Leslie Wilcox

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.

 

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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]

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Shep Gordon

 

Shep Gordon’s career as a talent manager may have started by chance, but his knack for creatively developing and promoting his client’s signature image has earned him a reputation distinctly his own. Throughout his career, Gordon has cultivated close relationships with rock stars, Hollywood actors and culinary legends founded on trust and compassion. However, navigating the often tragic world of fame took a toll. He found solace on Maui, where he has spent the past 40 years embracing the culture and helping to shape Hawai‘i’s unique fusion cuisine.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, April 19, at 11:00 pm and Sunday, April 23, at 4:00 pm.

 

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I read about Colonel Parker, who managed Elvis Presley, coming to Hawaii and renting some beach houses in some story. A journalist had done a story. And I had a good friend here, Uncle Tom Moffatt, who I called and said, Do you know those houses? And he said, Oh, yeah, I rented it for him ‘cause I did the show.   So, it was at a time when I was smoking two or three packs of cigarettes a day, and I had a fairly large office, and I offered anyone who wanted in my office to quit smoking to come with me to Hawaii. And I rented on Kahala Beach the houses that the Colonel had rented. And … we all landed, we threw our cigarettes out the window. I’m sorry to say, we weren’t that environmentally conscious at the time. And … I ran into the wrong crowd in Honolulu. It was like being back in Hollywood; it was all the same, for me, from my view. I ended up going to the Imperial Hotel every night to a dive bar in the bottom room where … who knows what was going on. And I told Tom; I said, You know, I want to try another island. And he had, I think, Kalapana playing in Maui. And in those days, it was a hydrofoil. So, I said, Can I come? And he said, Sure, I’ll let you sell tee-shirts. So, him and his son Troy and I went over to sell tee-shirts. Hydrofoil landed in Maalaea Harbor, I put one foot on the dock, and I turned around to Uncle Tom and Joe Gannon, who has also ended up living on Maui and owns Hailiimaile General Store and Joe’s Bar & Grill, and I said, I’m living here the rest of my life, I just found my home.

 

Shep Gordon has called Maui home since landing in 1974. That didn’t keep him from becoming one of the best-known names in Hollywood as a successful talent manager, film agent, and producer. Shep Gordon, next, on Long Story Short.

 

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

 

Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Shep Gordon built his career on managing legendary music artists, while becoming one of Hollywood’s most successful agents. Throughout his career, he has built a reputation as being friendly and compassionate, qualities that he attributes to his father and the unusual circumstances he endured at home, growing up in the 1940s and 50s. At the time, he thought it seemed normal, until he wrote his memoir, They Call Me Supermensch, based on a documentary film that was made about his life. Writing this book opened the door to a deeper understanding of his parents.

 

I started in Queens, New York, which was a suburb of Manhattan. And it was an immigrant town, mostly Eastern European, lot of Jewish, lot of Italian, some Latino. And for the most part … very little English spoken. You’d hear Italian on the streets, you’d hear Yiddish, you’d hear Russian, languages that I didn’t quite understand. And then, we moved from there in the first wave of suburbia. It was a moment in time; it was a place called Levittown. It was the first real middleclass suburban community built outside of New York City. And it set the model for a lot of communities, where people who had been used to living in apartments were starting, normally first generation, sons and daughters of immigrants who were in the middleclass and starting to make some money, and could move their families to a place that had a backyard, good schools, and could start to take advantage of everything America had to give.

 

Did your family feel like they were really moving ahead?

 

Oh; it was an amazing time. Really an amazing time. I mean, it’s all the things that you hear about America and about the dream of America, and what America can do. This was the embodiment of that. These were proud people who were so happy that they were in America, taking advantage of what America could give you. And for most families, it was their first home, it was their first car. It was the first time that a kid took a bus to school instead of walked.

 

Your dad was a bookkeeper who didn’t speak much.

 

Right.

 

Your mom was a rigid woman who allowed a dog to attacked you to have the run of the house.

 

Uh-huh. I think, you know, in the Jewish community, remembering where they came from, remembering their heritage; these were all people who were affected by the Holocaust. So, things were very black and white. Even though my parents weren’t affected, their parents were. Then they had a depression. So, these were people who had to live through serious consequences, their actions had serious consequences. And I think she just viewed the world differently. And I know a lot of my friends who were Jewish, it wasn’t dissimilar, that their mothers were very strict, you lived in their vision of life, or you didn’t really exist, almost. I never thought that she hated me. It was her path. And I had a brother who ended up being a veterinarian, who loved animals, and wanted to be a vet, and had a dog that I couldn’t get along with. And … too bad.

 

And you lived mostly in your bedroom, because the dog was running around.

 

Yeah; yeah. Which in some ways ended up, I think, being a huge advantage to my life. At least, I tend to make it that way. I was scared to death to leave the room, ‘cause the dog would bite me. So, I spent a lot of time alone. I had to entertain myself, I had to be comfortable with myself, and I had to create my own world that I could live in. And that’s really, I think, how I ended up making my living, which is creating a world. That’s what I did for my artists.

 

Did you listen to music?

 

I didn’t really listen to music.

 

You didn’t have digital devices at that time.

 

I didn’t have a TV. No; it was a lot of reading. And a lot of being in my brain to fantasize. And there wasn’t that much time at home. I’d go to school, and then I’d play basketball ‘til it was dark. And then, I’d come home.

 

Did you eat with your family?

 

Very rarely. Just ‘cause I was scared of the dog getting loose.

 

What about your dad; what did he have to say?

 

My dad was the provider for the family. And he was always very compassionate with me; lot of love. And I would say to him once in a while, Why would you let Mom do this? Why would you pick a dog over me for freedom in the house? And he would say, Would you like me to leave, and leave you alone? I’m not gonna do that unless you want me to. So, we just move on, make it work. I don’t want to paint a picture of depression, ‘cause it wasn’t. It just was the way it was. I didn’t know any other life. This was the life I knew, and I didn’t really think about it until after I left home. And I always said, you know, my first day of college was the first day of my life. Because then, I could live my life in a free way.

 

I know you’ve described your dad as compassionate. And then, when it came to the way you did business later, you talked about a compassionate form of doing business.

 

Right.

 

Is that because of your dad?

 

I think so. When I was writing the book, I had never really thought about it. I had always thought that I’d lived in reaction against my mother. And when I wrote the book, I realized that, in fact, my whole life was really following in my father’s footsteps.

 

How was he compassionate?

 

He stayed; took care of us. Never heard him say a bad word about anybody. Helped anybody he could. I would hear stories from his friends when I’d meet them about who he was as a young man. Just was always kind to everybody, always had a good word. Just very compassionate in a very simple way; not in a big way. But the choices he made at every turn were always compassionate.

 

When Shep Gordon left home for college, he never looked back. He chose the life path that took him directly to the heart of the 1960s American Cultural Revolution.

 

So, you would go from a pretty regimented, strict lifestyle to pretty much hedonism.

 

Oh, completely; Animal House.

 

What was that transition like? You finished, you went to college.

 

Yeah. College is where I really started to develop a personality. I went to the University of Buffalo, and started to have social interaction with people, started to find a path and way that I could support myself. Started to realize what my skills were and weren’t, and started to find a way to get through life.

 

And I turns out, you had a lot of social skills, but they hadn’t really been cultivated in your childhood.

 

I think maybe part of it was that I didn’t have a social life as a child, so I tried so hard to get one and was so excited by it. And didn’t bring maybe the selfishness that develops if it’s just part of your life. So, I was so grateful, and worked very hard to try and be included. Which showed itself in service.

 

And you’re a product of the time, which meant sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll.

 

Sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll. And some social consciousness. You know, it was the Vietnam days, so I participated in burning draft cards in ROTC buildings, and doing all those things. And then, Kennedy died, which was a very powerful moment. I remember I was a freshman at the University of Buffalo.

 

Did you feel your future was limitless? Did you have that sense of, this is a new game, and I can be anything I want to be?

 

Absolutely. Yeah. I think that period in American history was an amazing time period. Not only you could be what you wanted to be, but you could say what you wanted to say, you could act out your feelings. I lived during the generation where if we didn’t like something, we protested against it, we took action. I went to New School for Social Research, and dropped out after a few months. But I went for sociology. And at The New School, a recruiter came from the probation department in California, and I was a sociology major, which qualified me. I had my bachelor in sociology, which qualified me for the job. And I always wanted to go to California; I was a Hippie. And there was that song, Wear flowers in your hair in San Francisco. I said, That’s gonna be me.

 

Although, it seems like an odd choice for a Hippie to be a probation officer.

 

It fit into being on a white horse, saving the day. Social liberal. It was the same thread for me as burning your draft card. And in those days, Reagan was the governor of California, and had a reputation for being very oppressive to Hippies. Which I was one of. And I thought I would go out, you know, on my white horse, save the kids in the probation department.

 

But you had a tough time in that job, and it didn’t last.

 

It didn’t quite work. Yeah.

 

And then came an accidental choice of a place to stay on the road that changed your life.

 

Luckiest day of my life. I had about three or four hundred dollars left in my pocket, and I drove into Hollywood. And there was a vacancy sign at a motel, and I checked in. It was late at night. And in those days, I lived a drug-induced life at many times. So, I took a drug at that time, and sitting out on my balcony of this little room, thinking about how horrible my life is, and oh, my god, I just got beat up in the probation department. And I heard someone screaming down at the pool, what sounded to me like screaming. And I get down there, and I separate the two people. And the girl punches me in the mouth. And they were making love. And goes crazy, you know, like, Get outa here, who do you think you are? And I go back up and now, I know my life is ruined. I’ve been beat up twice the first day in LA. And when I went down to the pool in the morning, the girl turned out to be Janis Joplin.

 

Wow.

 

She was sitting around the pool.

 

With?

 

This amazing collection of like, Mount Rushmore rock stars. There was Jimi Hendrix, the Chambers Brothers. During the course of the next few days, Jim Morrison showed up, Bob Dylan’s road manager, Credence Clearwater Revival.

 

So, this was a hangout for the rock set.

 

This was a hangout. It ended up being where Janis actually died a couple of years later. And I started selling drugs, which was the only way I could support myself. Not my proudest moment, but it’s what I did. And one day, Jimi Hendrix said—who was customer. Thank you, Jimi.   And he said, What else do you do for a living? And I said, Well, you know, I don’t really know what I’m gonna do. And he said, Well, you know, if the police come and ask where you got the money to pay the rent, what are you gonna tell ‘em? And I said, You know, where I come from, the police don’t ask. And he said, Where I come from, if you wear a new watch, you’d better be able to tell the police where you got the watch. And he said, Are you Jewish? And I said, Yes. And he said, You should be a manager. I said, Okay, who do I manage? And Alice Cooper was living in the Chambers Brothers’ basement at the time. He wasn’t called Alice Cooper; he was called the Nazz. And they said, I think I know this guy. So, Alice tells the story of Jimi coming in and saying, I found a Jew to manage you.  And forty-three years later, I’m still managing him.

 

Shep Gordon’s success with Alice Cooper opened new doors for him. His genius for understanding how to market and promote his clients led them to superstardom. But that wasn’t always a good thing for either him, or the people he was managing.

 

You know, you were a manager, which by definition means you were, you know, watching out for things. But during this time, you were drugging and drinking, and had long nights with sex with strangers.

 

Yeah.

 

How did you manage?

 

Probably would have been much more effective if I hadn’t been. So, I did as well as I could do, given my lifestyle. But I didn’t really have a personal life. So, this was my life. And parts of it were attractive to artists. I was different than other managers. I sort of lived in their genre more than other managers did. I always thought that my job was to try and understand what the connection was between an artist and his audience. And if I could understand that connection, then to try and create a historical moment that really reinforced that connection. In Alice’s case, the common thread of his audience was, parents hated Alice. These were kids going through a period of rebellion, which every kid goes through. We wanted Alice to be that focal point of rebellion, to be that badge. The parents saying, You can’t go to the Alice concert, and the kid going, I’m going, he’s my favorite artist.

 

And everything the others thought was reprehensible and horrible was wonderful business.

 

Oh; my god. It was the greatest thing for us.

 

You once said you probably knew more celebrities than celebrities do.

 

Yeah. I was very, very lucky that way. I think part of me is a groupie, so I get attracted to the celebrities.

 

And yet, you came to a place where you saw that the fame that you created was toxic.

 

Yeah, yeah; very obvious. It became very obvious, very fast. It was a strange crossroad to be in. I had gotten to the point where I was very successful at what I did, it was giving me an amazing lifestyle, it was giving me a life that I had never even dreamed I could approach. You know, I was meeting presidents, I was driving in Rolls Royces. So, to give it up was something I really didn’t want to do. At the same time, I became aware that the better the job I did, or the bigger the celebrity was that I knew, the harder they fell. And it was very tough. The way that I dealt with it was to try and be honest. So, I would tell my clients when they’d come in, and all of them thought I was crazy, they’d all laugh, never had one who took it serious. But I would tell them; I would say, You know, if I do my job perfectly, I could kill you. Luckily for you, I’m probably not gonna be perfect, but I’m really good, so you’re gonna get maimed.

 

And that was all about fame?

 

All about fame. And they all got maimed.

 

So, there’s nobody that you represented who could handle the fame and the attention.

 

You know, I don’t want to paint this dark picture of suicidal, ‘cause I don’t mean that. You know. But you lose your life with fame. It’s so hard to stay on your path. There’s so many things pulling you, and celebrity becomes so important. It takes you off your journey. And it’s very hard to stay on your journey and stay positive, and stay happy. You start to dehumanize yourself for your career. And those are tough. There’s nobody who really survives. You learn how to adjust to it, but it takes you off your path. You know, for some, it’s drugs and liquor, which lead to, you know, horrible stuff. For some, it’s isolation. And the higher it gets, the harder it is. You know, I watch Alice, who I think has handled it as good as anyone I’ve ever seen, and he’s just found a way to get through it, but he’s nice to everyone.

 

But he’s had a serious drinking problem.

 

Oh, there’s nobody who hasn’t hit the wall, that I know.

 

Who’s famous, in your experience.

 

Yeah. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t had a crisis moment. For Alice, it was rehab, which didn’t work, and then it was losing everything. And usually, it is losing everything.

 

Shep Gordon’s life started to change when he met a famous French chef named Roger Verge. Shep’s new interest in food and cooking gave him the idea of creating Celebrity Television Chefs, and his new chef clients started becoming stars as national interest in cooking shows took off. In the meantime, Shep Gordon’s chef friends on Maui were not getting any of the benefits of the new culinary trends.

 

You’re credited with inventing the celebrity chef concept.

 

That’s my proudest moment, probably. I had started representing chefs, and signed most of the great chefs in the world, ‘cause no one else did it.

 

Did you think of, Bam!, Emeril Lagasse?

 

We worked a lot together. Yeah; yeah. The chefs weren’t friends. I lived in Maui, so I knew the guys, but they were acquaintances. The Hawaiian chefs were friends. Mark Gelman was one of my best friends, Peter Merriman was a great friend, Roy Yamaguchi. These are the guys that I cooked with, laughed with, you know, gloated about how lucky we were to be in Hawaii. And I knew, although no one ever busted me, here I was representing all these great chefs, but yet having dinner at my house for the local chefs, and I wasn’t representing any of them. And the question, How come not us? … although never said, permeated the room. And I realized I had to try and do something.

 

That’s just a Hawaii thing. It’s not spoken, but it’s there.

 

But it’s there; yeah. And they were all so gracious; nobody ever even made a sarcastic comment about it.

 

Yeah; there’s not a feeling of entitlement.

 

Yeah; at all.

 

But there’s a fairness question.

 

Exactly. And I felt it very strongly. So, I spent a little time in my Jacuzzi, and you know, my aloneness thinking, How do I do something that isn’t just a show? What can I do that can really help ‘em? Three of the chefs that I represented started movements. Mr. Verge had started nouveau cuisine, which was the first real culinary movement. And Dean Fearing and Robert Del Grande had started Southwest cuisine. And these were culinary waves that went across the world. So, I called up the guys and I said, Listen, I want to try and do something with you. I have this idea that maybe we can start a movement. I don’t know what it is, but I think Mr. Verge will come in, I think Dean will come in, and they’ll tell us how they started a movement, and maybe we can figure out how to do something with all of you, and the weight of everybody. And they came and lectured, and out of it came Hawaiian Regional Cuisine, which was pretty phenomenal.

 

Wow. So, do you spend a lot of time at restaurants on Maui today?

 

Yeah; oh, yeah. I love going to restaurants. I think one of the things to me is so exciting, is to see this new generation of chefs who were trained on Hawaiian Regional Cuisine.

 

You have a very nice home to this day.

 

I’m in the same house. Yeah; yeah. And I love it more every day. And my blood pressure on Maui is twenty-five, thirty points lower than it is on the mainland.

 

And you’ve done some hard living.

 

I’ve done some hard living.

 

And you’re healthy?

 

I am; yeah. Thank you, doctors.

 

And thank you, Maui.

 

And thank you, Maui.

 

Musician manager, Hollywood agent, and culinary enthusiast, Shep Gordon has done it all, while living on Maui. Mahalo to Shep Gordon of Kihei, Maui for sharing your life stories with us. And thank you, for joining us. For PBS Hawaii and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha, a hui hou.

 

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

 

When you look back at a very successful life in many ways, do you have regrets?

 

Yeah; I would have liked to have my own children. I wish I had maybe spent more time on myself. I think when I look back at my business career, I think there are things that I would do differently. I never had contracts with any of my artists, which meant my revenue stopped when I stopped working with them. Which I also was a white knight on a horse. You know, I don’t need it. I’m doing it for other reasons. And in the days I was doing it, I never had a consciousness that in my older years my resources could really help people that needed it, instead of it being squandered by maybe some artists at the time. So, I think that, I would have done differently. I would have kept the revenue flow that I could have used for good stuff. But for the most part, no, I think my life evolved the way it was supposed to evolve, in whatever way that is.

 

[END]

 


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.

 

 

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]

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Kimi Werner: Life in the Deep

 

Kimi Werner – a spearfisher, chef, artist and motivational speaker – shares how her underwater experiences have informed her life on land in profound ways. She recounts her opportunity to swim alongside a great white shark and how the encounter shifted her perspective on her place in the ecosystem.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, March 1, at 11:00 pm and Sunday, March 26, at 4:00 pm.

 

Kimi Werner: Life in the Deep Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

From the moment I’m in the water, I just—the first thing that comes over me is just, I’m absolutely present. Um … and that’s just such a rare thing. I think a lot of times, we’re just battling these voices in our head and whatnot, and the minute my face is in the water, everything goes quiet, and I’m only focused on what’s in front of me. Then I spend a good amount of time on the surface just relaxing, just totally talking to all parts of my body, from my toes all the way up, and making sure that my body is completely relaxed. Um, and I just take one really deep breath of air, and kick pretty strongly, and just start kicking down. And when you hit about sixty feet or so, you can become negatively buoyant, and you just drop down. And the whole time, I’m just kinda telling myself, Just relax, just relax. Because the most relaxed you are, the more you’re gonna conserve oxygen, and all you have is that one breath of air.

 

The lessons from her underwater experiences are at the heart of much of what Kimi Werner does, be it on land as an artist, a culinary expert or a public speaker, or in the ocean, hunting fish or even swimming with sharks. Kimi Werner 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. Kimberley Maile Reiko Werner, better known as Kimi, started her relationship with the ocean when she was five years old, living in Haiku, Maui. She tagged along with her father when he went spearfishing, at first staying on the surface of the water as she tried to keep up with him. She didn’t know it at the time, but he was teaching her everything she would need to know when she grew up and decided that she, too, wanted to hunt fish underwater.

 

Would you take us through what it’s like to take a breath, one breath, and hold it while you hunt fish, and come back with dinner?

 

Sure. So, I mean, basically, from the moment … from the moment I’m in the water, I just—the first thing that comes over me is just, I’m absolutely present. And even uh, starting just to swim, you’re already hunting, because you’re observing that world so presently. And—and I’m watching the little bait fish, and they’re telling me things, you know. And I’m looking at the bottom and the structure, and the reef, and that’s like a roadmap of itself, you know. And all of it, when it comes to hunting, every single thing that you’re looking at, it’s like a little clue or a little sign telling you where you need to go. And um, and it just feels like—you know, it’s like going to a store to get groceries. Like, you know what you’re hunting for, you know what you want to come home with, and now, you’re reading all this information in front of you to lead you there. And when I finally do find the fish that I’m looking for, or I find the habitat where it looks like this fish will be, then I spend a good amount of time on the surface just relaxing, just totally talking to all parts of my body, from my toes all the way up, and making sure that my body is completely relaxed. Um, and I just take one really deep breath of air, and kick pretty strongly, and just start kicking down. And when you hit about sixty feet or so, you can become negatively buoyant, and you just drop down. And the whole time, I’m just kinda telling myself, Just relax, just relax. Because the more relaxed you are, the more you’re gonna conserve oxygen, and all you have is that one breath of air to

 

So, there’s not—

 

–to do this.

 

–a ton of adrenalin running? I’m gonna get a fish, I’m gonna go after him, I got this one breath. Nothing like that?

 

For me, those are always the things I have to shut off. Because they—it—it’s right there, especially when you do come across, you know, that prize fish that you want to eat for dinner. It’s exciting, and it’s nerve-wracking. You already put in all this work, you don’t want to blow it. And there can be so much adrenalin running through you, and that can just suck up that oxygen so quickly if you let it. So, um, so I’ll even like, go the point of checking myself. Or if I see a really nice fish, I’ll tell myself, I’m not going down there for the fish; I’m going down there to take a nap. Like, I’ll really say that to myself in my brain. And I’ll just take a drop and get down there, and I’ll just kind of lay down and just really try and tell myself that, like, I’m just here to relax. And instantly, that’ll—

 

All in the space of a couple of minutes.

Right; yes. An—and that’s, I think, what really triggers the curiosity of the fish. I’m not somebody who I aggressively chase after fish. I use techniques that I’ve learned over the years that will allow the fish to come to me.

 

And that’s different from how other spearfishers pursue fish?

 

A lot of times when I go diving with other people, um, yeah, you definitely see just the aggression come through, and the adrenalin come through, and people are chasing down their fish. But um, in my opinion, I mean, you—you can’t out-swim a fish; right? So, um, it just makes so much more sense to think of techniques that are gonna bring them right to me.

 

So, you look harmless and relaxing.

 

I’ll do things. I’ll—I’ll mimic what, like, a ray looks like when it’s feeding in the bottom. And I’ll—I’ll definitely just do things to imitate other creatures, and it will pique the curiosity of the fish and bring them in. They’ll warily come in, and the whole time, your … your time is ticking, ‘cause you have to go soon. Um, and—but when the fish does come in close enough, I’ll always then just make sure that, you know, I’m in range, it’s a close shot, that I know where I’m aiming, and that I know I can pull it off. And … yeah. And then, you—you hit your target, an—and after that, it just depends if it’s a big fish, it could be a really big fight, it could be a really big struggle. Um, my goal is always to kind of make the best shot right through the brain, so it just rolls over instantly. But you don’t always get that, you know.

 

Do you still use three-prong spears?

 

I do; I do. I use—I use uh, both a spear gun and a three-prong pole spear. So, it all depends. These days, I like to just use a three-prong a lot more, just um …

 

Even though you have to pull back?

Yeah. I really—I really enjoy it. I—I enjoy both very much when it comes to freediving, as opposed to scuba diving, um, you know, the—I kind of feel there’s a lot less rules. Um, you don’t have to worry about going up slow, anything like that. That breath is never gonna expand be more than the breath it was when you took it at the surface. You’re a lot more limited, you may have to work a lot harder, um, but at the same time, I do feel like a—you know, less goes wrong. And um, and the same with the equipment used. I mean, obviously, there’s more efficient ways to hunt.

 

I have to admit that as you talk, I just feel a lot of fear for you. I fear blood from fish that you’ve speared attracting sharks in a frenzy. I fear you not realizing that your breath is up, and you black out underwater.

 

M-hm.

 

How do you deal with all of these things as a professional in that way?

 

Um, those things are all very real fears to have. I um … with sharks and whatnot, I think it just … it took repetition. I mean, after having to—to be in the water with so many sharks, you finally start getting used to it. In the beginning, uh, when—you know, I remember the first time a tiger shark just came and stole my fish, and I was just so freaked out that I just—

 

Did you think the shark was coming for you?

 

I totally thought so. I thought, like, come back and want to eat me. And I just wanted to leave everything and get to shore. Um, and … you know, and every time I’d see a shark, it was kinda my reaction, like, Oh, let’s get out of here. And—

 

Take my fish.

 

Yeah; take anything you want. You know, just don’t take me. Um, and—and then, there was just this one day where um … I don’t know; I think I had just gotten more comfortable over time and I was fighting with this fish, and this Galapagos shark came up, coming in hot to steal my fish, and just this hunter’s instinct took over me where I was just like, No, I’m sick of this. And I just grabbed my fish and pulled it in even closer to me, grabbed the fish, and just like, faced off with the shark. And as soon as I did, that shark turned and wanted nothing to do with me. And I’m not saying like, oh, everyone should do this, but I have just noticed that um, since then, like that is what I learned about sharks, is that if you … if you show them that you are the dominant predator, then they’re gonna treat you like that. And—and every single time I did the, Oh, take the fish and leave me alone, it would only get the sharks more interested in me. It would only make them that much punchier. And so—so, once I saw that—you know, and that was, like I said, just an instinct that took over, um, I let that instinct take over a lot more. And every single time a shark came around, whether I had a fish on or not, I would just really stop and see what type of energy the shark has. Are they swimming totally erratic and fast, and you know, and coming in like, with aggression, and if so, that would mean that I’d have to raise my aggression to that level. And I’m not gonna back away from it, I’m not gonna curl up and be small, because that just kind of symbolizes prey. And so, instead, if I make myself big, if I face them off, if I—

 

How do you make yourself big?

 

I mean, it’s just—mainly, it’s all body language. It really is. Uh, if a—you know, this one time, this tiger shark was coming straight at me from the surface, and I was like, Oh, god, I don’t want to do this right now, but I know from experience it’s the safest thing to do. So, I just faced off, and just swam straight at the tiger shark. And it’s like playing Chicken, and um, an—and sure enough, it just turned at the last minute and was uninterested. Um, and it’s just the same—it’s just mainly your body language, um … and—and just the direction of which you’re swimming. You know, prey usually isn’t gonna swim directly at the predator. And so, so—

 

So, you’re notifying the shark that you’re not prey.

 

Right. And then, it’s the same like when I s—talk about hunting the fish. You know, when I—when I … I’m hunting the fish, I notice that it doesn’t help me if I’m gonna swim at the fish. Because that’s just saying I’m a predator, and the fish run away.

Kimi Werner became such an accomplished free diver that she decided to test her skills on a national level. She started winning competitions and soon discovered that it created a very different relationship with the fish that she had previously hunted for food.

 

You were a sensation on the free diving tour competition. But then … and it looked like—I mean, you were just winning, and you were just—everyone was talking about you. And then, you dropped out of it.

 

M-hm.

 

What happened?
Well, that was … that was all um … the spearfishing competitions that I was doing, and which started off as such a beautiful thing for me. I had um … fallen into the hands of some really great mentors that just helped me so much, and before I knew it, you know, I just um, was becoming really good at spearfishing. And … and then, I heard of, you know, all these tournaments and stuff, and I definitely wanted to see how I measured up with other divers, and um, yeah, entered the national championships, and won that. And just went on this—

 

I think you won every category you—

 

I did.

 

–entered.

 

Yeah.

 

Championship in Rhode Island.

 

Right; yes. And that—that was—that will always be such a special time for me. Because I set a goal, and I really wanted to go there and represent Hawaii, and just see where all of these passions, you know, could take me. And um, and everything came into play during that tournament. Everything I learned from my dad, everything I learned from other mentors, all the canoe paddling I had done. I mean, it was a kayak competition where you have six hours. And I just remember, you know, how good it felt to be on a kayak and just like … knowing my way on the ocean surface, and knowing my way underneath. And even if I wasn’t—it was my first time ever diving outside of Hawaii. It was so different, and it definitely didn’t come without struggle in my days of trying to figure it out. But on—on tournament day, everything worked out, and I ended up winning just, yeah, across the board.

 

And you continued to compete, and then you were done with it.

 

I did; I continued to compete for a while. And um … you know, that first tournament, that first national championships, that was really special. And coming back home to Hawaii was just the best feeling in the world, because Hawaii is just the most supportive, loyal, wonderful hometown, I think, that anyone could ever ask for, in my opinion. And um, the way that people supported me was something that I just was so grateful for. But um, but I think after that, it was never quite the same, because I almost just felt like … I just always had a title to defend, you know, or like after—you know, I—I did continue to win in competing, but it was just never as fulfilling to me. And um … and I noticed that even when I would go diving, you know, on my own just for food, all I was thinking about was competition, and all—you know, I started to think of fish as points, rather than even as food. And once I realized that, I didn’t—I didn’t like it. I just realized it’s changing me. You know, it’s changing this—this thing that’s so sacred to me. It’s something that my parents, you know, taught me these values through this. And um … and it’s not about these values anymore; it’s really about trophies and winning, and recognition, and um … and … this was the thing that really made my life fulfilling again. Am I really gonna do this to it? Am I gonna take it to a level where it’s all about, you know, chasing—chasing titles? Like, I—I—I didn’t like that. And um, so just for those own personal reasons of—of how I found it affecting me, um, I did walk away from competition.

 

I saw you do a TEDx talk, and—

 

M-hm.

 

–you said that even though you knew it was the right thing to do, it didn’t mean that other people weren’t very disappointed—

 

M-hm.

 

–in you, and that you felt really bad about it, too.

 

Oh, definitely. I mean, it was—it was one of the toughest things I’ve done, because it was right in … you know, the peak of what I thought what could have been my career. You know, I had sponsors now, and um … you know, people that believed in me, people that looked up to me, and um, and all of a sudden, I was just gonna walk away from it. And um, it—it—it let down a lot of people, and um, definitely disappointed people. And—and for myself too, I mean, I—I did feel—I did feel a sense of, you know, confusion, because I felt so lost. I didn’t—I didn’t really know who I was without—without that. I—it had become so the tunnel vision of my life, and pretty much, you know, everything that was confident-building seemed to come from that department. It was the first time where, you know, my art started to sell more, because my name was out there more. And it just seemed like it was something that was causing so much personal gain that for me to turn and walk away from it, um, I definitely felt like a loser. You know, I felt like a waste of talent, and I felt um … I felt like I didn’t quite know … if I would like … you know. I didn’t know the effects it was gonna have. I didn’t know if it was—you know, how much it would bum people out, or if I would just never be really supported again, really.

 

Did you have a sense of what you would do to replace the competitions?

 

All I just told myself is, I want diving to always give me that feeling that I had of bringing home those little fish, you know, on that first dive, and knowing my heart that I was happy and proud of that, and that I felt satisfied with that. And that’s the feeling that I wanted. I didn’t quite know wh at type of path that would take me on, and how it would affect my career, um, but I just knew I wanted that back. I wanted to go in the water and not have the pressure of competition on my shoulders, and not look at a fish and calculate how many points it would be worth. I wanted that gone.

 

What happened, then?

I—it took me a while, actually. Uh, it was probably a year um, where a lot of times I would go out diving, and … all of a sudden, it wasn’t the same happy place it used to be, you know, when I say I’m totally present in the moment, and those voices in my head go quiet. It—it wasn’t happening; these voices were just telling me that I was a loser, and I was failure, and you know, what are you doing, like why are you quitting. Um, and … it was still, you know, looking at the fish as points, and so then, I’d have to get out of the water with no fish. And then, I really would beat myself up. Like, I’m not even good at this anymore, I don’t even—can’t even dive ‘cause my mind’s all messed up. And um … and I got pretty depressed, but um … but—but you know, but through that, you know, I just kinda took some breaks from diving and whatnot. And then this one day, um, couple friends of mine like said, You need to get back in the water. Like, let’s go. And so, we all went out on our kayaks, and again, my brain was just still—still fighting itself, and I—I just felt like I wasn’t diving the I way I dive; I didn’t have anymore. And um … and so, I’m like, Let’s just pack it up and go, guys. I know what you’re trying to do, and I know you’re trying to bring me back, but it’s just not fun for me anymore, and there’s nothing worse than the feeling of actually being out here and it not being fun anymore, so I just want to go home. And they said, Okay, let’s go. But then, I said, You know what? Let me just take one last drop. And I put my spear gun on my kayak, didn’t even take it down with me, and I just took a dive. And I had my two buddies, you know, spotting me from the surface, so it was safe. But I just took a dive, and um, didn’t even tell them what—uh, you know, just took—told them to watch me, you know, took a dive. And I got down to the bottom, and I just laid in the sand. I just crossed my arms and I put my face in the sand. And—and I laid there, and I let every single … critic come through my head. Every single voice, every single thing that I had beat myself up about, like, I just let it come, and I listened to every single, you know, put-down, worry, concern, fear. And they all came, one after another, and I just waited, and I just … still waited, held my breath. Okay, what else you got; give it to me. You know, I just waited, and waited, and waited until there was nothing left. And when there was nothing left, there was not one more voice that could say anything, you know, that—that I, you know, hadn’t already heard. Like, it just went quiet. And as soon as it went quiet, I opened my eyes and I’m on the bottom of the ocean, and I was just back.

 

 

I’m thinking of your buddies watching you from above, and thinking, She’s down there a really long time.

 

With her face in the sand.

 

M-hm.

 

But they let you be.

 

They did; they did. And then, um, as soon as I picked my head up, I just realized like, the feeling’s back. You know, that feeling is back. Like—because before, to me, it was never truly about like, oh, that moment when you spear your fish. But it was the feeling that I felt when I would take a drop, and just the serenity that would come over me, and just this feeling of welcome home. And—and when everything just turned quiet, and I was still there holding my breath, and I looked up and I just saw my two friends, and I saw the sun just sparkling through the ocean surface, and I just looked at the beautiful ocean and hear the noise, you know, the sounds of the ocean, and that was it. Um, I was like, that’s the feeling; that’s the feeling that satisfies me. And soon as I came up, I—I didn’t even have to say anything; they knew. They knew exactly what had happened, they knew exactly. And I smiled at them, and they were just like, You’re back. And I’m like, I’m back. And that was that. And after that, then I just started um, diving for food again, and just realizing like that’s something sacred to me, and I’m going to protect it with everything that I have. I’m gonna do everything I can to—to keep this pure. Even if it means no success comes from this, this is mine.

 

Kimi Werner became a freediving ambassador for Patagonia, a company whose mission is to protect the land and ocean. She had an opportunity to swim with a great white shark, not to sensationalize such an encounter, but to show the beauty of the interaction of species.

 

Basically, my dive partner just started shaking my arm and screaming. And I put my face back in the water, there was great white literally like, from me to you. And I just instantly like— I heard myself scream, but it wasn’t a scream of fear; it was more like … the scream that you have when you’re like, catching a wave. Like, it was like a squeal. Here goes, you know.

 

M-hm.

 

And so, I just swam right at that shark, and as soon as I did, she veered off, thankfully. And um, and I just think it was one of those situations where had I reacted by backing away, swimming away, like trying to scramble for the boat, I might not be here right now. And um, but as soon as I swam at her, she just kinda backed off, and then I watched the way that she was swimming.

 

Why do you say, she?

 

Oh, because you could tell um—

 

–yeah, it was a female shark. Yeah; they have these claspers by their tail, and um, yeah, you can tell. But—which I only learned later. Once she backed off, then I just observed her, and I just saw that she was really mellow. That she was coming up out of curiosity, but there was nothing about her body language that said aggression. I mean, her fins were completely out. When sharks get aggressive, their fins come down, they arch their back.

 

But remember, you’re on the floor of the reef, curling up, but you are aggressive. So—

 

Right.

 

Can’t sharks play the same game?

 

They can. I don’t think that animals are quite as manipulative as humans. I think a lot of times with animals, what you see is what you get. Um, maybe that’s why I like them so much. And um … and so … so, yeah; in watching her body language, it just became apparent that she was moving really slow, and granted, yes, she mostly definitely could have switched and eaten me at any second. Um, but again, she didn’t leave the area, so it didn’t really make sense for me to scramble back to the boat. Instead, I just kept an eye on her, and she was going down, and like doing circles, but she would come up. But every time she came up, I just knew, okay, I have to swim down, I have to show that I’m just as interested in her. But this one time, she just slowed down, and she leveled off right in front of me. And I had hit that negative buoyancy point where I was already sinking, no matter what, so at this point, I had two options. And it was, I could make a drastic turn and kick back up, which I’d have to kick back up to the surface, which didn’t sound like a good idea, or basically, I was going to cross the path of the shark. And so, once I realized I was, I’m like, Well, whatever you do, just make it smooth. And as soon as she came under me, I just reached out, let her know I’m right here, touched her dorsal fin, and we just went for a swim together.

 

And it was fine with the shark.

 

It was crazy how fine it was. I mean, if that animal, a seventeen-foot great white shark didn’t want me touching her on her back, I’m sure she’d let me know. But um, but it was amazing. I just felt her, and this huge animal, you could just feel this calm energy. And she just even slowed down even more, to the point where her tail was barely moving, and we were just gliding together.

 

Well, if the shark recognized you as another predator, wouldn’t you be considered competition for food, same food?

 

You definitely can be, and I’ve seen uh, some sharks be territorial. And again, it’s just one of those times where it’s like, you need to just hold your ground until you can get to a safer place. Um, but in this case, no, I don’t think this—this big lady had any problem with getting her own food, and so, I don’t think that it was anything territorial or anything competitive. I think we were just two predators swimming together.

 

Kimi Werner travels around the world working on film projects, speaking, diving and meeting people who, like her, are living sustainably and thriving in nature.

Mahalo to Kimi Werner of Waialua for sharing your love of the ocean with us and thank you, for joining us. For PBS Hawaii and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha, a hui hou.

 

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

 

I think a lot of times, we go into jobs because we’re so passionate about our craft, and then before we know it, um … you know, we’re—we’re just—we’re not really enjoying it anymore, and we’re going through the motions because we’re trying to—we’re trying to hit these certain marks of society, whether it’s financial success, or I need that house, or I need that car, and before you know it, your own beautiful passion that kinda becomes this vehicle for living unauthentically, and um … and doing things based on expectations that were never really yours to begin with.

 

[END]

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Kevin Matsunaga

 

Kevin Matsunaga of Lihu‘e, Kaua‘i, never imagined he’d follow in his father’s footsteps and become a teacher. He found his calling as the digital media teacher at Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School in Lihu‘e. His students have won many national video competitions. In 2007, the Hawai‘i Department of Education recognized Matsunaga with a District Teacher of the Year award.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, March 15, at 11:00 pm and Sunday, March 19, at 4:00 pm.

 

Kevin Matsunaga Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

Our kids have to deal with a lot more nowadays. They can’t make mistakes like we could. You know, with social media, if they make a mistake it’s film that’s put out there, and it’s, you know, hard for them. But they’re also the most tech-savvy people that we have. You know, the kids that are going to want to put in the work are gonna do it. I do see it’s kind of a shift in where you don’t have as many that maybe want to do the work. This whole millennial thing in which people are lazy and things like, that I mean, I see some of it. Luckily, the kids that I work with, you know, they want to be there, they’re interested in this, and it’s easy for me to kinda push them, because they want to be there. That makes a huge difference.

 

It isn’t just by luck that Kevin Matsunaga has students in his digital media classes who want to be there, and who want to excel. His dedication, encouragement, and belief in his middle school students have a lot to do with why they win national student video competitions. Kauai public school teacher Kevin Matsunaga, 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. Kevin Matsunaga was a teacher’s son who had no intention of becoming a teacher. But life happens. Trained on Oahu, he serves today as a teacher and technology coordinator at Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School in Lihue. At the time of our conversation in December of 2016, he was well into his sixteenth year of teaching there, an award-winning digital media teacher, and he’s a leader in the statewide teachers’ steering committee which advises Hiki No, PBS Hawaii’s groundbreaking student news network. When he was a boy, his father saw that he was good at organizing and taking care of his younger cousins at family gatherings. Yet, the idea of becoming a teacher never appealed to Matsunaga. In fact, there wasn’t much about school that he found interesting.

 

We lived in Lihue. In fact, you know, we actually still live there now. Life was really easy and simple. My father was an educator, so he knew all of my teachers. So that made it a little bit hard for me, ‘cause I was kinda more the kolohe one, tried to be, you know, class clown or whatever. But it was nice. You know, back then, I could get on my bike, and that was my freedom. I could go anywhere I wanted to, and my parents didn’t really seem to mind too much.

 

No cell phones.

 

No cell phones, no GPS tracker, no call in to Mom to let you know. And as long as I was home by six, it was fine. If I was late, then there would be a problem with my dad, ‘cause he was the one that cooked.

 

So, he wanted you there for dinner.

 

He wanted me there for dinner. Yeah; ‘cause my mom worked at the hospital in the evening shift, so she was gone from three to eleven. And so, my dad was the one that, you know, when we came home school, he was the one making sure we had our homework done, made sure we took a bath.

 

Your dad was of Japanese ancestry.

 

Yes.

 

Your mom was from Brooklyn, New York.

 

Yes.

 

Irish woman.

 

M-hm.

 

How did that work? How did those cultures mesh with you?

 

I guess I consider myself more Asian, I guess, in the sense that we lived in Hawai‘i. My mom was considered like a Haole in the sense that, you know, she came from the mainland. But she really took to the local ways. She really saw the aloha spirit. And so, whenever we would go to family get-togethers, my mom would always be one to help out; she would never sit. Even if it wasn’t at our house, she would always get up, and always help out and wash dishes, you know, put things away. And so, I think our family saw that, and you know, she really embraced that sense of ‘ohana and aloha. I think she was wonderful as a mother.

 

You said later, you came to appreciate your dad more.

 

My dad, it was pretty, you know, black and white. You know, if we didn’t do something, if a teacher called us for any reason, it was … I don’t care what you have to say, if your teacher had to take the time to call me about something, you know, you’re doing something wrong. And so, it was tough, and back then, I really didn’t understand what they were doing. I just felt it as being real constrictive and overbearing. And you know, when I was in high school, I had a curfew. And I had a girlfriend who could stay out longer than I could. So, it’s kind of embarrassing to have to tell the girlfriend, I gotta go home, ‘cause I gotta meet my curfew. But only when I became an adult and had my own kids, then I kinda realized, you know, that what they were doing was a good thing. You know, kept me from trouble, and made me responsible.

 

You have teenagers now.

 

I do. And, yes … seeing what what they did for me, you know, at the time I didn’t appreciate it. And in fact, my relationship with my father was kinda rough when I was in high school, just because he valued education a lot, ‘cause he was an educator. And I was more of the ones that, you know, I was happy with getting a C, I was happy with being the lower one in the class in the top class, but not really pushing myself too much. ‘Cause I was more worried about who I was gonna go out with on the weekend, or what my friends were gonna do.

 

I would think that when a son goes into the same profession as his father, I think people tend to think, Oh, of course, you know, you wanted to do that from the beginning. Did you?

 

No. Growing up, I was always the one that seemed to have to take care of my younger cousins. So, we’d have a party, a family get-together, and our family was pretty large. My dad had several brothers and sisters. And so, we would have these large gatherings, and I had younger cousins, and I would always seem to be the one that was kinda taking care of them, making up games, keeping them occupied while the adults did their thing. And so, I just enjoyed that; I just enjoyed playing with them, kinda connecting with them, and just trying to keep them entertained, I guess. And so, it was my father, though; he was the first to say, Hey, you know, I’ve noticed that you really work well with kids, and so, you might want to think about being a teacher. I didn’t really find myself, as far as you know, taking school seriously until I was in college. It wasn’t until my second year in college in which I though, Okay, like, I can’t fool around. This is my parents’ money, and this is my life I gotta deal with. And and I had always wanted to make them proud. And so, I just always wanted to kinda, you know, make them happy. And so, I think once I started buckling down, started getting better grades, and taking it seriously, then our relationship changed, you know, much better. Yeah.

 

‘Cause he took your behavior really personally.

 

Yeah. And I think he always knew that I had what it took to do well, but I just didn’t apply myself. And I kind of feel the same way, too, with my kids. If I don’t see them trying hard, I get upset. And so, I’m kind of similar. It’s like, even though we try not to be our parents, we somehow still do become them.

 

Right.

 

Kevin Matsunaga took a teaching job on Oahu as soon as he earned his degree in elementary education from the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. Wanting to look out for his father after his mother died brought him back to Kauai.

 

Once I was in the College of Ed, I got a job at the A-Plus program at Hokulani Elementary School behind the dorms. And I loved it. I loved, you know, interacting with them. And I kinda knew that, okay, I think this is what I want to do.

 

And you met and married, along the way.

 

Yeah. So, my wife was actually my boss in the A-Plus program. And I was her aide. I taught on Oahu for seven years, and that’s kinda like towards the end is where things happened with our family. And in 2000, we moved back to Kauai, and I was able to open a brand new middle school that was, you know, coming on board. And so, I got to be there from the very beginning and kinda helped shape how things were at the school.

 

And Chiefess Kamakahelei is a very interesting middle school, for those who are used to old school buildings, because everything about it is really built with middle-schoolers in mind.

 

We have different houses for each grade level. And if you go into the sixth grade house, there’s less planters, because kids as sixth-graders, they just want to move around. You go to the eighth grade house, they have a lot more planters, places for kids to sit, because eighth-graders just want to sit and hang, and talk story, or go on their devices. And so, yeah, our school, you know, they took a lot of feedback from a lot of people in how middle-schoolers act, and what kind of space they need, and they put it into the school. So, you know, here seventeen years later, it still looks fantastic. We have an awesome staff that keeps it looking like a new school. And when we have visitors for the first time, they often ask, Is this a private school? We do have, you know, quite a bit of the population that needs some assistance.

 

At what point did digital media kick in with you?

 

When I applied for the job, the principal, Maggie Cox, at the time—she’s a board member for the Board of Ed now. But she knew this was gonna be the school that everyone was gonna look at for technology. So, she said in the interview, I want a morning announcements show, I want it live, I want it live TV. So, instead of, you know, when we were going up to school, you had, you know, someone coming on the PA system, playing the bells, you know.

 

Ding-ding-ding.

 

Yeah.

 

And so, she wanted it on TV. She had seen other schools do it, and so, that was one of the requirements. And I was like, Sure, I can do that. But I really hadn’t done that up to that point. I had worked with kids creating videos at my other school, but nothing was live. And so, I was like, Okay, I gotta figure out how to do this. I love computers and gadgets, and so as a teacher, I always tried to bring in some sort of technology aspect into it. So, I had my students—they had pen pals in Florida, you know, at that time through email. We did all kinds of things. And so, this was one thing that we did. And I was sharing this project at a technology conference that the DOE used to sponsor, and across from us, across from my booth was a high school that had set up their things, and they had videos. So, I’m sitting there across the way, and I’m watching these videos. And like, they’re really, really good. And like, Waianae High School, you know; wow, they’re doing some really awesome stuff. And so, I struck a conversation up with Candy Suiso. And at that time, I wasn’t really doing a lot of digital media. I just thought, Wow, that’s really cool, what they’re doing. But we just hit it off, and when this job came on, when they said, Hey, you gotta teach this live, or you gotta have this live morning announcement show, the first person I thought of to go for help was Candy. And so, I contacted her, and she allowed me to come out and visit the program. And that’s where I got a lot of good advice, took it back to our school. At that time, I only taught an advisory class, and that class kinda ran the morning announcements, and I asked to teach one elective class. And so, that was the beginning of our media program. And then, back then, we just, you know, were doing PSAs, small kinds of videos in school. And Candy created their first, like, workshop for teachers and students. And so, she, of course, you know, let me know about it. And what we did was, I took two students to Oahu one summer, and we went to one of their first camps. And she gave us, at this camp, this binder with all of these awesome, you know, lessons in them, activities. And I kinda treated that as my digital media bible, and I used that for years and tried to, you know, supplement it with my own. Kept in contact with Candy. And she was the reason why, you know, I kinda credit her a lot with our success, because she was very, very open with sharing anything that she had to help another teacher. And so, I’ve tried to take that example and lead that same way, by giving, you know, anything that I have to any other teacher that’s starting out.

 

So, there was nothing official to pick up off a shelf.

 

There was nothing.

 

Or link to.

 

We had nothing. You know, it was just a handful of teachers that were doing a lot with digital media. And we just helped each other. You know, we all just shared what we had, things that worked with us, things that didn’t.

 

Isn’t that interesting. And now, your group, which is called the Hawai‘i Creative Media Group, is teaching other teachers on all islands.

 

Yeah.

 

It’s a formalized group now.

 

Yeah.

 

Outside the DOE, but still very active in helping DOE teachers.

 

Yes. And you know, every single person on our team is just hugely talented. I mean, you know, they just know so much.

 

What do they have in common? I mean, because when you see digital media teachers in Hawai‘i, it’s not like you can stereotype them. Not by age, or anything else. What would you say is the common denominator?

 

I think the common denominator is that each one of us is dedicated to our programs. I mean, I think, like any successful program—and it could be a band, you know, that has an amazing instructor.

 

Needs leadership.

 

Yeah, you need leadership. And I think that’s where all of us—what we all have in common is that we really, truly care about our students, and giving them the best opportunities that we can provide them. Going above and beyond what’s called for in the school day to mentor them after school, on weekends, or setting up programs like our camps. Each person is just dedicated, you know, beyond measure. Everyone is just focused on how they can help their kids. And they don’t do that for themselves. You know, they don’t put their name out. It’s for the kids. And so, I think you need people like that to have a successful program.

 

It wasn’t long before Kauai’s Kevin Matsunaga started entering his students in national video competitions. This required a new level of commitment, and skills and efforts that went beyond the classroom.

 

If you’re gonna take your students to STN, or Student Television News, the really ambitious competition nationally, you have to raise money to do it. I mean, parents don’t have money to take their kids to the Northeast, or wherever it’s gonna be. And there are other neighbor island competitions. How do you get the money to do all of that?

 

We have to fundraise.

 

How do you do that?

 

You assemble a dedicated group of parents. You know, you work with them from the very beginning. You explain, okay, this is what we do, this why we do it, and here’s where we want to go; but I can’t do it by myself. I need support, I need parents to help work, you know, craft fairs, or you know, our breakfast, or sell cookbooks. You know. You just need to have a large number of people that are behind you. And for us, we’re really lucky; we have really good parents that, you know, understand what their child gets out of the program, and so they’re willing to put in that work. And it’s a year-round thing. I mean, we start fundraising when we come back. We’re already planning what we’re doing in the summer, for next year.

 

How much money do you have to raise, say, just for the Student Television News competitions?

 

It used to cost about fifteen hundred at the lowest, up to like, twenty-eight hundred at the highest. It just kinda depends.

 

Per student?

 

Per student. And so, last year, since we went to Atlanta and New York, it was probably close to like, twenty-five hundred a student. This year, surprisingly, it’s close to that. Because we’re in LA, but then, nobody wants to drive in LA. You know. And so, we have to rent a bus, and buses are expensive. So, you know, a day in a bus, you know, is several hundred dollars. And we’re staying at hotels that are two hundred a night, you know. And so, yeah, there are cheaper places that we could go to, you know, like the convention hotel. Even the convention hotel is two hundred a night. And so, it adds up. And so, yeah, we have to raise a huge amount of money.

 

So, you’re teaching digital media like nobody’s business, and then there’s this other operation which you’re also part of, which is just generating funds.

 

It’s like I’m a professional fundraiser, almost. You know. ‘Cause we’re going from thing to thing. We’ve done carwashes, we had a golf tournament, we just had our breakfast this past weekend. And we’ve done craft fairs. Our digital media, Hawaii Creative Media created a cookbook this year.

 

I mean, so your weekends are pretty much gone for that; right?

 

A lot of times; yeah. And so, unfortunately, you know, my family has had to kinda take some of that on. But all of my kids have been in through my program, so they understand why it’s so important, so they don’t give me a hard time.

 

Your students need to perform quality work in a, quote, foreign city, on deadline. And no excuses. You know, no dog ate your homework; it’s all about here’s the deadline, if you fail to get it in, if your computer didn’t render quickly enough, too bad.

 

It’s probably the most authentic assessment that you can ever find. You know, the DOE talks about trying to get authentic assessment. But these competitions, I don’t think you can find anything better than that. Yeah, like you said, the students, they have to perform, they have to be ready, they have to problem-solve if something happens. They have to navigate their way around a city that they’ve never been in, they have to go and find a story on a topic that they were just given that morning, and they only have a few hours to get it done.

 

And they have to depend on each other to do the work.

 

Exactly.

 

So, everybody’s important.

 

Exactly.

 

And you have to put things aside if you have issues.

 

Yes. And sometimes, those lessons take a while to learn, but they get there at some point. But yeah, it’s all of those things. I tell my parents and my students that, you know, digital media, yes, that’s the name of our class, but we really teach a lot of life skills. You know, how to communicate with each other, how to get along with other people that, you know, you may have a hard time with. Meeting your deadlines, and being prepared for your interview, and having your equipment read, and you know, all those things.

 

Talking with adults, and setting up interviews.

 

Yeah. You know, we fully believe in that, you know, we need to teach them what they’re gonna see. And so, when the deadline, when the clock hits zero, even if you’re five feet away and you’re ready to put your flash drive into the bucket, it’s gone and you’ve lost that chance, ‘cause you didn’t make that deadline.

 

And an amazing thing happens, and it was chronicled in this documentary that PBS Hawai‘i did about your schools going to Atlanta for the competition. The Hawai‘i kids all sat together from different schools, and they cheered for each other, even when they themselves were up for the same award, and lost.

 

Exactly; yeah. It’s something we started, you know, a couple of years back in which … you know, it’s hard to pinpoint what exactly that is, other than that’s just the aloha spirit, and … you can just see it, you can feel it. All of our schools, we all know, and the other schools know that, too. But for those of us in Hawai‘i, we understand it’s really hard to get there, because we have to travel, no matter where it is. We have to raise money, and you know, get your paperwork approved by the district. And you go through all of these hoops to get there, so we understand how much work is involved. And I think there’s just the respect that we have for one another that, you know, when we get there … if we don’t win, but Hawai‘i wins, it’s still a win. And I think that’s just the culture here in Hawai‘i.

 

And the middle school PSA contest winner for 2016 is Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School.

 

Hawai‘i, Hawai‘i, Hawai‘i, Hawai‘i …

 

I think it’s fascinating to think about, because so many people here think, Well, you know, our public schools, they’re criticized for being mediocre.

 

M-hm.

 

And some of these top-performing digital media teams are coming from low-income schools or isolated schools.

 

Exactly.

 

How do you explain that?

 

They have good teachers. They have dedicated teachers that are willing to put in that extra effort, that believe in the kids, and will do anything to help them succeed. I mean, look at Waianae; Searider Productions is a prime example. You know, that community is known for so many other things. You know, the negative, the homelessness, and everything else. But they’ve totally broken that stereotype down, you know, by the success that they have. And it’s because it started with Candy, you know, and what she believed in, this idea to use digital media in her Spanish class. And then, it came down to her students, John Allen, who—

 

Took over for her.

 

Who is there, yeah.

 

As a teacher.

 

Was a former student, who totally, you know, bought into it, saw what it did for him, and he wanted to do the same for others. And so, you gotta have that person that’s willing to be that dedicated person that is willing to put in those extra hours.

 

Even though it’s often not even a regular class. You’re doing it after school.

 

Yeah; yeah.

 

Or in between other projects, summers. Is there something really inspiring or life-changing that you’ve seen happen in your classes?

 

I think the thing that inspires me more than anything is just seeing that change in a child. And I think that’s one of the reasons why I became a teacher, is because I like to see change. You know, so in my spare time, I like to weed in the yard, because I can see the progress that I’ve made, or the progress I haven’t. But I like to see that progress, and teaching does that. Because you can work with a child, put in this effort, and you can see before your eyes them, you know, getting it. You know, that spark; Oh, I got it now, I understand what you’re trying to say. And then, you see them apply that. That, to me, is inspiring. I mean, that’s the kinda stuff that keeps me coming in every day and being a hundred percent committed, is because you see this change, and you see the kid that started with you who could barely say any words outside, wouldn’t talk to you unless you asked a specific question, and then to see them grow in the time that you have them to where they’re a confident, you know, young person willing to speak to anyone. I mean, that’s the stuff that’s inspiring, more than anything else. I think that every teacher uh, every digital media teacher pushes their kids to try to be great. And that transforms itself into other areas that the kids are working in. And I think that prepares them just for life in general.

 

That cuts across everything, then.

 

It cuts across anything. I think it doesn’t matter whether it’s in school, outside of school, in their personal private life. I think just knowing that you have someone who believes in you, that wants you to do well and is not gonna let you settle for anything less than great.

 

Teacher Kevin Matsunaga’s goal for his students is not to win contests; it’s do their best. Their best often wins local and national awards. And Matsunaga has been recognized as the State Public School District Teacher of the Year. Mahalo to Kevin Matsunaga of Lihue, Kauai for your innovative teaching example, and your commitment to students year, after year, after year, preparing them for life and the workforce. And mahalo to you, for joining us. For PBS Hawai‘i and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha, a hui hou.

 

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

 

Every day is different. There are no two days that are gonna be the same. Even if you have the same students every single day, the kids are gonna come in, and some days they might have a great day, some days they may not. You know, you’re teaching different subjects, you’re teaching different things, and … that’s what I love best about teaching, is that every single day is different. If I got stuck in a job in which I did the same thing day-in and day-out, not too much change, it would be hard for me.

 

 


LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Kimi Werner: Shaped by the Sea

 

Growing up in rural Maui, Kimi Werner joined her father as he free dived and hunted for fish to feed his family. Werner would discover her own passion for free diving and spearfishing, eventually becoming the U.S. National Spearfishing Champion in 2008. However, it was those early experiences living simply and off the land that inspired her to develop a more holistic relationship with the ocean and helped her define her own distinct path. As an artist, chef and world traveler, Werner combines her talents with her vast knowledge of the ocean as a speaker and educator.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, March 8, at 11:00 pm and Sunday, March 12, at 4:00 pm.

 

Kimi Werner: Shaped by the Sea Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

I swam out to this reef and I could kinda see some waves breaking on it. So, I knew, oh, there’s a reef out there, you know, and I swam out there, totally freaked out, really, the whole time. And that was another lesson for me, too, is that I realized that all those years spent in the water with my dad, I think as a child, you have this sense of security. And every time I looked over and I saw my dad, I just felt like nothing bad could happen to me, no matter what. If I felt scared ‘cause we were so deep, if I felt scared because of sharks, I would look over, I’d see my dad, and I would just know I’m safe. And so, one of the things I would have to do, even as a grown woman, when I would swim out and I’d start to like, feel a little creeped out, I would just imagine my dad swimming right next to me. And every time I did, it would just calm me down.

 

Kimi Werner often overcomes her fears of the unknown by recalling the life lessons and values that she learned early in life. This has given her confidence and courage in pursuing her dreams. Kimi Werner, next, on Long Story Short.

 

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

 

Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Kimberly Maile Reiko Werner, better known as Kimi, is a national spearfishing champion, a chef, an award-winning artist, and a motivational speaker. In Kimi Werner’s early years in rural Haiku, Maui, her family lived primarily off the bounty of the land and the ocean. And that laid the foundation for her passions in life.

 

My life was just one that was really focused around nature. We lived on this property where we had absolutely no neighbors in sight, and so, the only things that I really knew were just my family and the natural world that was right outside of my doorstep, really. Our house was like, a little shack, pretty much just falling apart at the seams. And I remember I could never really explain to kids like, what color it was, ‘cause it just depended on what kinda moss was growing on all the rotten wood. But at the same time, it was just an absolute magical childhood. We spent out days outside, and gathering food with our family.

 

What do you remember gathering?

 

I mean, everything, really. My mom was such a forager, and she always taught me at a young age what was edible and what wasn’t. So, any time I’d go exploring in the woods, I would just come home with like, you know, armfuls and shirt-fuls of strawberry guavas, or you know, even just like, white ginger and you suck the nectar out of it. So, anything, really.

 

How did your mom know how to forage, and what was your dad like?

 

My mom, she’s kind of one of the only Japanese hippies that I know. But she was just like this very … I mean, she’s a hippie at heart, really. She didn’t grow up with a lot of money. She grew up here on Oahu, the very strict conservative family, but later in life moved to Maui. And she just loved being resourceful. I think that’s what it was that she got from growing up poor, was just the fascination with how you can be resourceful. And combining that with her love for nature, she was really good at just finding magic and finding resource in everything around us.

 

So, you say you didn’t have a lot of money; you had these natural resources. Did you feel poor?

 

I never felt poor. I mean, I remember when I did start school in kindergarten, like kind of realizing then that I had less material things than all of the other kids. But I never felt poor. In those years, especially, I would say I felt so rich with just activity and fun. I mean, every morning, my job was to go out and gather the chicken eggs from under the house, and pick whatever fruit were ripe, and to spend the days underwater diving with my dad, and just watching him bring me up fish and lobster for dinner. Like, that doesn’t feel poor.

 

You would float above him as he went way down?

 

I was just a tagalong. I was about five years old when he started taking me diving. And I would just float, and just watch him. My main goal was to keep up with him. And I remember, as long as I could see the bubbles of his fins, I knew I was going in the right way. And then, when he would take a drop, then I’d be able to catch up, catch my breath, and put in my orders for dinner, really.

 

And would he actually be able to get you what you wanted, the type of fish you wanted?

 

He would. He would pride himself on that, basically. If my mom wanted to eat octopus or if she wanted to eat lobster, or fish, whatever it was that she wanted, he always, you know, would see it through and make sure he got that for us.

 

You mentioned the year you started kindergarten. That was also the year, I believe, your mother started a different kind of class; college.

 

Yes; yeah. My mom, she was a waitress while my dad was a plasterer, a construction worker. And so basically, he was trying to kinda start his own plastering company, but it was a slow start. And my mom was pretty much living off of her tips as a waitress. But they saved up enough money to put my mom through nursing school at MCC, and so when I was five years old, she was forty-one, and that’s when she went to college. It was such a memorable thing, because of how my mom just never took it for granted. You know, I think when she grew up, she did have a hard life and didn’t, you know, have a lot of luxuries, and school wasn’t an option for her then. And so, later in life, after having us and getting us to an age where we’re now in school, and having just enough money saved up to finally pursue her own dream to become a nurse, when she went to school, I mean, she just aced it because she was so happy to be there. You know, it wasn’t the privilege that I had. I went to KCC, but just going there straight after high school, you know, it was like thirteenth grade for me and whatnot. But for my mom, she took it really seriously, didn’t take it for granted at all, and just learned everything she could possibly learn while there.

 

What did she do with her degree?

 

She became a nurse in the emergency room of Maui Memorial Hospital.

 

So, bye-bye shack that changes colors; right?

 

Right.

 

With money in the pocket, where did you move?

 

So, I mean, when she got her job at the emergency room, that was also around the exact same time when my dad’s company actually flourished, and he started getting employees and started making more money. So, it was a pretty drastic change. You know, it’s not like we were rich all of a sudden, but we did have a lot more money and access to material things than we ever had before. And so, we moved from that old little shack in Haiku to a subdivision in Makawao. And it was my first time ever living anywhere that had like a paved road, or neighbors, and first time ever buying eggs from the store instead of collecting them myself.

 

How did they taste?

 

They were horrible. I mean, that was one thing I completely remember, was just that that was always my favorite breakfast, and when we moved into this new house that my dad built, and my mom served me eggs, like, I just ate them and I was like, What’s wrong with these? Like, they don’t taste so good. And she told me, Oh, they’re store-bought. And I remember at that young age, I was seven, just thinking like, Oh, they’re fake. You know. I just related store-bought to fake, and didn’t really want them anymore. It’s crazy what a shocking transition that was. And even though I knew we were happy to be making this forward progress, I could tell my parents were really proud of themselves and happy, I definitely just felt a really big sense of loss. I think we all kinda felt the same. I might have been the one that voiced it the most of how much I just wanted to go back and live there. But I do think my whole family, even with the advantages and the good we saw coming out of it, I do think we all did feel a sense of loss.

 

It’s amazing how formative that experience of foraging as a little kid and diving with your dad, I mean, it seems to have shaped your life. That’s what you do as a career, to a great extent.

 

It really has. You know, I think like anything, you adjust and you adapt. And I definitely did adjust and adapt to the new more modern life that was given to me, and I got bicycles, and nicer clothes, and friends, and you know, got used to the store-bought eggs. And we just evolved that way. But I think it was later in life when I was an adult, still kinda going through the motions of what seemed like progress, and was there with my, you know, degree and my job, and doing everything I could to kind of connect the dots of what should make a fulfilling happy life, but still, there was just something in me that just was longing in a way, for the past, and realizing that it had been that long, and there was still just something calling me back to those really early childhood memories. It is what shaped my life. I think for the longest time, I believed that you have to let go of the past, and you can’t go backwards. And even though I did accept that, finally, when I was about twenty-four years old, I just kind of started to realize that, you know, maybe it wasn’t something that’s just left in the past; maybe it is something that I can incorporate into my world today.

 

Kimi Werner graduated with a degree in culinary arts when she was twenty-one. She took jobs in the restaurant industry, but soon realized that was not her calling. She left that career to become an artist, but that wasn’t fully satisfying, either. She needed something that would bring her interests together.

 

My main connection to the ocean at that time was paddling canoe. And it was one day, when we were at a canoe regatta, when some of my friends, some of my guy friends from the club brought some fish and put it on the grill. You know, when I was those fish hit the grill, I did just get a sense of just like, nostalgic bliss. And I think at the same time, it served as proof that maybe this is something I can do, and if those are my most fond memories, you know, the diving with my dad, and whatnot, maybe it’s time that I learn to just dive on my own, and know how to feed myself. You know.

 

Did you check with him about it? How did you do that? Did you broach that to him?

 

I did. He was living on Maui, and so it’s not like I could just go jump in the water with him. But I remember just telling him, You know, I wish that I had learned that from you. I spent all those years cleaning the fish, you know, doing all the little grunt work, cleaning the fish, helping Grandma or Mom cook the fish, and tagging along with you and holding the fish. And you never even taught me to spear the fish, and now I want to learn, and I don’t know where to start. And he just told me, like, Oh, no, I taught you. You know, you’ll see. And he was right. I hate to admit it; I always do, but he was absolutely right.

 

Because you could see what he was doing down there. You know, I’m sure he had special places he hid, and positions he took.

 

Well, basically. So, I tried to reach out and find teachers, and ask people to take me diving. And when I wasn’t really getting called back for that or anything, or getting invited, then I did just go get a three-prong spear, you know, like the one that I saw him have, and I just went for a swim one day.

 

Where?

 

I actually went for a swim like, towards Kahuku, kind of past Turtle Bay. But went for a swim in Kahuku side, and I just realized like, as soon as I started swimming, like, any fish that swam by me, I knew what fish that was. Like, I had my whole fish identification down, because as a kid, I knew what I wanted for dinner, and I knew how to put in my orders. And then, I remembered where they lived, how they acted, and all of those years just spent simply observing really taught me more than I realized. And I gave it a try, and I was able to just come home with just six little fry fish. I think it was like, three kole’s and two menpachi’s, and an aweoweo. You know, just a humble catch of fish. But the feeling of scaling it and cooking it, and sharing it with my roommates at the time, but just knowing that I went out with my own two hands, you know, and got this meal, and I’m providing for myself, it was more fulfilling than any cooking experience I had in my whole culinary career. And so, that was when I knew, like, this is what it’s about for me.

 

It’s a hyphenated career that you have now.

 

It is.

 

It’s painter, it’s diver, it’s fisher.

 

M-hm.

 

What else?

 

Artist. I work a lot on productions and travel.

 

Speaker; you speak to groups.

 

Yes; a public speaker. Yeah. So, it’s a mixed bag of tricks, really. When I was a little kid, whenever somebody asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, it was always a long hyphenated answer, you know, depending on whatever it was that I was into in that moment, whether I wanted to be, you know, a singer, veterinarian, artist. But it was always that type of hyphenated answer. And I think as I got older, I just started to realize that when it comes to, you know, being guided by adults, that you’re not supposed to have these long crazy answers, you’re supposed to choose one career and find your path there. And that’s kind of how we were taught.

 

Well, you did try it; culinary arts.

 

I did try it. I definitely tried it. And I do remember even then, even when I signed up to go to college, knowing like, But I really also want to do something with art, and I don’t know if this is all I want to do. And I put like a secret wish out there, you know, to the universe. Like, if I just go on this path, like, will you please just let something else fall in my lap and, you know, guide me along. And then, the next thing I knew, I was standing there with a degree, and there was nothing that fell in my lap. And I think feeling the unfulfillment, feeling just not satisfied completely, it made me realize like, you can’t just wait for something to fall in your lap. Like, if you really want to do it, if you really want to be an artist, that’s gonna take courage, you have to just go try. You know, if you want to try this diving stuff, like, stop waiting for it. Like, go do it. And if you fail, you fail, but you’re gonna feel like this for the rest of your life if you don’t try.

 

You know, you talked a lot about being very happy in those early surroundings and with your family when you were a kid. And then, I’ve heard you refer to unfulfillment, and you know, not quite happy. Tell me the difference between those things. I mean, it sounds like you spent much of your life trying to get that full happiness back.

 

Right; definitely. I think when it comes to me, I think the happiness comes from just the most simple things. And I believe that’s why at an early age, I did feel so content. I mean, it’s easy to say, Oh, you were just a kid, you didn’t have all these responsibilities, it’s easy to be happy then, you’re an adult now, you know, you’re not supposed to feel like that. But I don’t really think so. I think that at that early age, I was content because I just had these basic simple pleasures that took hard work. You know, none of it came easy. When it comes to getting your own food, or not having a lot of convenience in your life, you have to work for everything. But I think that it is that hard work that ends up becoming so meaningful, that ends up giving you values, and that ends up being so character-building.

 

A lot of it involves intuition and observing.

 

Yes; definitely.

 

You’re learning a lot as you do it.

 

You do; you definitely do. And I think sometimes, I mean, maybe it really is just through these more simple lifestyles for me that you do get that much more in touch with yourself, with your natural instincts, with your intuition. I mean, those are most definitely things that you learn from hunting. And when you get to know the core of who you are that well, to the point where you are satisfied and can smile about it, everything else just seems to melt away. And I think sometimes when we get focused more on a life of just convenience and …

 

And cramming in a lot of things to keep you busy.

 

Cramming it all in. Yeah. It can just complicate everything, and before we know it, we’re chasing things we don’t even need, and we’re doing things that we don’t even want to do. And why? You know, I think probably because of just the pressure that we feel from society, or from other people, and going through these motions of what we feel we’re supposed to do with our life, rather than just really evaluating it at the heart and asking yourself what it is that you really want.

 

Kimi Werner’s life lessons were not all learned as a child. When she trained to become an expert free diver, learning to hold her breath underwater for almost five minutes, she realized that her new skills translated into different values and life lessons.

 

How do you hold your breath that long?

 

It’s all about relaxing. I mean, a hundred percent, I think that’s what it’s about. I can break down the physiology, and you know, talk about the hemoglobin and all of that within us and how it works, but really, what it comes down to is your brain. It just comes down to making that screaming voice in your head, the one that’s saying like, I’m scared, you need to breathe, let’s get out of here, you know, all of those things that go through your mind, it’s about switching it off and just saying, I got this. And having confidence in yourself, and trusting the process that you’re doing.

 

Would that work on land, as well?

 

I think so. I definitely think so. You know, everything about panic, about fear, it’s not just the vibrations and the energy that’s used up within that panic, and the adrenalin, and whatnot that takes away your oxygen, but it’s also how your body starts reacting to it. Usually, when we start to panic, we start to do things a lot faster, you know, and you see it when you’re late for work and looking for your car keys. And you’re doing things, but you’re not really making any more progress. Now, you’re dropping stuff, you know, and it’s the same with being underwater. If you start to panic, you’re gonna start to kick faster, and it’s gonna be counterproductive because you’re using more muscles, which are using more oxygen, which there goes your breath. And so, really, for me, whenever I feel that sense of panic come over me, it’s now become an indicator that just makes everything go numb, switch off, and just assess the situation calmly, and it makes me actually slow down. Like no matter what, when I feel that sense of panic, I slow down.

 

So, when you’re late for work and you lose your keys, all of a sudden, you’re moving slowly.

 

I try to apply it to land all the time. Or you know, or if something really gets you upset, for example. You know, if something gets you upset, a lot of times, we have this need to panic and to react, and that can come out in the way that we talk to people, the way that we react to, you know, the person that’s trying to do their job, or trying to serve you something, or whatever. And it doesn’t get you anywhere good, usually. It usually really helps if when everything goes wrong, if you just slow down and you just look for an actual solution.

 

I like your word, assess.

 

M-hm.

 

Kind of dispassionately take a look, a little three-sixty, and figure out what to do.

 

Yes. I think that’s exactly it. You know, you have to look at the situation neutrally, and then, you can go from there. You know. But I think reacting out of panic um, it heightens things and oftentimes, just makes things messier than they need to be in any situation.

 

You have lost people in your life young. And you do take risks that other people don’t take.

 

Right.

 

Has that affected your feelings about the value of life, or the fragility of life?

 

Most definitely. When I was a senior in high school, you know, my high school boy friend at the time, we were very close to his dad. And one day, I had a paddling regatta in Hana, and his dad had come out to surprise us, and it was just a beautiful day. But on the way home, he was hit on a head-on collision, from actually a cousin, a family member of mine, who was high on heroin at the time. And basically, that was my first like, true feeling of just loss, such a beautiful life gone. That’s what really showed me the fragility of our mortality, and it did make me just start to evaluate my own life. I was seventeen and then, I turned eighteen; I just kept thinking about that and just realizing that even as a teenager, that I should be living a lot better and that I should be a lot happier, because if life can be taken just that easily, like my goodness, I want to make the most of it.

 

That’s interesting, ‘cause at that age, many people see success, worldly success as the goal, and not a conscious effort to be happy.

 

Yeah; and that’s what it came down to for me. I mean, I kinda had an epiphany as a senior in high school, and just realized how silly it all is, the whole façade. You know, even in high school, I think there’s just so much of it that’s just built on image and expectation from the clothes that we think we need to wear or buy. And I would go to school and look around, and realize that these are the same kids that I grew up with since I was like, so little, and half the time walking around in school, we’re not even smiling at each other or saying hi or engaging, ‘cause we’re all so afraid of just not fitting in. We’re all so like, conditioned to be going through these motions of acting how we think we’re supposed to act. Everything gets so based on image around your peers at that age that even just something like showing kindness, saying hello, those things get forgotten. We all do crave human connection, we all crave being accepted and connection, but we look for it in ways that maybe aren’t really the true connection of it, and that life’s too short to live like that. I mean, still, once you see the truth, you can’t un-see it, and so, it is something that does just help keep me in line, and how important it is to really just know that as long as you’re trying your best in life, you’re giving love out there to this world. Then give yourself a hand and just, you know, love yourself, and let all the critics and all the insecurities fall away, because you’re doing a good job.

 

Kimi Werner sees her way to happiness and can’t un-see that, either. Mahalo to Kimi Werner, currently in 2016 a resident of Waialua, Oahu, for sharing your stories with us. And thank you, for joining us. For PBS Hawaii and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha, a hui hou.

 

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

 

Do you see this career as extending over a long time?

 

I think I do. I never really knew where any of this was going, whether it was art or spearfishing, or whatnot. I’ve never been like, the ten-year plan girl. I’ve been like, can I pay my rent this month? Yes. That’s great; you’re doing awesome in life. And now, it has become something that I can find a lot more comfort in, and I understand that because I’m making decisions that are truthfully, you know, holding true to my values, that’s what’s making it long-lasting.

 

[END]



LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Mick Kalber

 

Mick Kalber moved to Hawai‘i Island on a whim after a successful but draining career in television. There, he would confront the most creative and destructive of muses: the Kilauea volcano. A self-described “volcanographer,” Kalber has spent the past 30 years capturing one of the longest volcanic eruptions in recent history through the lens of a video camera, while hovering in a helicopter above the 2,000˚F lava flows.

 

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

 

Mick Kalber Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

I remember flying in Denver, before I ever shot volcanoes, flying over the City of Denver and looking out, and being very scared, for some reason. But I’ve never been afraid around a volcano. It’s like … looking into the Gates of Hell. You know, there’s just something about that, that’s intriguing and mysterious.

 

Hovering in a helicopter above two thousand-degree molten rock is all in a day’s work for Mick Kalber, as he films the epic spectacle of Hawai‘i Island’s Kilauea Volcano. Volcanographer Mick Kalber, 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. For over thirty years, Mick Kalber has been documenting the stunning, destructive, and creative forces of Kilauea Volcano on Hawai‘i Island through the lens of a video camera. With his VolcanoScapes documentary series, and his Kilauea overflight videos on news and social media, Kalber continues to share one of the longest volcanic eruptions in recent history with people around the world. Mick was born far from the fiery lava fields of Puna; he grew up in the Midwestern United States.

 

I was born in Peoria, Illinois. My dad was a sportscaster, and actually called the NIT Tournament in New York, and Harry Caray subbed for him when my dad lost his voice. And anyway, I was born there, but only lived there for six months. Never been back there, don’t know anything about Peoria. We moved back to Omaha, and I was raised in Omaha ‘til I was twelve, and then went to Chicago.

 

Why did you go to Chicago?

 

Dad got the job at NBC in Chicago. And so, he went to Chicago and the news was doing poorly. And a man named Alex Dreier was doing the news then, and my father replaced him. And they struggled a little bit the first year, and then they got it together. He was number one, basically, for fifteen years.

 

And what was his appeal as an anchor, do you think, to viewers?

 

Oh, he was good-looking, he was no-nonsense, he was believable. And he also at the end of his newscast—and this is his claim to fame, as it were. He did a final funny. So, at the end, it was, And finally … and then, he’d do the little filler-in. And that was kind of a chance for him to let down his hair and, you know, show a different side of him.

 

How many kids were there in the family?

 

My sister and me. My sister’s three years younger than I am.

 

And what was family life like? What wisdom did you learn from your father, your mother, your sister?

 

My father, I think, taught me honesty. He taught me to work hard. My mom was my saving grace. I mean, I loved my dad; okay? But it was a different kind of relationship. My mother and I were really close, we were really tight. She was funny. You know, she was a kick. One of the things that she did was, The Joke of the Day. And my father at some point said, Enough of Joke of the Day. You know.

 

[CHUCKLE] Well, he did a finally every day.

 

Yeah, you’re right; you’re right. He picked it up in his own way. But my mom was great, and we had a lot of fun. But my dad wasn’t around a lot of the time, because he did news. You know, doing news. You know, he would do the five o’clock news and the ten o’clock news, six days a week. You know, so as he said in a speech he gave, that my mother raised us. And she did. And she was wonderful. She was a great mom. You know, a real … she was a cheerleader. Not literally, but I mean, in our lives, you know, she kept encouraging us and telling us, you know, we can do what. And uh, she’s still that way. [CHUCKLE]

 

Although future volcano videographer Mick Kalber would visit his father’s television stations, he says he had no interest at all in following his father’s footsteps, or going into the television business.

 

I wanted to be a doctor when I went to college. That was not gonna happen; I was a horrible student. And I fell into a TV production course, which cross-listed as a speech course and journalism course. And I loved it. You know, they let us direct, and run camera, and produce stories, and shoot. And I thought it was a kick. You know. But I never really got that before then, for some reason. That summer, there was an internship opening in Omaha. I was in Lincoln. A guy named Mark Catiro [PHONETIC], who my father had hired years before, was now the news director at the same station, KMTV. And so, he was interviewing students for an internship in the summer, and he sees me, and so it was a natural somewhat nepotistic event that he hired me. But when I went to do that job, I did well at it. They hired me part-time, and then eventually, they hired me fulltime. And I switched over, ended up finishing my college career there. And I was already working in the business, and so, I already knew what I wanted to do, ‘cause I was doing it. You know. And it was fun; I really enjoyed it. You know, we were chasing sirens and doing all the things that news guys do, and you know, I was, what, twenty-two or something like that. I was having a ball, you know. And so, I just stuck around doing that for several years.

 

Did you see it as a career?

 

No, not really. I mean, yeah, I did, but what happened was, they put me on the noon news. And like I told you, I wasn’t very good on the noon news. But I went on vacation after being on the noon news for three or four months, and they took me off the air while I was on vacation.

 

That’s a handy little trick that I notice happens in commercial television.

 

That was pretty brutal, and it made me angry. But when I came back, I found out the reason they took me—this is 1972, 73, something like that. And I found out the reason they took me off the air was because my hair was too long. Now, they didn’t ask me to cut my hair; they just took me off the air. So, maybe there was more to it than that.

 

While you were gone. [CHUCKLE]

 

Yeah; while I was gone. But I basically just said, you know, forget this. And I left the news, and I went and did a little professional dinner theater. I did a little acting. And I worked as a night manager at a Jewish delicatessen, and I kinda fooled around. You know, ran off to Colorado, and I worked on cutting down some trees on a ski run, building a ski run. I worked in a lumberyard and pulled lumber on the green chain. And I was twenty-five, and I was, you know, just kind of exploring. And eventually, I got a ski pass, actually, for the year. I’m gonna be a ski bum, and I lasted about a month. And I couldn’t find a job, even a janitor job, and just said [RASPBERRY]. You know. So, I went back to Omaha, and I kept going back to Omaha. I don’t know what that was all about. You know, probably six times, I went back to Omaha. But actually, there’s a soft place in my heart for Omaha, you know. The people are really nice, it’s an easy place to live. The weather is brutal. Absolutely brutal; summer, winter, nothing in between a lot of times. But I went back, and did a little construction with a friend of mine, and I met my first wife. And it was like, ’73, hippie time, we saw what was happening San Francisco, and we wanted to go to San Francisco. So, she was just getting divorced. She moved to Kansas City, I followed her. We had jobs, we saved what we thought was enough money to go to San Francisco. I think we had seven hundred dollars. [CHUCKLE] And a Camaro and a U-Haul trailer. So, we drove to San Francisco, tied the U-Haul trailer to a telephone pole, and looked for an apartment. And we found a flat in the Mission for two hundred and fifty dollars a month.

 

Oh, those times have changed.

 

Yes; within a few years, it was two to three thousand dollars a month. God knows what it is now. But lived there for about a year, had a lot of fun. Sold art on the street. Not drugs; art on the street. [CHUCKLE] And then, settled down in Sacramento and decided to get married. My wife came up pregnant, and so I just thought, What can I do? TV. It’s the only thing I know how to do. So, I ended up back in Omaha, oddly, at the same station I’d left before. And it was completely different, of course. And I worked there for a couple of years.

 

After returning to work in television as a news photographer, Mick Kalber later followed his news director from Omaha, Nebraska to Denver, Colorado. It was there that Mick found his stride in the television business.

 

Denver was good and bad. It taught me a lot in the business. I went out on a story one time. I was shooting news, and they sent me on a really brutal murder. And I didn’t want to be there. And I went … you know. I called them up; I said, I can’t do this, you gotta send somebody else out. And so, they did, and I became a feature photographer. And they had a guy named Ed O’Malley who was doing features, and he was not without talent, but he was difficult to work with because he didn’t really have all the chops of the business. But what I got out of it was, he’d let me help him, and I co-produced with him. And I shot, and I edited, and I co-produced, and he would write. But we just did features, and I ended up winning a news photographer of the year award by doing features. Which was hard, ‘cause I’m up against the hard news guys.

 

Right.

 

And so, we killed it. And I ended up on a show called PM Magazine in Denver, which was Evening Magazine in some markets. It was like the Hawaiian Moving Company; very much like the Hawaiian Moving Company. And it was very successful. We were the number one show on that station. And I had a lot of fun, but I got really burned out on it, ‘cause we worked sixty to eighty hours a week. And after three years, I was toast. And I visited a friend down on the Big Island, and I said, Hm, I’m gonna run away. [CHUCKLE] So, my wife and I were separated at the time, and I just basically sold everything I had and packed up a VW bus, and moved to the Big Island. What happened in pretty short order was, I got there in March of ’84, and Mauna Loa was erupting. And at some point, Kilauea erupted. It was doing high fountaining eruptions back then, and Kilauea erupted at the same time. And I went, Oh, man, I’ve gotta get some equipment. And so, I did. I got a camera, and I got a recorder. And back then, it was all separate system, you know. And called up Kent Baker.

 

At Channel 2.

 

At Channel 2 and said, I’m here on the Big Island, I’m for real, and I can shoot for you. And lo and behold, one day he called me up and he said, Go get in a helicopter and go shoot the volcano. And I did, and I was totally blown away. Never seen anything like that in my life, coming from Omaha and Denver, and like … oh, you know, 1,000-foot fountain, 1,200-foot fountain. And it was amazing; absolutely amazing. And I thought to myself at that time; I thought, you know, I’m gonna do something with this at some point, but I couldn’t quite nail it down, because it was right when VHS was starting. And there were people at that time that had other videos out that had high fountaining eruptions in them. And I thought, you know, what can I do different from that? But eventually, it created a fissure eruption and made a lava lake down the hill, took a couple houses, and went in the ocean. I said, Now I got a story. You know. So, I knew how to view that, because I’d done PM Magazine. So, I put together a show. That show was my first VolcanoScapes show, Pele’s March to the Pacific. It was about a forty-minute show, and took me a while, but it was very well received, and people were snapping ‘em up like crazy. You know, initially, we just sold those like crazy, like hotcakes, as they say. You know.

 

Mick Kalber made it his life’s work to film Kilauea Volcano on Hawaii Island. He founded Tropical Visions Video, and released an eight-part VolcanoScapes documentary series. Kalber could often be found hanging off the side of a helicopter to film the 2,000-degree lava flows. But as it turns out, his newfound career was not the greatest threat to his life.

 

Twenty-two years ago, I came up with throat cancer, squamous cell carcinoma at the base of my tongue. And I was forty-five, and it was, what, 1993. And I went to Chicago, went to University Hospital, Rush Presbyterian, and they treated me, and it was brutal. But they saved my life with chemo and radiation. I lost fifty-five pounds. I thought I was gonna die, not from the cancer, but from the treatment. But I survived. And it took me about eight years to come back as far as I was gonna get back from that. And I was in pretty good shape. I lost all my saliva glands, so that’s why I’m drinking water all the time. And my taste buds were altered a little bit. I don’t taste sugar, don’t taste sweet anymore, ‘cause they burned the outside of my tongue with the radiation. And it’s a little more difficult to swallow. But other than that, it didn’t really affect me so much. But then, last Christmas, I was diagnosed with the same thing. Not a recurrence, but what they think was caused by the radiation I had the first time.

 

Caused by the radiation?

 

Yes.

 

Okay.

 

And that’s unfortunate, but it saved my life the first time, so how can I complain? But this time, they took it out surgically, and it was very quick. I won’t say it was very easy, but it was a lot easier than the first time.

 

Was it at the back of your throat?

 

Back of my throat, behind the soft palate. And they cut out about a half-dollar size of the back of my palate. But they didn’t have to cut all the way through, so they didn’t have to reconstruct my throat. But they think they got it.

 

Having had these threats to your life in terms of coming from inside you, cancer, does it change the way you look at life? Has it changed the way you live?

 

The first time, it definitely did. The first time, I got a sense of my own mortality. I decided that we’re not gonna be here all that long, so if there’s something we want to do, we better get it on. You know.

 

Battling throat cancer is not the only life-threatening challenge that volcano videographer Mick Kalber has overcome. During the 1980s, Kalber struggled with substance addiction.

 

Yeah; I’m in my thirtieth year of sobriety now. I moved here thirty-two years ago, so I lived here for only about two years before I got into AA. I was lucky, because I found it, and I never went back out. I hit the ground running, and it saved my life. Yeah. Everything was going south. That was part of the reason I moved here, was, I was in Denver, I was drinking, I was using mostly marijuana, got into a little bit of cocaine, which kind of was what brought me to my knees. I probably would still be kind of a high level drunk if it hadn’t been for that. But that sped the whole process up, and I found myself in trouble, and I actually went and investigated the program with a friend of mine. A friend of mine’s dad was in the program, and I went and talked to him about it. And I said, you know, Am I an alcoholic? And he said, I don’t know. And he threw a big book at me, and he said, Read that and find out. And that wasn’t what I wanted to hear. I wanted him to say, Yeah, you are or no, you’re not, here’s what you do, don’t worry about it. You know. So, I read the book. And I knew I was an alcoholic. But I wasn’t quite ready to stop. But what I did do at that time was, I just pulled a geographic. I visited a friend of mine on the Big Island. I loved the Big Island. And I said, I’m gonna leave here, and you know, get out of Dodge, and go out and have a great life in Hawaii and live on the beach and get healthy, and you know, da-da-da. But my disease came right along with me, before you knew it, I was doing the same old things again. My ex, we were separated at the time. She actually moved out, and we put the kids in school. My kids were in Waldorf at Malamalama School in Paradise Park. And if it hadn’t been for that, I probably wouldn’t have been able to stay there, because I was tight with my kids. And just having them during the summer, I don’t know if I could have done that. But she moved out here, and the kids went to school there, and we got back together for a little while. It was a disaster. But I did get sober during that time, and I haven’t had a drink or a drug other than the medicines prescribed for me for my throat and stuff since then.

 

It did not save your marriage, though.

 

No. In fact, after I got sober, my ex was very unhappy.

 

This is after you divorced, or while you were—

 

No; while we were still together. You know, I got sober and a couple months after I was sober, she was not happy. And that’s not unusual in couples, where one gets into recovery and the other one doesn’t. Because addiction and alcoholism is a family disease. It’s like a mobile. So, if one person is addicted, then everybody’s affected. If they get clean, then everybody’s affected. But everybody still has what they had when that person was addicted.

 

Mick Kalber would remarry in 2001. His second wife, Ann Kalber, is now a producer and collaborator in his company and in his most recent film, VolcanoScapes: Dancing With the Goddess.

 

You don’t advertise yourself as a videographer; you are a …

 

Volcanographer. I made that up. You know, that’s my own creation, because I think it more aptly describes what I do. You know, I’m not a volcanologist; don’t get me wrong. You know. I don’t claim to be Jim Kauahikaua or, you know, in that department. But I’ve been around it long enough, and seen a lot of stuff that I kind of have an insight to it. And, you know, I’ve made my living basically for the past thirty years, over thirty years, shooting Kilauea Volcano. It’s what I do. And so, yeah, I’m a volcanographer. We fly basically wherever we want to, because we’re on a media flight, it’s a charter flight, and so we can fly at any altitude. And we do; we go down as close as we can to shoot what we shoot.

 

Have you ever been in danger? Have you really felt danger? ‘Cause where you fall is gonna be into fire.

 

Exactly; and it’s two thousand degrees hot liquid rock with—

 

And auto rotation won’t help you.

 

With jet fuel. You know.

 

Yeah; that’s true.

 

Jet fuel and hot …

 

Yup.

 

Not a good combo.

 

You’d go fast.

 

There was one time when my pilot, John Greenway with Hilo Bay Air, was flying me over Kupaianaha, which was a lava lake in the shape of key. They call it the key vent as well. And we were flying over the neck of the key, which is probably … eighty or a hundred feet across or something. And he got halfway across it and he stopped; he hovered, because another helicopter was coming in front of him. And it was early on, this was the first three or four years that I’d been flying, and I didn’t know anything about air speed at the time. And so, when he hovered, I looked down below me and I went … Oh, man. You know. If the engine quits, we’re toast, you know.

 

Right.

 

We’re done. And yeah, it scared me. Nothing happened, obviously. When we got across that, I said something to him about that, and he said, Oh, we had thirty knots of air speed, and should anything have happened, I could have auto-rotated down to one side or the other. So, it really wasn’t a problem. But I didn’t know that. And so, psychologically, you know. And it’s unnerving. People who go with us, we fly with the doors off.

 

M-hm.

 

‘Cause you can’t shoot through the window, you know. So, we fly doors off, and go close to it, and there’s people who can’t do that; they can’t fly with us. We also stand. I don’t stand on the struts, ‘cause then the helicopter would be flying too far down. But when I flew in a Jet Ranger, we would stand on the struts. And so, you’re basically standing outside of the helicopter.

 

And you’re tied up; right?

 

Well, I have a seatbelt on. I don’t have a harness on; I don’t wear a harness. Seatbelt with a piece of tape around it so it doesn’t accidentally come off. You know.

 

You mean, duct tape?

 

Well, yeah, if we’re taped, yeah, duct tape.

 

Whoa. [CHUCKLE]

 

Well, it’s not going anywhere. You know. Long as you keep the buckle closed, you know.

 

Does your wife have any thoughts about this guy who goes up in a chopper all the time next to hot lava?

 

My first wife, or my second wife?

 

Second.

 

[CHUCKLE] I think Annie has acquiesced. You know, she knows that’s my life, that’s what I do. Does she worry about it? I don’t know. You’d have to ask her; she doesn’t express that to me. You know, she doesn’t say, Yeah, I’m worried about your flying, or you know, yadda-ya. But I think she’s confident in what we do, confident in the pilot, confident in me.

 

And so, all of this time, these thirty years, any time Kilauea could have stopped erupting. I mean, the fact that it’s been going on this long is just amazing.

 

Oh, yeah. It’s the longest documented eruption in modern history, or in recorded history.

 

And you’d be out of a job.

 

[CHUCKLE] Yeah.

 

A self-made job.

 

In a way. I mean, you know, there’s two ways of looking at it. You can look at it that as long as it continues to erupt, it continues to be topical, it continues to be on people’s minds, and you know, you continue to have interest in it. But as soon as it stops, then nobody can get it anymore.

 

So, it’s a prized commodity.

 

So, what you have is more valuable, theoretically. But then it can be forgotten, too. So, it’s a double-edged sword.

 

Are you gonna go up as long as you can, as long as the volcano is willing?

 

Yeah, I guess. I mean, you know, I’m getting to the age where it’s not so easy to hike out like I used to. You know, I used to hike out by myself, four or five miles, you know. And if it comes down right now, it’s probably gonna be about a five-mile hike to go see it.

 

And what about hanging out of the helicopter?

 

Well, that’s easy.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

No, it is. I mean, uh, flying in a helicopter, we fly for an hour. You know, I can go fly for an hour holding a camera. I love that; that’s fun.

 

At the time of this conversation during the summer of 2016, a new lava flow from Kilauea made its way to the ocean. And Mick Kalber, now cancer-free, set out to document the latest chapter of the 33-year-old eruption. Mick and his wife Ann also were about to move from North Hilo to Leilani Estates that’s a subdivision in the Puna District that’s directly in the shadow of the active volcano. Mick says he’s still humbled and awed by the spirit and energy of the eruption, and remains just as fascinated as he was when he first started filming in 1984. Mahalo to Mick Kalber of Hilo for sharing your story with us. And thank you for joining us. For PBS Hawaii and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha, a hui hou.

 

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

 

You know, I tell people all the time that if you move to the Big Island, you know, you’re dealing with the fire energy, and I don’t mean to be esoteric about the whole thing, but there’s something about it that, in my opinion, makes things happen. It kinda forces your hand. You know, whatever is going on in your life is gonna come to a head because of the energy that’s on that island. And some people can handle it, some people can’t.

 

[END]

 


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]



LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Michael Titterton

 

Born into a struggling family in the east end of London, books and radio offered young Michael Titterton a glimpse into a different life. His insatiable curiosity led him to travel around the world, eventually landing him in Hawai‘i, where he took on the challenge of turning around a faltering Hawai‘i Public Radio. Under his leadership as President and General Manager, HPR has grown into the vital and trusted radio network it is today, serving the entire state. This month, Hawai‘i Arts Alliance will be recognizing Titterton as their 2016 Alfred Preis Honoree for his lifetime support of the arts.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, Feb. 1 at 11:00 pm and Sunday, Feb. 12 at 4:00 pm.

 

Michael Titterton Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

There are very few human behaviors that go back further than storytelling. It’s the quintessential social act. Any time we pass knowledge from generation to generation, you know, if we don’t have a written language or anything, which we haven’t for most of the history … and it’s how we bond. It’s a wonderful vehicle for healing, for illumination, for understanding, for being civilized. That’s what life is; it’s the stories we get to tell.

 

Michael Titterton has been in the business of storytelling most of his life. Yet, it’s only one of the many skills that he needed to transform Hawaii Public Radio from a small faltering station into a robust statewide network. Michael Titterton, distinguished 2016 Alfred Preiss Honoree, 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. Michael Andrew Titterton moved to Hawai‘i in 1999 to take over as president and general manager of Hawaii Public Radio. Under his leadership, HPR expanded its reach as a vital community resource, broadcasting on every island, and serving the entire state. He stepped down in June of 2016. This conversation took place six months later, after he did some traveling with his wife, artist Madeleine McKay. Travel and moving on have always been Michael Titterton’s passion. In fact, his time in Hawaii was to be just another stop in his roaming life journey. But after ending seventeen years at Hawaii Public Radio, he’s still living happily in Honolulu. Michael Titterton started out life in postwar London. He’s restrained in that very English way, in the way he describes tough times.

 

At the time I was growing up, the part of the east end that I grew up in was the most populated, most densely populated urban area in the world, with the exception of Calcutta. I was born immediately after World War II. And the east end of London being industrial, was an area that was a focus of attention for the German air force during World War II and so, a great deal of bomb damage. Every block, you know, for as far as I can remember had houses that were missing or that were just walls. You know, earliest memories is walking around the block and looking at houses, and into rooms that had two walls left, and the other two walls were gone, so you could look in and see pictures still hanging on the wall, and wallpaper, and looking into people’s intimate lives. And it was a routine, very routine occurrence. Never thought it was odd.

 

Did you feel unsafe?

 

No, not at all. Not at all.

 

So, it was kind of a homogenous diverse neighborhood?

 

Not that diverse; it was mostly Irish.

 

And your family is, by background, Irish as well?

 

No; not at all. My father is English, my mother is Welsh. So, you know, yeah, we were outliers, I suppose. But it never really seemed that way. Life was sufficiently challenging that you didn’t give any thought to social standing, or any of that. It was later in life, I became acutely aware of it, and acutely aware that I was motivated to leave. I didn’t want to stay there. Once I became aware that everybody didn’t live this way, then I began to form the idea of a wall that I had to sort of scale and get over, and I tried all sorts of ways to do that.

 

Did you feel deprived of anything as you were growing up?

 

Only books. My my father was not an unintelligent man, but he was very uneducated and was quite defensive about that. And he wouldn’t have books in the house.

 

Oh … and you loved books?

 

Yes, perversely, as one does, you know, forbidden fruit.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

And … yeah. I developed a relationship with the local library, and smuggled books into the house. And I’ve had a romance with books ever since. And that was how I found out, ultimately. That, and radio. That, and radio.

 

That’s how you found out that you were living a life that many people did not live.

 

Yes, yes, yes. It was my first glimpse over the wall. And it was an intoxicating one, and it’s one from which I’ve never sobered up, at all.

 

So, how did you scale that wall to get out of the east end?

 

Oh, well, I left school at fifteen, as everyone did. Moved out on my own. I did an apprenticeship as a tool and die maker. Factories, you know, was the thing. You went on the line, or you learned a trade.

 

Was it expected that that’s pretty much what you would do?

 

M-hm; that, or become a criminal, which was quite popular option. But that was the skill that I had early on, and I parlayed that into a little business which I ran for a while, making specialty parts for racing engines. Very long story; we don’t have time for that.

 

Because you love autos, too; right?

 

Well, it was an automobile environment. Dagenham was the principal factory area where I grew up. And that’s the Ford Motor Company. And it was all about automobiles, and you know, this was the 50s. And yeah, I have gasoline in my veins, I think.

 

So, you did build a business.

 

I built a little business. Just a very modest thing, but it was quite successful in a surprisingly short amount of time. But I had no judgement; I was very young.   And I took in a partner who brought in a little capital which I desperately needed. And he developed a romantic association with another one of the employees, and they disappeared to Australia with all the fluid assets of the company. And that got me quite vexed. [CHUCKLE] And actually exhausted the last of my patience, and I liquidated everything. Sold off machinery and whatnot to make payroll, couple other people working for me. And I was reduced to a minivan and a couple of sleeping bags, and I took off to Europe. I just wanted to be anywhere other than England at that point. I was just really quite over it.

 

Without much more than the clothes on his back, Michael Titterton left home. He had no plan, other than to see the world. Now, he didn’t have to mention to us his stint in a foreign jail over an incident involving the concentrated form of marijuana, known as hashish, but he did. Because that’s part of his story, and he is a storyteller.

 

I just took the ferry across to France, to Callet. And spent little over two years, I think, going from place to place. North Africa, Middle East, and Europe, Western Europe, doing odd jobs.

 

What were some of your odd jobs?

 

Oh, working in garages. I could always pick that up. A a job in Marseilles for a while, cleaning boats, you know. I had a job on a trawler in the North Sea, and some disgusting adventures.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

That you don’t want to hear about. Just things like that. And then, every now and again, I’d go back to Dagenham and I’d get a job on the line at the Ford Motor Company.

 

And essentially, you were always making a living with your hands.

 

Oh, yeah; yeah, absolutely. Absolutely.

 

And what did you aspire to? Were you happy with that? Were you …

 

I was thoroughly occupied with that. It was wonderful. I was getting to see the world, or at least a part of it. And I remember a moment when I was still an apprentice toolmaker, and we’d clock in, you know. And the clock was at this counter outside where you could see up. And I was coming in for a night shift, and I looked up and I saw the moon. You know, regular old moon. But I had this moment when it occurred to me that this moon could be seen just like this by people who weren’t in Dagenham, but were all over the world. And they must have thoughts just like that. And I knew I wanted to meet some of them. I couldn’t meet all of them, but I’d like to meet some of them. And that we had this experience in common. And that moment has just always haunted me. I think that might have been a propellant. But I’ve always had this real need. It is a need to travel, and see different things. And I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to gratify it in all sorts of ways, some more comfortable than others.

 

Well, when you approach a new city, or a new region, how do you decide you’re going to see it? There are so many vantage points.

 

Well, in those days, it was simply a matter of how am in gonna manage breakfast, and how am I gonna make the money to, you know, buy the next tank of gas. Or after a while, actually, I sold the van, and so, it was, you know, little more survival oriented even than that. So, it was how do I get by, especially when you don’t speak the language anywhere.

 

Were you all on your own?

 

M-hm; for most of the time. I mean, I had the occasional traveling companion. But no, pretty much on my own.

 

So, you were just living day-to-day.

 

Absolutely; yeah, moment-to-moment, really.

 

That’s a great formative—

 

It was the best time of my life.

 

Was it? Even though you must have been anxious, too.

 

I was anxious, I was uncomfortable, I was wet. A lot of the time it was too hot, a lot of the time I had rocks in my shoes. I mean, it was horrible by any rational measure, but it was a joyful, wonderful time.

 

Because everything was new?

 

Yes; yes. And there was no safety net, but at the same time, there were no barriers.

 

Did you ever fall into a hole that you thought you couldn’t get out of?

 

Oh, yes. It happened in Morocco, and it went on for about three months. And I really didn’t think I was gonna get out of that one, but ultimately did. It had to do with a camel saddle that I had, I thought, quite skillfully repackaged. Took the stuffing—you know what a camel saddle is; yeah?

 

What is it?

 

What is it? Well, [CHUCKLE] I’m not sure I’ll ever go near a camel. But it’s shaped like a saddle on the camel, and it has a cushion on the top, and it’s used as a piece of furniture. And tourists like to take them home and call them camel saddles. So, I replaced the stuffing in the top of this camel saddle with a quantity of very pure white hashish. You’ve heard of hashish?

 

Yes, yes.

 

Yeah. And attempted to mail it back to myself in London, and enlisted the help of a young man to do this. And he agreed, ‘cause you know, you can get anybody to do anything in Morocco. And he took it into a post office with this. And I thought that would be the sensible thing for me to do. And he did, and he disappeared. Oh, he didn’t disappear, he just didn’t come back for a long time. And I got curious and a little antsy after a while, and I poked my head in the door and this was another moment that I shan’t forget, the tableaux, this young is standing up against a counter. And as I poked my head in, I see him and the camel saddle, which has been ripped apart. And there’s two or three officials behind the counter there, and the child is in the process of turning around, you know. [INDISTINCT]. And you know, That’s the man. And that was that, really. I was the center of attention for a little while. And three months later, I find myself hitchhiking away from Tangier.

 

It sounds like you were lucky to get off with three months.

 

Oh, yes. I had one visitor, the young man that I’d been rooming with. And he sold my van and he got for me a lawyer, or at least some sort of representation. And I’m sure a portion of the money went to the legal representation, and another portion went to whatever happens to money that flies around in Tangier at that time. And to my immense surprise, I was in a room with uh, with a number of other people. Suddenly, I had a visit from the attorney type, and I had no confidence in this at all, but a week or two later, I was summoned into a court, with no preparation, no fanfare at all. The proceedings went on that I didn’t understand a word of, and within half an hour so, I found myself back on the street. And that was that.

 

You could have been left there a long time, and …

 

It was the one point at which I’ve ever considered suicide as a rational alternative. And in that sense, it’s been extremely useful. Because, you know, life has had its bumps, as life does, but it’s a wonderful thing to know, or at least believe that you know what your limits are, how bad things really have to get.

 

You could have ended up locked up and wasted away.

 

I could have. Yeah.

 

Wow.

 

Instead of in management.

 

Michael Titterton next went to Greece, where he met a young American woman who traveled with him to Israel, where they both worked in a kibbutz. She returned to the United States to attend college, and he later followed.

 

So, love brought you to America.

 

Yeah; yeah, pretty much. Well, I knew I wanted to come to America anyway, ‘cause I just hadn’t been there yet. But yeah, it was very romantic. And this young lady hitchhiked out from Oregon and met me in New York, and we spent a little while there, and I bought a car from a junkyard in New Jersey for, I think, ninety dollars; 1962 Tempest.

 

But you could fix it.

 

Yes, I could. Yes; I’m a very capable fellow. And fixed this thing up, and we drove it back to Ann Arbor, which was where her family was. I worked at odd jobs in Ann Arbor for a little while, and then got convinced that I really needed to investigate higher education. So, that’s what I did. And it was a little dodgy, because I hadn’t finished high school in any technical sense, but found that I could go to school in Canada, which wasn’t far away.

 

I notice you got your master’s degree in public speaking and rhetoric.

 

Rhetoric; yes.

 

Why did you choose that?

 

Bear in mind, this is the very, very early 70s. It’s 1971, actually, and coming into ’72. And I knew the US was … I mean, this was … social mobility was here, and that’s what I was really after. I didn’t know it at that time, ‘cause I didn’t know the words. But social mobility, and meritocracy. You know, if you work hard, you can get places. And it’s really what everybody dreams about, when they dream about America when they’re not from here. If I was going to understand this place, the quickest way to do it might be to study the media, because that seemed to be the bottleneck through which everything passed. And it was a very busy bottleneck at that point. Watergate, for example, Vietnam War, all the unrest on college campuses. Glorious time. And all of it was being fed through a media, which was under suspicion, as much of it is now. And so, I specialized in that. Wayne State had a particularly strong rhetoric department, and that was where I found myself, with a lot of wonderfully eccentric people.

 

And you’d already had experienced storytelling, because you had stories to tell along the way.

 

Well, everybody does. Yeah. But I did. Just because of the basic courses that I had to then take as part of being in the rhetoric program, I began to learn something about the mechanics of storytelling, if you like, the idea of a narrative. And I was very quickly drafted into teaching public speaking. So yeah, I hadn’t really thought about it, actually, as being part of the whole storytelling business, but I seem to keep coming back to that. But that’s what it is. That’s what life is, it’s the stories we get to tell.

 

And sometimes, you do things without having a name for it; right? And then, you find out—

 

Oh, yes; most of the time, actually.

 

Your real self keeps popping up in the form of what you do.

 

[CHUCKLE] Yes; that is true. That is true. But storytelling, I guess that’s a lot of the attraction that I have, or that radio has for me, because it’s a storytelling medium, and storytelling is … there are few human behaviors that go back further than storytelling. It’s the quintessential social act. It’s a wonderful vehicle for healing, for illumination, for understanding, for being civilized.

 

And radio has that intimate quality.

 

Mm. It’s a one-to-one medium, and it’s frighteningly intimate. And the best of radio is indistinguishable from pillow talk. It’s that intimate. And that’s what I love about it. I mean, what’s not to love?

 

Michael Titterton started his career in radio by volunteering at his campus radio station, which he helped to become one of the first national public radio stations. From this valuable experience, he went on to spend the next twenty years building, managing, and consulting for public radio stations across the United States. He was thinking of moving on to a new career, when an unexpected opportunity arose.

 

Hawaii advertised this job at Public Radio for someone to take a very troubled station and make something of it, and you said, That’s for me. [CHUCKLE]

 

Oh; yes. And actually, it was funny the way it came about. Because I’d been consulting for a couple years, going around fixing broken stations. And that was great fun. But I’d reached a point where I thought, this Public Radio thing has been wonderful. And it really has. I mean, I’ve never regretted a moment I’ve spent with it. But I’ve done everything I really want to do. You know, I’ve been an operations manager, I’ve been a reporter, I’ve been a producer, I’ve been, you know, pretty much every position, and I’ve been building stations and running them. Time for me to go back to Europe now and reinvent myself again, and see what happens next. And I was in the process of doing that. I had my house on the market. I was winding up all my little business things. I hadn’t known about the situation in Hawaii, and I had three phone calls in the space of a few days from different people that I knew. And essentially, the message was, If you like broken stations, have I got a broken station for you. Anyway, I wrote to the folks here. In all honesty, I thought, you know, this will be one more fix-it job, and then—you know. But I came out and met with the board, and they were all very interesting people. They were clearly all agents of change. That’s why they were doing what they were doing and were so committed to it. There was a real will, there was a real spirit about the organization, [INDISTINCT]. It just felt right. And we reached an agreement, and I came out and went with them.

 

There was a real will, there was a real spirit about the organization, [INDISTINCT]. It just felt right. And we reached an agreement, and I came out and went with them. Uh, as I say, Honolulu was a big surprise. I—uh, you know, you have this idea of a tropical paradise, and Honolulu is anything but. You know, it’s a—it’s an intense, very densely populated city with a lot of uh, um … issues of its own. Uh, it’s uh, multiethnic beyond imagination. It’s uh, like all those planets that shows up in Star Wars Trilogy, you know. Um, everybody’s from somewhere else. And HPR was that way. I—when I met uh, the crew, everyone was from somewhere else. It was like taking over the Enterprise. You know, there were people from different planets. Um … and, yeah, grateful, jump in, and uh …

 

How did you get it to rise, when it was definitely in the hole in the ground?

 

[CHUCKLE] I think probably the … the lever that had the most benefit to it was the one of taking on the challenge of convincing a community that had begun to really give up on this. You know, this is a good idea, but it’s just not gonna happen. And convince them that it was a success. That it was a success. Not that it could be a success, but that it was a success. And in that first year, we did three fundraisers, and we’ve been doing two a year ever since.

 

And were you on the desk for HPR? You were handling the pledge interviews and appeals?

 

Oh, sure. Oh, yeah.

 

Okay.

 

Yeah, yeah; yeah. I’ve always enjoyed pledge drives. I get a lot of credit for being a fundraiser. I’m really not, but I love this business, and the pledge drives are a means to an end. You’ve got to have the money. The money is a means to an end. It’s not about the money itself. And I believe in the thing sufficiently, that getting on air and begging and pleading doesn’t bother me that much, because I believe in what we’re raising it for. And it was successful, and it seemed to turn around the consciousness somehow. And if people believe you are a success, then they’re gonna get behind you.

 

And there was always another problem after the one you solved; right? Because you were facing a situation that was layered, upon layered, upon layered with, you know, obstacles, which is exactly what brought you here.

 

Well, [CHUCKLE] yeah. I mean, I just thought it was gonna be, you know, another quick gig in this exotic circumstance. But then, you know, the idea got hatched of, Well, we seemed to have stabilized this, now there are a number of things technically wrong with the thing. You know, the old KIPO transmitter, and the fact that we weren’t heard in a great part of Oahu, much less the rest of the State. And we built the station in Hilo just because we happened to have a license that was about to expire. We were very motivated to build that station, which we did. And that got us to the point where, Well, you know—

 

Let’s go statewide.

 

Let’s go statewide; we’re Hawaii Public Radio, after all, and let’s try and make it so. And that was the narrative for the next two years.

 

Do you reach farther than for-profit radio stations with your broadcast signal?

 

Oh, absolutely; yeah. Yeah, we’re the only radio station with statewide reach. Yeah; absolutely. I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished here in Hawaii with the industry that I love so much. I like to think that Hawaii is an even better place now, than it was before we developed our Public Radio the way it is. It’s grown up now, it can stand on its own however many feet it has.

 

Hawaii Public Radio has received national recognition as a nonprofit organization for its achievements in news programming, fundraising, and fiscal responsibility. Michael Titterton, now HPR’s former president and general manager, was awarded the 2016 Alfred Preiss Honor by the Hawaii Arts Alliance for his lifetime support of the arts and community building. Mahalo to Michael Titterton of Makiki, Honolulu, for putting his skills and service to work for our community, and for delightfully sharing some of his many stories with us. And thank you for joining us. For PBS Hawaii and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha, a hui hou.

 

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

 

Looking back at how much physical ground you’ve traveled, and then of course, how much emotional and social ground you’ve traveled, you’ve had a chance to reflect a little bit on your life, and how you were gonna be a tool die guy.

 

Yeah.

 

And then, with a business, and all of a sudden, you’re getting a master’s degree and getting into public media, and being a turnaround expert.

 

Well, yeah. I never expected any of it. In terms of reflection, I’m still coming to terms with all of that. I feel enormously grateful. I mean, I don’t want to be too sloppy about it, but not everybody has the breaks that I’ve had. And I’ve been fortunate. I used to think it was a rotten break, but I was fortunate enough not to be born wealthy. Life is good; life is good. It’s been a fascinating journey, and it doesn’t seem to be quite done yet.

 

[END]

 


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