His name sparks images of pin-stripe suits and bloody violence. To this day, Americans are fascinated by this celebrity gangster. Was Al Capone a self-made American man, a ruthless killer – or both?


Karen Radius


Growing up in Chicago, Karen Radius learned values from her working class parents, neither of whom attended high school. After passing the bar exam in Hawaii, Radius’ first job was with Legal Aid, serving some of the poorest people in Hawaii. As a Family Court judge, Karen Radius learned that juvenile girls who haven’t succeeded on regular probation needed a different type of juvenile justice system. So she created Girls Court. “Girls Court is all about…working on the relationships…within the family,” Radius explains. “(it’s) not just, ‘Did you comply with the court’s order and what the court told you to do’ … but let’s figure out your life and let’s come up with a life’s plan for you.”


This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, Oct. 28 at 11:00 pm and Sunday, Nov. 1 at 4:00 pm.


Karen Radius Audio


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You know how bad things can be.


And I also know how good they can be. If we only focus on the things that have gone wrong, life gets to be pretty heavy and unhappy. And if you don’t see the potential in things, it’s just not right. I still get, when I’m out in the shopping center, I’ll get a girl who will come and say, Judge Radius! And I’ll say, Oh, how are you doing? What are you doing? And she’ll say, Oh, I’m graduating from Windward Community College next week. And so, we show up and give her a lei. Because those kinds of stories keep you going.


Judge Karen Radius, a resident of Windward Oahu, has spent her career seeking the potential in people facing troubled situations. Family Court Judge and the founding judge of Girls Court, Karen Radius, next on Long Story Short.


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


Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Family Court is often regarded as a place of pain and anger, filled with divorces, child custody battles, families in crisis. Judge Karen Radius has spent decades there. She retired, but returned to serve on a part-time basis. The judge is no softy; she’s regarded as tough, but fair. In her juvenile cases, she tries to look past the pain, toward the potential good within the youth offenders who come before her. To help Hawaii’s troubled young people, Judge Radius in 2004 was the driving force behind Girls Court, an innovative program designed specifically for at-risk girls on Oahu. The judge and others in the field say that juvenile court is framed around boys, who tend to commit different offenses than girls, for different reasons. Judge Karen Radius knows firsthand about life struggles, having grown up on the south side of Chicago.


My mom is the oldest of ten. By the time she graduated from eighth grade in 1932, there were seven kids; the seventh child had just been born a couple of months before. So, her mom said to her, We just don’t have the money for you to go to high school, you need to find a job. My grandpa was a janitor, and finding a job, for him, depended on what manufacturing plants or what buildings were open, and what businesses could hire him. So, he was getting piecemeal work at about a dollar a day. So, my mother found a job being a maid and mother’s helper for a lawyer’s wife who had one son. So, after being the oldest girl of seven kids, that was a walk in the park, quite frankly.


But she had to be away from her family.


Absolutely. So, she earned a dollar a week, and she had Sundays off, so she’d come home on Sundays, bring her dollar, and her mother would give her a dime.


Tough times.


Yeah, yeah; absolutely.


People had to really pull together and sacrifice themselves.


Right; right. And so, the theory was that her younger sisters would all take a year off of high school, but it didn’t turn out that way. She stayed working at that job.


Never graduated from high school?


Nope; nope. She took a typing and a bookkeeping class at night school, but other than that, she didn’t go to high school.


Did she talk about that, her regrets at that?


Not so much her regrets. That’s the generation that doesn’t focus on themselves. But my sister and myself, there was no question; we were gonna get every ounce of education we could.


She was gonna do for you what she couldn’t do for herself.


That’s right; that’s right. My dad had been in the military, actually, here in Hawaii, and had gone back to Chicago and was a bus driver. And he saw her walk on his bus, and he said, That’s the most lovely pair of hands I’ve ever seen somebody putting fare in my farebox.


He said that to her?


To her. And she fell for it.


And the rest is history. Yeah; yeah.


Wow. And he stopped being a bus driver after that?


Right. When I was about three, he became a life insurance salesman, and did that ‘til he died.


So, he was a good salesman, charming?


Oh; yeah. He could tell a joke and a story. He was a schmoozer; yeah.


Judge Karen Radius became the first person in her family to graduate from high school. Her mother believed that Karen should receive the best education possible, even though money was scarce. She was accepted into George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and left the Midwest for the first time in her life.


I found George Washington. My mom said, Okay, we’ve got enough money for one semester. Go, see if you like it. We’ll do what we can; you gotta work. I went to GW ‘cause I thought I was interested in international affairs. I had read some books about Russia, and that was when the Cold War was big. And Russia seemed such a fascinating place. So, I went to study international affairs. But in my sophomore year, when you begin to think about what major you’re gonna declare, and the counselors are talking to you, I told them that that’s what I was interested in, and maybe the State Department or some kind of foreign job. And he says, Do you know what women do in the foreign service? I said, No, that’s what I’m here to learn. And he said, They stamp passports. And I was silly enough to believe him. So, I switched to political science.


So, that wasn’t true; he was just trying to … what was the point of that, of dissuading you?


I think that was probably true back then, so that would have been 1968; ’67, ’68.


So, he was trying to let you know that it may not be—


In reality, if I wasn’t willing to stamp passports for the rest of my life, which is probably what women mostly did back then, but things, as in all fields, has moved quite a bit.


So, you could have done it and broken those barriers.


Maybe. But I didn’t listen. I mean, I listened, but should have not listened. I kind of wonder what would have been, had it taken different turns. So, I went into political science. My junior and senior years, the Vietnam War booming, literally and figuratively. The protests were beginning. You know, being in campus only five blocks from the White House, there were tanks rolling down the street sometimes, and tear gas being thrown on the campus, which wasn’t fun. So, I decided, okay, I’m gonna work on The Hill, because that’s where change could come from, through senators and congressmen.


Who did you work for?


Senator Charles Mathias from Maryland; he was a progressive Republican at the time. People wrote to their senators and congressmen, and we’d get bags, and bags, and bags full of mail. And we had to respond to each piece. So, my job was, when there were over ten letters about a single topic, you’d write a form letter that sounded like you were talking directly to that person. And then, there was a machine that would … way pre-computers, but there was a machine that would match the address of the writer and the body of the letter. And then, it’d be signed, and you thought you got your own personal letter from the senator. Which he read the generalized …




So, he knew, and he knew how many. We kept count of X-number are in favor of this, and Y-number are against that. But it didn’t feel like democracy like I had studied it as political science, and I didn’t feel like we were making the kind of change that as a Baby Boomer, I thought we needed.


Oahu judge Karen Radius did not want to get channeled into a typing job, as were many women of the time. She wanted to be part of bringing change. So, she set her sights on a new career path.


One of the young male staffers who was an attorney said to me, Karen, just take the LSAT. Which is the law school admissions test. Don’t tell anybody you’re gonna take it, don’t send the scores any place. If you totally bomb out, you’ve wasted a day, fifty dollars to sign up for it, and two Number 2 pencils. So what? If you do well, send the scores some place. And so, I followed his advice, and here I am.


You hadn’t considered law school?


No. No.


That’s really open. So, you went and took the test, and did well. It’s a tough test.




And what proportion of students in law schools were females then?


About three or four percent.


Is that right?




So, you were an oddity.




Did you feel like you had to prove yourself?


There were still professors who would do things like say, Can you please stand up as you give your answer, because I like to see the proportions of my opponent. And you walked in the library, and people closed the door as you entered. So, it wasn’t blatant. You didn’t get worse grades ‘cause you were a woman. You didn’t get worse classes.


It was a social atmosphere.


I had one young man say to me, You know, my friend didn’t get in; you’ve got his seat. But generally, people were nice, and I just stayed, and as more women came in, life went on.


After her second year at George Washington University Law School, Judge Karen Radius joined her college roommate Judy Sobin on a trip to Hawaii for the summer. She didn’t know it at the time, but Hawaii would become her permanent home.


I had come here to Hawaii between my second and third years of law school for a summer job, ‘cause there was no UH Law School at the time, and my college roommate had come here with her husband, and he was going to UH master’s in urban planning program. There was something about Hawaii. I just felt at home when I got off the plane.


What made you feel at home when you got off the plane? I mean, you hadn’t seen it yet.


I don’t know; I just did. I worked for Brook Hart’s firm the summer between second and third years of law school. They were doing a lot of law reform cases, they were doing a lot of criminal cases, but doing them very well, and lots of interesting cases. So, the work seemed exciting. I was meeting a lot of younger lawyers. The racial and ethnic makeup and background of so many different kinds of people. And the mountains and the ocean. You know, it just felt good.


A year later, after graduating from law school, Judge Karen Radius returned to the islands to take the Bar Exam.


I came here to take the Bar, ‘cause I had a federal job offer in North Carolina, and you could be licensed any place. So, I came here to take the Bar, hedging my bets that while I’m here studying for the Bar, I could still be looking for work here.


Because you didn’t want to go to the safe federal job?


I might own that horse farm in North Carolina now if I’d done that safe job. I don’t know. Oh; as opposed to my little plot.


But this was where you preferred to be.


Oh, yeah. I got offered a job two weeks before the Bar. Legal Aid called two weeks before.


How’d you feel about working for Legal Aid?


It was fine with me.






So, that means you served many of the poorest people in the area.




Lots of family law.


No; actually, at that point, we were divided into divisions, and I was doing welfare law. So, I was doing your benefits were stopped, or the State wasn’t complying with the Federal laws about welfare benefits, food stamp benefits, Medicaid. So, I was doing more the keep your life and soul together …


So, that means you met people and saw individual stories of things that had happened which required government assistance.


Absolutely; yeah.


So, in two jobs, then, with the defense law firm, Brook Hart’s firm and with Legal Aid, you’re basically on the other side of the State; right?


I’m meeting the real people; yeah.


Yeah; yes.




Underdogs, is what I would call it. How’d you feel about that? And it’s not big money jobs, either, necessarily.


Correct; right.


So, is that what you were looking for? You didn’t care about the money, and you wanted to help people who needed the help, who didn’t have much? Was that a goal, or just how that unfolded?


I didn’t become a lawyer to make money. I became a lawyer because … I didn’t want to type. And because I believe that some of the most resilient people I’ve met are people who have been, quote, underdogs. And they had potential, and good things to add to the state. So, doing that kind of law was perfectly fine with me.


You saw a lot of misery.


Yes; yeah. But the people who are in the midst of their problems don’t come in with, I’m in the midst of a lot of misery. They come in with, I’ve got this problem, and I gotta solve it because I’m getting evicted, because I can’t feed my kids, ‘cause … they weren’t drama queens. Let’s put it that way. So, they had resiliency, despite the fact that they lived in situations that were really challenging. When I left Legal Aid, you knew when it was time to leave. Because I used to keep graham crackers in my desk, because the people would come and they’d always bring their kids, and their kids were always hungry. So, I gave the kids coloring stuff and graham crackers while we talked about the case. And you knew it was time to leave when you just got a little bit tired shopping for graham crackers.


After five years, Judge Karen Radius left Legal Aid for private law practice. Along the way, she married future court administrator, Russell Tellio.


So, I worked for about nine months for Harriet Bouslog, who was a legend in her own right. And then, Norman Lau and Susan Arnett and I, all three of us at Legal Aid, decided we were gonna open our own firm. So, we did that January 2, 1980. And the three of us worked together for a while, and then Susan decided she wanted to do criminal stuff, and Norman and I didn’t. So, we became Radius and Lau, and stayed that way for thirteen years, until I got to be a judge.


Why did you become a judge?


This is gonna sound really silly. When my kids were born in 1985, I had twins. And Norman and I were doing a real varied civil law practice. So, you’d have to always be one step ahead of the clients, and learn a lot of different things all the time. So, having children, I knew that I needed to specialize in something, because trying to be such a generalist was … I needed time at home with the kids.


And you had two at once.


Yes. Yeah; yeah, yeah. Yeah. You know, you have to sleep once in a while.


In 1993, Karen Radius was appointed as a judge to the First Circuit Family Court on Oahu. She presided over cases involving divorce, child custody, domestic abuse, and juvenile law. Much like her time at Legal Aid, she matter-of-factly looked for the up-side in people facing tough situations.


It’s a place you could be a peacemaker. You may not be able to stop the divorce, but if you can focus the parents on the children and on preserving the assets they have for the children’s best interest, and coming up with a visitation and custody plan that’s in the kids’ best interest, you can bring peace. Or if not total peace, at least ratchet things down. If you’re doing an adoption, that’s the fun part of family law. So, you leave the stress and the sweat in the waiting room and come into the courtroom, where there’s balloons and happy people, and pictures and congratulations. The other thing about being a Family Court judge is, if the judge can portray some kind of calm and can manage the courtroom in a way that it’s not just total havoc, the people can focus a little bit better about what they need to do, and what’s next, and how to bring some kind of resolution to the problems that are there. And sometimes, you can’t bring peaceful resolutions; you just make a decision when it happens, and they’re unhappy with you, and they’re unhappy with their life.


While working as a Family Court judge, Karen Radius began to notice an alarming trend within the juvenile cases. The number of girls who were arrested and brought to court was dramatically increasing. In 2004, she confronted the problem head-on by creating a new program called Girls Court.


In the days that I was a Legal Aid lawyer in Waianae in the 70s, there was hardly ever a girl brought to juvenile court. Girls weren’t arrested. It was all boys. And over time, the programs and the method of dealing with things were built for boys, ‘cause that’s who the system was. But as time went on, more and more girls started to be arrested. And the programs weren’t built for them, and juvenile court really wasn’t helping the girls at all. So, in about 2003, I was sitting at detention home, where you go every morning for a week in a row, every four weeks. And all of a sudden, there’s just so many girls appearing in front of me. And I’m thinking, Maybe it’s just the luck of the draw, ‘cause that’s based on who got arrested. You gotta see a judge within forty-eight hours of getting arrested. And so, I went back to the courthouse and I’m saying, you know, Boy, out of thirteen kids, ten were girls. Is it just me? Am I somehow a girl magnet? What is this? And they said, No, no, no, we still have to do some research. And at that point, forty-two percent of the arrests in Honolulu were girls. Nationally, it was about between twenty and twenty-five percent, but Honolulu was forty-two percent.


I wonder why?


We arrest a lot for runaway, and we have a lot of runaway girls. And girls tend to act out not so much against other people, although there are some assaults on unrelated people, et cetera. But there’s a lot of act out against the boyfriend, act out against the mother. And then, drugs are a problem. Act out against themselves, by taking or possessing, or dealing drugs. So, I talked to Judge Wong, who was then the lead judge of Family Court, the senior judge, and she was doing some rearrangement of people’s caseloads, and so, she wanted to move some of my cases. She says, I know you’re gonna be mad. I said, No, I’m not gonna be mad if you let me do Girls Court. She said, What’s that? And I said, I don’t know, but we gotta do something. And she said, Okay.


So, you were convinced you couldn’t fix it by transforming juvenile court.


Well, it’s still a part of juvenile court. It’s a transformation of—not every girl who gets arrested in Honolulu goes to Girls Court. Girls Court is the girls who aren’t succeeding on regular probation. So anyway, we looked at what’s going on in the girls’ life, not just what she did. ‘Cause often, a sentence or a disposition is based on, You did X-crime, X-thing, and therefore, you must do the following community service, you must do the following anger management, et cetera. But what else is there going on in her life that gets her in the situation that make it that she’s acting out like this?


And she’s a revolving door.


And she’s a revolving door. You know, she’s not going to school for long periods of time. The old days, you would put her in detention home for two weeks and say, Okay, write an essay on why education is important to you. She didn’t know. And she’d write the essay, and she’d be scared for a while, and she’d go to school for maybe two, three weeks, and then the whole thing would start again. And the next run would happen or the next truancy would happen; back and forth. So, we weren’t looking at the underlying causes. So, Girls Court is all about getting, you know, the whole family working on the relationships within the family. And the probation officers are still probation officers, but they’re also not just, Did you comply with the court’s order and what the court told you to do, but let’s figure out your life and let’s come up with a life’s plan for you.


In 2010, Judge Karen Radius retired as a fulltime judge to help take care of her aging mother and her mother-in-law. At the time of our conversation in 2015, she’d returned to work as a per diem or part-time Family Court judge.


Let’s say the top three things you’ve done in your life that you really feel proud of.


My kids, number one. And watching them grow and develop, and lead their lives, and make the choices they make, one way or the other. Girls Court … jeez.


Well, top two is good.


We narrowed it down to two.


I don’t know.


I’m just thinking from a balance of power situation. You know, this is not the old model of husband and wife, where the wife is the judge. Was that hard to handle sometimes?


Not for me. No. We didn’t bring our work home. And those times that I would say something that I wasn’t happy about something, Russ would say, Slavery ended in the 1860s, if you don’t like the job, find another one. So, okay, I’m not gonna complain at home.


And you have twins.




Tell us a little bit about them, about how they were influenced by two parents working in the law.


My son’s a lawyer, although he has a sticker on his bike and it said, Born to fish, forced to work. So, in a perfect world, he might want to fish. But no; he’s a lawyer, he’s a good lawyer. My daughter, when she was probably about five or six, I said to her, You know, are you going to work when you get married and have children? Because being old school, I still felt a little bit of guilt about, I’m working. And she says, Of course, I’m gonna work. But I’m not gonna be a lawyer; that’s boring. So, at six, she already decided it’s boring. So, she’s a scientist; she’s a biomedical engineer, and smarter than me.


Did you think of your kids as you were in court, you know, passing judgments?


Yeah; I thought about my kids. Because of confidentiality of the cases, I couldn’t talk about the cases to the kids. But I’ve said things sometimes to the kids, and my son when he was little, used to say, Mom, you always know that all, and you’re all so worried about evil stuff. You know, you just don’t know the real world.


And I said, Oh, Andrew, your father and I have worked so hard so that you don’t know about the real world.


Founding Judge Karen Radius’ concept of Girls Court has now spread to several states on the continent. At the time of our conversation in the summer of 2015, she continues to be an advocate for at-risk youth inside and outside the courtroom. Judge Radius volunteers for several nonprofits, and is the president of Surfrider Spirit Sessions, a nonprofit that uses the lessons of surfing to help transform the lives of at-risk youth. Mahalo to Judge Karen Radius of Kailua, Windward Oahu for sharing your story with us. And thank you, for joining us. For PBS Hawaii and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha, hui hou.


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


What did your mother say to you after she saw you become a judge?


She wished I’d been a beautician, ‘cause I’d be home more.




Yes; yeah, seriously.  When I first went off to college, she said, Do this for you and for me. And I was, quite frankly, a little bit … It’s for me; what you do mean for you? But having a daughter now myself, I understand.




Jascha Heifetz: God’s Fiddler


Discover the story of legendary musician Jascha Heifetz (1901-1987), the first truly modern violin virtuoso. Through vintage performances, master classes and Heifetz’ previously unseen home movies, this documentary portrays an artist for whom only perfection would do. New interviews include other great violinists influenced by Heifetz, including Itzhak Perlman, Ivry Gitlis and Ida Haendel, former students Ayke Agus and Sherry Kloss, and biographers John Anthony Maltese and Arthur Vered. They reveal how Heifetz was a mysterious, idiosyncratic, solitary figure who embodied the paradox of artistic genius: a dedication to his craft at all costs.


A Grand Mercer Christmas


Taped in Macon, Georgia’s historic Grand Opera House, students and faculty from Mercer University’s Townsend School of Music and its renowned Robert McDuffie Center for Strings perform classical Christmas selections and exclusive new arrangements by noted Boston Pops arranger Randol Bass and Grammy Award-winner Matt Catingub. Performances by the 45-voice Mercer Singers, conducted by Dr. Stanley Roberts, and the McDuffie Center for Strings Ensemble are complemented by Macon native and program host Robert McDuffie, as well as the McDuffie Center’s director, former Oregon Symphony concertmaster Amy Schwartz Moretti.


This program will encore Thurs., Dec. 24, 11:00 pm


Joy Abbott


Original air date: Tues., Aug. 13, 2013


Leslie Wilcox talks with Joy Abbott, singer and widow of renowned stage producer George Abbott. Born and raised in Wahiawa, Oahu, Joy graduated from Punahou School. She attended Temple University in Philadelphia to study education, before pursuing a career in entertainment. In recent years, Abbott has written and directed several theater benefit galas, and is co-authoring a biography on George Abbott.


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And in all those twenty-five years, I was working, working, trying to make my shops a success, my fashion show productions, they were musical and in demand. And so, that’s when George proposed after twenty-five years, and he said, you know, It’s time. [CHUCKLE]


From World War II era Wahiawa to the bright lights and big personalities of Broadway, Joy Abbott has lived a glamorous life far from her roots in Hawaii. But she’s remained true to the values she grew up with, and close to family and friends back home. Her dramatic journey is next, on Long Story Short.


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


Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. In this edition of Long Story Short, the Shirley Temple of Hawaii; that’s what people called the former Joy Valderrama when she was a talented kid growing up in Wahiawa in the 1930s. Little did she suspect that one day, she’d be friends with some of Broadway’s biggest stars, and married to an iconic Broadway producer, writer, and director who created scores of American stage classics, a vital man who lived to the age of one hundred seven. Joy Abbott’s parents had a lasting influence on her life. They armed her with three important gifts: an excellent education, training to develop her talents, and values to guide her.


My father said that when I was born, I didn’t cry, I smiled; so he called me Joy. [CHUCKLE] True story. Wahiawa, you know, it was just a wonderful life; food wise, for instance, organic, healthy food. My mother would actually kill the chicken herself, and she would grow vegetables and everything. So, food wise, it made a healthy childhood. A very happy childhood too, because we were always laughing.


What did your parents do for a living?


My father was a barber.


Where in Wahiawa?


In Schofield Barracks, actually. He went to University of the Philippines, and he studied accounting. He became an accountant, but he wanted to see the, quote, unquote, new world, so he came to Hawaii. My mother was a schoolteacher, but she was a traveling schoolteacher. I remember telling about her riding sidesaddle through all the barrios to teach teachers. And so, when they came here, well, she was a housewife, and my father opened one barber shop, then another, and then another. And he would be the ones to cut the general’s hair, the major, all the officers. And my uncles joined, and they managed the other barber shops.


And he got an audience with some of the top decision makers at Schofield.


Oh, my gosh; yes. He went to the general’s house to cut their hair, or to the major’s and captain’s, so he learned a lot of things from that way of living.


And your siblings?


I have three. I have Ruth, who went to Julliard; she’s the older, went to Punahou, Class of ’44. And Grace, she’s in real estate in California now. And May Ann is a tennis coach, and she had the winning Mililani team. She was married to Keola Beamer.


Not the Keola Beamer —


No; Uncle Keola.


Uncle Keola.


Uncle Keola.


So, Winona Beamer’s brother?




And Keola Beamer, the composer’s and slack key artist’s uncle.


Exactly; that’s Nona’s son. Yeah.


So, you lived in Wahiawa, which in those days was much farther away from town that it is now, because of the lack of freeways. And you went to Punahou School, which is all the way in town.




How’d you manage that? How’d you get there and back?


By bus. I remember getting up very early in the morning, and my father would wake me up and he’d take my hand and … put his whiskers. He says, Time to get up now. [CHUCKLE]


That would get you up; right? [CHUCKLE]


[CHUCKLE] And then he’d take us to the bus, my sister and I would ride the bus into town.


When you left the post school, left home in Wahiawa every day to go to Punahou, at the time, I imagine most of the students at Punahou were not only White, but they were wealthy and they were from the town area.


Absolutely; yes.


So, you were the country non-White.


Yes; we were ten percent, in those days, called Orientals, today Asians. And it was just a handful of Asians. But I never felt that, ‘cause my parents said, You know, you’re gonna make yourself in life what you want to be, as long as you work hard, achieve.


It’s up to you.


Yes; yes. We’re giving you the tools, but it’s up to you.


When your dad was a barber, and you know, he had at least an acquaintance or business relationship with generals at Schofield Barracks. And he was concerned about you getting ahead, wasn’t he?


Absolutely. Yes; my parents were all for achieving, accomplishments, and they thought that versatility would open doors. So, my father taught me tennis.


How did he know tennis?


Well, he played in the Philippines, and he coached tennis, as well as boxing and baseball. So, it was a sports family. And my mother always loved singing, dancing, and the arts. And neither could carry a tune. My father would sing Happy Birthday in five different keys to us. # And my mother loved to dance, but she just didn’t have it, so she gave us all the lessons.


So, you were in Wahiawa; where did you go to lessons?


Oh, in Schofield Barracks. Because we had this wonderful Black fellow who was a tap dance teacher, and I learned all these wonderful steps and riffs, and everything when I was just six years old. There was uh, a revue called the Jackie Suiter’s Revue [PHONETIC]. This is way, way, way before your time. And it was at King Theater, and they would have me, because they dubbed me as the Shirley Temple of Hawaii. [CHUCKLE]


Oh, is that right?


Yeah. [CHUCKLE] So, I sang these songs as part of this revue. And that was my early debut into showbiz.


And at the same time, your dad was making an athlete of you?


Oh, yes; yes. So, we’d get up early in the morning on weekends, because naturally, school, we’d go. And he would teach me and drill me, and drill me with basic strokes. And then, I’d play with my uncles afterwards to hit with them. But it opened doors, ‘cause I won the Hawaiian Junior Championship before I left for the mainland.


Were you competitive?


Oh, absolutely competitive. I think it was instinctive. When I was in a tournament, it was, Kill! No prisoners! [CHUCKLE]


And in every sport you played, you had to win?


Oh, absolutely. It was just the thing to do. That was the goal; win, win. But I was a good loser. Because my father said, You must learn to lose as a sports person, and be a sport when you lose, and you can learn from your losses, because you know what you did wrong, and then you can improve on that. For instance, in tennis. Yeah, I — I played field hockey, I was a gymnast, and I was on the swimming team at Punahou.


Do you think tennis opened doors for you?


Very much so. When I went to the mainland, I had won the Hawaiian Junior Championship. My brother-in-law, the one that was going to the Curtis, Felix, would take me out to the public parks and play. And there was this one fellow who was playing with his daughter, and grooming her for a tournament, and he was watching me. He said, Would you like to play in the National Junior Grass Court Tournament at Philadelphia Cricket Club? I said, Fine. He said, Well, we’ve been watching you play. Well, that opened doors.


And you didn’t think of saying, Oh, not me, you don’t understand.


I said, I’m from Hawaii. And he said, Well, did you win things? I said, Well, I had the Hawaiian Junior title before. He said, That’s enough. And that got me into the eighteen and under national, so I played with the likes of Maureen Connolly. I was only sixteen when I came to the mainland.


You graduated young from Punahou.


From Punahou; yes. And came right to Philadelphia, where my sister and brother-in-law lived.


To attend Temple University.


To attend Temple.


When you were at Temple, you were playing tennis. Didn’t you have an incredible tennis record at Temple University?


Yes; I’m in the Sports Hall of Fame for tennis, being undefeated the four years. Singles.


Did you think sports might be a possible career for you?


No; I was never strong enough, and I knew my limitations. ‘Cause when I played tournaments on the mainland, I’d get to quarter finals, semi finals, and things. But I’ve got a lot of trophies.


And at that point, what did you want to do with your life?


Actually, I thought I would be a teacher. I was in health and physical education, and I thought I would come back and teach here. But then, that changed my life when I decided to help my parents to put my other siblings through school. So, I went to this place called the Hawaiian Cottage, and I said, I can sing and dance if you need someone here. And so, they hired me. And so, I got this job at the Hawaiian Cottage, and I had my own trio after a while. And then, I was put on the main stage and learned Haole songs. [CHUCKLE] You know, the pop standards and Broadway. So, I did double duty. I did my Hawaiian show, and then I did the other. So, that was an influence.


So, you were essentially a businesswoman, and an entertainer at a young age.




Making enough money to help put your siblings through college.


Yes; m-hm.


You know, your father, who had to switch jobs, he moved to a new country and found he needed to change occupations. He showed a lot of resilience and versatility, and I guess a lot of hope too.


Yes. And all that hope was put into us, the daughters. Because what they couldn’t do, they thought they’d give us the opportunity to do. And it came to fruition; yes.


It sounds like you always were trying to get better at what you did.


Yes; that’s because of my parents. You achieve and you try to get better. And they taught me not to envy or be jealous. And that helped later on when I met George Abbott, ‘cause we had the same principles. And my mother and father said, Don’t envy someone, because if you accomplish and achieve the goals that you set out for and you’re successful, then you need not envy or be jealous of anyone. You can admire, and you can learn, but you know, that was a good lesson.


Joy Abbott stayed in Philadelphia after college, performing fulltime to help pay her sisters’ tuitions. And one of her sisters, perhaps unintentionally, paid her back with an introduction to the man who would be the love of her life, the legendary Broadway producer, director and playwright, George Abbott. He was the creative genius behind classic musicals such as The Pajama Game and Damn Yankees, and winner of multiple Tony Awards, a Pulitzer Prize, and later the Kennedy Center Lifetime Achievement Award.


He invited me to dinner. I was invited at seven o’clock. So, I came, and I rang the bell. And whoo, he opened the door himself, and I saw this tall man with silver hair, and these steel blue eyes. I’m like, Whoo. I saw him, and I said, Wow! He was six-three, tall, handsome like Gary Cooper, Randolph Scott handsome combination, and his steel blue eyes, and this beautiful smile. And I said, I’m Joy Valderrama. And he said, Good, you’re on time. That was it. ‘Cause he was a stickler for time. And so, from then on, we just hit off, and we dated for twenty-five years before we got married.


You didn’t really want to rush things.




How old was he when you met; in his seventies?




And how old were you?


I was twenty-nine.


Did that not make you a little leery? Like, why would I want to date somebody so much older than me?


No; ‘cause I didn’t think of dating at the time. I liked him right from the start, because he was handsome, and kind. And so, he would ask me on my day off to come up and so, we dated for twenty-five years.


I hope I’m not overstepping or on territory that makes you uncomfortable. But I read George’s bio in various places. And, you know, it talks about how for ten years he had a relationship with Maureen Stapleton.


Yes. It was a friendship. It was nothing untoward. And in her biography, if you read one of the paragraphs, it says, And then he met Joy Valderrama and married her, and lived happily ever after, like an old MGM movie.




That’s in her biography.


Does it bother you that in his bios that you read all over the place, there’s so much attention given to his relationship with this, you know, stunning movie actress?


Oh, not at all. Oh, my gosh. I knew he liked me, and I liked him, but I didn’t know how much he loved me until later.


So, you were okay with him dating other people?


Oh, gosh; yes. Because he would be very frank with me. He would tell me that there was nothing but … you know, and it was part of their publicity for shows.


Joy Abbott recalls that in those days, there were no parts on Broadway for Asians, and no nontraditional casting as we have today. So, she continued her performing career at the Hawaiian Cottage until George Abbott encouraged her to develop a new talent, as an entrepreneur.


He said, It’s time you stopped singing and dancing, and open your own business, and I’ll back you. So, he backed me in a dress shop. Then I opened another one; then I opened another one. You can’t just pull them in with a hook, so you have to have something to attract them. So, I started musical fashion shows, and they became so popular, I was doing two hundred a year. And I had all these professional models, gorgeous girls, modeling the clothes from my store. Well, we had some designer clothes, but a lot of ready to wear. And so, it was quite a successful business.


So, very consuming life, and very beautiful life.




Did you think about children and marriage at that point?




‘Cause in those days, that was the drill; right?


Yes. But then, I was going with George; he was seventy-two, and I was twenty-nine when I first met. And in all those twenty-five years, I was working, working, trying to make my shops a success, my fashion show productions, they were musical and in demand. And so, that’s when George proposed after twenty-five years, and he said, It’s time. And you know how he proposed?




[CHUCKLE] After twenty-five years, we were up in his country home up in the Catskills. Beautiful place up there, so serene. And he says, Joy, I have something to tell you. So, he said, Come sit beside me. And I remember it was a Sunday morning, and the pines; it was so beautiful up there. He says, I have something to tell you. My lawyer tells me I have enough money for two to live on; it’s time we got married. [CHUCKLE] I said, Oh. I said, Oh, I have to call my mother. [CHUCKLE]


You said one of the things about you and George was that despite the age difference and your different backgrounds, you had very similar values.




What were those?


A lot of the principles, again, of envy and jealousy. I was surprised to learn that. Taking life in moderation; that’s why he lived so long. He had a glass of wine for dinner. That was it; he didn’t drink, he didn’t smoke.


Did he exercise, or golf? Dancing?


Oh; exercise. Exercise and work; that’s what made him live so long. Work and accomplishments, and achievements.


And that’s what you’re all about too; right?


Yes. And he had a wonderful sense of humor; just wonderful. It was a wonderful, wonderful marriage.


When Joy Valderrama married George Abbott in 1983, she sold her fashion business and moved to his main home in Florida. She took up golf and became immersed in the country club culture there, as well as the theater circuit in New York.


I was living in Florida and being part of the country club that George belonged to, Indian Creek Country Club. And it’s a wonderful social place, and for golf. Pretty exclusive, too.


You were all right giving up your business and living this life of relative leisure with George.


Leisure and social, and Broadway. When I would be going to some of the opening night parties, I said, Oh, there’s so-and-so, oh, there’s Julie Andrews, oh, there’s Carol Burnett. ‘Cause we went to their Carnegie Hall debut thing, and they had a big party afterwards. And we would be dancing, and I’d be stumbling, and everything. And I’m a pretty good dancer, but George was very serious about dancing. And so, later on when we were married, and we were at the country club, and there’s a dance and I’m dancing and I’m stumbling. I said, Oh, Cynthia, what time is our tee time? Oh, are we playing tennis on Wednesday? And I’d be stumbling. So, the next morning [CHUCKLE] George said, You know, Dear, there are three types of women who make lousy ballroom dancers. He said, Professional singers and dancers, athletes … oh, and rich women. And he said, And you are all three. [CHUCKLE]


So, you met him when he was seventy-two, and then twenty-five years later you married him.




So, he’s dancing at an advanced age.


Oh, absolutely. He loved to dance all the time. As a matter of fact, Kitty Carlisle received after a dancing date a book on how to dance, because she was such a lousy dancer. [CHUCKLE]


So, he was a very vital man.


Very vital. He was playing golf at ninety-six or teaching me. He didn’t give it up until a hundred two, and he in the Croquet Hall of Fame.


How old was he when he passed away?


Hundred seven.


And how healthy was he shortly before that? Did he maintain his health?


Yes. He had no diabetes, no cancer, no Parkinson’s, nothing debilitating. And it was just that he died of old age, but his mind was so sharp. As a matter of fact, he was dictating a scene from the second act of Pajama Game that was to be a London production two weeks before he died.


It sounds like a magical life. Do you have any regrets?


Absolutely none. We never argued, except my driving. I drove too slowly for him. [CHUCKLE] Here’s a story. When he was a hundred six, I asked him what he wanted for his birthday. And he said, Oh, I think I would like to have a swimming pool in the back yard, because I’m tired of walking two blocks to Shirley’s house to do my twenty laps. And so, I contracted a swimming pool person. Well, it took so long; took instead of six weeks, six months. So, we came back from the Catskills, and there was this pool that you know, finally, finally, he was able to go in. So, the first day, he dove in, he sank to the bottom because he was all skin and bones. You don’t have flesh, and buoyancy at a hundred six. So, he comes blubbering up, and he says, Joy, get your money back, it doesn’t work. [CHUCKLE] But the reason I tell that story is, I think he wanted me to exercise. And so, he built that pool so that I would, in our house.


And do you? Do you use the pool?


Oh, yes; yes, I do.


But you didn’t settle down to a life of ease and relative seclusion as a widow. You’re on the jazz circuit.


Oh, yes. I did concerts perpetuate the name of George Abbott. I have a singing partner named Davis Gaines.


He’s known for Phantom of the Opera on Broadway.


Yes; yes, he is. And so, we would do a compilation of songs from George’s shows, and then we would do things from Phantom, Showboat, you know, other shows. And it would raise a lot of money too for people. Just not to give concerts, but we would do it for AIDS benefits, benefit for the theater community. And so, I’ve been singing since, and enjoying that life, because I don’t have to make it as a living.


What do you like about jazz? Why jazz?


Oh; because I sang with the best musicians in Philadelphia. There was Al Governor and the Candoli Brothers, and Richie Kamoku, who was part-Filipino, part-Jewish. [CHUCKLE] And he was a saxophone player from Philadelphia, and he played with Zoot Sims and all these wonderful players. And I would be privy to all that music.


What did you learn from them?


I learned phrasing, I learned pitch, and also a certain style, where I wouldn’t do vocal acrobatics, I would let the musicians underneath do that. And I would sing the songs straight, but with phrasing.


What’s your favorite song, favorite jazz song?


I don’t really have a favorite, because there are so many that are so good.


There’s none of that you hope you’re gonna be requested to do for that encore?


Oh; oh, well, gosh … Our Love Is Here to Stay is one of my favorites, and The Way We Were. Betty and I just did that for a private party, and it brings tears to your — ooh, tears to your eyes. [CHUCKLE]


You won a Hoku. And in fact, your co-winner was …


Betty Loo Taylor.


Is she about the same age?


Yes; we were both septuagenarians at the time.


Doing jazz.


Oh, yes.


On a Hoku album.


Yes; it was our first album. And how it happened was, I would come home, and Betty would have her trio at the Kahala. And she says, Come, come up and sing with us. So, I would sing. But by the way, Betty Loo and I used to do carnivals at Punahou. And so, we’d been long, long, longtime friends. When I would come back, she would say, Oh, come up and sing, or wherever she would be. And so I said, Betty, why don’t we make an album together? We’ve known each other’s style for so long. So, she said, Okay. So, I flew her up to New York, and in one week, we did this album.


Did your competitive nature ever ebb?




You still are very competitive?


Oh, absolutely. [CHUCKLE] I took up golf, as I said, when I was fifty-three. And after the first year and a half, I won the First Flight at our club, and I won it six times after.


And you still play golf, and you still are competitive with friends?


Oh, yes; yes. Between operations. [CHUCKLE] ‘Cause I’ve had two hip replacements, a knee replacement, a shoulder replacement, and cervical and lumbar. And each time, it improved my game [CHUCKLE] actually. But no more tennis, unfortunately, after my hip replacements.


You’ve had a very unusual life, starting in the country of Wahiawa, with immigrant parents who opened doors for you, and you pushed on those doors.


Yeah. And now, I’m able to give back, I’m happy to say. Because Templeton University is the recipient of my legacy with the royalties that I’m giving them and my annual contribution, and so they’ve opened the Joy and George Abbott School of Musical Theater.


Joy Abbott says she’s living her second life now in her early eighties at the time of this conversation in the summer of 2013. This longtime performer, businesswoman, and patron of the theater arts devotes much of her time to honoring and furthering the legacy of her famous husband. Joy Abbott divides her time between Florida, Philadelphia, and Honolulu. She keeps a condo here, and loves her Punahou School reunions. And she still enjoys Broadway, sitting in a perfect seat in the theater and going backstage. For Long Story Short, and PBS Hawaii, I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou kakou.


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


And you’ve remained lifelong friends with your Punahou classmates with whom you were close before.


Yes. But when I tell them I’m coming in May, so-and-so, they tell everybody, Oh, Joy is coming, we better put our acts together, ‘cause we’re gonna be busy. Things like that. Now, we had just our sixty-fifth Punahou reunion, Class of ’48, and we’re the closest class at Punahou.


Skippa Diaz


Original air date: Tues., Nov. 2008


Legendary Farrington High Football Coach


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


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


Skippa Diaz Audio


Download the Transcript




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


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


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


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


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


So how big were you?


I was bigger than the average bear. [CHUCKLE]


I heard you were two hundred pounds in third grade.


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


What’d you do instead?


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


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




You were a competitive swimmer.


Well, I did okay.




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


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


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


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


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


Living in Mayor Wright Housing?


Mayor Wright Housing; right.


How big was your place, with fourteen kids?


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


What did your dad do?


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


Did you mind doing that for him?


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


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


A few times.


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


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


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


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


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


Oh, yeah; yeah, yeah, yeah.


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


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


It’s structure.


Structured; yes.


And that’s how you coach too; right?


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


You went to OSU?


I went to Oregon State University.


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


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


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


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


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


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




In physical stature.


Yeah; yes.


What happened?


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


Because of lack of oxygen?


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


It’s a life-threatening problem.


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


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


Yeah, yeah, yeah.


But I’m going to work.


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


And they told your wife.


Told my wife; yeah.


Almost make-die-dead.


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


Did you feel like you were …


Oh, I …


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


Oh, yeah.


And then carrying this weight around.


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


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


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




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


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


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


How are you getting the oxygen you need?


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


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


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


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


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


They were in their nineties.


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


Deputy Director of Parks.


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


Had she already gone when you figured that out?


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


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


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




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


There’s this great picture of you and Butchie.


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


Downs Syndrome, autism.




He was in a wheelchair.


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


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


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




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


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


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


And your heart’s always right?


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


So, the people in Wisconsin call you Skipper.




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


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


What do they call the aloha spirit in Wisconsin?


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


They really do?


Oh, yeah, yeah.


Kepa Maly


Part 1


Original air date: Tues., June 12, 2012


A Sense of Connection



Part 2


Lāna’i and the Spirit of Place


The executive director of Lanai Culture and Heritage Center reveals how he became fluent in the Hawaiian language as a Caucasian boy growing up on Oahu and Lanai. Once an alienated child, this cultural researcher now makes connections with people and places throughout the islands.


Download: Kepa Maly, A Sense of Connection Transcript


Original air date: Tues., June 29, 2012


Lanai and the Spirit of Place


Leslie Wilcox continues her conversation with Kepa Maly, executive director of Lanai Culture and Heritage Center. Throughout his years as an ethnographer, Kepa gathered stories from kupuna. Here, he passes on local legends and stories behind place names that capture the essence of Lanai.


Download: Kepa Maly, Lanai and the Spirit of Place Transcript




Part 1: A Sense of Connection


I believe—and I say this honestly and with respect to my blood family that it was the ohana and the extended families like that, that they’re the only reason I’m alive today. They filled … a void. That sense of spirituality, that sense of connection, that we’re a part of something. And they gave me that.


He’s a researcher who connects the dots of places, and people, and cultures. Kepa Maly, executive director of Lanai Culture and Heritage Center, 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. Kepa Maly’s remarkable story begins as a youngster living on Oahu, feeling disconnected. He had a different first name then. As a teenager, he was adopted by an elderly Native Hawaiian couple on the Island of Lanai. Taken under the wing of the Kaupuiki’s, who had already raised sixteen children, Kepa learned the Hawaiian language. He welcomed a new first name and a new sense of belonging, and he fully embraced the cultural practices and values of his hanai family. As an adult, Kepa Maly adds to the knowledge that his elders shared with him. For the past three decades, he and his wife Onaona have been documenting the stories of people, places, and history of Hawaii.


Just circumstances in family arose, and I was actually blessed. You look at it in that hindsight. And I had this opportunity to go to Lanai, and actually ended up being cared for as—keiki hookama is the real word. We use hanai all the time now, but hookama means where someone takes on the responsibility of caring for someone’s child. And of one of the preeminent families of the Island of Lanai, and that’s what started my whole life.


So not a legal adoption.


No, no.


But a … a full embrace.


Yes; yes.


And in fact, that’s where your name comes from?


You’re right. Tutu folks called me Kepa, and when I inquired about it, they said that it’s to surround, to embrace. And it’s actually part of a little longer name, but you know, what a blessing.


What is the longer name?


Kepaleiohukaahe [PHONETIC]. Because I was also a single child, yes. And lei is the garland, ohu adorning, kahe, the single or the one adoring child.


That’s not a name I’ve ever heard before.


No. Yeah; I was blessed. These were people who were the embodiment of what Hawaiians are, that love. It didn’t matter. In 1924, a group of Filipino fishermen from Maui got … capsized the boat, they washed up nearly dead on the shore of Lanai. Tutu Papa, young man at that time, goes and takes them, brings them to their home. Helps restore them to life, Tutu Mama them, and they returned them to Maui to their own families. Japanese, Filipino, whatever. That was their way of life. You aloha unconditionally.


Tutu folks; how old were Tutu folks?


Tutu Papa Daniel Kaopuiki was born in 1819. His wife, Tutu Mama Hattie Kaenaokalani Kaopuiki, was born in 1892. And so, they were these incredible people that bridged two worlds. They were competent in English, but of course, Hawaiian was their olelo makuahine, their mother tongue, the language of their naau, what they felt, yeah? And so, from them and their cousins on Lanai, I gained some skills with the Hawaiian language. Tutu Papa was also the kahuna pule of our little Hawaiian church. And so, it was a part of the daily life, yeah, between church, between home and just hearing stories that were told about places and how people connect to place, to resource, to practice, yeah?


Did you know Hawaiian before you got there?


No. Not a … sukoshi, nothing.


What were you like as a boy when you began living on Lanai?


I think I was always odd man out. Plus, hard to tell now, I was very introverted. You know, pretty shy. I was definitely the novelty. I was the only Haole in my class, only Caucasian in my class. Class of ’72, thirty-two students.


Oh, throughout the time you were there?


Yeah. I believe—and I say this honestly and with respect to my blood family, that it was the ohana and the extended families like that, that they’re the only reason I’m alive today. I know that for a fact. And they filled a void. And also, I know some people don’t like to talk about it, but that sense of spirituality, that sense of connection, that we’re a part of something. And they gave me that. And it is because of them, and years of working with kupuna from Niihau through Hawaii, and not just Hawaiian elders, but of all different ethnic backgrounds. People that were willing to share a little bit of their aloha and their time. You become family. I know that they didn’t set out to have me go on the path that we’ve ended up traveling in our careers and life. But again, it’s a way of life, not a job. But they inspired me, they filled that need. They gave me something to connect with.


Kepa Maly’s deep fascination with the special places and the people of his adopted island led to his appointment as the executive director of Lanai Culture and Heritage Center. Besides housing priceless artifacts, the nonprofit organization operates an oral history program to help tell the story of Lanai’s multicultural community. After high school, he would travel and work in a number of other places before returning to Lanai, to Oahu’s Kualoa Regional Park as a park naturalist, to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, where I met him and saw him mesmerizing visitors as an interpretive ranger, then off to the Continent on assignment at the Grand Canyon. He also worked as a curator and exhibit designer at Kauai Museum. Along the way, he encountered many of Hawaii’s cultural leaders who shared their knowledge and traditions handed down from their own kupuna.


We’re over there at Honaunau, and there’s this old Hawaiian gentleman sitting on the porch of his home, right down at the puuhonua. And I see this man, incredible face, this kanaka. And I look; I say, Oh, aloha mai, pehea oe. And the old man looked at me, and then he just turned around and went inside the house. I thought, Auwe. I felt sad. I said, Oh, well, here’s one ‘nother Haole, he just thinks. But it was so funny, ‘cause I continued walking around past his house, and from the back of his door, he called, Hui, hele mai, hele mai. This old man was Apelehama Kauokaumaha [PHONETIC] Moses. Pure Hawaiian, but took the Haole name Moses because in that mission period time, the name Kauokaumaha could have had not a positive meaning. And so they took the name Moses. But Tutu Apelehama … mai, mai, mai. We sat down and spoke. I actually went and stayed with him for a week afterwards, he and his wife. But what he said was, I heard your voice, you have a mana in your voice that other people won’t have. And he said, What your people took away, you can help give back. And this is ’75. That meant a great deal to me.


What your people took away, you can give back.


Yeah. And actually, I think that it’s true, but we can’t live our lives as victims also. There are kuleana and pono, the responsibilities and the rights that Tutu folks, all kupuna talk about. But there is something about Hawaii. I have no college education, I’ve taught at UH. My wife and I, Onaona and I do ethnographic studies. We do the equivalent of seven or eight PhD dissertations a year for historic preservation programs. But it roots back to our teachers, who were the people who wrote the books or who the books were written about. Onaona’s kupuna was Mrs. Pukui. I knew Tutu Kawena before I knew my wife Onaona. Mary Kawena Pukui, Tutu Kawena … as you know, was this incredible woman, Hawaiian historian, bridging late 1800s through the 1980s. She was a mentor of Auntie Maiki Aiu Lake, who in 1973, I met. I had come from Lanai to listen to a lecture that Auntie Maiki was giving with Robert Cazimero as the dancer at that time, at Maui Community College. I was already engaged, I loved the mele and hula, and I wanted to take. I wanted some formal training. I had had training on Lanai a little bit. And after the program, I went up to her, introduced myself, and in that Auntie Maiki style, she just embraced me and said, If you move to Honolulu, I will teach you. She gave me everything. I graduated uniki from her, Papa Ilima in 1975. And in that process, she introduced me to Tutu Kawena. She said, I can teach you what I know but no one knows everything. She also said, Take credit for what you create, don’t say it was old. I like that. But she said, Here is a saying. People said, Oh, that Kawena thinks she knows this and that, and she’s this and that. She said, from her kupuna … I learned this saying, and this is how I live. [HAWAIIAN LANGUAGE] Don’t go peering and peeking around everybody else’s doors, just stand and speak from the door of your own house. And she told me, That’s all I have done. An incredible woman. Without her Hawaii would be so much poorer. There’s … incredible lessons that we have, that we can learn by just listening to the voices around us. We’re no longer talking story the way we did before days, yeah?


We’re too distracted, right?


That’s correct. And so we need to have this with people that can share the nuances, the beauty of life, and those things that make us stronger. I think the most important saying that I learned from Tutu Papa and he must have been inspired to tell me this. Or maybe it was just the way I acted; who knows. The first saying, and the one that has lived with me throughout my life, and I’ll take it to the grave with me is, O ka mea maikai malama, o ka memea ke oli hookawale haku [PHONETIC]. Keep the good, set the bad aside.


Easier said than done.


It is, isn’t it?


But great advice.


It is incredible advice.


Did you figure out how to do that?


I believe I have. But of course, I also have a heart problem, and it really surprised me when I had my first episode. So I thought, Well, maybe I’m not doing as good a job as I thought I was, but—


Of keeping stress away from your life?


But genetics too. So I can blame it on that. But yes, I believe, ‘cause like you imagine today someone driving down the road, and they left late. That’s their problem to begin with, right? And now they’re rushing to get somewhere, they’re gonna be—all that stress that builds up, and it’s useless, right, to get irate about it. So Tutu folks keep the good, set the bad aside.


And they could do that?


They did. Yeah. I think they had to. Lanai was a stressed island, particularly after Western contact. So if you became the victim, you know, pau, waste time, yeah? And look at these people, they raised and they touched so many people’s lives. Tutu folks told us, Mai kaulai ka lima i ka la [PHONETIC], don’t put the palm of your hand up to the sun. Huli ka lima ilalo a hana, alo ao i ka ae [PHONETIC], turn your hand down and work, and you will have food to sustain yourself. What a simple, basic value. And our children aren’t getting that; we’re all learning this. Yeah? Put the palm up. I want to share with you three cute twists on a saying. On Lanai, Tutu Papa taught me … maikai ka hana a ka lima, o nono kai a ka waha [PHONETIC]. When the hands do good work, the mouth has good food to eat. Cool, yeah?


I like that.


It is. You think about it. Then, I’m working with Tutu Kinoolu Kahananui, later years, yeah, in Kona District. And wonderful old man, native speaker, great, great historian. His tutu taught him, hana inu ka lima ai i nono ka waha [PHONETIC]. Do dirty work with your hands, you going eat dirty food. Same idea, right? But a whole different twist.


Other side of it.




The facet.


Yes. And then, we go with Tutu Mahiula Hashimoto at Haena on Kauai. Nice man, wonderful fisherman. His tutu, his saying was more simple. Hana ka lima ai ka waha [PHONETIC]. Work, you going eat. [CHUCKLE] You know.


I know people who are skilled in Hawaiian arts like to share, but they don’t share with everyone. So they chose to share with you.


Mahalo ke Akua. That’s all we can say. You know, somehow that gift from God of a little Haole boy being off on the side somewhere, but coming up and being at the right place at the right time. I don’t think it was an accident. We do work now—you know, Onaona and I, in our oral history, we’ve done close to a thousand oral history interviews across the state, recorded interviews from Niihau through Hawaii.


What’s the best question you ask? What elicits the best responses?


O wai kou inoa? What is your name? O wai oe? Who are you? Where do you come from? Who are your kupuna? And I’m sorry, it can be one, but the next one is, and What is your aina? That aina is what connects everybody, yeah?


You hardly have to ask more questions after that.




What is your aina? Has it become Lanai?


In my heart, it is Lanai. For years, Onaona and I have worked around the state, and I was telling her in 2005; I says, Kinda shame though, yeah? I’ve never had the opportunity for us to do an ethnographic study on Lanai. And in 2005, after I said that, the first opportunity arises. And then we get asked by members of the community who were involved in a memorandum of agreement, this development was being proposed and then developed on Lanai. I get asked by the community members, Come home and help us make a museum. So Lanai is the home of my heart.


And what is ethnographic? I’m sorry, I don’t know.


Well, it’s the collection of the stories of people. So archeology. And I sometimes even disagree, when we were working on the state process, when they say, Oh, this is an archeological site, this is this. I say, Uh-uh, it starts first as a cultural site. Archeology looks at the biggest piles of stones and bones, those are the things that are significant. But I can tell you that just a named puu, a named point … every place that is named has a story to tell.


But sometimes, you don’t get the right story. Later generations tell a different version.


Oh, yes.


How do you get the right version of why it was named that?


And I humbly say this, is that … well, Tutu, yeah, and Auntie Maiki or Tutu Pukui folks, aohe pau ka ike ka halau hookahi [PHONEITC]. That not all knowledge comes from one school. So maybe my right—not mine, but the right that I’ve been taught may not be someone else’s right. But the bottom line is, you go through the historical accounts, the native language newspapers, and incredible resources that have been collected. I believe that those kupuna were writing so that future generations would know the stories. So, what we do is you connect those historical resource materials with the stories of people who were living on the land, and who are descended of the land. And they could be Japanese, Filipino, Chinese, Haole. But people that interacted with people Tutu’s generation and older, yeah? And we present it as this is the story that they tell, this is their pono, their right. And you let it speak for itself. This is one of the reasons that sometimes archeologists today, they say, Well, Kepa and Onaona are doing this work, but they’re not making judgments on it. And I said, It’s not my right to make a judgment on it. The people speak for themselves, the land for itself. And you can also see where … Tutu Kawena, I asked her at one point. We were talking about John Papa Ii’s fragments of Hawaiian history, which is a product of one of the preeminent Hawaiian historians, right? So I said, Tutu, pehea oe o no a kela inoa [PHONETIC], fragments of Hawaiian history. I always had a hard time understanding what that meant. And she looked at me and said, Na Ii nu, it was Ii himself who called it that. [HAWAIIAN LANGUAGE] moolelo Hawaii, fragments of Hawaiian history. His own title. And so what I take from that, and when I speak about it today is, I say that if John Papa Ii, who was born and raised as an attendant to the Kamehameha children, as a steward to those children, he witnessed the last human sacrifice at Papaenaena Heiau, on Leahi, on Diamond Head. He traveled with the Kamehameha family back to Hawaii. If it was fragmented for him in his time, how much more so for us today. So those fragments that we have left are treasures. It will speak for itself. And you can see where the connections go. You can see where this tradition, even if we’ve never heard this before, you can see does it fit comfortably with this body of knowledge that has been gifted down to the generations. And in some instances, you can see where if someone’s out there changing a whole genealogy, mm, a na hui kaua [PHONETIC], maybe it’s a little confusing there.


I notice that you use the word Haole.




And I know that there are some people in the public who say … that’s not appropriate. If they’re Caucasian, it makes them feel like an outsider, it seems pejorative to a group. What is your feeling about the word Haole?


Well, and I apologize if I’ve offended anyone. But, it’s very interesting. In the oldest context of the word a Haole is anyone who is not Hawaiian. Only Hawaiians are kanaka. So the original context now, this is a good example of stories being passed on. So one of the families that’s well known on Lanai was that of Charles Gay. And he married a pure Hawaiian woman, and his last surviving child, Auntie Venus Gay Holt, just passed away the later part of last year at a hundred and six. While talking with Auntie Venus, and then her older brothers, there’s a story about how the word Haole even came up. Two versions of the story.


Oh, I’d love to hear.


Okay. And these were family traditions, and I can’t tell you that this is really what it means, because as we said, if you go to the dictionary, you go to old language resources, Haole was anyone who was not Hawaiian. But, Captain Cook arrives off of Kauai in 1778, and this is from Roland Gay and his brother, Lawrence. And the chiefs, the people, they’re off of Waimea, they see this floating island, right? Ah, ua hiki mai o Lono, Lono has arrived, yeah? And the chiefs of Kauai sent canoes out to greet these people and begin to offer them mele, chants, the genealogy. [HAWAIIAN LANGUAGE] Your body is Lono there in the heavens. It was Lono [HAWAIIAN LANGUAGE]. It was Lono who caused the stars to be strung through the heavens. And the people on the boat, Captain Cook folks, sat there with no response. And the Hawaiians were puiwa. First thing, they run back, ‘cause they see them hemo their clothes, yeah, take their clothes off like that, and all white skin underneath. They run back. One story is, [HAWAIIAN LANGUAGE], skinless people. Yeah? The other one was, [HAWAIIAN LANGUAGE], people who had no breath of life. Because these life- giving chants that had been offered went unresponded to.


That’s where the no breath of life comes in. I see. So now, you use Haole to mean Caucasians? Or do you use it for anybody not Hawaiian? Filipinos, Samoans.


Yes. I do. Sorry, ‘cause that’s what I was taught the word means. And I don’t mean it in a negative way. It’s just that we’re not as lucky.


At home and at work, Kepa Maly’s partner of over thirty years is his wife, Onaona. Their business, Kumu Pono Associates, mirrors the efforts of Onaona’s grandaunt, the renowned Hawaiian scholar, Mary Kawena Pukui, whom you heard Kepa mention. Since the business’ establishment in 1995, it has completed more than three hundred ethnographic studies and conducted more than five hundred oral history interviews. Lots of stories. And then, there’s the love story of Kepa and Onaona Maly.


Well, Onaona actually is descended from the Pukui and Mahoe lines in Kaiapa. Those are the main lines. But what’s interesting, like her great-great-grandaunt was Queen Liliuokalani’s adopted daughter, Lydia Aholo. And we knew Tutu Aholo up ‘til she was a hundred years old to hear these stories of her upbringing and how she would play hide-and-seek with the Queen’s other children before the Queen Liliuokalani Children’s Center was made. But when she would play hide-and-seek, Auntie Lydia would go hide under the Queen’s dress. And no one, of course, would go seek for her under there.


Oh, good one.


Yes. So what happens is, now I’m working at Kualoa. We’ve opened Kualoa, and Onaona’s mother is a teacher at Bingham Tract School. And we’re, of course, working with schools from around the islands, right, thinking about doing camping programs, canoeing programs, back country programs with these youth who often would have no other opportunity to do anything like this, yeah? So this is God’s truth. I hear the car arrive. I know the group is coming. I hear a car arrive, I step out of my office. It’s Onaona and her father. Onaona opens the door of the car, steps out. Kanehoalani is the highest peak of the ridge above Kualoa, and the sun is setting above it. And I swear, this ray of light comes down, illuminates Onaona, and for me, it was love at first sight. I hope that she was okay about it. We were married six months later. [CHUCKLE]


Have you asked her what her impression of you at first sight was?


She loves me.




I’m blessed. [CHUCKLE]


And that had never happened to you before, right?


Never; nah.


This was not a common occurrence for you.


No, no. No, no; not a common occurrence at all.


This light bathing—


Yeah, yeah. To me, it was it was like, wow. And we chuckle about it all the time, and when people ask us, this is our story.


Kepa Maly continues to work to maintain a sense of place and balance on Lanai, and in Hawaii. The man who once was an alienated kid has made it his life’s mission to find and share connections in our island home. We’ll hear more from Kepa Maly about his spiritual connection to Lanai on an upcoming episode of Long Story Short. Thank you, Kepa, for sharing your stories with us, and thank you for watching and supporting PBS Hawaii. I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou kakou.


For audio and written transcripts of this program, and all episodes of Long Story Short With Leslie Wilcox, visit


Hawaiians are real people, living people. Tutu Kawelo taught me a beautiful saying, because we were talking about Kawelo of Kaalaia. We were talking about anaana, sorcerer practices like that. And Tutu said, [HAWAIIAN LANGUAGE]. In all people, there are some that are good and some that aren’t. And so, she was also tied in the conversation about whether you Haole, someone who was not of Hawaiian ancestry, of other mixed ancestries, or real people doing real things, living their lives as best they could. And I believe the Hawaiians left us models. We have models that we can learn from to actually live better in our island landscape. There’s only so much to go around; you take too much today, pau, tomorrow you don’t eat. That idea of [HAWAIIAN LANGUAGE], healthy land, healthy people. Yeah?


Enough is plenty.


Yeah; that’s right.


Part 2: Lanai and the Spirit of Place


I believe Hawaiian, non-Hawaiian alike, we are touched by spirit of place. I also believe that sometimes, some of the bad decisions that are made down here in Honolulu are because we have insulated ourselves in cement, iron, glass molds that don’t let us reconnect with the aina.


Cultural consultant and Executive Director of the Lanai Culture and Heritage Center, KEPA MALY, next on LONG STORY SHORT.  


Aloha mai kakou, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Kepa Maly was an introverted teenager, feeling isolated and so adrift that he left his home on Oahu for a new life on the island of Lanai. He was welcomed by the Kaopuikis as a keiki hookama, an older child taken in as one’s own by another family. The only Haole boy in school, Kepa forged a connection with the native Hawaiian culture. He became a fluent speaker of the Hawaiian language. In fact if you close your eyes when he speaks Hawaiian, you think you’re in the presence of old-style native speaker. Kepa eagerly immersed himself in the depth of knowledge of his elderly hanai parents, Tutu Mama Hattie Kaenaokalani Kaopuiki and Papa Daniel Kaopuiki, and other kupuna. All of that translates into an adult life in happy partnership with his wife Onaona, conducting oral histories and other research on Hawaii’s people and places. These ethnographic studies have helped preserve island cultural treasures.


I would—like summertime, you hit fifteen on Lanai, you go out and pick pineapple, right? I loved it when I got night shift, because I’m not a night person, but I’m an early morning person no matter what it is. And so, I would pick pineapple. We would get off close to midnight or something like that, so I’d get a few hours sleep. And Tutu would say, Oh up in Waiapaa where the springs, and in this spring, Tutu always said there was a kananaka, a mermaid, a moo form that lived in this spring, that when Tutu Mama was a girl, she would go up there. And her kupuna had warned her, [HAWAIIAN LANGUAGE]. You wait until the moo is gone, the winds have calmed, and then you go take your water. So I wanted to go see the spring. I never saw the moo, but I got up to Waiapaa. So they would talk about these places, or where the last purple blossomed lehua


You would go alone on your own to—




—find these places?


Yeah. I was old enough. In my mid-teens up through high school. So it was great. And I would know when I had found them, come back, describe. Or else, Tutu would say there was maile up here, and I’d go find the maile. Or Tutu would say, Oh, had the sugar mill, the old sugar mill. No one knows there was a sugar mill on Lanai. Tutu folks, Uncle Lloyd Cockett, Tutu Maggie Kauwenaole, they would talk about this place or that. We would go out and find it. I would go find them. It was to me, it was, sorry, one last. When I was in high school, people like do you remember Donald Kilolani Mitchell, who was—




up at ka—yes. He and Hooulu Cambra them, and others from Bishop Museum would come to Lanai, and I would get pulled out of school to go take them to go holo holo.


Because you’d already been around.




Now, your Tutu folks, were they too elderly to go with you on these—








How old were they?


Well, 1898—




—and 1892. So Tutu them were in their late seventies, eighties. Their life continued, excuse me, up through their through their mid-90s, just about early to mid-90s.


And were you the first child for them?


No. They had sixteen of their own.








Yeah. The oldest today, Auntie Lei, or Kuuleialoha Kaopuiki Kanipaa, is ninety-six. She is sadly, the last elder native speaker of Hawaiian language on the island.


Lanai has a long history of weathering change brought on by the introduction of European livestock, pineapple production, an affluent tourist clientele, and other by-products of Western Contact. From Kepa Maly’s many years of gathering the stories shared by kupuna, he brings Lanais rich cultural history to life.


Lanai, in at least the tradition of a chief by the name of Kaululaau, perhaps 1400-ish, based on genealogies, he goes to the island, which at that time is called Kaulahea, because named for the—the goddess that gave birth to it. He encounters ghosts, akua who dwell on the island and who make it very difficult for anyone to survive there. He goes around the island—it’s a wonderful story, and actually challenges the ghosts and vanquishes them. He reaches the top of the mountain, the highest point, and builds a house there. And he invites the last group of akua, ghosts to come to the housewarming party. They weren’t very bright, apparently. Inside the house, he’s thatched it with pilali, the gum of oha and kapa—uh, papala, trees that are like bird line that they would catch birds with to stick. Well, as it a ghost walks in, you have to kneel down to get into the door of old Hawaiian house, yeah, ‘cause they weren’t tall doors. And as each ghost comes in, he goes, [HAWAIIAN LANGUAGE]. He sticks them up face-first, closing their eyes against the thatching wall of the house, steps out, burns the house down, the ghosts are killed. The last ghost, king of the ghosts, is the last one to die, and on the day of his death, the island is called Lanai, day of victory, day of conquest.


That’s what the victory is.


Yes. And so, Lanai Hale is the peak of the island … the house of Lanai, built, as—as we said, by Kaululaau. But there are incredible place names, stories. The other peak of our island home is called Haalelepaakai, which means salt left behind or discarded. And it’s a story of two fishermen who come across from Maui, malihini, yeah? They come across. And see, that’s another word, malihini. Malihini—doesn’t mean—they’re someone who wasn’t familiar to a given place. Okay.


So it could be somebody like me from Honolulu going to—


That’s correct.




Exactly; exactly. So these malihini come, and they’re laden down with their puolo of paakai, their fishing gear. Early in the morning, they rise up to the summit, the second summit of Lanai Hale, and they look down into Palawai Basin, and they see a bed of white. Ah, ae no ka paakai, [HAWAIIAN LANGUAGE]. There’s salt down there, we should just go ahead and throw away our salt, and we’ll gather the salt below. Well, they get down there, now the sun is rising. Guess what? Ho ka, no more nothing. The salt’s all gone, because it was mist.


Oh-h-h …


And so, they ask a native of Palawai. Ah, ihe a ka paakai? Where’s the salt? Ah, kuihewa olua, you made mistake. Aohe paakai [HAWAIIAN LANGUAGE]. It wasn’t salt, but only mist. And so, Tutu folks taught in parables also, right? And one of the sayings was, kekuhihewa o ke kanaka piikula o Lanai Hale [PHONETIC]. The mistake of the men who ascended the slopes of Lanai Hale was to discard their salt. Don’t act in haste. Yeah. Know what you’ve got.


One of the fun things about growing up on Lanai was hearing Tutu folks talk about this place, and what it was known for, and these stories are really incredible. Whether they’re recorded in mele and traditional chant form, or even in music. And of course, Lanai has been so out of sight, out of mind for many people that there are not a lot—excuse me, not a lot of songs out about Lanai. And so, Tutu folks had their sixty-fifth wedding anniversary, and I composed a song for them. It was my way of expressing as a gift of aloha, ‘cause I couldn’t give them any—I had no money, right? Couldn’t give them anything. So they had their wedding anniversary, and I composed a song for them. Then we come up to what was basically their seventy-fifty wedding anniversary. Imagine; seventy-five years of marriage, let alone just living that long, yeah? And I composed another song, and it was all based on the stories that they had told me about Lanai. A stronger section of the verse, a softer section of the verse being Tutu Papa and Tutu Mama, who always covered him, you know, gave him that softer, those qualities that, made life easier. And recently woke up crack of dawn with these words in my mind and this melody.


And it was celebrating story places of Kaa Ahupuaa, which is the northwestern end of the Island of Lanai, where Keahiakawelo where you and I visited you know the Quote, unquote, Garden of the Gods. And the very point is Kaena, the beach, this miles along of white sand beach, Palihua, cove of eggs, because the turtles nested there. And that’s celebrated in one of the few ancient mele of Lanai for the Pele migration, where Pele, you know [CHANTS], you know, calling, [HAWAIIAN LANGUAGE] is Pele. She wears a garland of ieie that is woven for her. As the lines of the mele go on, it describes that Pele eats of the turtles of Polihua. It was okay back then, because it was in their cultural context, yes? And it talks about these places, though, and about standing on top of Kanepuu and looking up to the heights of Lanai Hale. And you can see the cloud layer going down like a garland at Maunalei, which means Mountain Garland. So the song speaks of some of those famous places.


What about that wind you told me about—




—with that—




—lovely, just gorgeous name?


See? Again, that beauty of the Hawaiian poetry and language and of their mind comes from their naau, from their very gut, their essence, yeah? Um, the wind’s name is Hoomoepili. Hoomoe, cause to lay down the pili grass. And of course, when we stand out there, you can see how that wind can cause actually sometimes things more than pili grass to lay down. [CHUCKLE]


That’s right; the rocks get eroded.


Yes, yes. And rolling away bits and flakes of rock like an onion, unpeeling one layer after another, and being blown off into the wind.




Hoomoepili; yeah.


And pili is a word that you use a lot.


Yeah. Well, pili is not just that grass, but it is the connection, the relationship, the closeness, yeah, that we feel. And I believe Hawaiian, non-Hawaiian alike, we are touched by a spirit of place. I’m sorry, I also believe that sometimes, some of the bad decisions that are made down here in Honolulu are because we have insulated ourselves in cement, iron, glass molds that don’t let us reconnect with the aina.


Can’t even see it.


Yeah. Yeah. So you know, these kinds of things. Can I share with you a little bit of that mele?


Oh, I’d love to hear it.


That talks about that. You know, we just—


So this is a tour of the northwestern side?


The northwestern side of Lanai, Kaa—


Now, there’s a Kaena on Oahu that’s—


That’s correct.


—also northwestern. Is that—




Does that mean …




That means heat, doesn’t it?


Well, it can, but it also means wrath.




Because the currents that come from the Koolau and the Kona sides of the islands meet there, and they—


Oh-h-h …


—roil. Yeah, so—


That’s it. And I’ve seen them—


Yes; exactly.


—butt up against each other.


That’s right.




Now, we’re gonna go up to Kanepuu and look up to Lanai Hale. We were there.




The last line of the song is nine verses, so I’m not gonna do ‘em all.




So the last line says, These are among the storied places of Lanai which is beloved and set there in the calm. And this comes from Tutu folks, their stories, the—the stories, the traditions that are handed down. And so, we need to keep people connected to this beauty. It’s all that we have that no one else has, right?


That last word, malie, calm.




In 2007, Kepa Maly found the opportunity to honor his adopted island home. As the Executive Director of the non-profit Lanai Culture and Heritage Center, Kepa showcases Lanai’s past and provides a gathering place for living history.


Office of Hawaiian Affairs gave us seven hundred and fifty thousand dollars to engage young local people of Lanai who were otherwise unemployed in stewardship out in the field, and in creating a climate controlled museum and engaging people in documenting and collecting their history. You walk in, the space is well used. We have a timeline that I’ve got people from the Smithsonian and other places coming and saying, This is a model for communities across the nation. So there’s a timeline that takes you from the island rising above sea level, to the close of the plantation in 1992. We have artifacts that were found by native families and given to Kenneth Emory in 1921 and 22, when he did his initial archeology on Lanai.


What kind of artifacts?


Typical things, like the poi pounders, ulumaika, sling stones, lures. We have an incredible pu, a conch shell. It was found actually by John Stokes in 1911, 1912 down at Kanaele. And I got brave one day, and tried to blow it. It has the cleanest, clearest sound. It’s just—and imagine, who did that herald. Who did that conch, that pu, herald the arrival of sometime in antiquity, yeah? Our program focuses on a thousand years basically of residency on Lanai; that Hawaiian period up through a ranch. We were an active ranch for a hundred years, longer than we were a pineapple plantation. The ranch … was owned by Walter Murray Gibson. Gibson starts the ranching operation, formalizes it basically as a sheep ranch, and began exporting sheep, wool, and mutton from the island to the Honolulu market. Then, he passes away in 1888. His daughter-in-law—daughter, Talula, and son-in-law, Frederick Hazelton, take over and try various facets of business, and in 1898, come up with this idea that reminds me of modern ideas, and creates a sugar plantation. Lots of water, no worry, we can develop eight million gallons of water a day on Lanai. We going plant three thousand acres of sugar. They build a locomotive, a train, they have a sugar mill, they have a community of like eighty or ninety houses, a little hotel. All this stuff. And by 1901, they formalize it in 1899, in March of 1901 they’re bankrupt. And three thousand acres of land are left uncultivated, with grazing animals over it, our reefs are buried under sedimentation, the beautiful reefs and fishponds. Today, when you go to Lanai to Keomoku Village, we’re restoring though an AGAPE Foundation grant, we’ve engaged community members, and we’re restoring the old church, the last wooden building of Keomoku Village. It’s beautiful. Once you get there now, we have the sugar mill trail open, the church is restored. The old boat that ended on the shore is now three hundred feet inland, because that much sedimentation in a hundred years—


Ah …


—has occurred. There are things to see. We’ve uncovered the locomotive, the 1837 mortar, stone and mortar school, church houses also. See, what we’re doing is, our program has allowed us and the landowner has given us a right of entry agreement to do this. What I believe is, we’re creating added value for our own kamaaina experience on Lanai, but for people who come and want to. Why would I drive that long, dirty keawe over-laden road if no more nothing to see? So you know, our program, as I said, spans this thousand years of ranch, a three-year-long sugar mill, seventy years as a pineapple plantation up until 1992. Imagine; when Onaona and I returned to Lanai the graduating class of 2006 was the first class to graduate children that had never seen pineapple growing commercially on Lanai. The continuity on Lanai, from one business endeavor to the next, has always been the people. And there are some people, even among the plantation period, families of Japanese, of Filipino, of Korean mixed ancestries, they are on Lanai because it is home. We’ve just finished an oral history project, recording elder kamaaina families of Lanai. And how many of them tear up when they say they came from the Philippines, or they came from somewhere else, or from Japan, Lanai is my home. There are few places like Lanai now, and I think that that’s an asset for us. It’s a way, actually, to remain sustainable and viable if we care for these unique qualities.


There used to be a lot more people living on Lanai—




And they didn’t need a barge coming in for food, either.


You got it. The Kenneth Emory, and actually, Dr. Emory and I walked around Lanai together in 1975. It was fifty years of his celebrating the publication of his Archaeology of Lanai. But when Kenneth was on Lanai in 1921 and 22, he gave estimates based on what he saw of a population of about three thousand people. We’ve been doing, funded by Office of Hawaiian Affairs, archaeology in the Kaa District of Lanai. And with the archaeologists, we know that we can rewrite the history of Lanai, and actually, the [INDISTINCT] settlement and residency history of Lanai. We know also that based on the archaeological evidence … at least six thousand people lived on Lanai, and what you just said, it was sustainable. Everything they need, they caught from the ocean or they grew on the land. Today, one week, southerly storm, Kona storm come in, naulu blowing in like that pau, the barge doesn’t go in. Milk is nine, ten dollars a gallon. Eh, you want good gas mileage; five seventy-nine a gallon right now.


I think I paid that price.




It’s five-seventy now.




Yeah. I mean—




It’s gotta be, what … well, it is one of the highest—






It is the highest, yes.


Is it The?


I believe it’s the highest.


And there’s one gas station—


One gas station.


—in Lana‘i City.


Yes. And—and of course, the nice thing is there’s only thirty miles of paved road, the rest is dirt. So, you know, not like we gotta drive far.


Yeah, but when you have a stomachache, it’s not a good time to go for a drive.


That’s right.


The small but well-organized Lanai Culture and Heritage Center is a revelation for visitors and some residents as well. While pineapple production was tough on the land, Lanai still has special cultural places and they are simply not as well-known as those on other islands. At the heritage center in the heart of little Lanai City, community volunteers take care of some of the learning programs, sharing island history and spirit.


Well, most of our people say Lanai, and they say White Stone or Sweetheart Rock, or Garden of the Gods. One of Onaona’s big missions, and this why in our website we have this place names. Speak our traditional names, speak the names of our kupuna. And it engages people. That’s what we have. So you can get a nice resort with good service anywhere; what you can’t get are the stories of the people, the storied faces and places of Lanai. Yeah?


I know at Manele Bay, the—








The tourists love the story of Sweetheart Rock.




Now, is that based on fact, or on true legend?




Not made up—


it is.




But it—it’s—it’s—it’s an interesting account in that Puupehe, or Pehe, was the name of a young, beautiful woman of Lanai. She was betrothed to a gentleman by the name of Makakehau, dewy misty eyes. So you get an idea that maybe there’s not a real cheerful personality there, yes? He loves her greatly, but he’s also jealous, and when he leaves to go to the uplands or goes out to go fishing, he wants her to stay in the cave of Malauwea, which is where Puupehe sits here, and then the higher peak is here. There’s a cave right underneath there. Well, the cave faces out to the Kona storms. One day, Makakehau is ascending the slopes and getting ready to go gather uao birds off of the mountain lands. He looks back down and sees off of Kealahikahiki … Kahoolawe, a naulu storm, raging storm suddenly swell coming in. He drops what he’s doing, and runs back down, but is too late. Pehe has died, killed by the wave surge. He laments her passing, gathers her body, and that night she’s prepared for interment. But at the close of night, he asks her family, who are rather peeved at him, to allow—




Yeah. To allow him to watch vigil over her this one last time. They agree. Early the morning, the sun is arising. They go to the hale, to the house site. No more them; they’re gone. And off in the distance, Auwe! [HAWAIIAN LANGUAGE]. You know, Auwe! My love has passed on, never shall we two swim in the waters protected by the shark Ahipuhi, never shall we gather the uau of the uplands or eat the ohelo berries, or walk the sandy shore at Ulopoe. They follow the voice, and they see that he is atop of that island’s steep-side at eighty, ninety feet high, something like that, and there’s a platform built on top of it with an upright stone in it. Still see it today. He ends his uwe helu, his lament, and leaves off and kills himself. So, the only junk thing about that is, is that it’s not a real good sweetheart story, right?




And so, they don’t usually tell that part of the story.


But did it really happen, or is that a legend based on something?


We have to believe that it is tradition, that it was handed down to folks told the story. Walter Murray Gibson collected the story from, I believe it was Piianaia, who was with Kamehameha on Lanai when during the Kamehameha period. It has been handed down.


At the time of this conversation in 2012, Kepa Maly lives on Oahu for medical reasons. He visits Lanai each month to keep the vision strong at the Lanai Culture and Heritage Center. Mahalo piha, Kepa Maly for sharing your “Long Story Short,” and thank YOU for watching and supporting PBS Hawaii. I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou kakou.


You know, we have a mesic, a dry forest complex; it’s struggling. But there are things found, like a beautiful iliahi, a maile whose leaf was the size of my little fingernail that was famed in native language accounts as being gathered and bedecked with a lei as you went down to Polihua. The puanau or nanu, the native gardenia five wild trees left on Earth there.




Mike Irish


The next LONG STORY SHORT features Mike Irish, known as Hawaii’s “kim chee king.”
As a young man starting college, Mike broke his neck in a football impact which
left him paralyzed. He had to leave college and faced the prospect of never walking
again. However, he never gave up hope – and somehow he regained full movement.
Perhaps as a result of facing down his fear, Mike lives with a sort of fearlessness
which has helped make him a successful Honolulu businessman. You’ll hear how
risk-taking helped him develop an unconventional business model and enabled
him to corner the market in legacy local food brands.


This program is available in high-definition and will be rebroadcast on Wed.,
May 20 at 11:00 pm and Sun., May 24 at 4:00 pm.


Mike Irish Audio


Download the Transcript





Have you ever been broke?


Oh, yeah. Yeah. I have; many times. Many times.


You’re serially broke. [CHUCKLE]


Yeah; yeah.


But then, you always gain your money back?


Yeah; mm.


Are you comfortable with that? How comfortable can you be with that?


You know, we came from nothing, so nothing doesn’t scare me. Everything’s been the outside, so our family was very poor at one time. So, coming from that side, having nothing, it doesn’t scare me.


Mike Irish has been battling the odds throughout his life, but has found success as a real estate developer and as the Kim Chee King of Hawaii. Owner of Halm’s Enterprises and other businesses, Mike Irish, 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. When life knocks Mike Irish down, he gets right back up again. When he broke his neck and became paralyzed as a young adult, he somehow learned to move and walk again, amazing the doctors. And when they warned him to restrict his physical activities, he lifted weights, bodysurfed, and entered triathlons. This fearlessness translated into Mike’s approach toward business. When he nearly lost everything in several business ventures, he continued to risk it all, and found success as the owner of Halm’s Kim Chee and other favorite local food brands. Growing up in the neighborhoods of Liliha and Kaimuki, Mike was introduced to the entrepreneurial spirit at a young age.


Tell me about how life began for you. Where, and what was your family like?


Mother, Korean; father, Caucasian.


And part Irish?


Oh, yes; part Irish, English, Scotch, Dutch, German. And Queen’s Hospital, and raised for the first five years up in Liliha. And then, moved to Kaimuki up by Leahi Hospital. And that’s where I went to Liholiho Elementary School, Kaimuki Intermediate, and then Kalani.


And what did your parents do? What were they like?


My father was a entrepreneur; he was always doing business. He got into general contracting and developing. My mother was more of a stay-home mom. There were six of us. They each had a child coming to the marriage, and they had four of us in the marriage.


How many boys, how many girls?


Three boys, three girls. And it goes, boy, girl, boy, girl, boy, girl. And so, I’m the youngest boy.


She had a business, as well.


Yeah. I don’t know if she had the business as well as my dad wanted her to have a business. ‘Cause he loved business, too. So, he got her a little ice cream parlor in Kapahulu called Dot’s. ‘Cause her name was Dorothy. And so, they called it Dot’s, and everything was dots; right? And the tablecloths and so forth. So, we did that for, I think, about a year or two.


Did you help out?


Yeah; I’d go down, and I’d take all my pay out in ice cream. [CHUCKLE]


And she paid well; right?


I think that’s why she ended up closing about a year and a half later. [CHUCKLE] All of us came down and ate more ice cream than we sold.


Did she like doing it, even though it wasn’t her idea?


Yeah, she did. You know, I think she wanted to experience that side of business, to get a feel of what it feels like to not be able to sleep at night, ‘cause you gotta worry about all these different things, rather than just getting up in the morning. She was a maid at the Moana. And so, this was a little detour from that.


Were they the kind of parents who would sit you down and give you advice, or did you learn from them by watching?


You know, what’s really funny is that by the time I was five going on to six, they actually got divorced.


Oh …


But it wasn’t like divorce, where the father was not connected. You know, he would always come by, and if we ever stepped out of line, she would call him to come home and straighten us out. And we’d spend the weekends with him, and so forth. And what happened when I was about thirteen at my ninth grade year at Kaimuki Intermediate, my mother passed away.


How old was she?


She was forty-one.


Oh, my goodness.




So, you had a lot of loss early.


Yeah; yeah. So you know, it was pretty tough, especially on us at that time.


Where did you go to live; with your father?


No, actually, he moved back into the house. But then, it’s a little different, you know, ‘cause you’re being raised by a Korean mother, right, who’s very—and then—


Who’s very, what?


Who very much takes care of the boys. [CHUCKLE] And then, all of a sudden, your father comes in, who’s Caucasian, and you know, everything’s fifty-fifty. We’re all doing dishes, laundry, and it’s all new to us. And so, it was really tough. There was a little bit of rebellion there.


On your part, or everybody’s part?


Everybody. First of all, the family’s hurting. Everybody’s trying to find their own place. And you know, we just tried to find other areas. So, we would get into a little trouble, you know. And that was just the way it was at that time.


And did the rebellion stop by the time you ended high school?


Yeah, I think it did. I think as you grow up, you find out that, you know, this is not what Mom would want us to do.


What were you doing, anyway? I have to ask you in particular, what’s a little trouble?


Oh, well, you know, what happens when you have that much loss, you know, you have a lot of pain. So, you go out and you’re in Kaimuki and so forth, so you get into a lot of fights and so forth. And it kinda feels good to have someone else hit you and feel a different type of pain. So, you get into a lot of fights.


And for no reason? You picked the fight?


Well, you can pick ‘em, or they’ll pick you. You know, everybody’s territorial at the time. You know, this is our block, or our area, you know, in Kaimuki. Imagine that; in Kaimuki.


As Mike Irish graduated from Kalani High School in Honolulu, his athletic talent landed him a college scholarship. However, his life was about to take another unexpected turn.


I was fortunate; I got a scholarship to University of Hawaii to play football. And freshman year, and it’s like we’re two to three weeks into the season, and it’s the last day before the day of the game. Now, we’re fourth, fifth string, so you know, but if we played well, we might be able to get suited up for the game, just to go run into the stadium. So, everybody’s playing pretty hard. And in those days, they taught us how to hit with our face, facemask in the numbers, which is now illegal.


But you were actually taught to do it.


We were taught to do that. And it was a great way to—I mean, you could really hurt somebody, or get hurt, as I found out. And that’s what happened. I ended up hitting someone, and it broke my neck. And so, I was paralyzed from the neck, down. And I thought it was a stinger. I thought, you know, it’s one of these things you shake off. And when I got to the hospital, I said, you know, Guys, I got a game tomorrow; is there something we take? You know, ‘cause I’m waiting for this thing to wear off. And that’s when the doctor told me; he says, You should be grateful you’re even alive. According to the x-rays, you fractured your number one vertebra, which means, you know—


Where is that? Which one is it?


It’s the top.


The top one.


It controls breathing, and everything. And it’s amazing that you’re still alive. I said, Okay. And that was the good news. The bad news was that you’ll probably never walk again. And I said, Excuse me?




Yeah. He says, You’re paralyzed from the neck, down, but you’re alive. Why would I want to be alive? [CHUCKLE] Paralyzed from the neck, down; why would I want to be alive? So anyway, about three months after the injury, they sent me to rehab. I went to rehab about two and a half weeks after they stabilized me at Queen’s, and then I went to the rehab.


What had gone through your mind, those two and a half weeks?


Oh, in the two and a half weeks, you go through … you—you refuse to believe, so you’re still on this—you know, I’m not real depressed yet. I’m just a little scared, but the mindset is that, I’ll get over this.


Yeah; I get over everything.


Yeah; right. And so, they didn’t even bother to do the surgery on me. They just put me in a halo and moved me to rehab. And at rehab, for some reason, my feeling started to come back. And after about three months at rehab, I actually walked out with a walker, but then went back to Queen’s for the surgery.


Do they know why your feelings came back? Were you working out?


No; No, they never knew how damaged; they can just tell by how I was at that time. The technology in ’71 isn’t as what it is today. But in ’71, they looked at me and just said, You paralyzed. And then they found out that maybe one out of a million might come out of this. And I guess I was just fortunate. So, that makes me even enjoy life a little more every day.


No kidding. So then. you went into surgery to fuse—


To fuse; they fused number one, two, and three vertebras. That’s why I have a lack of mobility in my neck. But I’ll take that over—


You can’t swivel your neck?


No; no.


Oh …




But everything else came back?


Yeah; everything else came back. Yeah.


And that was how long after?


I went into a body cast, everything. It took about two years.


Two years, you were sidelined.


Yeah; yeah.


And then, no football scholarship after that.


No; because in those days, it’s not like today. If you got hurt while you were on scholarship, the school has to pay for your school. Over there, you know, you have a semester scholarship. If you do well, make the team, you get—you know.




So, evidently, I didn’t make the team. [CHUCKLE]


Wow. How did that change you, do you think?


Well, you know, it just makes you appreciate a lot of things. You know.


It could have made you bitter.




I lost my chance at school. ‘Cause you didn’t go to college after that.


No, I couldn’t.


You didn’t get bitter? And what about friends; did they hang with you?


Oh; I tell you what. It brought so many friends to me.




I mean, Kalani dedicated a game to me. University of Hawaii had a game dedicated. They gave me the team footballs. I mean, the support, you know, so much there that, that kept me going. And once I was able to get well again, you know, I couldn’t thank all those people that were supporting me enough. In fact, that’s why today, I sit on the um, rehab board. That’s one of the reasons. I said, If they ever ask me to do anything, I’ll do it. And about ten years ago, I think, they asked me if I would sit on their board. I said, Absolutely.


After his injury and stunning recovery, Mike Irish turned his attention to real estate development, something he dabbled in from a young age. Really young.’’


Oh, my plan was, I thought I’d go to college. But I always thought I’d be this big-time developer, you know, like the Chris Hemmeters and all these guys. And that was my dream.


Because you wanted to be a negotiator, or you wanted to be rich, or all of the above?


I loved real estate ever since I was a kid. I was involved in real estate ever since I was like, eight or nine years old.


With your father?


No; actually, I bought my own piece of real estate.


You did?


Yeah. My dad sent me, ‘cause he kept getting harassed, to this seminar at the Hilton were you get steak and lobster, and you just listen to the show. And it was for lots to buy in Florida. And so, I sat there, and I was just amazed.


And how old were you? Eighth grade, you said?


No, no, no. I was eight years old; eight or nine years old.




And I was always selling; I was always doing something. I was always trying to make money, according to my family.


What did you sell?


I’d sell newspapers. You know, I was selling newspapers when I was four or five years, ‘cause I watched people make money selling newspapers. So, I’d sell all these newspapers, not knowing that they were three weeks old.




‘Cause you don’t know that. Would you want to buy a paper?


[CHUCKLE] Oh, you cute little boy.




Of course, I would.


Yeah; that’s exactly how it worked out, you know. So, I ended up buying a couple lots, and my father had to co-sign for me. I thought, This is interesting.


How could you afford them? Had you saved money?


Oh; oh, yeah. I worked on the weekends at Chinatown, you know, the Yama brothers, a food stand, and then would work five in the morning ‘til five in the evening on Saturdays, and five to two on Sundays. And then, they’d pay you maybe between nine to eleven dollars. And then, so I knew I had like forty dollars a month. And then, during the summers, I’d work construction for my dad’s company.


And then, you didn’t blow it; you saved it.


Oh, no; what did was, actually, I made payments. I had a mortgage. I bought two lots for twenty-five dollars down; each lot, twenty-five dollars down, twenty-five dollars a month, for twenty-five hundred. So, I bought two of ‘em. And then, about three years later, I got a call. And so, now I’m twelve, so I’m already all grown up.


[CHUCKLE] Your voice is getting deeper.


And so, they asked if I’d like to sell the lots back.


Were they surprised to hear a twelve-year-old on the other end of the line?


No; my dad just gave me the phone and says, You gotta talk to my son. You know. ‘Cause I was on title, but he was my co-signer. So, I heard this, and they said, So, we’ll give you five thousand for each one of your lots. I said, What about the three years I’ve paid the twenty-five dollars? He says, Okay, we’ll give you that back too; will you sell? I said, Sure. A year later, they announced Disney World.




But it was okay, because I made my money back.


That’s good; that’s great.


And what we did was, we took that money, rolled it onto some land on the Big Island.


And then, what’d you do with that?


Actually, that became the downfall. Because my dad was a developer and constantly, he always risked everything, and he ended up going bankrupt. And because he co-signed and had to own that land, that land was part of his bankruptcy when he filed.


Oh; how old were you then?


Now, I’m probably like nineteen, twenty.




But it was okay. You know, because it really was money that, although I made, you know, it’s paper.


While Mike Irish was a struggling real estate developer, an unexpected business venture presented itself. Mike then made a risk-it-all decision that would lead to success in a very different type of industry.


I worked for my father’s company, and found out how he bought and sold real estate, and so forth, and how he was doing things. And it was pretty interesting. So, I think I learned more doing that than I would at any classroom.


And then, along the way, you started acquiring other kinds of businesses.


Because the development wasn’t going that well.


What year was this?


We’re going now from about ’80 to ’83, ’84. And I tried to do development full time. And I got caught at the wrong time, where interest rates were just skyrocketing.


Oh, going nuts.


Eighteen percent and so forth. And so, I got caught up in that. And then, I bought this Parks brand products, because I wanted a cash flow business, a little business that could cash flow. And so I bought this Parks brand products, which I had no knowledge of; food. They made sauces, barbecue sauces, ko choo jang, taegu. And I had no idea, but I thought, Oh, I can learn this. But I was losing everything, and then I found out Halm’s Kim Chee was for sale. And I thought, Well, if I put the last dollar I have into Halm’s Kim Chee, and it goes broke, again, I’m where I started from anyway. So, I bought Halm’s, and put the two together, and the synergy started to work. So, now we fast forward thirty some-odd years. And most of the companies, they have come to me to purchase. I’ve never had to go to them. When they found out I bought Halm’s, then Kohala came. All these other different companies.


And these are local cult-like, you know, just very iconic brands.


Yeah. And it’s really funny. We keep it that way so everybody still thinks it’s still that little old lady here, or that little person on Big Island, Kohala. And we want them to still believe. And we follow their recipes to the tee. So, everybody thought, Oh, so you have the same kitchen. No; each one is made differently. And each one is unique in its own style.


And they’re all made in the same place?


They’re all made in the same place.


For that synergy.


For the synergy. And distributed for the synergies. And our buying power is stronger. So, that sort of helps it.


So, how many have you bought up, these brands that have great significance locally?


Kim chee brands, I think we have nine kim chee companies, two takuan companies, and four sauce companies in the Halm’s brand. And then we have Keoki’s laulau and kalua pig. And then, we have Diamond Head Seafood.


When these families come to you and they say, We’re gonna retire the brand or the company, is it because they can’t make it work or the family has decided not take it to the next generation?


Yes; yeah, yeah. That’s basically it. The kids have gotten up every morning at five-thirty, five o’clock, labeled bottles, had to come home right after school to pack kim chee in the garage, or in the houses. And so, the kids, they want to do anything else, but kim chee.




You know, they want to get as far away from, you know, having to do that.


Is it usually second generation or third generation that says, I don’t think so. Second?


Second. Yeah; I haven’t seen the first, where they made it good, they sent all the kids to Punahou. And that generation is saying, Well, no, Dad, I’m an attorney. Close it down, I’ll take care of you.


No more labels. [CHUCKLE]


I’ll take care of you. You know, don’t worry about it, shut it down, I’ll take care of you. You know. So, it comes mostly in that fashion.


So, these brands would have all died.


I think so; yeah.


Didn’t you change the packaging of it?


No; actually, I haven’t.


You didn’t?


Well, they were all glass before.




I went to plastic. The glass was just too heavy and too hard. [CHUCKLE] ‘Cause we’re mixing them in vats, and when they’re making it, once they drop a bottle and crack it in the vat, you have to destroy the whole vat.


Ah …


So, it became … we need plastic bottles.


And was that a switch for the consumer, or did that go over just fine?


I think it went over just fine. I fought it for years. I—I really did; I fought it. I thought, No, it should be in glass jars, and you know, this and that. And then, all of a sudden, the economics didn’t work, the shipping costs, and then the taxing on the glass and so forth that we do here, then all of a sudden, the economics didn’t work, ‘cause then kim chee would get too expensive. So, I thought, Okay, let me try this with one brand. And we saw actually, a little bit of an increase in sales, because now, the parents could take it, put in their cars, and they didn’t have to worry about dropping the bag and breaking it, or something.


Did the kim chee purchases have anything at all to do with your being half Korean?


No; actually no, it didn’t. But the lady that introduced me was Korean was Chicken Alice. She’s the one that told me.


Chicken Alice?


Chicken Alice; Alice Ganhinhin. She’s the one who told me go buy Park’s brand products, because it was the secret to her Chicken Alice; she took that mix. So, she adopted me as her kid brother because I’m half Korean; both myself and my brother Bill.


Mike Irish forged a distinctive path to success in the business world, and along the way, he gained the guidance of several top Hawaii business leaders.


Do you have mentors, advisors?


I have great employees. I have some great employees. My mentors, one of them was Richard Kimi from the Hukilau Hotels. You know, I listen to a lot of people. Wesley Park is a good mentor. So, there’s a lot of people that help me, and that I listen to. Every now and then, even Walter Dods will give me advice. So, I’m very grateful for all the people that help me.


And of the names you just mentioned, has anyone given you advice that you could share?


Oh, yeah. I’ve gone to them on deals. You know, I’ve gone to Walter Dods. I’d ask him, What do you think about this deal? He said, Nope. And I listened. Okay; I don’t. [CHUCKLE]


What advice do you give people who want to make a dent in the business scene? And you know, you’ve done it your own way. What would you tell them that might differ from what maybe a business school would say?


My brother once told me; he said, You know, it’s funny, the harder you work, the luckier you are. If you’re willing to work hard, and put in the time and effort, you can do it. ‘Cause everybody looks at this, but when I was first starting, you know, you’re there at four in the morning, and you’re leaving at six at night, and you’re working six, seven days a week. So, all of a sudden, they see this, and they say, Oh, this is fun. But I go back to those days, you know, where I’m the one mixing the ko choo jang, I’m the one mixing the taegu.


And you don’t know if it’s gonna work out for you, either.


No, no. And I only have two other employees, besides myself. And I’m the one delivering and driving, and setting up the stores. And even when we bought Halm’s, I was my own deliveryman.


Imagine, a former quadriplegic is in Halm’s.






Mixing; yeah.


And carrying.




And lugging.


Actually, the doctors said, Well, what you have to do, you have to stay with rubber shoes, and you can’t lift anything over twenty pounds. And then, no sudden movements and so forth. But I’m, you know, from Kalani, so I went back to bodysurfing, I went back to playing racquetball, weightlifting. And I did about four or five Tin Mans in ’95 to 2001, I think it was. Something like that.


And was there anything you could have done to strengthen your neck, or that was it?




Just use it?






Yeah; yeah. He said, Well, you know, the next time it breaks, you know. I says, Well, I didn’t think I’d get this far anyway. [CHUCKLE]






Because all that sounds like a risk.


Yeah, it is; it is. But you know, you know, if I lived a life in shelter and just said, Okay, this is what I gotta do, and I was scared of everything, I wouldn’t be able to do anything I really enjoyed. So, you know, it really becomes the quality of life. What do you want in your life? Do you want quality, or do you want longevity?


You mentioned that your father was really influential. He passed away at a young age.




Not as young as your mom, but he was not—


He was sixty-eight; he passed away at sixty-eight. So, I was only about thirty-three, I think, at the time, thirty-four.




But his buildings are still standing, like he said. [CHUCKLE]


Yeah. Your life has had a lot of loss.


Yeah, but it’s been pretty rich. I’ve got great brothers and sisters, I’ve got a great wife. You know, I have great people that I work with in our factories. And you know, I couldn’t have asked for better. You know, facing the fact that I wasn’t ever gonna walk again, from that point, I’m really ecstatic. [CHUCKLE]


What do you want in life? Do you risk it all to get what you want, or do you take the safer path? Mike Irish’s recovery from paralysis caused by a football injury helped him realize that taking risks could actually lead him to a greater measure of security and happiness. These days, Mike may not take as many financial risks as he once did, but he continues to run his company and his life with a sense of fearlessness. Mahalo to Mike Irish of Honolulu for sharing his story with us. And mahalo to you, for joining us. For PBS Hawaii and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou.


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


Is the market still there for several brands of kim chee?


Oh, yeah; yeah. I think so. Because everybody has a certain style that they like. No different than clothing.




No different than clothing; everybody has a certain style that they like, and they’ll change.






Soul of a Banquet


Director Wayne Wang (The Joy Luck Club) ventures into the world of Cecilia Chiang, the woman who introduced America to authentic Chinese food. Chiang opened her internationally renowned restaurant The Mandarin in 1961 in San Francisco and went on to change the course of cuisine in America. The film is equal parts delectable showcase of gastronomy and touching portrait of Chiang’s journey from a childhood in Beijing before the Cultural Revolution to accidental restaurateur on the west coast of the United States. Featuring interviews with Alice Waters, Ruth Reichl and Chiang herself.


Frank Padgett


Frank Padgett’s B-24 bomber was shot down over Indochina in World War II. Held prisoner by the Japanese, he was subjected to torture by one of the more abusive arms of the Japanese forces. Padgett survived the torture, disease and what was then known as “shell shock,” eventually became a lawyer in Hawaii, and was later appointed to the Hawaii Supreme Court.


Frank Padgett Audio


Download the Transcript




Of all places, you decide to go where there’s a heavy concentration of Asians.




After being a prisoner of war in Japan.




No bitterness about—


No; no.

–Japanese nationals?


No; no.


How did that leave you? Or did it never form?


It never formed. Well, because … I got bad treatment and good treatment. Okay? And so, I recognized, you know, that’s not endemic, it’s the damn system—


I see.


–that made them that way.


Retired Hawaii Supreme Court Associate Justice Frank Padgett was a twenty- one-year-old pilot when he was forced to ditch his plane and parachute into enemy territory during World War II. Despite spending the next nine months in a Japanese prisoner of war camp, he says he never let the experience embitter him. Frank Padgett, 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. Born in 1923, Frank David Padgett is a member of what has come to be known as The Greatest Generation, living through the Great Depression and serving in World War II. He grew up in a small town in Indiana, where a challenge in high school started him on a remarkable life journey.


My father was an alcoholic. He and my grandfather sometimes practiced law together. My mother was their secretary.


And your parents didn’t get along, and sometimes—


A lot of times, they didn’t.


–you’d leave the house, or your mother would leave the house.


That’s right.


What was that like for you as a kid, living in this very tempestuous household, and moving around a bit when things weren’t going well?


You know, a kid really doesn’t take that much account of those things. I loved my father; I was unhappy when they were separated or we were separated from him. And that’s part of the reason I guess they got back together. And near as I can tell, I pretty well took all of that in stride. I was an only child.


You always felt loved, even though there was anger and hostility around.


Yeah, yeah, yeah; right. My mother was my father’s second wife, and they understood … that they were excommunicated. And so, we never went to church. When I was about thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, I don’t know, I had a paper route. I started when I was eleven. And there was a woman on that route said to me, Frank, you come from an old Catholic family, and you really ought to go to church. And the rectory was about two blocks off my route, and I thought about it and finally, I went over and knocked on the door. And the priest came; it was Monsignor Becker. I didn’t know him, but small town, he knew me. And he said, What is it, Frank? And I said, Well, I think I ought to become a Catholic, Father. And he said, Well, it’s about time. [CHUCKLE] So, they gave me instructions, I took my first communion, and I became a practicing Catholic.


He threw down the gauntlet.




And when you got to Harvard, very different culture.


Yeah. I know, but [CHUCKLE] I was so busy trying to learn. You know, you accept things. I really didn’t have the background to be in Harvard, and I had to work like a dog, you know. [CHUCKLE]


You became a swimmer, a champion swimmer.


That surprised me, too. When I went to Harvard, before I went, my mother had a girlfriend who had a boyfriend who had gone to Dartmouth. And after I got the scholarship to Harvard, he came over and he said to me, Well, you’re gonna get there and you won’t know anybody, and you’ve got to find an activity you can get into; that’s the way you’ll make some friends. So, I went. I saw a notice that they were trying out people for the swimming team, the freshman swimming team, and I went down there. And they said, What do you swim? And I said, Well, I don’t know; what do you got the least of? And they said, Breaststroke. And I said, Okay, I’m a breaststroker. Well, I was the last kid above the cut.


And you had to support yourself, too; right?


I had a day on Tuesday as a freshman. I got to the dining hall, I think, at six-thirty and got off about eight-thirty, had a class at nine and a class at ten. Back to the dining hall at eleven-something, got off about one-thirty. On Tuesdays, had a geology field trip, and got back at five-thirty, in time to go to serve dinner. [CHUCKLE]


And then, you’d do your homework after that work shift.


Yeah, yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah.


You must have been exhausted.


Well … yeah, I was. It was hard.


The United States had entered World War II while Frank Padgett was at Harvard University, and in February of 1943, he received orders to report for active duty. Padgett was nineteen years old, and still had one year to go of college.


The services came and cleared out the Ivy League schools pretty much, because they were gonna need officers, and so you want to get people who had got education. So, the Air Force got me.


Were you fired up with war spirit and wanted to protect the United States?


No; I wanted to get through college. I figured the war was gonna last forever, and I wanted to get through college before, you know. I finally got to be the number-one breaststroker on the swimming team. I was in four meets, and the Air Force called me up. They were short of pilots. So, I became a pilot. Got my wings at twenty-one. I was still twenty-one when we went down and I was captured.


What happened with you as you were on an Indochina bombing mission, and you had to bail out of your plane?


We were a low altitude radar bombardment plane. On the way down, we tested the bomb release thing. The bombardier had a light that showed, and I had a light on it. My light didn’t show. I didn’t abort the mission; we went ahead. We got down there, and we picked them up on the radar, and we had a great big target. And the bombardier said, Well, that looks like two ships alongside each other; I’ll drop the bombs in between and we’ll get ‘em both. The bombs didn’t go away. And the ack-ack from the ships knocked out my inboard right engine. We tried to climb back to eleven-five, which was the level we had to get to, to get back to our base in China. We got up there, and we had headwinds, and that damn propeller turned and burned, and the sparks flew. I thought that it was gonna blow up; I thought the propeller was gonna fall off. Nothing. Just kept going, and going, going. I was trying to get in touch with the base in China; I never could raise anybody. And finally, the engineer came up and said, Well, we’ve got about fifteen minutes worth of gas. And we’re at eleven thousand feet. Gas gauges were not very reliable; it could be any time. So, if you’re gonna bail out, you’d get out now, and we got out. The crew scattered up; seven got out with the underground, and four got captured. And I was one of those who got captured.


You fell in, I think, a dry rice paddy.




That’s where you landed with your parachute?


Yeah. Yeah; we were northwest of Hanoi.


So, did you fall into friendly hands at first, or not?


No. Well, yes and no. I was trying to walk out to China. You know, I didn’t know what the hell to do. About the second day, I was walking on a pathway between rice, and I looked, and there were all these … Vietnamese following me. So, I stopped, and I spoke enough French, and they spoke enough so that they asked me if I was hungry, and I went back to their village. They fed me, and … the Japanese arrived, and I tried to run out of the village. I got outside, but it was surrounded. Fortunately, I’d laid down my pistol while I was resting, and I didn’t have it, so I didn’t try to shoot it. That’s why I lived. [CHUCKLE]


[CHUCKLE] You can laugh about it now. You not only got captured by the Japanese, but you were put in the control of the Nazi gestapo equivalent of the Japanese forces.


Yeah. That’s the Kempeitai. The Kempeitai was a combination of military police and gestapo, which is kind of a bad combination.


In your book, as it was described, the kind of torture you went through, you know, a broken nose, really serious cigarette burns. I was thinking, you know, what’s going on in your mind? And you were trying not to give any information up.


No; I I wasn’t trying. I couldn’t remember the name. That was a whole interrogation.


What’s the name of your commanding officer?




And you didn’t remember?


Couldn’t remember the group commanding officer. I knew the name of the squadron commanding—they never asked me that. They wanted the group commanding officer. The thing is, and it sounds like bravado to say it, but they beat you when you’re back in the cell. And you know they’re coming back, and they’re gonna do it again. And it really bothers you, you know. And then, they take you out, and they take you back, and the first time they hit you … that’s it. You know, they’ve done it, and you know they’re gonna hit you some more. That’s it; that’s it. There’s … nothing you can do about it.


I was wondering if they find out you don’t have anything to share, does that mean you get killed? Or if they think you’re withholding, do they torture you more? I mean, what’s in your mind as it happens?


Well, the demand was that I tell them the name of the group commander. And after three days, they took me out, and they take me over and … they take me in before this guy who’s a big shot. I don’t know what; he’s got a leather jacket on, and he’s sitting in back of a desk. He says … Sit down. I sat down. He said, Would you like some tea? And I said, Oh, yes, I would. And they brought in the tea. And then, he said, Went to Harvard? You understand, the Army tells you, you give them only your name, rank, and serial number. That isn’t so. Nobody does that. Okay? So, you know, during the course of their questioning me, I told him I’d gone—he said, You went to Harvard? I said, Yeah. He said, Well, I’m a graduate of Columbia, myself; I went to Harvard summer school in 1921. What’s this nonsense you won’t tell them the name of the group commander? I said, I can’t remember it. He told me, Well, then there’s no problem. Because he had table of [INDISTINCT]. [CHUCKLE]


They already knew, really, the information they were—


Yeah, yeah, yeah.


–trying to torture out of you.


Yeah, and that, I’m sure happens about ninety percent of the time when they’re questioning people. They already have the information.


You were being starved, you were subjected to terrible diseases, and you did develop three major diseases.


You were being starved, you were subjected to terrible diseases, and you did develop three major diseases.


Yeah, yeah. You didn’t want to be in a Japanese military prison. So, you know, you lose weight very quickly. And when you’ve got maybe dysentery, and malaria, and beriberi, you can’t walk very far. But then again, I wasn’t doing any walking. I couldn’t walk at all; I was in the damn cell.


I was really intrigued by this quote in your book, with your son. It’s from an unknown person. But it says, To a prisoner of war, the enemy is everywhere; he controls your fate, your future, even your bodily functions. You’re at war at every second. You’re never given leave, and you can never leave the combat zone. Is that what it felt like?


Well, in a Kempeitai jail, yes.


They were starving us to death; okay? We wore a breech cloth, we had a blanket, the tatami with pillow on it, had a six-by-eight cell, the lights were always on. They came and stared through the thing. But, you know, human beings are human beings. One of the guards [CHUCKLE] was from a dairy farm in Japan, and the only thing he was interested in was getting back to Japan. So, they would come and talk to you, and they weren’t supposed to in our in that jail. They were not supposed to, but they did anyway.


So, that was a nice bit of humanity you could share. Now, you had become a Catholic when you were thirteen or fourteen. Did that faith kick in, or was that helpful to you at this time?


I said the Hail Mary, I said the Rosary on my knuckles every day, and I prayed that I get released. God apparently moves at His own speed; it took a while. [CHUCKLE]


And yet, the American officials had essentially prepared your family to give you up for dead, because—


Yeah; that’s right. That’s right.


It certainly seemed like you were nowhere, alive.


General Chennault wrote a letter to my mother, which in basic effect said, Forget it. You know.


Yeah, saying, He will be remembered as wonderful man.




But basically, you’ll be remembered.


Yeah; yeah.


I notice when you talk about being a prisoner of war, as awful as it was, you laugh. Did you have that sense of humor when you were there?


Yeah; yeah.


Kind of a dark humor?


Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.


I think that might be resilience, too.


Well, probably. But, you know, what are you gonna do? You can’t do anything about the circumstances, so … you know, try to see if you can find anything good … okay; you know. There wasn’t in the jail. The best thing that happened was, every two or three days, you got to carry the chamber pot out and dump it in the sewer. [CHUCKLE]


That was your excursion; right?




Frank Padgett was released from prison when the war ended. He spent several months recovering in a North Carolina hospital, where he met Sybil Pharr, a second lieutenant from Georgia who was a nurse on his ward, and who he married. After fully recuperating, he returned to Harvard and was admitted into its law school without having to finish his undergraduate degree. During his last year of studies, a professor made a recommendation to Padgett that he did not hesitate to pursue, even though it would mean moving thousands of miles away.


There was a professor of trust at Harvard, Barton Leach. Very famous trust professor. And he had been a colonel in the Air Force and been out here during World War II. So, I’m in my next to last or final semester, and he said, Frank, have you gotten a job yet? And I said, No. And he said, Well, you really like trust, don’t you? And I said, Yeah. He said, Well, you know, they got more trusts in Hawaii than anyplace else in the world. And he said, I can give you the names of three law firms, and you write them and see. And one responded, and Garner Anthony came up and interviewed us, and I got the job.


And no sooner do you get to Hawaii and pass the bar, but you are holding a banner for a Japanese group here.


Yeah. Well, they had this case, Garner Anthony had it, and the government had filed a bunch of interrogatories and a motion for a summary judgment. And he gave it to me, and he said, you know, Take a look at this. And I looked at it, and I said, You know, I don’t think those government attorneys know what they’re doing. So, I filed a bunch of counter interrogatories, and I carefully answered the government’s interrogatories. They didn’t answer the interrogatories I sent them. The rule at that time said ten days, or you’d admitted it. So, when we got in front of Frank McLaughlin, who was the judge, I brought that up. And he kept them on tenterhooks the whole day, and then he released; he finally said, Okay, we’ll proceed to trial, and we eventually tried the case. But that day, sitting in the courtroom was Lujo [PHONETIC], the old-time female court reporter. I think it was for the Star Bulletin. So, she heard all of this, and she was fascinated by the fact that, you know, I’m an ex-Japanese prisoner of war, and here I am with a bunch of Japanese clients. And she wrote an article on it, and the Associated Press picked it up. Yeah.


But your own law firm really didn’t think you’d win it.


No; no, they didn’t. But then, I had to go study Shintoism. I got books from the University of Hawaii Library. And I found out, you know, the government’s case, there was nothing to it. Kotohira Jinsha was put together by immigrants from three small fishing villages in Japan, and they had their own gods. The government couldn’t come within a million miles of proving Japanese domination. So, we got the temple back.


That was quite the entry into Hawaii and a new career.


Yes; yes, it was. It helped me with the local people a good deal. [CHUCKLE]


You came to Hawaii in ’48?




And what was it like? What was your first impression? You’d never been here before, you took a job sight unseen.


Yeah. There was very little interracial social mixing in Hawaii at the start. You know. The community was very small, the people you knew. You know. [CHUCKLE] You know, we’d go to parties, and everybody had gone to Punahou.


So, how did you fit into that scene?


Well, we went to the parties, and we liked the people, but you know, you couldn’t very well reminisce with somebody. You weren’t here. [CHUCKLE] I’d get up in the morning and walk Downtown. And that was Hawaii in those days; you get out and start walking Downtown, and somebody’d come along and say, Hey, you want a ride? You know. [CHUCKLE] And one of ‘em turned out to be Kinau Wilder. I had no idea who she was, but you know.


And she doesn’t have any idea who you are?


That’s right.


She just said, Hey, you want a ride?


Yeah; yeah.


Oh …


And so, you know, it seemed like a very pleasant place.


And you were here to see the Democratic Revolution of 1954. The Republicans and government gave way to a Democratic majority.


Yeah. I think at the beginning, there were maybe five Haole Democrats in Hawaii. [CHUCKLE] I’m serious about that.




[CHUCKLE] You know.


So, were you sort of the maverick in your group politically?




And did they hold that against you?




Why not?


I have no idea.


Frank Padgett practiced law for thirty-two years before being appointed to the Hawaii Intermediate Court of Appeals in 1980. His next appointment came two years later, when he was appointed to the Hawaii Supreme Court as an Associate Justice. He served on Hawaii’s highest court for ten years, until he retired.


When you were in practice in Honolulu, you were sometimes described as abrasive. What about when you were a judge, and you were maintaining order in your court?


Well, apparently, there were those who didn’t like me very much in that capacity, because … I was … impatient … with lawyers. They had all these pending cases, and somebody had to go through the briefs and make a preliminary judgment about them. And I found out that lawyers were getting extension, and extensions, and this one lawyer was particularly bad about it, and I gave him a big fine. And you got some criticism for running a newspaper story about it.






Five thousand dollars; and did it ever happen again?


No; I never hit anybody that hard again. Remarkably, the requests for extensions of time dropped off. [CHUCKLE]


What do you think was really the epitome of your career? Was it being a corporate lawyer, or was it being a judge?


I think being a judge.




Well, when you’re a lawyer, you’re on one side fighting like hell. When you’re a judge, you’re supposed to be able to take a look at it and reach a rational decision. You know, there’s a difference in what you do.


You don’t choose sides when you’re an attorney, do you? When you’re a judge, you can be …




You represent the people.


Yeah; yeah. That’s right. My favorite, of course, was the Kapiolani Park case.


What was that about?


Well, Frank Fasi wanted to lease a portion of Kapiolani Park to Burger King. And the Waikiki Residents Association was against it, and they brought a lawsuit to stop it, and the lower court allowed it. And it came to the Supreme Court. Kapiolani Park was a trust. Okay?


And that trust had in it a clause which said that there will be no commercial activity. Okay? That was set up way back when, in the days of the Kingdom. And, you know, everybody was saying, Well, you gotta overlook that, you gotta overlook. Well, what they forgot was, it wasn’t just that trust, but people had deeded property to Kapiolani Park to become part of the trust, with that as the agreement. Nowadays, of course, if you’re dealing with corporations, you know, you can do any damn thing you want to, and change it any time you want to. But you can’t do that with a trust.


So, thanks to you and the court, no Burger King in Kapiolani Park.


Yeah; yeah. Right.


You had a very long legal career. You went through periods of your life where things could have worked out really differently.


Looking back on it, two weeks from yesterday will be Sybil and my sixty-ninth wedding anniversary. If I hadn’t been sick and in the hospital, and she hadn’t been a nurse, we’d have never met. So, you know, in life … you play the hand you’re dealt. [CHUCKLE]


As part of America’s Greatest Generation, Frank Padgett was able to put the brutality of his prisoner of war experience aside to become a prominent attorney and highly respected justice in Hawaii. Mahalo to retired Hawaii Supreme Court Associate Justice Frank Padgett of Honolulu for your service to our country, and to Hawaii nei. For PBS Hawaii, and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou.


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


You’d gotten a chance to know people.




And see all the commonalities.


Right; right.


So, Hawaii wasn’t the complex and forbidding place that other newcomers sometimes find it.


Yeah; that’s right. None of that bothered me. And, you know, in a law firm, when you’re the youngest guy, the new guy that just came in, and somebody comes, you know, you get the odds and ends, the little pieces of this and that. So, you know, one of the guys that they sent in to see me was a Filipino barber, and I was able to do some things for him, some of his legal problems. And you couldn’t have a better advertiser than a Filipino barber. [CHUCKLE]





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