interview

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Benny Rietveld

 

Benny Rietveld’s first experience playing music was at the age of six, in the piano department at Gem’s in Kapalama. “I liked the idea that you could press something, and it creates this…cool sound,” Rietveld remembers. He was mentored by band director Henry Miyamura at McKinley High School, and played in local jazz and rock bands before moving to San Francisco and touring with Sheila E. and Miles Davis. Today, Benny Rietveld plays bass for Carlos Santana, and still sits in with the Hawai‘i musicians he grew up with.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, Oct. 14 at 11:00 pm and Sunday, Oct. 18 at 4:00 pm.

 

Benny Rietveld Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

Do you think music is more than just fun?

 

Totally; yeah. Music is powerful, music is magic. It allows us to do so many things invisibly. You can put it in the background, you can have it in the foreground, you can stop, start. You know, it’s always there, and it helps you celebrate things, it helps you mourn. It drives people to battle, you get married and you can create babies with it. It transports you, it reminds you of things in your life, just hearing something. Like, oh, my god, you know.

 

M-hm.

 

It’s an incredibly powerful force, and it can actually change people’s lives, you know. And that’s why I think musicians have a really big responsibility to just keep on point, keep being mindful, keep getting better, showing up. Because it’s a really powerful thing.

 

Benny Rietveld, who still calls Hawai‘i home, is the bassist and music director for Santana, a band he first heard when he was a young boy growing up in Honolulu. He’s been recording and touring with Santana since the 1990s, and he’s also known locally as a member of Topaz, a jazz fusion band that he and his high school friends had in the 1970s. Benny Rietveld, next, on Long Story Short.

 

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

 

Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Benny Rietveld has recorded three albums with the iconic Latin rock band Santana, including Supernatural which became a worldwide sensation when it was released in 1999. Rietveld was born in Holland to parents of Dutch, French, and Indonesian ancestry. They moved their family to Hawai‘i when Benny was three. He grew up in Honolulu, where he started showing musical talent at a young age.

 

I took piano lessons when I was six.

 

Why did you take piano when you were six? Now, that’s early. How did that happen?

 

Remember Gem Store on—well, I don’t know …

 

Kapalama?

 

Yeah; in Kapalama. Yeah. Well, we used to live in Kalihi, and so we’d go through there, and it was always the piano section, and I was always plinking on the piano, you know. And my mom thought, Oh, he’s musical. You know how kids, you know, they hit a hammer, and it’s like, Oh, he’s gonna be a carpenter when he grows up.

 

But were you plunking better than most kids, do you think?

 

I don’t think so. I just liked it. I liked the idea that you could press something, and it creates this cool sound. I think. That’s how I remember it. And then, so we got like a little piano, upright piano, and she gave me lessons at Palama Settlement. And I think the first teacher was named Mrs. Leong. I think. But I didn’t really like ‘em. And I was like, Oh, really? You know, really like boring music, and River keep on rolling. You know. I just didn’t get it. And then, when was ten, we still had the piano in the, you know, attracting dust. And then, the song Hey Jude came out from the Beatles, and it had that cool piano intro. I was like, wow, that’s cool. I was like, wow. And then, oh, it’s sort of like that instrument that’s in our living room. So, I was like, huh. And it was really easy for me, and it was really fun. So, I thought, well, this is great, I’m gonna keep doing this. You know.

 

Then you learned other songs.

 

And then, I learned the entire Beatles catalog, practically.

 

By yourself, or with a teacher?

 

No, no; by myself. Yeah. You know, then I was hooked. And it was like, this is fun, I don’t want to do anything else. And I was just on my way. And then, I met my cousin, the guitar player in Topaz, or calabash cousin, actually, Fred Schreuders. And he was slightly older than me, but he was already playing music. He was, you know, playing guitar, and his dad also played music. So, I was like, wow, cool. And we met, and we jammed, you know, tried to play songs together.

 

You were on the piano?

 

Yeah; and then, I branched out to drums, and then a little bit of bass. And then we started, you know, playing. Hey, let’s do a band, you know. And so, yeah, we put together a band. So, when I was about twelve, I was playing in these dances at, you know, Star of the Sea.

 

And that was kind of the beginning of that. So, you know, I met the guitar player for Topaz way back then.

 

You were just picking it up as you went.

 

Yeah; yeah. ‘Cause it was easy.

 

And you were playing for high school dances at age twelve, or middle school dances?

 

Yes; yeah. My parents were really worried. ‘Cause there were some situations where sometimes we’d play a party, and and more like a high school kids’ party. And so, there may have been some illicit drugs.

 

And it was nighttime.

 

And it was nighttime.

 

Driving.

 

Yeah. So, my parents, you know, lost a lot of hair.

 

And you gave them reason to.

 

A little bit. But, you know, I wasn’t that wild.

 

And where were you on instruments? ‘Cause right now, you’re a confirmed bassist.

 

Yeah.

 

How did you pick the bass, or did the bass pick you?

 

Well, yeah. This is the joke. Usually, the bass picks you. It’s usually because you don’t know anyone else who plays the bass. So, you’re like, oh, you play the bass. So, what happened to me was, I was playing drums in this little dance band, and our bass player left. So, we didn’t know any other musicians, but we knew one drummer. So, it was like, well, what do we do? You know, so we’ll just get him, and you play bass. So, that’s how it happened. But I kept playing guitar with Joe the Fiddler, because, you know, it worked better for chords and stuff, and I kept up on piano playing. You know, I just like always was interested in all of that stuff. But you know, I started getting kinda good on the bass, which is easy to do.  Yeah; so that was that. It just happens like that, you know.

 

What schools did you go to?

 

I lived in town mostly, and I went to McKinley High School.

 

You had a band director who is legendary.

 

Yes, legendary; Henry Miyamura. He’s like one of the big musical mentors of my life, and of Noel’s life, and of Allen Won’s life, too, the other guys from Topaz. He was … amazing. He was like that Mr. Holland guy. I mean, just deeply, deeply committed to the real essence of music performance, which goes beyond, you know, the notes and stuff, but the actual conveyance of the emotion or of the story, or of the tragedy or comedy, or whatever. And to get a bunch of high school kids, half of them who weren’t really gonna go into music anyway, or most of them, and get them to sound as good as he got those bands to sound was really a remarkable feat.

 

How do you think he did it?

 

I think he really loved music, and he loved people. He knew how important it was, you know, even if we didn’t. You know, we were kids then. He knew.

 

While Benny Rietveld was busy playing music through high school, his parents were thinking about his future. They didn’t consider music to be a suitable career path. But Benny was already doing what he loved, and it wasn’t long before his talents took him from the local venues in Hawai‘i to a larger stage.

 

Did you decide consciously, I’m going to be a musician as a livelihood?

 

I don’t think so. The only time it was a conscious thought was like as, you know, graduation from high school was imminent. Then my parents were like, So, you know, what are you gonna do? You’re gonna go to trade school? You should go to trade school, because you know, you learn a trade and make a lot of money. I guess they didn’t see me as the scholarly type, which I wasn’t.  And I said, Oh, I’m just gonna play music. I just assumed I was.

 

Were you already getting paid to play?

 

Yeah, yeah. Yeah. Just like, well, I don’t know. You know, I just thought I was gonna be a musician. And they went, What? No, you can’t. And they were very upset for a little while, only because, you know, they just saw their child being an intravenous drug user and being in the gutter, and you know, whatever. So yeah, I totally get why they freaked out. But then after a while, they thought, Well, he seems to be doing okay, and he’s playing, you know.

 

And you went to college right after that, here.

 

Not right after, but yeah, I did.

 

Oh; so you graduated from high school.

 

Graduated from high school. I was living on my own. I think for about a year, I was living on my own, then I got a scholarship for UH, through Mr. Miyamoto, who suggested I do that. So, he championed me as far as getting a scholarship.

 

And didn’t graduate.

 

No.

 

Because?

 

‘Cause I was also playing music, and then I got a road touring gig with The Crusaders. It was very short. But with all my other gigs in Hawai‘i, and then going off to the mainland for a little bit, just like I lost the whole momentum.

 

How did you make the transition from having lived almost all of your life in Hawai‘i, to the mainland, to the continent?

 

With scarves and heavy sweaters. Basically, that’s how I made the transition. I went to San Francisco first.

 

And that was, I’m going to go try my luck in the San Francisco Bay Area?

 

Well, because I had a friend there already. And he said, You gotta come here, there’s a lot of good music there. And there was, at the time. Lots of great musicians there.

 

You played with some biggies, fairly early on.

 

No. I mean, I don’t know. Pete Escovedo, you know, I learned a lot from him. Ray Obiedo, you know, he used to play with Herbie Hancock and really good songwriter. And a lot of really great local San Francisco Bay Area musicians.

 

When was the first time you played with someone that you went, Whoa, I’m with so-and-so, I’m intimidated?

 

Well, sort of like Sheila E, because her producer was Prince. So, he’d be around, and I’m like, Whoa, you know, ooh. You know. That was my sort of introduction to the high end pop world.

 

And you went on tour with Sheila E, didn’t you?

 

Yes, yes; for about two years.

 

How did you get along with Prince?

 

He was like kind of a mysterious background guy. So, he didn’t talk much to us, but he seemed okay, you know. But he kinda kept more to Sheila and, you know, just sort of like that.

 

Now, did that tour lead to anything?

 

Then I was playing around the Bay Area for a while, and then, I guess Miles Davis was looking for a bass player, and he kinda wanted that sort of Prince-influenced sound. Then we rehearsed, and I met Miles, and it was crazy. And I think I was too much in shock to be actually intimidated, tell you the truth. It was only until I think a year later, I was on the stage, and I was like, Holy crap, that’s Miles Davis. You know, and then I had that moment. But I think, you know, your body blesses you with the gift of shock, so you’re just, you know, immune.

 

And how was it? You know, you have to feel each other in music, you have to work together. How did that go?

 

It went fabulously. You know, he would, you know, give direction while we’re playing, and sometimes before the shows we’d talk about let’s do this part a little faster, or let’s do this kinda rhythm and, you know. And we would keep trying, and so really, back then it was like a laboratory, you know. Because we would do the same song, and it would just evolve. It was like a petri dish. I mean, the songs would evolve so that if you hear the same song two years apart, they’re almost radically different. You know, the tempo is like way slower or faster, and this part is really loud, you know. It was really, really interesting, and it just demanded that you focus a hundred percent on him and the music all the time. You know. That was the big deal.

 

You had to be really mindful.

 

Yeah; like mindful to an incredible degree, because if you weren’t, then then he’d know, you know, and then those eyes would, you know, turn. You know, zzzz, laser, laser. So yeah, you really had to have presence of mind.

 

So, you had a real sense of what he wanted, who he wanted—

 

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

 

–how he wanted.

 

Yeah, yeah. And yet, there was that … still, the challenge was to inject yourself in that, within that framework, you know.

 

And he expected you to.

 

Yeah; yeah, yeah, yeah. And so, that was really intimidating, ‘cause I felt like I wasn’t really mature enough as a musician to inject a lot of myself. I don’t know, maybe I did. I don’t know.  That was another coming of age thing, because I had to, I think, almost completely relearn music. You know, really music and bass playing, and the ethos of what it means to be a bass player and what it means to be a musician.

 

Why?

 

Well, because I hadn’t learned all these really basic fundamental things well enough, you know.

 

So, you were good enough to get in the band.

 

Yeah.

 

And once you were there, you had to up your game.

 

Yeah; yeah, yeah. It was like raw talent is one thing, but to really like hone it is another thing.

 

After two and a half years playing with Miles Davis, Benny Rietveld moved on. Two months later, he met Carlos Santana.

 

Coincidentally, I did a recording session with Carlos Santana.

 

You sound so casual when you say that.

 

Well, no. I mean, because it just happened, you know. It was somebody else’s session, and we met. And that was another intimidating moment, ‘cause it was Carlos Santana, and I grew up looking at that album cover, you know, and all that stuff, listening to all those albums over and over again. And he said, Yeah, you know, I might need another bass player, and you know. Luckily, we lived both in the Bay Area, so I called him and I said, Yeah, I would love to play. Are you kidding? You know. So that’s how that happened.

 

Aren’t you the musical director as well now?

 

Yes. I don’t know, I’m not really the musical director so much as like traffic cop. You know, ‘cause I consider Carlos actually is the musical director, ‘cause he’s very hands-on and he has an uncanny ability to know what he wants. It’s more about during the show itself, when he calls an audible, which he does every time, then I just help direct traffic. Okay, we’re going here now, instead of, you know, how we rehearsed it.

 

How much of the year do you go on tours?

 

With Santana, it’s roughly four to five months out of the year. But it’s broken up. You do get burnt out, you know, no matter what you do. And it’s always gotta be really, really high level, energy, fun. And the minute it’s a little bit below that, then we’re not doing it.

 

Do you ever get sick of being asked to play a song you love, but you’ve heard it and you’ve sung it … Black Magic Woman, so many times before?

 

No; love it. It’s great. I don’t care about all the other times I’ve played it. It’s like, oh, wow, this is the first time I’m playing it. You know. That’s special, and we have to convey that to people every time. That’s the hard part. That’s the higher level stuff. Not playing the music; the notes are like whatever, you know. That’s like hammering a nail; okay? But it’s how to get into that thing, and it sounds so, fluffy and goofy, you know. But that is, to me, the higher level of music.

 

Did working with Santana when you started require a different sensibility than working with Miles Davis? Did you have to shift in any way?

 

Only superficially, actually, with the style of music, the genre, you know. Because it’s more rock-oriented, Latin, which we hardly ever did in Miles’ thing. But in essence, it was actually very similar, because they both demanded passion and fire, and presence of mind, like all the time. And not being afraid, you know. I think that’s another thing. You cannot have any fear.

 

Is there a way to describe how they work musically, and how you work with them musically?

 

With both of those guys, it was about trying to … articulate the in-articulable.  That’s the weird part about music, is that like underneath the hood, underneath all the technique and theory, and all the numbers, which are all useful, underneath it all, I like to say the last thing that music is about is music. You know.  It’s really about feeling and life. And it sounds so, you know … fluffy. You know, like, Oh, it’s feelings. You know. But all the major guys hardly ever talk about nuts and bolts of music, you know. The jazz guys, a little bit more, because it’s more their realm, you know. But all those guys share the predilection for using aphorisms to describe music. It should sound like, you know, red wine streaming through. You know, something like that. And sometimes, it just sounds so bonkers, you know, to the uninitiated. But then, you realize it’s just a personal lexicon and a cosmology. And actually, now that I’ve known Carlos for a while, it makes complete sense, you know. Now when he says something, you know, like really poetic, I’m actually kinda knowing what it means in dry, boring music terms. Sometimes Miles would say—an actual musical thing would be like, Give that part a little lift. Instead of, you know, doong, doong, doong, doong; maybe like doong, ka-doong, ka-doong, ka-doong, doong, ka-doong. You know, all these little things between. I think everyone knows that deep down inside, it’s really silly to talk about music, because it’s the most abstract of all art forms, you know. But we try, anyway. We have to, sometimes. You know, we’re trying to convey what we want, you know.

 

Although Benny Rietveld lives in L.A. when he isn’t touring with Santana, he likes to come to the place he calls home: Hawai‘i. In 2014, he and some of his former bandmates from Topaz reunited for a show.

 

What brings you back to perform with your old high school buddies?

 

Love of music, and love of them. You know. We’ve kept in contact all this time.

 

And tell me what the names are. Who’s your gang?

 

The gang is Noel Okimoto on drums, Allen Won on the saxophones, Fred Schreuders on guitar, and Carl Wakeland on keyboards.

 

That’s a pretty amazing group from McKinley High School, isn’t it?

 

Yeah. Well, me and Allen, and Noel are from McKinley. Carl is from Mililani. Fred ended up graduating from Kaiser High School. We got kind of popular because we were this bunch of high school kids that could play this kind of difficult and technical music known at the time as fusion. And we loved jazz and all that. So, there weren’t many eighteen-year-olds playing that at the time in Hawai‘i. So you know, we got a kind of rep, and we were the little darlings there for a while, and we even played at La Mancha for two weeks. We disbanded ‘cause we all had stuff, and we were doing our lives. And Noel stayed here, so he’d play. And his late dad, unfortunately, George Okimoto, would go to his gigs all the time. And George actually managed us back then, because he was the manager of Easy Music Center, you know, by McCully. And so he was like, You know, you kids really got something. And he got us equipment to use, you know, cool new gear. So he was like our manager, and really championed us. Cut to couple of years ago. We’re at Gordon Biersch, I’m visiting, and I see Noel, and like you know, listening to him, Byron Yasui and all these great local guys. And there was Noel’s dad, George Okimoto, and he goes, Eh, hurry up, you know, get a reunion. And it was like, actually very bittersweet because he actually made a joke. He was like, Eh, hurry up, before I die.  And what I got from that was like, he wasn’t really joking around. He was like, you know, everyone is about to move on here, and you guys should do something, ‘cause it was really special. So, we did a show last year. It was really, really fun. So, this year again, earlier in the year, we recorded a CD. But you know, we all have these other crazy lives, and we’re not gonna like, Yeah, let’s have a band and tour together. That’s not gonna happen.

 

Did you ever conceive, did you ever think in your young life, that you would be in your fifties, and it’s a tour, it’s concerts and crowds, and music, and vans?

 

I had no idea. Who really knows what their thing is, you know.

 

And how long do you see that going on?

 

Playing music, being involved in music for me will go on until either I die, or I find suddenly that I don’t like it. You know. I don’t really see the latter happening.

 

Benny Rietveld has not stopped having fun playing music since figuring out how to play Hey Jude on the piano at age ten. Along with his raw talent, his dedication to his craft, his ability to work with people, his fearlessness and his determination took him to a world stage. Mahalo to Benny Rietveld, a proud graduate of McKinley High School in Honolulu, and longtime bassist for Santana. And thank you, for joining us. For PBS Hawai‘i 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 PBSHawai‘i.org.

 

[END]

 

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LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Jim Burns: A Local Boy

 

In honor of the late Jim Burns, PBS Hawai‘i presents an in-memoriam encore of this episode recorded in June 2014.

 

Jim Burns’ father, John A. Burns, always thought of himself as a local boy. Jim, who grew up in Kailua and could easily break into Pidgin English, saw himself the same way. As Jim was growing up, he saw the respect that his father had for Hawai‘i’s immigrants, and learned that being a local boy was about more than just speaking Pidgin.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, April 5, at 11:00 pm and Sunday, April 9, at 4:00 pm.

 

Transcript

 

I’m told that your law clerks, when you were looking for a new one, of course, you checked all aspects of their background, but it was really important to you to find out where they went to high school.

 

Yeah; I started with that. You know, that gives me a picture of, you know, where they lived and who they are. And then, from there, I’d ask them other questions. But, yes. I think that’s true of all the people who lived—local boys, back in the old days. You know, Where you went high school? And if they said Kamehameha; okay, you got a picture of them. They said St. Louis, they said Punahou, they said Iolani, they said Farrington, Kaimuki, you’d get sort of a picture or flavor.

 

So, what did it say about you, that you went to St. Louis?

 

Well … that during school, I had to wear a tie.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

You know, that it was a little stricter operation than other places, little more controlled. That it was all boys, so you don’t know anything about girls.

 

Jim Burns has always called himself just a local boy. This, despite the lofty trappings of his career, rising to Chief Judge of the State Intermediate Court of Appeals. And he’s the son of one of the most consequential political leaders in Hawai‘i’s modern history, Governor John Burns. Jim Burns, next on Long Story Short.

 

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

 

Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. James Stanton Seishiro Burns, better known as Jim Burns, retired Chief Judge of the Hawai‘i Intermediate Court of Appeals, was born in Honolulu in 1937 to a father who was a police officer and a mother who was partially paralyzed by polio two years before Jim was conceived. It wasn’t until much later that Jim’s father, the late Governor John A. Burns, became a politician and the driving force that brought Democratic Party to power, changing Hawai‘i’s political landscape forever. It was apparent in Jim’s young life that there was something exception about his parents.

 

When people talk about when they were born, it’s you know, just a fact. I was born on this date. But your story of birth is huge. I mean, I’ve never heard such a dramatic birth story as yours. I’d love to hear it from you.

 

Well, I don’t remember it.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

I only know what they told me. Interesting story. My mother had two children, and then while she was pregnant with the third during the seventh month, she got polio. Then called infantile paralysis. And so, the baby was born, my brother, but he didn’t live long. And so, she was paralyzed at that time, from the neck, down, and real bad.

 

Now, this was 1935. But subsequently in 1936, she became pregnant with me., while she was paralyzed. And you know, I don’t know how much of the upper body then was paralyzed, but definitely from the lower body, she was paralyzed. And so, all the doctors told her to abort. And they said they wouldn’t treat her if she refused. And she said, No, I’m not going to abort. And so really, nobody wanted to treat her.

 

So, was she personally at risk? Is that why they wanted her to abort?

 

Yes; both of us were at risk. Yes. And she said, No, I won’t. Fortunately, my father knew a guy, a Japanese body expert, I think you’d call him. He was a jujitsu, judo master, and so, my father found him. And of course, the doctors didn’t want him to touch my mother, said he would kill her, you know, with what he was going to do. But no, my father went with him, and he took care of my mother during the pregnancy; all during the pregnancy. You know, she said, dunked her into bathwater. What was it … seaweed water and et cetera. Massaged her, stretched her. My mother said, It almost killed me, but every time I would scream, he’d say, Go ahead, scream some more.

 

Now, she was paralyzed. It’s indicating that she’s feeling pain, but would she feel pain?

 

Oh, yes.

 

Oh, she did feel pain?

 

Oh, gosh; yes. Yes. She just couldn’t move her body. But she could feel pain. Yes.

 

I see.

 

I never talked to my father about it, but I did talk to her about it. You know, why would you get pregnant while you were paralyzed? And she said, I wanted to show that I could continue to be a wife, you know, that I could be together with him. And being good Catholics, it happened.

 

And you were born perfect?

 

I was born healthy, almost eight pounds, full-term pregnancy. And delivered by a friend who didn’t deliver babies, because there was no doctor to deliver me. He was a doctor, but he was not a doctor who specialized in that particular business.

 

So, I notice that you have a Japanese middle name.

 

Yes, I do.

 

Is that because of the man who helped your mom deliver?

 

Yes. His name was Henry Seishiro Okazaki. Quite famous in the community. And after I was born, you know, my father talked to him, I guess, about, Hey, what can I do for you? I’ve gotta pay you whatever. And the man said, You call him Seishiro. And that’s all my father ever called me.

 

Jim Burns’ brother and sister were only a few years older than him, but by the time Jim came along, the family had gone through many changes. Jim’s father had become a police officer, and he had moved his family from Kalihi to the Windward side, Kailua, where Jim grew up.

 

So, you were the favored child, right, because you were the youngest, who’d come through so miraculously.

 

Well, that’s what my sister says. I’m not sure it’s true, but I guess I had a better life than she did, or my older brother did.

 

Was your father, who was known as very strict and sometimes punitive—

 

Yes.

 

You had it easier than the older kids?

 

Well, I don’t know how they had it, but I know that I had some whacks; some pretty good ones. So, he was very strict with me, also. But I think because I’m younger, he mellowed over the course of time. So, I think they caught it more than me, before he mellowed.

 

You know, when your father was governor, people said—and this was sometimes quoted in the papers—his nickname could be The Great Stone Face; he was very impassive and stern.

 

Yes.

 

What was he like as a father?

 

Same. Exactly. Yes; very. Not too many jokes.

 

They both sound like very strong people. I mean, did you feel like you had room to breathe around them?

 

Oh, yes. Oh, yes. Well, you know, depending on what part of my life you’re talking about, I didn’t see him that often. I saw my mother much more than him, and my mother was much easier to deal with than he was.

 

And even your mother went away for a while for treatment; right?

 

When I was two years old, she went to the mainland for treatment, and she was there until Christmas of ’42. Actually should not have come back; she came back sooner than she should have. But she was so homesick.

 

Wow. And your dad was often gone as well.

 

Yes. So, I didn’t see her. You know, I wasn’t conscious of her when I was two years old, and I didn’t see her until I was four and a half.

 

Wow.

 

Or actually, let’s see. Christmas—I’m sorry; five and a half.

 

Five and a half.

 

Five and a half years old.

 

Do you remember seeing her at five and a half?

 

Well, I know that she came home. And we had been writing to her while she was gone. You know. I mean, I’m sure my penmanship was not so good in those days.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

But I would write notes to her.

 

Who took care of you?

 

Well, that’s a good question. I recall a lady from down the street, a good family friend, who used to take care of all of us. My father’s mother lived next door. But, lots of kids she took care of, and I remember her. And then, when we got older, I know my father got some gals from the detention home, the girls’ home, and they came and babysat. So, it was just whoever. And then, it was wartime.

 

Tell me about Pearl Harbor.

 

Okay. Well, let’s go back a ways. My father’s a policeman, and prior to the war, he’s in charge of espionage. He’s the chief of espionage in the police department. And I think the United States knew that it was going to get into a war with Japan. It had to, to get into the war in Europe. And so, I think about ’39, the chief asked my father to put together him and four guys, to go check with the Japanese community and find any signs of disloyalty. So, my father gathered together four other guys from the police department, three of whom were Japanese, and one was Hawaiian.

 

Did your dad get to pick?

 

Yes; he got to pick. So, he picked the four. And … interesting story. I always tell this story, and it’s true. Five people … remember Hawaii Five-O?

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

That’s where the five comes from. You know, that investigative unit. But anyway, so the five went out and checked all over the place, and came back and said, No, no signs of disloyalty whatsoever within the community.

 

We were at church Sunday morning, December 7th, 7:00 a.m. Church was finished, and we were just gonna start going to home. And we saw this … blast, explosions at what was then the Kaneohe Naval Air Station, which is now the Kaneohe Marine Station. And we could see planes and bombs, and et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. And you know, I’m young, I’m only four and a half years old, and all I know is that there’s a ruckus going on. But he knew what was going on. So, he rushed home, ran into the house, picked up the phone, called, and all I heard him was say, Oh, four-letter word. And out the door he went, and I didn’t see him for a long time. We didn’t see him for a long time.

 

Long time, meaning how long?

 

You know, I recall two, three weeks. But he was gone. And now, we were at home, we didn’t have my mother. You know, just had whoever was looking after us, and thinking that we’re going to be invaded. And then martial law came, and et cetera. We lived under that. And right next door, there was a military camp that they set up in the ironwood pine trees, which was interesting. So, part of my growing up was working with the soldiers, being with the soldiers. They were nice to us.

 

So, very unconventional entry to the world, and very unconventional upbringing.

 

M-hm; yeah. I would say so.

 

How do you think it affected you?

 

Well, it made me very independent; that’s for sure. You know, I didn’t have a lot of social contact, other than my brother, sister, and whoever else was around. So, I learned how to do my own thing.

 

I know you went to St. Louis. I think it was called college at the time.

 

St. Louis College.

 

And you lived in Kailua.

 

Yes.

 

So, Pali Road was there.

 

But it was the Old Pali Road.

 

So, it wasn’t that hairpin …

 

It was the Old Pali Road.

 

With the hairpin turn?

 

Yes.

 

How did you get to school?

 

That way. In the mornings, somebody took us. Either my father, or somebody. Lots of kids went to St. Louis, Sacred Hearts in those days from Kailua. So, somebody, whoever it was, took us to St. Louis.

 

How’d you get home?

 

Well, when I was younger, you know, somebody would pick us up; my father or somebody he got to pick us up. But as I got older, the bus went to Nuuanu, dropped us off. Those days, the buses had electrical lines, wires.

 

That’s right. They were trolleys.

 

Yes; trolleys.

 

More like trolleys.

 

So, Nuuanu was as far as they got.

 

And then, how did you get home from there?

 

Hitchhike.

 

Did you always find somebody to take you?

 

Yes. Yes.

 

Who was it usually? What kind of person?

 

You know, all kinds of people; neighbors, friends, or just people. You know, Kailua was a small town, country town, and everybody kind of knew each other, friendly with each other. Different kinds of people. But there was one man; an interesting story. A guy named Charley Asada, and he drove the kerosene truck. And people say, Kerosene truck?

 

Yeah.

 

Well, in those days, the farmers between the Pali and Kailua, talking along the Koolaus, lots of Japanese farmers. And they didn’t have electricity, so their source of power was kerosene.

 

Oh …

 

And so, he would drive his kerosene truck, and he’d go fill up the tanks for all of these people. You know, different places, different days. And so, I went with him. And people say, Why did you do that? And I say, Well, number one, he was fun to be with; he was very educational, entertaining, et cetera. But number two, while he was filling up the tanks, guess what we were doing? We were eating. I mean, those people had good food.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

And so, by the time I got home, I was full.

 

There was a time when your father left the police force to become a fulltime politician. And your mom started running a liquor store.

 

Well, yeah. Initially, he ran it. So, he bought a liquor store, and he was running it in Kailua. But then, he got so involved in politics. Now, we’re talking about ’46, ’47. And then, he ran in’48. And so then, my mother started running it. And we lived five blocks away, so we’re talking a lady in a wheelchair going to the liquor store. And sometimes somebody took her, sometimes she wheeled herself, and sometimes I pushed her.

 

And she basically took charge of the purchases and the ordering, and …

 

She was there all day. You know, I don’t know how she did it, but she did. And when I could, I went and helped. As I got older, I did more and more help. But, you know, we had shelves, and she couldn’t reach. So, the customer would just reach and take whatever they wanted, and … you know, then they would make their purchase.

 

I thought that was an interesting choice of a type of business, because hadn’t your father previously had a problem with alcohol, and he’d stopped? But then, he bought a liquor store.

 

Well, his father was an alcoholic, and then deserted the family. And so, he was a very angry man. I think my father grew up very, very angry and bothered. So, he was incorrigible when he was young. And in fact, so much so their mother couldn’t handle him, sent him off to Fort Leavenworth to live with an uncle. And when he came back, he bounced around and finally became a policeman. But while he was a policeman initially, in the 30s, he got into an accident and had liquor on his breath. Now, nobody said he was drunk, but he had liquor on his breath, and apparently, policemen weren’t supposed to do that. So, he was sanctioned for it. And I guess his mother sat him down, and eventually, he promised, Okay, I’m not gonna drink anymore.

 

And he did; he quit cold turkey at some point.

 

I never saw the man drink.

 

Amazing.

 

No.

 

And could handle the liquor store, no problem.

 

Yes. But he drank coffee [CHUCKLE] constantly. But, yes. And then, as I say, my mother ran the store, and they ran ‘til the early 50s. And then, Piggly Wiggly came to Kailua, and ran us out of business.

 

The old Piggly Wiggly. It was during Jim Burns’ high school years that his father, John Burns, started becoming politically active. It would be many years before John Burns would win an election, but through his organizing activities, the elder Burns was laying the groundwork for what would become major social change in Hawaii.

 

When you were a kid, here you are with a Japanese middle name. You’re going to St. Louis. And I bet you there weren’t many Caucasian boys at St. Louis.

 

Well, Caucasian; if you include Portuguese, there were plenty.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

[CHUCKLE] Yes. So, I don’t think they knew whether I was Portagee or Haole. I was just one of the local boys. I spoke Pidgin, and I associated with everybody.

 

Yeah; that’s true. If I hear you, and you’re talking with your St. Louis buddies, I would never know what race you are.

 

Yes; yes. So, yeah. No; we just mixed, and nobody ever said, Eh, you one Haole. The only difficulty I had was, my father was a loser as a politician.

 

In the beginning.

 

He lost from ’46 to ’56; ten years. I went to college before he won an election. So, it was all during my grade school and high school, he was a loser. And I used to catch heck for that.

 

Why did people mind that your dad was losing political battles?

 

Well, because he’d run for office, and he’d lose. And they would say, What the hell is your father doing, running for office? You know, losing. And in fact, even worse, they used to call him names. And I went home one time and I said, Daddy, what‘s a Communist? And he said, Why are you asking me that kind of question? I said, Well, that’s what my classmates say you are. And he never really answered the question. I had to go find out by myself.

 

So, all those years, his political aspirations and the ability he had in bringing people together, that was not a plus for you?

 

I wasn’t involved. No. All I knew is, he was involved with running for office or organizing the Democratic Party. And I think he was on the other side of most of the kids that I was hanging around with, and you know, they were all on the other side of the track. And so, he was sort of an outsider and everybody’s wondering, What’s he doing? Why is he over there? You know.

 

What do you mean, other side of the track?

 

Well, the Republicans were totally in charge. So, anybody who wasn’t Republican was on the other side of the track.

 

And it’s true; at that time, the leaders in Hawaii tended to be Republican and Caucasian. But your dad was Caucasian, but from Kalihi, and the son of a single mom who eked out an existence, and like you said, he was an angry young man who, I guess, knew something about street gangs growing up.

 

Well, yes. Number one, he grew up in Hawaii. Grew up in Kalihi; he was very much a local boy. Again, he went to St. Louis. So, I don’t think you would call him a Haole. Same as me.

 

Would he consider that fighting words?

 

Probably. Yes.

 

So, your dad really had a way different profile than any of the others. He was on the Democratic side.

 

Yes.

 

And he was from an impoverished background. 

 

From the streets. Yes; yes.

 

I know he wasn’t a man to sit you down for father-son talks. But did you get the sense of his passion for equal opportunity for everybody in a place that marginalized many ethnicities?

 

Oh, yes. I mean, I’d sit and listen when he had conversations with other people, and you know, I could get the sense of what he was talking about. And so, I didn’t have any difficulty understanding what was happening. I didn’t know that the Haole was in charge of everything, you know, but I did know that we couldn’t be members of Oahu Country Club. You know, there were certain things that I knew that they had, but we didn’t have. And I knew the difference between Punahou and St. Louis.

 

What is the difference?

 

Well, in those days, it was more the Haoles than St. Louis, which was more of the local people. I knew that difference.

 

So, you grew up with that sense of the local people are getting a bad shake, bad rap.

 

I don’t think I really realized it, other than through my father. You know. Why is this man so committed to doing what he’s doing? Why isn’t he out there working for the family, kind of thing. Other than that, I don’t think I thought about it.

 

And you knew it wasn’t getting him any traction while you were growing up, because he wasn’t winning elections.

 

Right; right. So, you know, I didn’t think about too much, but still, you’re wondering, Hm, why is he doing what he’s doing?

 

When your friends at school or anybody would criticize your dad or say things about him, did you feel proprietary and defensive, or how did that make you feel?

 

Just made me wonder. That’s all. I didn’t think they were fighting words. At St. Louis, every word was a fighting word, if you took it that way, you know, if you were insulted. Everybody talks stink about everybody, so I sort of got used to it, and I got to be pretty good at it myself. I think during the course of his growing up, and especially as a policeman, he got to realize what kind of society Hawaii was. And he got to realize that this bunch of White folks were totally in charge of this place, and nobody else had an opportunity or chance to do anything. He was at the police department one time, and this businessman, one of the Big Five people in control, picked up the phone and said, Governor, come to my office. And my father said, That’s kind of backwards. You know; Governor, come to my office? Isn’t the governor supposed to say, You come to—you know. But that’s the way it was; who was in charge, who was in control. And you know, and I guess he could see the prejudice against the local people; Filipinos, Japanese, Chinese, Koreans. And he just eventually said, No, no, I’m gonna do something to change this. And he totally committed himself. So, he quit the police department. Which was sad, because he loved the police department. I say this to people; all his life, he was truly a cop. In his heart, he was a policeman. He loved it. And that’s part of the problem with his family. You know, policemen—it’s very tough on the family, because they go to work and they get to see what’s going on, then they come home and say, I don’t want you to be like that. You know, so they’re very strict on you.

 

And did you ever talk to your mom about your father’s political aspirations, and what was he doing?

 

Well, no, but I knew she was getting frustrated.

 

Because she was working at the liquor store, while he was organizing?

 

She knew that he was doing what he wanted to do, and she knew he was doing the right thing. So, I think she supported him in that way. But on the other hand, I’m sure she said, Hm, I wish I had a little more family life.

 

And so did you, no doubt?

 

Yeah; sort of. But, you know, I saw my father more, I think, than others. I used to caddy for him, and you know, I spent time with him in the car, listening to him, or time when he was running the liquor store. So, you know, I associated with him.

 

And your mom looked at his time away from the family as something that he just had to do, and she accepted it?

 

Yes. That was the kind of person she was. You know, same way she handled her paralysis; it was, That’s the deck of cards that they dealt me, and that’s what I’m gonna deal with. You know, and I’m not gonna agonize over it or worry about it.

 

And your dad was busy trying to change the world.

 

Yes. That, he was doing, and my mother put up with it.

 

Jim Burns was in college on the mainland by the time his father was finally elected to office as Hawaii’s Delegate to Congress in 1956. During his term, Hawaii became a State, and John Burns came home to run for Governor. He lost his first two tries, but finally won in 1962, well after Jim had finished college and law school. Mahalo to Jim Burns for sharing his childhood memories with us and what it was like to grow up with a father who sacrificed so much, including time with his family, for his social and political ideals for Hawaii. And mahalo to you for joining us. For PBS Hawaii and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou.

 

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

 

You noted that that’s you here.

 

Yes.

 

Cut off from view.

 

Yes.

 

And then, there’s another picture where you’re also cut off, and you’re wheeling your mom, and in a very important occasion.

 

That’s my day off from basic training to go attend the inauguration. And I’m in my uniform, and I’m behind her, and pushing her. And nobody had a clue who I was. They just thought I was a soldier pushing Mrs. Burns. The local paper said: Unidentified Soldier. They didn’t know that I was related to them.

 

 

Kī Hōʻalu: Slack Key, The Hawaiian Way (1993)

 

A collection of candid interviews and archival images, combined with the music of an array of virtuoso performers, this film tells the story of Hawaiian slack key. It depicts how this unique style of playing has become fundamental to Hawai‘i’s musical, cultural and familial traditions.

 





LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Kent Keith

 

Kent Keith has had anything but a traditional career. In every prominent position he’s held, he has lived a mission of helping others find personal meaning in their lives. As President of Pacific Rim Christian University in Honolulu, he works to inspire those around him to live a life of faith, service and continued learning.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, March 29, at 11:00 pm and Sunday, April 2, at 4:00 pm.

 

Kent Keith Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

Traditionally, men’s careers were like th—the search for the Holy Grail, and women’s careers um, were like knights-errant. The search for the Holy Grail uh, the idea being that you start at a profession or an organization, and went as far as you could go in search of the highest position you could get.

 

Men tended to move around as their career um, developed, and so, they would be changing locations. So, that disrupted the wife’s career.

 

And so, when they moved to a new location, the wife would look around and say, What needs doing, and can I do it, and can get a job doing that? So that, that was more like the knight errant—

 

–who went out each day to find someone who needed help, and then helped them. Um, I like that, because I think I’ve—I’ve been more on the knight errant side. You know, find something that is worth doing, and if you have the opportunity to do it, go in there an—and do your best.

 

Dr. Kent Keith has had anything but a traditional career, holding diverse prominent positions in the Hawai’i community, from attorney with a blue-chip firm to State official to real estate developer to university president—of two universities. In every role, he says he has lived a mission of helping others find personal meaning in their lives. Kent Keith next, on Long Story Short.

 

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

 

Aloha mai kakou, I’m Leslie Wilcox. When Roosevelt High School grad Kent Marsteller Keith was a sophomore at Harvard University in 1968, he wrote a motivational guide for high school student leaders. A list of 10 life lessons such as, “People are illogical, unreasonable and self-centered. Love them anyway.” “If you are successful, you will win false friends and true enemies. Succeed anyway.” “The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway.” Thirty-four years later he published these aphorisms in a best-selling book, “Anyway: The Paradoxical Commandments”, which has been translated into 17 languages and sold around the world. Today the President of Pacific Rim Christian University, Dr. Keith grew up in a traveling military family.

 

I was actually born in Brooklyn, New York. Um, and my dad was there doing public relations for the United States Marine Corps, and then he started being transferred around, so um, I grew up in a lot of places. Couple times in California, couple times in Virginia, I was in Nebraska when my dad was in the Korean War. Um, finally, he was transferred to Hawaii, and I stopped complaining. Uh—

 

What was it like, making all those changes? Do you think it helped make you better at getting to know people, or was it stifling?

 

You know, there—there are a lot of impacts, actually. Um, first of all, it was really educational, because every time he was transferred, it was from coast-to-coast, so we drove.

 

Oh …

 

And we’d spend a month exploring America. And so, by the time I was fourteen—arrived in Hawaii when I was fourteen, I’d already crossed the country nine times by car. And each time, we went a different way; national monuments, natural wonders, historic sites. So, it was very educational. It was also educational in learning that, you know, we are one country, and we have common beliefs and values, but we also have different subcultures. And so, you get a sense of, you know, within one nation, there area—there are differences. Um … it was—it was hard, because I was almost always the new kid in school. Uh, so you know, you have start making new friends, an—and by the time you’ve really made friends, you’re moving again, and you’re leaving them. Uh, and that—that sort of had a—ha—had an impact. But it had one benefit, which is that you—you didn’t bring any baggage. Nobody knew who you were before. So—

 

You could start again.

 

–you got—I got all these fresh starts when I was growing up. So, um, yeah, I think—I think … for us as a family, it just pulled us closer together, because we were our community. We were the people we relied on.

 

So, you didn’t complain every time your dad got transferred? Oh, no, not again; I gotta meet a whole bunch of new people, and—

 

No, actually, what happened was, after a while, I began building walls. I began saying, you know, why make friends if you’re gonna lose ‘em, you know, nine months later. And then, I figured out that didn’t make any sense; I still wanted to have friends, and I still wanted to connect with people. So, it’s all part of growing up, just figuring out, you know … things like, what does friendship mean, what does—what do relationships mean. And uh, so I mean, on—on balance, I think it had—had quite a bit of impact, and for me, I think it was positive.

 

It must have been tough. I mean, high school is particularly difficult to transfer into, and you were coming from the mainland—

 

M-hm.

 

–into Roosevelt High School, public school. What was that like at age fourteen?

 

Well, I had—I had an advantage.

 

Oh, you were at Stevenson.

 

I started at Stevenson. Yeah, so—

 

Okay.

 

–my ninth grade year at Stevenson—

 

Well, intermediate school is—

 

Yeah.

–is not any easier, I don’t think.

 

No; no, it wasn’t. Um, but it was a good school, and uh, I have friends that I—that—that I knew then, still today, more than fifty years later. Um, so that—that kind of got me um, uh, oriented, I guess you would say. And—

 

It was smaller than Roosevelt.

 

M-hm.

 

That’s one thing.

 

Yeah. And then—and then, crossed over to Roosevelt for sophomore, junior, and senior year.

 

And somehow, you got elected student body president your last year at Roosevelt?

 

Yeah. Actually, I—I—I was student body vice president uh, junior year, and then student body president my senior year. You know—you know what I think? I think they—they—th … in terms of the ethnic makeup, uh, there weren’t that many haoles at—at Roosevelt. Um, but I think that people figured, well, I—I would work hard. And so, yeah, let’s let him be the—the student body president.

 

You were in many different school environments. What was it like?

 

Um, you know, th—the—the most interesting environments really was—was getting a sense of what it was like to be a minority. And my first experience that I remember was in eighth grade in Rhode Island, when the school was mostly African American. Um, and then coming to Hawaii, an—and realizing, you know, we can—we can work together, we—I was in lots of activities, and that really helped. Got into student government, I was in the band, I was in different clubs, and so on. And so, if you focus on doing things together, you focus on, you know, what do we want to achieve, um, a lot of the things don’t matter, and you can belong, everybody can belong—

Mm.

 

–no matter where they’re from. So, I think the extracurricular program is what really helped me the most. It wasn’t—

 

Mm.

 

–so much what happened in the classroom.

 

Did your father and mother give you advice about breaking into new schools and new communities?

 

What I remember uh, was that my family wanted us to behave they wanted—the way they wanted us to behave. Um, and we were a little bit different. Um, we had chores. And if the other kids were out playing, that’s fine. You’d have your time to play, but right now, you need to mow the lawn, uh, or you need to pull weeds. You know. So, the idea was, it’s—it’s who we think we are, you know, what our values are and what we think a family means. I mean, we’re all gonna be home at dinner, we’re gonna talk about what’s happening. Um, and so, the worst argument I could make as a kid about doing something was, everybody else is doing it. Uh, that was not an acceptable—

 

M-hm.

 

–argument. That didn’t mean anything in our family. Um, the idea was, well, you know, what’s worth doing and what’s balanced, an—and are you helping out with the family, and you know, are you learning what you need to learn.

 

As the kid of an Army officer, how did that affect you?

 

My dad was really, really committed. He was—he was a wonderful example of what it meant to be, you know, focused on duty, and you know, integrity, and loyalty. Um, I—uh, I—I knew that he loved us, and I knew that he loved people. His career, though, was about self-discipline an—and about getting a job done. An—and so, he modeled a lot of values. Um, he also pushed us really hard as—as kids to be everything we could be. No particular goal or job, just the best you would be at whatever you decided to do. And uh, he was an overachiever. I mean, he—he went for a hundred and fifty percent. So, you know, I figured later in life I could slack off and just go for a hundred percent.

 

What was your mom like?

 

She was there after school when we came home. We could share what our day was like, she gave us advice. Um, you know, she—she kept us um, focused on the things we needed to do. Um, she was a little more forgiving than my dad.

 

So, you’d go to her first; right?

 

That’s—that’s right.

 

Well, that was the joke. We’d come home, you know, we—we’d tell Mom how we felt, and then Dad would come home, and we’d have to intellectualize it for him.

 

After graduating from Roosevelt High in Honolulu, Kent Keith was off to the East Coast and Harvard University. There, at age 19, he came out with a list of 10 thoughts that he called the Paradoxical Commandments. This thought-provoking list traveled far and wide, even getting the notice of a woman who became a modern saint.

 

I continued to—to work with high school student leaders. But it was the 60s, so you know, a lot of conflict—uh, conflict and confrontation, uh, turmoil. And yet, a lot of idealism and a lot of hope that somehow, we could make the world uh, a better place. So, what was um, disappointing to me was seeing so many young people go out in the world to bring about change, and then seeing them come back much too quickly because the change they—they wanted wasn’t achieved, and people didn’t seem to appreciate what they were trying to do. So, I—I had a couple of major messages for ‘em. I was traveling around the country speaking, an—an—and working at high schools and student council conventions. I said, Well, first of all, you gotta love people, because that’s one of the only motivations strong enough to keep you with the people, and with the process, until change is achieved, ‘cause it usually takes time. It could take a lot of time. And secondly, I said, you know, if you go out there and do what you believe is right and good and true, um, you—you’re gonna get a lot of meaning. I mean, that should give you a lot of meaning and satisfaction. And—and if you have the meaning, you don’t have to have the glory. The meaning—

 

M-hm.

 

–should be enough. People appreciate you, that’s fine. If they don’t, you’re okay, you still got the meaning, that should keep you energized. So, I decided to write a booklet for them. Took me a long time to decide whether to write one at all, uh, ‘cause I figured well, people know this, and you know, it’s already been said. But I started writing this booklet on how to bring about change by working together. And one chapter was about love, about brotherly love they called it then, about caring about people. And it talked about—about this issue of meaning. In order to get across my point about meaning, I wrote The Paradoxical Commandments. So, each one starts with a statement of adversity, but it’s followed by the positive commandment to do it anyway. So, people are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered. Love them anyway. So, you start with a statement of adversity, you go into the positive commandment. And they’re meant to be examples of an attitude. I mean, I wrote ten of them, because I wanted to call them commandments, and there was a precedent for ten.

 

M-hm.

 

So, I thought I’d stick with ten. But they—they weren’t meant to cover everything that happens in life, just an attitude toward what happens in life. And uh, I just put it in that booklet, little sixty-five-page booklet, it was just on one page, and we sold twenty-five or thirty thousand copies around the United States, which was a pretty big deal. That was—that was quite a bit. And then, I went on with my life, and literally for thirty years, had no idea what was happening to them. Uh, what I learned later was, people were lifting The Paradoxical Commandments out of that little booklet, and they were putting them up on their walls and on their refrigerator doors, and they got into books, and they were in commencement speeches, and they traveled and traveled. And um … in 1997, uh, I was at my Rotary Club meeting here in Honolulu, and you know, service clubs often begin with a poem or a prayer or—

 

M-hm.

 

–thought for the day. And so, my fellow Rotarian stood up at the beginning of the meeting, and he said, um, Mother Teresa passed two weeks ago, and I’d like to read a poem that she wrote. So, I kind of bowed my head to listen to this—this poem, and what I heard him read was eight of the original Ten Paradoxical Commandments, exactly as I’d written them. I was like, whoa, you know, I recognize them.

 

M-hm.

 

You know, I could sort of felt the hair rising on the back of my neck, you know, like wow. Um, so I went up to him afterwards, and I said, You know, that piece that you read, where did you get it? He said, Isn’t it wonderful?

I really didn’t know what to say, but I said, Well, um, actually, I wrote it.

And then, he gave me uh, a really strange look. He didn’t say anything—

 

Like you’re a demented guy; right?

 

Exactly; delusional megalomaniac.

 

Claiming you’d written something by Mother Teresa; how dare you? Uh, and I said, But—but where did you get it? And he said, Well, uh, I don’t know, it was in a book about Mother Teresa. Couldn’t remember the title. So, I went to Borders Bookstore, and there was a whole shelf of books about Mother Teresa. So, I just started with the first book and went through every page, left to right, all the way through, and finally found it on the last page before the appendix in a—in a book called Mother Teresa, A Simple Path. And it had been rearranged to look like a poem. I don’t call it a poem, actually. I just—

 

It was a list. And it had been retitled, Anyway, which made sense, ‘cause each one ends with the word, anyway. Um … and it didn’t say Mother Teresa had written it. It said: A sign on the wall at Shishu Bhavan, the children’s home in Calcutta. And that—that just really hit me, um, because of my respect for Mother Teresa, because of the idea that it was in an orphanage. So, I’m standing there in the bookstore; I want to laugh, I want to cry, I want to jump up and down, I wasn’t sure what to do. Um, but I decided if I did all those things, I might get arrested, so I better be calm. But um, yeah, that—

 

You should have said, do it anyway.

 

Yeah.

 

That—that had a really big impact on me. I—I took that as a real message. So, I started speaking and writing about them again for the first time in thirty years.

 

Now, tell me what—you say that people tend to know this stuff, anyway. I don’t think we really do.

 

Mm.

 

I mean, we may know it, you know, tangentially, but people don’t put these things together sometimes. So—

 

Yeah.

 

So, the fact that you’ve put them together, and they resonate so much; how did you learn all of that so early?

 

Yeah. Well, I’ve just been—I’ve been—I’ve been very blessed. I mean, there were two major sources um, behind this. One was just my family. I mean, I grew up in a family that lived that way. An—and so, I—I wrote The Paradoxical Commandments, I showed the manuscript to my—my dad, for example, and I remember him looking at ‘em and going, Uh-huh, yup, we know this, nice of you to write it down. I mean—

 

Yeah.

 

–my parents, my aunts, my uncles … they did it anyway. They—they were focused on loving people, and helping people, an—and doing what’s right, an—and they were not after power, wealth, and fame. They—they did what was meaningful.

 

Can you remember some of the incidents that might have caused you to pluck out those particular ten—

 

Yes.

 

–items?

 

Yes. Um, well, if you do good, people accuse you of selfish ulterior motives. Um, one of the things that happened at Roosevelt High School when I was a sophomore, um, was that the seniors who were leading the student government wanted to eliminate uh, the representative assembly. That would be uh, the equivalent of eliminate—eliminating Congress. I’m sure there were people—people would be interested in doing that nowadays.

 

But—but uh, but uh, the whole idea of student government is for people to learn how to be citizens, to work together. And so, that would be like eliminating sixty students from—from student government. So, I was against it. Um, and so, um, I stood up an—an—and said so, and turned out to be the only person in a school of about twenty-one hundred who was willing to oppose it. And some of the seniors uh … were—were pretty upset with me for doing that. Um, but gradually, you know, I kept talking about it, what are we doing, why are we doing it that way, what are the benefits, and ended up with a schoolwide debate in which we argued the issue. And it went to a vote, and the idea of eliminating the representative assembly was—was rejected, uh, fortunately. Well, then I was accused of having done all that just to become popular, so I could become student body president. So, I was like, oh, wow, you know, I just did, I stood up against the so-called power structure, I was kind of, you know, treated badly by—by the—the big men and women on campus, finally the message got through, um, the movement I started was successful, and then they turn around and accuse me of just having done it out of some kind of crass political, you know, um, opportunism. So, that was one. Um, honesty and frankness make you vulnerable. Um, that came from a real experience that occurred after I graduated from high school. Uh, I went work at a uh, student council workshop in Indiana. Um, we had started uh, a high school student leadership institute in Hawaii. Uh, a bunch of us student body presidents got together and did that in the spring of 1966. So, I’d been at the uh, Indiana workshop uh, to learn how that’s done before starting uh, our own. And uh, so, you know, I was—I was young, and they—they invited me back, and um, it was the 60s, and they said, Well, we would like you to speak to our students, but we don’t want you to attack the establishment. Um … so, um, so I didn’t. I attacked the students. Uh, I was looking at three hundred students who were gonna be student council leaders in Indiana and other states the next year and I said, As far as I can tell, you’re a hoax, you’re a fraud. You don’t care about your fellow students; you just want to get elected to put it on your college application form. You’re just gonna hold parties for yourselves. You know, you’re really—you’re really not making a difference in your schools, and you don’t plan to. But you could. You could actually reach out, you could connect, you could find out what students really need, you could—you could create it or you could lobby for it, and you could really change lives. Even just saying hello to some of the students in your schools would make a difference in their lives. So, that was kind of breaking through the bubble, and the students loved it. It’s like, okay, let’s talk about what’s really happening. And they came down, and they lifted me up on their shoulders. And I was a lot lighter then, actually.

 

Uh, lifted me up on their shoulders, took me outside, and I had one of the most exciting discussions I’ve ever had in my life about we didn’t have to have a student council just to decide the color of the spring prom, or something.

 

We could actually be human beings who connect with human beings, and make the school a better place. So, gradually, we—students drifted off to—to go to their—it was night—nighttime, they drifted off to go back to their—their rooms. This was at—held at a university campus. And suddenly, I realized that there were four men standing around me. One of them was the director of the workshop, and he announced that I was fired, I would be leaving immediately. They marched me to my room, wouldn’t allow me to talk to anyone, wouldn’t allow me to call anyone, they locked the door behind me, said You’re going to pack now. I packed, they marched me to the parking lot, they put me into a car, they wouldn’t even turn on the headlights, they didn’t want to attract attention. Drove me uh, twenty miles from campus and dropped me off at a bus stop in the middle of a cornfield at eight-thirty at night. Um, they’d done their research; they realized a Greyhound bus was coming. And I caught it. Um, but I’m sitting there watching the headlights of the cars go by, uh, saying, uh, Well, I told the truth, they understood it, something good can happen, but you know, paid the price. And I decided I’d do it again. You know, honesty and frankness make you vulnerable. Be honest and frank, anyway.

 

After graduating from Harvard, Kent Keith went on to earn a master of arts degree at Oxford University.   Completing that, he spent a year studying in Japan, where he met his hapa-haole wife, Elizabeth. She became his teacher outside the classroom.

 

Her father was uh, uh, Swedish-American, her mother is Japanese. Uh, he was an engineer working for General Electric. And they had a little apartment building; their family lived on the first floor, and then they had outside staircases going to two more floors. And um, so um, I—I rented a room, and uh, I studied. And I studied—the Japanese language is—is challenging. And uh, after a while, my—Mrs. Carlson, who became my mother-in-law, uh, was worried about this—this foreign haole guy who was upstairs studying all the time. We gotta get him out to see Japan. So, she started inviting me down to dinner, and invited me out on a few family excursion.

 

And then, you invited out her daughter.

 

That’s exactly what happened.

 

How long have you been married now?

 

We’ve been married forty years.

 

She told you some things early on, very frankly, that shifted your perspective.

And you changed; they were hard to hear.

 

Yes. Um, yeah, I was very fortunate that she was willing-first of all, it was interesting. This was one of the only times that the different cultural backgrounds really came up. Uh, for example, um, you know, my parents were born and raised in Nebraska, we want to be polite, but we pretty much—we’re direct, we pretty much say what we want to say, and that’s what we mean. Uh, my wife Elizabeth grew up in Japan, it’s more indirect, you don’t say exactly what you mean, people are supposed to infer it. And so, I would say something, and she’d read between the lines, but I didn’t mean for her to read between the lines. She’d say something, and I wouldn’t read between the lines, but I was supposed to. So, um, we had to learn a little bit about each other. But th—the gift she gave to me was to give me honest and loving feedback about how my behavior was affecting her. And you know, I thought, well, I’m a pretty nice person, and I love her, and I don’t mean—you know, don’t want to cause her any problems. Um, but when I was, I needed to know, and that was really uncomfortable. But when she did tell me, I thought about it and reflected on it, an—and I was able to change in ways that—that uh, strengthened the relationship.

 

You became more intentional, then.

 

Yeah. Yeah, more conscious of what I was saying and doing, and how that—how that impacted her, an—and how that impacted others. So, um, I’m still learning. Um—

–and I’m grateful that she’s still teaching.

 

The couple has three internationally adopted children.

 

After returning to Honolulu and earning a law degree at the University of Hawai’i’s William S. Richardson School of Law, Kent Keith set out on his career.

 

I’ve jumped around. I’ve done different things, each of which was very meaningful to me, but it wasn’t a standard career.

 

It was definitely not a straight line.

 

No.

 

And the positions you’ve held often don’t really compute one to another.

 

Not—not directly. I mean, um, so I started out as—as a lawyer, and um, learned a lot, um, no regrets at all. Um, but decided that—that that wasn’t really what I was born to do. Uh, it’s really important to understand, because America runs on law an—and litigation, unfortunately. Um, so I was really attracted to—to job creation and economic development. I think having a job is really important; it’s—it’s a part of—of one’s dignity, of course, taking care of yourself and your—and your family, participating in society. Uh, I think having—I think work can be a really meaningful part of one’s life. And so, having more jobs and having a variety of jobs, I think is very important. So, I went into economic development. I was very fortunate to work for Hideto Kono and for uh, Governor–George Ariyoshi in that area. Well, my—my period of—of service ended when the Governor’s term was up. And then um, Bill Mills uh, from Oceanic Properties, Castle and Cooke, said, Well, how would you like to do it in the real world, not just talk about it in government. And so—so, he said, Why don’t you come in to—to Oceanic Properties. And they uh, gave me the portfolio to start developing the Mililani Technology Park. So, like here’s twenty million dollars, get the first phase going. And that was really meaningful, because in the next few years, we were able to put in infrastructure and build the first two buildings, and start attracting high tech companies. Again, jobs, a variety of jobs. Um, I was happy doing that, when um, I got a call from a regent at—at Chaminade University um, saying, How would you like to be president? And I said, Oh, gee, that’s really—really nice of you, but I’m happy where I am, um, uh, thank you, but no thank you. Um, that was a Friday. He called back on Monday and said, You can’t just say no.

You—you’ve gotta go to lunch and listen. I said, Oh, sure, I’ll do that. And I went to lunch, and two weeks later, I was the president of Chaminade University.

 

What was the next stop?

 

Well, actually, that’s when I became uh, the fulltime unemployed graduate student with a wife and three kids. So—so, one week, I’m president of a university. Next week, I’m in uh, a dormitory at USC in Los Angeles, um, with a 17-year-old roommate. And I’m willing to certify he was the most disappointed freshman in the history of higher education.

 

Uh, he traveled all the way from Virginia to California for freedom, and they gave him a roommate older than his father.

 

But we got along really well, ‘cause I wasn’t his father. I could just be his friend. Um, no, so I—I really—I love learning. I love ideas, I love applying ideas to try to make things better. And this idea of going to school and then applying what you learn, and then going to school and applying what you learn, um, that’s been kind of the pattern in my life, as well. An—and I like that very much, an—and very fortunate I was able to do that.

 

Your life philosophy, which you developed early on and is evidenced by The Paradoxical Commandments, is a lot about creative tension, and—

–dealing with a level of stress.

 

The Paradoxical Commandments focus on what we control. I mean, there are all kinds of external events we don’t control. I mean, as individuals, we don’t control uh, the world economy, world population growth, natural disasters, all kind of things. We work hard, we prepare, we seize opportunities, but there’s all kinds of things we don’t control. What we do control is our—is our inner lives, our spiritual lives. And you and I get to decide who we’re gonna be, and how we’re gonna live. And we can live our faith, and we can live our values, and we—we can be close to our family and friends, and—and we can do what we know is right, and good, and true, no matter what. I mean, absolutely no matter what. That’s in our control. So, that’s where people have been finding meaning, and that’s always available, ‘cause it’s about us, it’s about how we live our values.

 

At the time of our conversation in January 2017, Dr. Kent Keith is President of Pacific Rim Christian University, which shares space with New Hope Church in Kalihi Kai. It’s the only accredited Hawaii-based Protestant university, dedicated to training students in servant leadership. Dr. Keith is the only person we know, to serve as President of two Hawai`i universities, the other being Chaminade.

 

Mahalo to Dr. Kent Keith of Mānoa, for sharing his inspired life of faith, learning and service, and his teenage words of wisdom that have resonated with people around the world. And mahalo to you, for joining us. For PBS Hawai’i and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha, a hui hou.

 

Are there any of the commandments that you wrote that mean more to you today, than when you wrote them?

 

Yeah. So, um, you know, being in college in the 60s, uh, was a very political environment. So—so the ones that I—I think I was more focused on were, you know, The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women, with the smallest minds; think big, anyway. Or people, you know, favor underdogs, but follow only top dogs; fight for a few underdogs, anyway. The ones that were sort of more political, more about social change. Um, now, uh, it’s the first one. People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered; love them, anyway. I think—I think unconditional love is what holds our families together, holds our communities together, and you know, we don’t have to approve of everything that other people do, we don’t have to agree with everything other people do; we can still love them, and uh, that’s by far the most important one to me now.

 

[END]

 

Mary Tyler Moore:
A Celebration

 

Mary Tyler Moore “turned the world on with her smile” on The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Mary Tyler Moore Show and on the silver screen. This special features classic clips plus comments from Betty White, Ed Asner, Valerie Harper, Cloris Leachman, Gavin MacLeod, John Amos, Carl Reiner, Dick Van Dyke, and Moore herself. Plus, Oprah Winfrey recounts Mary Tyler Moore’s critical role as TV’s first independent career woman.

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Monica Toguchi

 

Monica Toguchi’s ability to adapt and evolve is evident in her role as the third-generation owner of Highway Inn. The Oahu restaurant, which specializes in local favorites, has come a long way from the charming Waipahu establishment it started as 70 years ago, growing into a modern business with a location in the booming Kakaako neighborhood. The restaurants have thrived due to Monica’s ability to lead her family business into the future – without compromising the values that define it.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, Aug. 24 at 11:00 pm and Sunday, Aug. 28 at 4:00 pm.

 

Monica Toguchi Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

My grandfather, you know, having Highway Inn and having the memories of going to this little store on Depot Road with the tall green chairs, it was a time period of people just sitting together as complete strangers and eating, and sharing their foods, you know. And he told my father when my father took over; he said to my dad, As long as you have this business, you can support your family.

 

Monica Toguchi is the third generation owner of Highway Inn, a longtime Hawaiian restaurant that serves up local favorites like lau lau, poi, and pipikaula. She didn’t plan on taking over the business, but she did, and she needed to answer the question: How do you take a beloved but aging business from Waipahu, Oahu and keep it vibrant in the 21st century? Monica Toguchi, next on Long Story Short.

 

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

 

Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. A common dilemma with multigenerational family businesses in Hawai‘i is the question of who will carry on after one generation retires. We see how many multigenerational family businesses have not survived. Under Monica Toguchi, the third generation owner of Highway Inn, the family Hawaiian restaurant has not only survived, but has expanded into new neighborhoods. Monica’s roots are firmly planted in the old plantation town of Waipahu, Oahu, with her grandfather, Seiichi Toguchi, who started Highway Inn in 1947 to feed his growing family.

 

My grandfather was born and raised in Hawai‘i. And you know, my grandfather loved Hawaiian food. He had a lot of Hawaiian friends who taught him how to make pipikaula. But he was picked up by the American government when Pearl Harbor was bombed. My grandmother did not know where he was for about two months. And then, when they did find out, he was in Durham, Arkansas. And so, she and the first three eldest children, my Auntie Barbara, my Auntie Jonette, my Auntie Shirley, they moved to Durham, Arkansas at the time. And then, he was transferred during the war to Tule Lake. And for people that are familiar with Japanese American history, Tule Lake was one of those places that you just didn’t want to go to.

 

It had a reputation; that’s where they sent the troublemakers.

 

Correct. Right; correct. So, from my understanding, or my limited understanding, the American government would classify different groups of Japanese Americans. You know, you’re very pro-Japanese, or you’re moderate. And Tule Lake was one of those internment camps that a lot of people that were assumed to be very pro-Japanese were placed. For reasons unknown to us—my grandfather was no one of prominence during that time, he didn’t have the restaurant, he was just a working husband and father, he didn’t have any power within the community, so it’s huge mystery to us why they picked him up, but they did. And so, towards the end of the war in 1945, my father, who took over Highway Inn, was born in the internment camp. My grandparents left with three children, and came back with five. So, they were pretty busy in the internment camp.   And one of the things the American government did was, they identified people’s occupation within the internment camp. So, my grandfather listed cook. And so, what they did was, they put him in the mess hall along with other Japanese American cooks. And so, that’s why Highway Inn has a history of having Hawaiian and American foods. That’s where he learned how to cook hamburger steak and sirloin cutlets, was from being in a mess hall in an internment camp with other Japanese American cooks from around the country, and my grandfather really had to figure out how he was going to support now five children. And what ended up happening was, he decided to go back. He tried several things before he started Highway Inn. He tried to raise pigs, but the pigs got skinnier, not fatter.

 

Oh.

 

So, he realized, Okay, I’m not a pig farmer. And at that time, a lot of Okinawans were pig farmers.

 

That’s right.

 

So, my grandfather started Highway Inn in 1947. He only had a second grade education.

 

There he is.

 

Yeah. So, that’s my grandfather and my grandmother. They were very, very poor. But it went to my father in the late 70s. At the time that my grandfather was ready to retire, he was considering closing Highway Inn. But my father really felt that, you know, it’s been around for thirty years, and it was something that he wanted to try to continue, even though restaurant and cooking was not his thing. So, I had another uncle who had worked alongside my grandfather, got a lot of his culinary training during Vietnam, and came back to work with him. But he would not pass the restaurant down to this particular uncle.

 

Is this the uncle?

 

That’s my father’s older uncle, my Uncle George. So, my father has two brothers, one older than him, and one younger than him. But the business got passed down to him, and he’s the second boy, which is very atypical for, you know, Japanese American families. And he was the third youngest.

 

Did the other boys want the business?

 

I’m not too sure about that. At that time, my Uncle George was working for Oahu Sugar Mill. And I think my Uncle Gary, my dad’s younger brother that worked alongside my grandfather, helped us to continue the cooking, you know, thirty years after my grandfather had exited the business. So, my Uncle Gary was very instrumental in being able to keep the family recipes consistent to the way that my grandfather had cooked it. And my father was also very disciplined, and I think my grandfather knew that. He typically would describe himself as being a karate man. So, I think my grandfather innately understood that my father had the kind of qualities that a restaurant would require.

 

Under the second generation ownership of Bobby Toguchi, Highway Inn continued to thrive in Waipahu, Oahu. Monica Toguchi grew up around the restaurant and nearby, in the newly-developed planned community of Mililani.

 

So, I was born at Kapiolani Hospital, and I was raised primarily in the Waipahu and Mililani areas. So, Waipahu because my father is from that community, and our business Highway Inn is from that community. My parents bought a house in Mililani, so for most of my upbringing, I went to Mililani Uka, I went to Wheeler Intermediate, and then, I went to Mililani High School thereafter. Every Sunday, my grandfather would cook Sunday meals for all my cousins and his children and their spouses, and we would all gather at his house in Waipahu. And so, we would go to Depot Road and my grandfather would typically either feed us tripe and rice or beef stew and rice.

 

And you loved it.

 

And I loved it. And when my father took over, we ate a lot of beef stew and rice at home. Because my mom at that point had four children, four girls to raise, my father was working long hours at the restaurant, and so he would bring over the leftovers, you know, home. And so, we would pretty much eat what they cooked almost every day.

 

What were your years like after high school? You know, young adulthood.

 

I’m not proud to say this, but it was definitely a time where there was a great deal of unsuccessful relationships and, you know, poor decision making. I had moved out of my parents’ house probably when I was about seventeen, and I ended up getting married at quite a young age, you know, around twenty-one. I had my daughter at twenty-two, I had my son before I was twenty-five, you know, so I was a very young mother. And as a consequence to some of, you know, the not-so-good decisions, I found myself in a very, you know, difficult situation in regards to how do I raise my children on my own. My twenties was really a difficult time, but during that process, the one thing that I stayed true to was my education. So, you know, I finished up my master’s degree in counseling at the University of Hawai‘i. One of my first jobs was working at Waipahu Intermediate School. And on the first day that I was there, there was—and I think it’s gotten a lot better today, but at the time that I was there, there was a gang-related fight. And so, I believe what they called it at the time was a Code Red, which was a really high level of security, and you know, the police get involved. And I was just thinking to myself, you know, I’ve been in this Waipahu community my whole entire life, so it wasn’t that I was a stranger to some of, you know, the issues of our community, but also at the same time, you know, I was a bit nervous to, you know, try to figure out, well, you know, how much is the situation gonna escalate before it gets better. And that experience was one of the reasons why I ended up wanting to get my PhD. I really went into graduate school thinking that, you know, I would try to understand more about juvenile delinquency.

 

Monica Toguchi pursued her new dream of earning a PhD. As a single mom in her twenties, Monica packed up her two young children and moved to the University of Oregon to attend graduate school.

 

You know, a lot of people would ask me, How’d you do it? And I think when you’re young, that’s the beauty of being young. You know.

 

What did your family say?

 

I never really told them what I was doing until it was time to catch the plane. And the response really, was really quite an interesting one to me. It was one, actually, that I didn’t appreciate. It was a very gender and cultural stereotypical response that, as a mother, I really should focus on my children. And in my mind, I felt that, you know, making these educational decisions was really for the benefit of my children.

 

While still working on her PhD at the University of Oregon, Monica Toguchi was abruptly summoned back home to her family in Hawai‘i.

 

My father never complained once of being overworked, and supported his family. And then, he then prematurely had to exit. Like so many business owners, you know, they suffer from high blood pressure. You know, the business is foremost, typically they neglect their health in the process until it catches up with them, and they have a life-changing moment. And so, for my father, it was a brain aneurism in the basal ganglia, which is very close to the brain stem, so it’s one of those situations where if you suffer an aneurism and it’s close to the brain stem, there’s nothing you can do. You just have to wait it out. Amazingly, he survived, but he also had to take it easier from that point on. And when my dad was recovering at, you know, Rehab of the Pacific, my sister Regina and I were in his bed, and my father was trying to get out of the bed. You know, he actually had an alarm. You know, when people, they try to get out of bed and they’re not supposed to, an alarm goes off. So, he had one of those, because he was very stubborn and, you know, wanted to get back to work. But you know, he was in bed, and my sister and I were like, Okay, so who’s gonna take over the business? And she just immediately said, Well, I don’t want to take over the family business, I really just don’t want to have the lifestyle that Dad, you know, has, which is working constantly, seven days a week, hundred-hour work weeks. And my sister was smart enough to think through that and to recognize that that’s not the kind of lifestyle that she wanted.

 

What did you say?

 

You know, I was probably in my late twenties at the time, and I looked at her and I said, Great, I don’t have to fight you for it, then. In many ways, I always felt that it perhaps was my responsibility, it was perhaps my kuleana, if you will. So, I thought perhaps at some point in life, I would need to address that, but what I didn’t anticipate was, I didn’t anticipate that it would come so soon. There was probably an idea in my head, probably mostly created on my own, that you know, it was my responsibility to make sure that if this business was gonna continue, that would be my responsibility to bear.

 

But you had been deferring that.

 

Well, A, I didn’t want to count on it, because I did not know what my father’s plans were. He never explicitly said, This is what I want to do.

 

M-hm.

 

I think he was quite pleased. So, you know, I think as most multigenerational family owners … typically, I think it’s safe to say that most parents don’t force their children. They really want their children to come to that decision on their own. You know, because when people are able to come to those decisions on their own, it really becomes the best decision for that person and for the business itself. Because it doesn’t feel like it was forced upon you.

 

But heavy is the crown.

 

Heavy is—right.

 

If you say no, what happens to the business?

 

Right; right.

 

Do you want to be the one who stepped out?

 

Right. And also too, you know, there’s statistics out there that multigenerational businesses don’t really … there’s not a lot of confidence in succession. So, you know, there’s about thirty percent of businesses that will go from the first generation to the second generation, and then that percentage actually decreases to twelve percent from the second generation to the third generation. And typically, you know, they say that it’s the third generation that screws it up.

 

Or that the third generation is soft.

 

Right. You know, we don’t have the character, you know, traits, we kinda squander away all the hard work that was built.

 

How do you feel about that observation, or opinion?

 

You know, because the restaurant is such a difficult business, you know, my sister used to say this. You know, no matter twelve-hour or fifteen-hour days, failure is just simply not an option.

 

Monica Toguchi’s father Bobby survived his stroke; however, he no longer ran the family business. Monica became the third generation owner of Highway Inn, and eventually gave up her pursuit of a doctoral degree to focus on running the business. And then, in 2011, hard times struck the family again.

 

I lost my son about five years ago. And you know, he died by suicide, and that was a really, really difficult thing. You know, every other day here in Hawai‘i, somebody dies from suicide, and there are so many people that are affected by it, but we don’t talk about it. And the Kakaako store was named in his memory, so I named the business—the legal name of Kakaako is Hoola Mau. And ola is life, you know, mau is to move forward, to move life forward. And that was my thing. But my son really … I think a lot of us, you know, when you’re faced with those kinds of tragedies, you try to make sense, you ask a lot why questions. But really, at the same time, it’s, you know, how do you take something that is so personal and so tragic, and not become paralyzed by it. And I had to just, you know, really keep it together. And Highway Inn and the business itself really, I think, helps me to do that. You know, at that time, we had about forty, forty-five employees, and I knew that if I was paralyzed or incapacitated mentally by my son’s passing and having to address that, go through that emotional process of healing, you know, if that took me under, then the lives of my staff would be affected. And so, that really gave me the motivation to think beyond my own tragedy, and to think outside of myself. And sometimes, when I’m really like in the thick of it all, you know, how I recognize that, you know, this is gonna pass, tomorrow will be a better day. And you know, when you go through something that tough, anything in comparison is really not that challenging.

 

Monica Toguchi persevered after the loss of her son and continued to channel her energy into rebuilding and creating. At the time of this conversation in 2016, Highway Inn has grown to seventy employees, in three locations. The business caters, as well.

 

How many outlets or how many businesses are part of Highway Inn now?

 

So, when I came onboard, we had Waipahu, and at that time, we probably had about thirty-five employees or so on the payroll. And then, the opportunity came to partner with Kamehameha Schools; we were approached by Kamehameha Schools. They came out to Waipahu, and they saw what we were doing, you know, and they felt that it would be a good fit for what was up and coming in Kakaako and what their vision was for their lands in Kakaako. So, one of the struggles for me personally was, how do you take an old business like Highway Inn that in the next year, we’ll be celebrating our seventieth anniversary, and how do you then put that kind of business into a very urban, up-and-coming neighborhood like Kakaako? You know. The natural partnerships in an urban community like that would be to find an operation that was trendy, that was, you know, hip and cool. And here we are, coming into, you know, the coolest part of Honolulu, and we have this very old quaint place.

 

Isn’t there a Hawaiian proverb that says, Look to the future by looking to the past?

 

M-hm; m-hm. Or, you know, you need to know where you’ve been to know where you’re going. And so, that happened, and we opened our Kakaako location in October of 2013. And then, last year in September, we were also very fortunate. This process had started about a year before the partnership was solidified, but we had the opportunity to partner with Bishop Museum. You know, a lot of things did not come easy for me in my life. A lot of people may think that, you know, because we have Highway Inn and the brand that it has become today, you know, I think it’s easy to assume that I was given a silver spoon, you know, and perhaps, you know, I might have been born in a life of privilege. But it certainly wasn’t that way.

 

What do you think your grandfather would have made of a woman taking over Highway Inn—you?

 

I’m not really sure if he had a premonition of some sort. But my grandfather passed away in 1994. And I had said goodbye to my grandfather. He at the time was hospitalized for a couple months before that. And I went to the Waipahu house, he was in his wheelchair, and I said goodbye to my grandfather. And he cried. And my mother and I went back into our car, and my mother was like, You know, that was really strange for him to cry. And it kind of stuck in my mind. And what had happened was, he then passed away about two months later, and I got a phone call in California, my parents telling me that my grandfather had passed away. So, that was really the last time that I saw him. But you know, I think my grandfather, if he were alive today, he would be about a hundred and one years old. He was a very humble man; I don’t think he would believe what he started would have grown to what it is today. And I think some of my best moments is, you know, like when you feel like you’ve finally arrived. You have those moments where you feel like you’ve finally arrived, is when Senator Inouye came to visit us a couple months before he passed away. And out in Kakaako, Senator Akaka, you know, visiting us, and you know, Governor and former governors, and you know, we have so many movers and shakers.

 

Highway Inn on the map.

 

You know, yeah. And we have so many movers and shakers that we typically read about in the paper that make a difference in our communities, and I don’t think my grandfather would have ever imagined that these are the people that his business would be feeding one day.

 

You know, speaking of the family business, the family is about to look different.

 

M-hm.

 

You’re engaged, you’re going to be married soon.

 

I am. So, I have been very fortunate. When I came back from Oregon, I was, you know, thinking about who I wanted to be with, what kind of person I would be with. And you know, when you gain these kinds of experiences outside of Hawai‘i, it really expands your understanding of the rest of the world. And in my mind, I thought, you know, I really want to date somebody that, you know, can appreciate what is here, and the culture that we have, but also understand, you know, parts of my life that I’ve been exposed to living on the mainland for five years. So, I met Russell, and he’s actually British, and he was part of Aloha Airlines, and then he was part of Hawaiian Airlines, and he eventually became an investor into our Kakaako business. And so, about two years ago, he came onboard fulltime, and so, he’s my chief financial officer, my chief commercial officer, he’s a great visionary, great finance person. What it’s allowed me to do is really focus my time on everything outside of the finance parts of the business. And so many decisions are made on understanding, you know, the data that you collect. You know, how many people come in, what the average check size is, you know, whether your traffic is going up, going down. You know, and you base your decisions on these things. And so, he’s been a wonderful asset. And after nine years, it took us nine years, but after nine years, we decided we would get married.

 

We’re speaking in 2016. As you approach the business’ seventieth anniversary, is it still touch-and-go sometimes in business? I mean, do you assume there’ll be a fourth and a fifth generation?

 

No. You know, so my father had four girls, you know, my grandfather had seven kids. So, there were options there; right? So, out of the four girls, the only, you know, fourth generation is my daughter, who’s twenty-one, and she’s studying in New York. And you know, I always describe my daughter; she’s, you know, artsy-fartsy. It’s not one of those things that, you know, as much as we have done pretty well for ourselves, I don’t think it’s a natural choice, even for my cousins or my cousins’ children, that that’s something that they want to participate in.   Because I think they recognize it’s a lot of hard work. I do hope that it continues. How specifically is a big question mark.

 

Third generation Highway Inn owner Monica Toguchi continues to look toward the future, while honoring the legacy of her family business. In a recent interview with Honolulu Magazine, she said, If you understand who you are and what values are truly important to you, evolving is not as difficult as it may appear to be. Mahalo to Monica Toguchi of Honolulu for sharing your story with us. And thank you, for joining us. For PBS Hawai‘i 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.

 

I have not gotten sick of eating my own food. I try not to eat the lau lau, because the lau lau at Highway Inn is a very precious commodity right now. We just cannot keep up with the demand, so there are times when, you know, we run out of lau lau by the end of the day. And so, I try to not eat the lau lau, because I think if I eat a lau lau, then somebody is gonna come in and not be able to order this item.

 

[END]



PBS HAWAI‘I PRESENTS
Biography Hawai‘i: Harriet Bouslog

PBS Presents Biography Hawaii: Harriet Bouslog

 

One of a handful of women lawyers practicing in Hawai‘i in the 1940’s and 50’s, Harriet Bouslog became a champion for the working class. With her partner Myer Symonds, she represented the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), fighting for fair labor laws and wages for the people of Hawai‘i. She was instrumental in ending the death penalty in the Territory of Hawai‘i and her efforts and public comments during the Hawaii Seven trial of alleged Communists led to her disbarment and subsequent reinstatement after a landmark decision by the United States Supreme Court. Brilliant, vivacious, and controversial, Bouslog was one of Hawai‘i’s great defenders of human rights and dignity. This inspiring documentary combines interviews with family and friends, commentary by legal historians and photographs and film that recorded the life and times of this extraordinary woman.

 

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