And I think the big part of her, besides being a good editor is, she didn’t know me personally. And so, she could say, I can’t picture this; I don’t know what were you feeling. And so, I rewrote with her over years. And the UH Press does not usually publish memoirs.
So, I feel very lucky. So, I sailed to Tahiti from Palmyra, and then to Australia. I really got the bug.
I had different friends help me. I never sailed alone until I got to Mexico. And in the Sea of Cortez there’s only seventy-five miles across, and so I started sailing alone there. ‘Cause I thought, Oh, I’m never gonna be that far offshore. My big problem with going offshore alone is, if something breaks that’s beyond my strength, I don’t feel very strong, and as I age, I feel less strong. I lift weights, but it doesn’t make me feel capable. And on the way to Palmyra, when we had the big boat failure, I really needed Alex’s strength.
You’ve seen some amazing visuals at sea. I know you’ve described spinning dolphins.
What else at sea have you seen that’s amazing?
Well, one thing that I saw that was amazing, but I didn’t really realize it until later when I looked it up and read, it was pilot whales. And pilot whales are among the very few—I think there’s only two species, maybe three, in the world of animals that have menopause, and females live long after they stop reproducing. And pilot whales are one of them; Hawaii’s pilot whales. So, when they swam up to the boat, on my trip to Palmyra, they were the only whales that came to the boat. And then later, when I read about them, I thought, Well, there you go.
They were coming over to see me, and that was a really good sign.
How’s that going for you? [CHUCKLE]
That was good.
Do you sleep well on the boat in the middle of the sea?
No. I don’t sleep hardly at all. I sleep; I feel like I’m not totally exhausted, but when I get somewhere, I sleep a lot. But I’m always on call.
And yet, you love being on a boat where you don’t sleep much?
Well, I’m not offshore that much. So, the trip from Mexico to the Marquesas that I did this year was a twenty-eight-day crossing. And that’s really a long, long crossing. And then, the rest of the year was just little trips, so you know, a day or two. And then when you get where you’re going, it’s a wonderful, peaceful anchorage usually, and you can sleep just fine.
How big is your boat? Tell me about your boat.
Oh, the boat’s thirty-seven feet. It’s French ketch, and it’s easy to single hand. It’s set up so you can single handed maintain the sails and do what you need to do by yourself. But it’s also roomy enough to sleep comfortably six people. So, there’s three separate cabins. It’s a center cockpit boat with an aft master cabin, and a center and a forward.
So, you could conceivably go alone, although that’s not advisable.
I could go alone. And people do go alone. I think part of it, too, it’s a social event. You know, it’s been really a good social thing for me to have, to be able to skipper the boat, and have friends come along. And as a biologist in Hawaii, I have a lot of friends who are really good on the water and they’ve been on research vessels, and they know the water, and they’re not afraid of big waves. And so, they may not necessarily know a lot about sailing, but they do what I tell them, and we’ve had a really good time.
You like being the skipper?
I do like being the skipper. I do. Sometimes, there’s times when I think it’d be really fun to just be on somebody else’s boat and let them worry about what’s going wrong, or where we’re going, or should we go all night, or should we pull in. But mostly, I like it. I enjoy it.
And you’re telling me menopause is what triggered all of this?
It is. I think, Leslie, I would have never gone on that sailboat by myself, unless I was really desperate and miserable.
I’m wondering if those people who you said thought you were crazy; did they think you were even crazier when you started taking the sailboat out virtually on your own?
That I was crazy when I got home?
Well, no; you know, once they heard you were—
When I got home, I was fine. [CHUCKLE] It cured me. [CHUCKLE] I think getting outside of my own self, and I think if there’s a lesson there, and I would never presume to tell anyone else what to do with their own. Menopause or misery, or midlife or early life crisis; I felt as confused and mixed up as I had when I was a teenager, with all those hormone storms and things, and trying to figure out what I was gonna be, where I was gonna go. And I came from a place where I really wanted to do something different, but didn’t know what. And this was the same kinda thing. And I thought, whatever happens, I’m losing it here, so it’s gotta be, it’s gotta be good. And if I never come back, or Craig and I don’t stay together, well, that’s just life.
Susan Scott has made it through many challenges. She continues to sail and explore with the same passion and wonder that she’s always had, and through her writing, we all get to tag along. Mahalo to Susan Scott of Oahu for sharing her stories with us. And mahalo to you for joining us. For PBS Hawaii and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou.
Where are the places you’d still like to go?
Well, I’ve never seen the pyramids of Egypt, and that one of the pages of the National Geographics of the Imer [PHONETIC] sisters. And we talked about the pyramids. I remember that, and Easter Island, which I did get to see the moai. So that was good. So, I would like to go to Egypt, but there never seems to be a very good time, politically. I’m never sure.
Because think the open ocean is safer than Egypt.
Oh, I do; I do. I think it is.
This special edition revisits conversations with Hawaii’s business and community leaders as they share their thoughts on leadership. Featured are: Maenette Ah Nee-Benham, the late Skippa Diaz, Glenn Furuya, Hokulani Holt, the late Daniel Inouye, Thomas Kaulukukui and Colbert Matsumoto.
This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, Jan. 27 at 11:00 pm and Sunday, Jan. 31 at 4:00 pm.
I had my responsibilities as the platoon leader. And we had this code in the regiment; Don’t expect your men to go up if you’re not willing to go up. In the so-called book, the training book, it’s never led by the officer. Patrols go out. Scouts out, or something like that. The leader stays in the back. But in our code, as the boys would say, You go first, buddy.
Don’t ask anyone to do something—
—you’re not willing to do yourself.
The late Senator Daniel K. Inouye learned the intricacies and demands of leadership on the battlefields of World War II. He took these lessons with him into the world of government and politics, where he became one of the most powerful and influential leaders not only of our state, but of our nation. In this edition of Long Story Short, we will look back at some of our previous Long Story Short guests and their lessons on leadership, including how the nuances of local culture helped to shape their … leadership styles. Lessons on Leadership next, on Long Story Short.
Aloha mai kakou, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Master navigator Nainoa Thompson defines leadership as “stepping up….knowing … the right thing to do,,, and making it happen regardless of the consequences.” Doing the right thing can sometimes require an extraordinary amount of conviction, courage, and the ability to inspire others. In this special edition of Long Story Short, we revisit some of the stories and challenges shared by Hawaii … leaders. We begin with Thomas Kaulukukui, Jr., Chairman of the Board and Managing Trustee of the Queen Liliuokalani Trust, who, like Senator Inouye, picked up many of his first lessons in leadership on the battlefield.
I went into the Army in 1968.
You went to Vietnam?
I went to Vietnam for a year, 1969, ’70.
What’d you do in Vietnam?
I was a platoon sergeant in the paratroopers. Uh, did well in training, because I had the Kamehameha School ROTC background. And I ended up leading a platoon of men in … uh, basically jungle fighters. Young men, at the time, uh, um, they’re like a pack of wolves. And they will do whatever the pack wants to do, unless there is an alpha wolf that keeps them on track. And um, if you’re not that person, they will get rid of you and get somebody else. So, you know, you really have to learn to step up.
Was there any particular event or moment when this all came clear to you, when you had any epiphanies over there?
Well, it was clear to me from the beginning. It’s uh, it’s—you know, when you’re with a group like that, it’s really clear. Uh, I’d never been in a fight in my life. I was in three fights in the first month I was there, because the men decided to test me. You have to realize, this is Vietnam War—
–and look at the way I look.
You know, I’m not a six-foot uh, uh, fair-skinned, round-eyed person. Uh, I was brought in to lead them, and I was obviously Asian. So I looked more like the enemy, than I did look like them. So it was an interesting experience, because um, I was in three fights with my own men, um, shortly after I got there, because they wanted to test whether or not I was tough enough to lead them.
And part of it was your culture?
Part of it was what I looked like. Uh, part of it was there was another leader there who they wanted, who had been there a month longer than I was, and they weren’t sure about me. So …
So you saw no—you had no—you had to fight. There was no—
–other way to do it?
Yeah. Fortunately, I was a black belt in taekwondo by then.
Before I got there, so without having to really hurt anybody, I guess they kinda … got some religion and said, Well, I guess he can beat up everybody else, so he’s all right.
We were someplace where uh, another unit got in trouble, and they called us and said, You need to go help them. Uh, there’s a battle going on, you need to go help them. And you need to get from Point A to Point B, right now. The trouble was, to go from Point A to Point B, you had to go between two hills. General rule, bad idea to go between two hills, because if the enemy is up on both hills, they’re gonna ambush you, and you’re gonna—you’re never gonna get there, you’re gonna be dead. So I called my squad leaders together. I ran a platoon of about thirty-five men. And I said, We have to go from Point A to Point B. They looked at the map, they said, We can’t go through there. I said, We don’t have a choice, because if we don’t go through there, by the time we take an alternative ro—route, our … people will be dead. So I gave an order. All the people kinda sat around, and they looked at me when they figured out where we were going. And they said, We’re not going. Now, think about the magnitude of that problem. Battle commander, give an order, people won’t go. Okay. Squad leaders, gave an order, they wouldn’t go. I tried to exhort them to move, they wouldn’t move, because … you know, the consequences were deadly. Uh, so finally, at that point, I got my radio telephone operator, made him saddle up, put on his backpack. I put my mine on. I said to everybody else, If you’re afraid, I’ll go save them myself; will fight this battle by myself. But you better hope I get killed, because if I’m not, I’m gonna come back and fix this. Off I went. Took the longest, slowest, smallest ten steps of my life down the trail waiting for—to hear if anybody else got up. And—and—and fortunately, I started hearing people getting up. They got up, and … they followed me, and off we went, and we—we made—we made it all right. Difficult experience, um … I’m not sure what would have happened if they didn’t follow. But one of the things I learned from that is, you gotta lead in front; can’t just tell people to go, especially if it’s difficult. You gotta be willing to pick up your rifle, put on your pack, and lead in front.
And be willing to go it alone.
And be willing to go it alone, if you have to.
So do you have a, you know, 25-word nutshell definition of leadership?
I have a … three-word definition, a three, word definition of leadership. My definition is that leadership is influence; nothing more and nothing less. If you have influence, and can influence, people and their thoughts, and emotions, and, actions, then you have leadership ability. That says nothing about your morality, because Hitler had leadership ability. But in—in a very … condensed, sense, I think leadership is influence. And—and learning to, influence in a positive way people’s thoughts, and emotions, and actions, were what—are the core of leadership, I think.
A wartime battlefield can shape leaders. So can growing up in a rural environment, where shared values help to create community well-being…. Colbert Matsumoto, born and raised on the Island of Lanai, is the Chairman of Island Insurance Companies. He also is a community leader in Honolulu, serving on … nonprofit boards in addition to corporate boards. Glenn Furuya, President and Chairman of Leadership Works, a leadership-training company he started more than 30 years ago, grew up in Hilo, on Hawaii Island. At the heart of the leadership style of each of these men is their understanding of local culture, and how being an effective leader in Hawaii can be very different from anywhere else.
Being local is not about where you were born. You know, it’s really about the kind of values, you embrace and the kind of philosophy that you use to guide your life, and the decisions you make in your life. So, there are many local people that you know, who were born and raised here that, you know, I don’t think espouse local values. You know. But on the other hand, there are many people that have moved here that clearly you know, the things that make, I think, Hawaii special resonated with them, which is why they chose to, come here and live here, and stay here.
This whole idea of local culture and what works; it used to be that certain positions in Hawaii guaranteed authority and respect. But that’s less and less true now; isn’t it?
Uh, yeah, I think that’s, definitely the case. You know, I think that you know, when I grew up which was when, you know, I think in the 60s, the plantations were still uh, very influential … forces in shaping our—our—our community. And there tended to be, you know, informal, leaders within those communities that people looked up to provide leadership. So in like the time that I grew up in, well, the principal of the school was, considered a very important figure. Some of the union leaders were considered important figures. Some of the, plantation bosses were also—
— looked up to as being, you know, important, community leaders. And so, um, people gravitated to them, and as they would in turn communicate, different, you know, projects or, concerns, you know, people would rally around them. And so, I think that those days have passed. I think that it’s harder to get people to align behind uh, different initiatives. In my experience, you know, run across, two different kinds of leadership. One—one is, implied leadership; leadership that is the result of the position that you hold. And most people fall into the category of having power because of, you know, the implied authority associated with them. Whereas, you know, there are other people that, you know, have I think real power; a power that, you know, it generates from, they are able to assert themselves and the kind of vision and their ability to art—articulate concepts and ideas in a way that makes people feel like it resonates with them.
Definitely, you know, leadership requires a level of trust and confidence. It all starts from that. And if you don’t have the ability to engender the trust of the people that you’re trying to reach, you cannot lead them, you cannot convince them to move in any particular direction. That’s why, you know, great leaders have a certain special ability to engender that kinda trust.
You know, you have to be able to stick your neck out, because that’s how, you know, you progress. And, so asserting leadership involves taking risk, being willing to stand apart from the pack. And that takes a level of courage.
And so, you know, those kinds of leaders are fewer and harder to come by. But—but those are the kinds of leaders that I think exercise real, ability to move people, to affect change. And I don’t know why. I mean, it just seems that I don’t find as many of those kinds of people around as I think used to exist in the past.
I really do believe that the upbringing in Hilo— one thing it does is, you know, you’re humble. You you grew up humble.
Do you think humility … we prize humility—
–in the Hawaiian culture—
—as well. But humility is seen as a weakness, other places.
Yes, it is. It’s viewed in many Western cultures as a weakness. But to me, I think that’s strength, when I can stand in front of my group and say, You know what, guys? I’m really sorry; I messed up, forgive me. You know, and just lay it out there. What’s the—what’s the alternative? What, blame people? Make excuses?
I do a lot of work on island style leadership, because I do believe it is a distinct and unique form of leadership. There’s this thing I call the same-same equilibrium; the same-same equilibrium. And it roots back to ahupuaa, where it was—society was an egalitarian society, where everybody in the society had a role, and everybody did their part. But all of the contributors within that society were viewed as equal, so everybody same-same.
Right? Okay. So, here’s the deal. Centuries later, the same-same essence mentality still is—is embedded in all of us. You’ve got to stay in this equilibrium, same-same. Everybody same-same, everybody does equal in their contribution. What’s very interesting is, whenever you break same-same, okay, and you think you’re—you act as if you’re better, right—‘cause if everybody’s same-same, then nobody’s more important or better than anybody else; right? But the minute you break it—and this is where a lot of times people who come from away, good people, they don’t understand this equilibrium. They break it. As soon as you get to this I’m better than you mentality, through your tone of voice, through your being too direct, not listening—
–showing everybody how smart you, the immediate response always is, Who the heck does he thinks he is? Who the heck does he think is? Immediate response.
And once that response comes out, you can’t lead in Hawaii. Who the heck you think you are? And they don’t tell it to you in your face. It’s—Hawaii is—
They just turn away.
I always say—
–to my leaders that I work with, Hawaii is the world capitol of passive aggressive behavior.
I do a lot of work with mainlanders coming down, to try to help them understand some of these little nuances of this place. Do not break the same-same equilibrium. Because as soon as those words come out, that question pops, it’s really hard to recover. The other thing with island people; they don’t—they don’t forgive. They—they take forever to let go.
The way I teach it is this. There are two types of leaders, Leslie. There’s circular leaders. These are people are who are very collaborative, they’re relationship-oriented, they’re kind, they—they really engage people.
Circular. Island people are generally more circular.
Okay. And that’s because in Hawaii, we’re a three-way blend of cultures. We are influenced heavily by Eastern culture, ‘cause in the 1940s, forty percent of the population of Hawaii was Japanese. So, heavy bushido code influence here.
The one element of the—the bushido code is this; you always operate from a sense of imperfection. You always come from a state of dissatisfaction. ‘Cause—
Oh, I didn’t know that.
Yeah. So, if you’re always dissatisfied, and you’re kinda imperfect, you always gotta work harder. You gotta try harder, you gotta study harder, you gotta go to school, you gotta learn. I never got praised by my parents; they never, ever praised, said, Good job, Glenn, won—you did a wonderful job. Nothing. And I think, bushido. They didn’t want me to get all big-headed and arrogant, and thinking I’m better than anybody else; right?
So, they kept—they kept it really, really restrained, the praise and things like that.
And yet, we’re all Americans; that’s the Western influence. We’re all Western educated folk. But at the same time, the host culture here is Hawaiian.
We have a major Polynesian influence. And there’s no place in the world these three forces come together like it does here in Hawaii. So, the Polynesian and the Eastern, Asian, right, give us the circular. We understand circular; that’s why people are so collaborative and warm, and aloha spirit, and ohana. Western culture is much more linear. You know, there’s the goal, here’s the plan, now do it. Now, move—
And if you have to run over somebody—
–to get there—
‘Cause that’s the goal.
Right, and there are a lot of island people who are just very linear, too. The biggest mistake you can make in Hawaii is take your linear approach, and slam it on the circular. Right? And then, that equilibrium gets broken. Who the heck does he think he is?
You’ve gotta be both. Circular, collaboration, involvement, build a relationship. But at the point of execution, we all gotta go linear; we’ve gotta get the job done.
I’ve always believed, Leslie, that whenever you impose things on people, when you just shove it in, you’ll get compliance. They’re gonna do it, because I’m afraid if I don’t do it, they’re gonna scold me or fire me, whatever. When you inspire people bottom-up—
–you get commitment. That’s real leadership.
Teachers are among our most important leaders. They have the power to influence and shape the minds of young people who will … become the next generation of leaders. Kumu hula Hokulani Holt, who is also the Cultural Programs Director of the Maui Arts and Culture Center, and Dr. Maenette Ah Nee Benham, Dean of Hawaiinuiakea at the University of Hawaii at Manoa’s School of Hawaiian Knowledge, are two such leaders. Their career paths are based on kuleana, the responsibilities handed down to them from their families and ancestors….
Hula has always been in our ohana. My grandmother was a kumu hula, she had seven daughters. Of her seven daughters, three became kumu hula. And of her granddaughters, first just me, and now my sister. And then of her great-granddaughters, my cousin Melia.
When did you decide you’re gonna be a kumu? Or—
Oh, I didn’t.
–did you decide?
I guess that’s nothing you decide on your own, right, in the hula world?
Yeah, yeah; I didn’t decide. My mother decided for me.
She said, Well, I think it’s time for you to—to begin teaching. And I went, no, that—that belongs to other people, that doesn’t belong to me. And she said, No, I talked to your auntie, and I think it’s time for you to begin teaching. So I went kicking and screaming, but I went.
What kind of a kumu were you and are you?
I believe that I’m—I’m pretty strict. I hope to instill in my students a love for hula, but also a love for this place that we call home, and for all the many generations of people that came before us that created the—the chants and the songs, and the movements that we use. What a kumu hula is, is we want things our own way. And we demand that.
It is your world.
It is my world. I always tell my students, This is the world according to Hoku within these four walls.
And as a kumu hula, you get very involved in other people’s families.
They become your family.
So you’re privy to a lot of the struggles that—
–people go through.
Yes. You know, you get parents coming and saying, You know, my daughter’s not paying attention to school, Kumu can you please talk to her? Or, you know, someone’s marriage or passing; you get involved in your students’ lives, and it’s a good thing.
Halau provides, focus, it—it really gets you to appreciate every little thing, I believe. And halau is not only learning hula, but it also teaches you about yourself. How to push yourself a little bit more, how to think about the welfare of others within the halau, and then that translates to others outside of halau, how to practice or do Hawaiian values, because that’s what you must have in halau as well, how to get past pain and tired, and late hours for a goal that you would like to reach. So those are all life lessons also.
So you were possessed at an early age of a conviction you wanted to lead.
Because I was always told that I would. I was always told. My grandmothers— both my Grandma Ah Nee and my Grandma Padeken explained to me when I was very young about my name, Kape‘ahiokalani. And it is a name of—of one of my great-great aunts, who was a chanter in King Kalakaua’s court. And basically, what they said to me was that because I held this name, I had the responsibility of—of remembering the moolelo of our family, and I had the responsibility of contributing to … the health and wellbeing of my family. That was it. That’s what they told me. And … you know, I said, Okay. Because that’s what you do. Your kupuna tell you that, and you say, Okay, so what do I need to do?
And there are all kinds of ways to accomplish that too.
Yeah, there’s all kinds of ways to do that. And I just found this to be my journey, you know, in educational leadership. I just found that to be what really gets me excited, um, what really inspires me is—and it all started because um, in fifth grade at Koko Head Elementary School, Mrs. Kwon made me do flannel board stories for the kindergartners. And I loved it. I loved just telling stories, creating stories and telling them to young kids, and watching the light bulbs go off. So my first job was as a kindergarten teacher. What a great job, you know, where you get unconditional love every single day.
And I know you’ve said you always want to be a teacher.
No matter what else you do, or how you do it, you want to be a teacher.
Yeah. Always; always. And that came from the stories and teachers over the years. You know, and good leaders are great teachers.
The genius of leadership is living into grace. And it’s—it’s that—that idea of creating a space where people can feel really safe, even though you say the worst things. I want you to feel safe here, I just want you to feel safe. And no matter what you have to say, no matter how angry you are, go ahead, go and do that. And when you’re pau, let’s get to work. You know, cause otherwise, we’re not gonna get it done, we’re not gonna—we’re just not gonna do it. And that’s how I—that’s how I lead. You know. And I try really hard to listen; listen, listen, listen. And as I listen, you know, I try to move it back to the core issue, as you said. Ask more questions about how that has to do with the issue, keep moving it, moving it, moving it.
But sometimes, there is no consensus.
And sometimes there’s not.
And then you have to figure out—somebody has to call it.
This is not gonna be solved this way.
Yeah. And I do that. I do that too. You can ask the people who work for me. You know, it’s very open, we’re safe, we’re gonna talk about it, and this is how—this is the road we’re gonna take. I’m not afraid to do that. No; I’m not afraid to do that. It’s—it’s nice to know— I want people to know that everybody has a voice. You know, everyone has a voice. It’s a labor-intensive process, but everybody has a voice. And in the end, you know, there will be – everybody will know that there will be uh, a direction we’re gonna go. You know, and move on.
Because people want closure. I mean—
You can’t talk everything to death.
Yeah. In a microcosm, yeah, you know, we have a lot of diverse perspectives, but across the United States, across the globe, you know, there isn’t one way to do anything. But I do think that we’re reaching a time where there—there are more young people and young leaders who are seeing the promise and the potential of bringing together different groups, and really talking about hard issues, of renewable resources, about food safety, about education and wellbeing that’s very issue-oriented. And doing it in a way that is grounded in our religion, our stories. I think we’re ready at that point to do that, and I—I think that’s—that’s our work at the University to help prepare, you know, my community leaders to be able to do that.
I learned that, you know, you do good work. You have good intentions, you know. Doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter how much I can tell you about what I wrote, or what I studied, or what whatever, right? What matters is that I have good intentions, and I work really hard, and I try to be fair in everything that I do. And I try to be kind, you know. And I—and I lead in grace, developing a space where people can feel grace and welcome, you know. And then, we’ll move forward. Ohana does not always mean that we are of the same blood, ohana means that we can agree on a set of principles and a mission for the work that we’re doing, and we’re gonna be innovative and entrepreneurial, and we’re gonna work together really hard to get there. That’s ohana.
Humility, trust, listening, fairness, influence… all important qualities that Hawaii’s leaders say are critical to good leadership. These are values that we can use in our own lives, whether it is how we act with our families, in our jobs or how we conduct ourselves in the broader community. Our closing words of wisdom will be from the late Skippa Dias, legendary football coach at Farrington High School in Honolulu.
Mahalo to our Long Story Guests who have shared their stories and insights with us, and mahalo to you for joining us. For PBS Hawaii and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha a hui hou.
I developed um, an acronym. And the acronym was spelled out HEART, H-E-A-R-T. And—and each letter represented a basic tenet and belief that … you want the other person to acquire and mind for the young kinds. And the word HEART, the five five words are H refer to humility, the ability to … you know, to … listen to another person and … bite your tongue if—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 acquire. 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, you know, whatever the goal, whatever the project, you set yourself out to be positive and g—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—has some beautiful connotations that—that grow from it. And then T, of course, stands for team.
Colbert Matsumoto grew up on Lanai when it was a pineapple plantation employing both his father and mother. He didn’t set foot on the Continent until he was a college freshman. And he grew up to become an attorney, insurance company executive and business and community leader in Hawaii. Like many successful people, he had some misgivings and missteps along the way. On the next LONG STORY SHORT (Tues., July 7, 7:30 pm), Matsumoto humbly recalls his journey. And he tells of a test of his courage, as court-appointed master overseeing the dealings of then-Bishop Estate.
This program is available in high-definition and will be rebroadcast on Wed.,
July 8 at 11:00 pm and Sun., July 12 at 4:00 pm.
You said your dad was a 442 vet, so that means he qualified for the GI Bill. He could have gone to college, but you’re saying he did not?
Yeah; my dad unfortunately, as soon as he came back from Europe and returned to Lanai, his father died unexpectedly. And so, my father, because he was the youngest in the household, and his siblings had all left the island already, stayed on Lanai to take care of his mother. So, he was from a generation that had this Japanese value of oyako-ko imbued in him. And so, I think that, you know, basically he said, It’s my responsibility to take care of my mother.
Do you think he ever regretted that choice?
No. If I he did, I never heard him articulate it. But I think that that was probably why he expected my brother and me to go to college.
That sense of doing what’s right was passed on from father to son. Born and raised on Lanai, Colbert Matsumoto would remember his dad’s leadership by example when he took on some of the most powerful people in Hawaii, and helped reshape the multi-billion-dollar Bishop Estate. Colbert Matsumoto, next, on Long Story Short.
Aloha mai kakou. Colbert Matsumoto went from plantation life on Lanai to become a business and community leader in Honolulu. He’s chairman of Island Insurance. Matsumoto’s life and career have been driven by a desire to impact lives, a motivation he’d seen his parents put into action as workers on Lanai’s pineapple plantation.
I grew up in a time when—I like to call it the Golden Period of the Plantations in Hawaii. Life was really nice growing up on Lanai. You know, our family, I think, you know, we had a comfortable lifestyle. We didn’t have a lot of extravagance, but you know, we had a TV set, you know, I was in the Boy Scouts. You know, my parents were members of the PTA, you know, we went to church on Sundays. And so, it was a nice place to grow up in. And so, as I look back on it, you know, I realize how almost idyllic it was to grow up in a place like that. But when I was growing up there, I couldn’t wait to leave.
Because it was too small a town, people all knew each other’s business, maybe?
Yeah; it was confining. I grew up in a community of twenty-five hundred people. Oh, there were many occasions when, you know, I would get into mischief as a little kid on one side of the town, and by the time I got home, my mom would know all about it. You know, and so, yeah; it was hard to remain anonymous.
When you said you couldn’t wait to get away, were there other things besides getting ratted on for mischief?
Oh, yeah. Growing up, we had a TV set, and I would watch shows about other places, and I always longed for the opportunity to experience some of the things that I saw on the TV programs. Because I didn’t get away from Lanai very much. I had never had the opportunity to visit the mainland until I went to college. And so, I felt somewhat isolated and confined as I grew older, and wanted to have the opportunity to experience different things.
The main employer on the island at that time was Dole; right?
And did your parents work for Dole?
Yeah; both my parents worked for Dole, as my grandparents also. Pretty much everybody on the island worked for Dole, unless you worked for the State or the County, or some of the retail establishments in the town.
There are drawbacks to company town, obviously, when you’re held in their thrall; they’re the main gig—
Well, you know, I think that, yeah, the only jobs that were available were on the plantation. Which is why, you know, growing up, we all knew that once we graduated, we were expected to leave the island. Because there were no opportunities for young people after they graduated from high school on Lanai.
Which your parents had that expectation of; right?
Oh, yeah; the parents. But you know, it was also the economic reality of the island.
I mean, were you concerned? What am I gonna do? How am I gonna make it?
No. You know, I think my parents always raised me with the expectation that I was supposed to go to college. They themselves had not gone to college, so they didn’t care which college, or what I studied. You know, they just wanted me to go to college and graduate from college.
Did they explicitly give you lessons of life?
They did, you know, in different ways. So, you know, they would basically try to teach me certain values. But then, they also, I think, taught me a lot just by their example.
Your father, for example; what did he teach you? What did you come away with?
One of the things that he was heavily involved in was with the ILWU. Because the union figured very significantly in our community. So, my father would share with me some of the stories of the struggles that the union and the employees had to go through in the beginning. ‘Cause he was a 442 veteran, and so when he came back, one of the things that he and, you know, people of his generation were struggling for were not just economic justice, but also social reforms in the community. So, the union, the ILWU was very significant in, I think, bringing about some changes back on the plantation. ‘Cause many of them didn’t have the opportunity to own their homes. So, one of the things that they struggled for was to have the opportunity to buy their own homes, which many of the workers did.
Under your dad’s tenure?
Yeah; during the time that he was involved with the ILWU.
What was your mother like? What is she like? Because, you know, she’s still with us.
Right. My mother was a strong woman. You know, she made sure that my brother and I kept out of trouble, which she didn’t always succeed at.
But she always found out.
Yeah; she found out. But she was a stickler for the rules, and you know, she really had a strong sense of fairness, of right and wrong. And I think that that enabled her to go from being a pineapple picker to one of the first female, wahine lunas on the plantation.
What was that like? So, did she boss men around?
No; she usually headed, you know, gangs of women who were ipicking pineapple for the plantation.
Oh, that’s wonderful; a wahine luna.
Right. But that wasn’t until, you know, the late 70s, when equal rights became more of an issue for women.
So, it sounds like both of your parents challenged; challenged for more fairness, for equity.
Right. I think that, you know, that generation, they were second generation Japanese Americans. That generation really was focused on bringing about social change for the benefit of the community. And so, both of them made contributions in various ways through the activities that they were involved in and volunteered in. And they were among many in the community that were also, you know, engaged in those kinds of efforts on behalf of the group, as opposed to just for their own personal benefit.
Colbert Matsumoto was valedictorian of his high school class on Lanai. He went on to college in the Bay Area, and graduated from law school at the University of California at Berkeley. He wanted to be a lawyer to have an impact on society.
When I went up to college, it was the first time I was up on the mainland. So, it was a total culture shock for me. I had never been on the mainland before, I had never seen an urban environment like that. So, was definitely an eye-opening experience.
How was your college experience? What’d you decide you were gonna do with your life? Did you decide then?
Yeah; I had gone to college with the intent of becoming a high school social studies teacher. So, that was my objective going in. About halfway through, I came home for a summer and worked at a warehouse on a nightshift crew, and there were three other guys that were working on the crew that had already graduated from UH in education. One had a master’s degree, the other two had fifth-year certificates, and none of them could find jobs with the DOE.
That’s right. I remember that was the time of a teacher surplus.
So, I figured I needed to find something else. And that’s when I decided, Well, I guess I’ll try applying to law school, which is what I ended up doing.
Any particular reason?
Well, you know, I had never met a lawyer before. I had never been in a courtroom, or knew anything about what the practice of law was. At the time, you know, I just knew that lawyers went to court. Perry Mason, The Defenders; those were my images of lawyers. And I thought, you know, lawyers made a lot of money, and didn’t have to work hard.
And so, I thought that, Okay, maybe that would be a good profession to get into. But I also knew that lawyers had the ability to bring about change, that they had a certain knowledge base that allowed for an advocacy of different ideas. And so, I thought that by becoming a lawyer, I would be able to have an impact in terms of society. Because, you know, I grew up in the 60s, so it was a time of a lot of social change; the Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War and the anti-war movement. It was also a time when, you know, the environmental movement first started to get started. And so, there was a lot of idealism, I think, with my generation. And so, I looked at, you know, practicing law as being an opportunity to become more of a contributor to the kinds of social changes that were taking place in society.
You were used to being a really smart guy in all your classes up ‘til now. Now, in law school, everyone was probably the smartest in the class they came from before.
What was that like?
It was very intimidating. Like I said, I had no clue what being a lawyer was all about. And so, I almost flunked my first semester of law school. Because I thought a contract was a piece of paper that, you know, you put an agreement on. I didn’t realize that it was a legal concept that had, you know, certain components to it. And so, the concepts associated with law were so foreign to me, so I had a hard time grasping a lot of that when I first went to law school.
Do you think maybe part of it was because you were used to more of a handshake, and your word was good, and it was sort of uncomplicated on Lanai?
No, I think I was pretty much just naïve and clueless about what I had elected to pursue in law. So, fortunately, I had a professor who was very sympathetic, and I had some fellow classmates that were very supportive and encouraging. And so, I stuck it out, and managed to do okay.
Colbert Matsumoto did something quite unusual after he passed the Bar Exam and was qualified to practice law. He embarked on a six-month journey that continues to inform his life.
I entered a Zen monastery. So, I shaved my head, and then went into this Zen monastery and trained.
Where was it?
It was in Kalihi Valley. So, it was Chozen-ji. It’s a Rinzai Zen temple. And I had heard about the teacher there, Tanouye Tenshin Rotaishi, who was an accomplished martial artist, but also a Zen teacher. And so, I had trained in the martial arts when I was a kid growing up, and so, you know, I had an interest in it. But I had also realized that Zen was the philosophical underpinnings of Japanese martial arts and so, I wanted to learn more about that. And so, that’s why I asked him if I could, you know, train with him at his temple.
And what did you learn?
You know, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. It was a very rigorous and arduous kind of training, physically demanding training that I went through while I was there. But it was also psychologically very stressful and difficult.
When you said arduous, I don’t really know what that means in terms of meditation or Zen studies.
We would get up at like, you know, four-thirty in the morning. We would sit in meditation for hour and a half from five-thirty. And then, we would have breakfast and then, we would do martial arts training from eight to ten in the morning, and then we would have to work out in the gardens or do some construction activity. And then, in the afternoon, you know, we would bathe, and then we would go through another period of intense meditation, and then we would do martial arts training from seven-thirty to like, ten o’clock at night. And you know, it was just physically very demanding. And I mean, I lost a lot of weight while I was going through that, and it was very tough, both physically and psychologically.
And was it meant to reduce you to who you really are, to take away the external stuff?
Right. Basically, the training had a lot to do with, you know, freeing you from your dependence on the kinds of things that you grow up with, thinking that these are real things that you can hang onto in terms of defining who you are, and defining your life and how you lead your life. There definitely are gonna be times when you’re not gonna be able to overcome certain things. But you have to try. So, it’s more about the effort and how it transforms you as a person, by taking on that challenge.
That’s interesting, ‘cause as a lawyer, I think you’re pretty goal-oriented. But you’re saying you learned how to accept that the effort is the main point.
Right. I think, you know, as human beings, you know, we have the capacity to continue to evolve and change, and grow. But you have to make the effort at it, and you have to be willing to take the risk associated with experiencing those kinds of changes in your life.
Following his Zen training, Colbert Matsumoto went into business as a solo law practitioner. He shared office space with a man who would become governor, Ben Cayetano. Later, he joined the law firm of the late Wallace Fujiyama, one of Hawaii’s finest trial lawyers. Yet, Matsumoto says his early years in law were hardly a success.
The first thing I did was, I hung my shingle and tried to practice law on my own for two years, which was a disaster.
Because I wasn’t prepared. You know, law school doesn’t really prepare you to practice law.
To run a business; is that the part of it that got you?
No; there is so much more to being a good lawyer than what you learn in law school. And so, I really needed to be mentored and with some people that were more experienced, who could in turn teach me the ropes and help me understand, you know, what you did as a good lawyer. So, I ended up giving it up and getting a job with Wally Fujiyama’s law firm. He established himself, even on the national scene, as a very accomplished trial attorney. But you know, Wally, for all his success as a lawyer, never forgot his ties to the community. And I think that for him, that was an important—he saw it as a social responsibility that he bore to not just focus on his own law practice and pursuing opportunities for himself, but also to contribute to the benefit of the community in terms of, you know, the lives of other people. The other thing about him that I thought was really admirable was that he was a risk taker. And so, he wasn’t hesitant to put himself out front and to become the subject of criticism.
Do you remember that time when you were struggling to run your own place, do you remember feeling embarrassed that another lawyer saw you do something?
Oh, yeah. No; there were many times when, you know, I realized that I was over my head in terms of the assignment that I had. And it was frustrating. It was frequently humiliating.
Did you second guess yourself, saying, I shouldn’t have done this, I shouldn’t have gotten, this is not my—
Oh, definitely. No; I thought to myself that, you know, I mean, this was not the right career path. Which is why I abandoned it.
But you stayed in law; you didn’t abandon law.
No; no. But quite honestly, I hated practicing law. I thought it was a mistake to have become a lawyer, because I just didn’t enjoy it. It took me over ten years before, you know, I finally started to feel more comfortable about what I was doing, and began to enjoy it.
In 1996, Colbert Matsumoto was appointed the Court Master for Bishop Estate. It was a role that required him to examine the finances and structure of the multi-billion-dollar trust for Native Hawaiians. Within a year, the Estate came under fire amid allegations of gross mismanagement, and many called for the powerful and highly paid trustees to resign. Matsumoto unexpectedly found himself taking on the trustees in a scathing 120-page report he issued to the court.
When the judge appointed me to be the Court Master, the controversy hadn’t erupted. I knew that being Court Master for Bishop Estate was a high-profile of engagement, but I had no clue that it was gonna be as controversial as it ended up being. So, it wasn’t until almost a year after I had been appointed that things kinda erupted. The Broken Trust essay was published, the march on Kawaiahao Plaza occurred, and by then, I started to realize that, you know, this assignment that I had undertaken was gonna require that I take on the trustees. And that was kind of an intimidating notion to think about at that time. Because I had just started my own law firm a couple of years before that. And so, I actually thought to myself, you know, Okay, here I’m in this situation where if I do my job right, I’m gonna end up getting five of the most powerful people in Hawaii upset at me. So, I did think about tendering my resignation to the judge. But as I was kinda weighing that decision, I reflected on, you know, why did I go to law school, why did I want to become a lawyer. And I thought about the idealism that I had when I was in my twenties, and wanting to, you know, make a positive contribution to society. And so, I thought to myself that, you know, here I’m a positon where I could make a difference if I did my job right, and if I did it in a professional way, and am I gonna walk away from it. And so, when I looked at it in that way, I decided that, no, I should stick this out. And that’s what I ended up doing.
And what did you find? You saw the raw data, or at least what raw data was presented to you.
Well, I found a lot of issues with respect to accountability and transparency. You know, a lot of the investments that they had engaged in were not going well, were not performing as they should have. The other thing that they had done was, they had divided up areas of responsibility among the five of them, so that each of them basically had control over a different aspect of the estate. Which I found to be a violation of the trust that had been given to them, because Princess Pauahi had basically designated that there were five trustees that were all supposed to act in concert, rather than, you know, five individual trustees—
–that had their own kuleanas, and could make decisions that would be unchallenged within their kuleanas. And so, you know, that was part of the governance of Kamehameha Schools that I felt were not in conformity with what the Princess’ original wishes were, and certainly not in conformity with trust law.
What was the turning point, do you think, in the legal case that really turned the trust upside down, and resulted in the removal of a trustee?
Well, things started to deteriorate over the three years that this was going on, for the trustees. And I think that they, as I said, hunkered down. They were very resistant to making a number of the changes that the court expected of them. And then, the real blow that I think did them in was when the IRS came in and raised a number of concerns about their behavior and their management of the estate.
A lot of that was based on what you had put out; right?
Yes and no. You know, the IRS had done a lot of their own homework, and they had other issues that they wanted to raise with the trustees. But you know, IRS has a very heavy hand, and when they enter the picture, you know, it’s pretty tough [CHUCKLE] to fight them.
Colbert Matsumoto ended his twenty-year legal career in 1999, and became chairman of Island Insurance. Matsumoto is known as a strategic problem-solver. He used his skills and his influence to help save the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii from foreclosure in 2002. Matsumoto led a team that successfully raised nine million dollars in just a few months.
How did you actually get the money?
Well, you know, it took a lot of hard work and effort. And so, you know, our group—and we called it the Committee to Save the Center. We knew that this was a desperate cause, and that nobody likes to contribute money to what they think is gonna be ultimately a failed effort, because you know, you’ve heard the term, you know, throwing good money after bad. And so, nobody wanted to throw good money after bad. So, what we pledged to the audience was that we would only cash their checks if we had raised enough money to save the center. But until then, all we were gonna do was collect checks. And so, that’s what we did. And I think that that gave people the confidence to contribute to us. Whenever we would receive a donation, we would do a personalized letter to that person, thanking them for their contribution. And I would sign every letter. And so, my wife would stay up with me at night to help me stuff envelopes, and get the letters ready to be mailed out to the people that donated. And so, yeah; it took a lot of work, but it was very satisfying.
When you look back at that, did you learn new things about yourself?
Not so much about myself, as much as my confidence in my community was not misplaced. It reaffirmed my sense that, you know, we are a special place, we are a special community, that you know, Hawaii is a place that retains a lot of the qualities that growing up on Lanai, I think, I felt were unique once I was able to contrast it to my experiences on the mainland. And so, it reaffirmed my desire to try to maintain those qualities about our community.
Colbert Matsumoto chose the business boardroom instead of following his parents into a labor union. However, his strong sense of community goes back to his parents’ values and the sense of extended family in his upbringing on rural Lanai. To that, he added higher education and Zen training. Thank you, Colbert Matsumoto, for sharing your story with us. And thank you, for joining us. For PBS Hawaii and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha, a hui hou.
My own daughters, my two daughters, when they were in elementary school, we went to Lanai for a visit, and I remember giving them like ten dollars and telling them, you know, Why don’t you go buy some ice cream, you know, from the ice cream store? And so, they looked at me like, you know, Well, aren’t you gonna take us? And I said, No, you know where it is, so why don’t you walk from Grandma’s house to the ice cream store. And so, they did. And it was the first time they had ever done that.
And you felt okay, ‘cause it was Lanai.
Oh, yeah. No, I felt perfectly fine about it. And it was definitely a new experience for them.