Rose Galera


Rose Galera approaches cleaning as both a science and an art. Her early enthusiasm for keeping her environment safe and clean led her to a career in professional cleaning management and as a consultant and training specialist.


She is certified by the International Executive Housekeepers Association and has over 45 years of experience and expertise in the hospitality, medical, commercial, education and business cleaning arenas. She was also the first executive housekeeper of the Hale Koa Hotel in Waikiki.


Her career in what she terms “cleanology” recognizes the science and technique necessary for proper sanitization. Her passion makes her a natural teacher, educating and training Hawaii’s students on proper cleaning etiquette.


This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, Sept. 21 at 11:00 pm and Sunday, Sept. 25 at 4:00 pm.


Rose Galera Audio


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Mrs. Bennett taught me an awful lot. She taught me how to speak English, of course. You know, Haole, you know, and—


So, you were speaking what kind of English?


Well, broken English, Pidgin. I remember pronunciation from what I learned and everything in school, but then, she taught me about the finer things. She would entertain from time to time, so she taught me how to set tables. She taught me about silver, how to polish silver. She taught me about the finer things of dishes and china, and all. And I learned about all those things, and over the years, I appreciated that. I remember for my wedding, she gave me one of her silver platters. You know. But this was sterling, sterling silver, you know, which is, I know, expensive today. Not silver-plated, you know. So, I learned the different values of something that’s silver-plated versus sterling.


For five years during her middle and high school years, Rose Galera left her crowded Kalihi home to live with the Bennett family at Navy housing. Lessons that she learned from Mrs. Bennett were instrumental in a career in what she calls “cleanology”, a consulting career that has taken her around the world. Rose Galera, 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. Rosita Abarca Galera, who’s better known as Rose, developed a passion for cleaning at a young age. She grew up with eleven siblings in the 1930s and 40s, and her mother made sure every household member helped keep the house clean. Rose Galera discovered early on that she could earn money outside the home with the skills she learned from her mother, which led to her becoming a live-in nanny.


I was born on the Big Island, in Hilo. And actually, we left Hilo when I was about seven, eight years old. We came from the Big Island to Oahu by boat. It was quite interesting. Took a few days, and then when we got to Oahu, right away, we moved in with my grandparents. My grandparents um, we called them Ah Po. Ah Po in Chinese means Grandma. And my grandma was very small, and my grandpa was very big. So, we called them Small Ah Po and Big Ah Po. You know.


And where’s the Chinese from?


Actually, no, I guess it’s something that was just carried, you know, when they came from the Philippines, and the family just used that. Ah Po was easier; that time, we didn’t use the term grandma or grandpa.


When you say we, how big is we, the family who moved in with the Big and Small Ah Po?


I come from a family of twelve. We were just there for a short while, until we got a home, actually in what was called Kalihi Royal Homes. And what it is, was a community of actually, apartments. If I remember correctly, it was canec type built apartments, and in each building there was like four units.


What’s there now?


Actually, it’s where Kuhio Park Terrace area is.




I loved that area. And we would walk. Our parents didn’t drive, and pick us up and drop us off. You know, we walked every day to school, walked to church, and that’s how I feel, that I’ve learned to become a survivor, you know, today, because of the upbringing that I had. Then I went to Kalakaua. From Fern School, I went to Kalakaua Intermediate, and then from Kalakaua Intermediate, I went to Farrington High School.


So, when you say you learned to be a survivor, what did you have to survive?


Well, because the family, you know, we were on welfare, and you know, we were very careful about how we ate, what we ate. We didn’t, you know, waste anything. My mother was very strict when it came to the home, keeping clean and everything. I was trained, every morning when you get up, you fix your bed, things are always straightened up. And in the old days, it doesn’t happen today, we washed our clothes, we starched our clothes, and we ironed our clothes.


An iron; I haven’t seen one of those in a while. [CHUCKLE]


Yeah. And actually, before becoming a nanny for the Bennetts, I ironed for about a year for a family, and I was at that time beginning of intermediate, for a family where she had girls. And it was all starched clothes, so they would bring the bag of clothes to me, I would sprinkle it up, roll it up, put it into the refrigerator for a little while, and then I would start ironing. So, I was good at ironing; you know, ironing clothes, and she would pay me ten cents apiece. And that was one of the first job I had as a youngster, because my mom taught us how to wash the clothes, how to hang the clothes, how to starch the clothes, how to sprinkle.


And you said she was particular about it.


Oh, my mom was very—yeah, she was a housewife; she didn’t work. But she made sure that we were trained. And my father, ‘cause he was working at Hickam Air Force Base, and I would be the one making his lunch every morning so that he could take it to work. And I remember boiling eggs all the time, you know. And actually, because of those kinds of training, I’ve learned how to do things on my own, and how to take care of yourself.


It sounds like with all those kids, you still knew that you had a place there, and you had a role to play, and everybody cooperated.


We got along. You know. There was no time to fight or anything because, you know, we were busy with taking care of things around the house, taking care of each other. You know, our beds, we would share. You know, three of us in a room, you know, because we had a big family. But yeah, through those growing up years, it really made me strong. And then, when I was going to Kalakaua Intermediate, a friend of mine said, Rose, do you want to babysitting job? And I said, Okay. And so, she said, Go see these people and go for an interview. So, I went to the Bennetts’ home, and I got the job with Mrs. Bennett.


Who are the Bennetts?


Mrs. Bennett and Commander Bennet actually lived in Navy housing. And that’s where a lot of us who were in middle school or intermediate school then, the girls, we used to all go do babysitting work and what have you. But I got a regular job with Mr. Bennett.


Now, did you walk all the way to Navy housing?


No; I from school, I would get the bus, and then get off at Navy housing there.


How far away is that?


Actually, from Kalakaua Intermediate then, not too bad, not too far. And then, it came to a point where I ended up living with the Bennetts. Because Mrs. Bennett felt that it might be better, so I lived with the Bennetts for a little over five years.


And what did you do for them?


Actually, I would go to school, and after school, I would go home. I’d go home to the Bennetts’, and at that time, there was two children, Peggy and Barbie. And they were about three and four years old, five years old. I would take them to the park, play with them a little bit, then bring them home, and then made sure they took a bath and everything. And then, Mrs. Bennett by that time would have had dinner ready, and then we would have dinner, and then I’d put the girls to bed. This was about maybe oh, before eight o’clock. Then I would do my little homeworks that I had, and then go to bed. Then in the morning, I would get up and then go to school. And she paid me at that time, I always remembered, sixty dollars a month. You know. And that was good money then.


That was big money those days.


That was good money then. Yes.


Rose Galera married her schoolmate, Manuel Galera, instead of finishing high school. She and Manuel had five children over the next nine years, while both worked at different jobs. After eighteen years of marriage, Rose divorced Manuel. But their story was not over; she remarried him fifteen years later.


You’re one of the few people around who got married, divorced, and then years later, you married the same person. Tell us about that.


Well … this was in the 70s, and I ended up with a good job working for the Army. And you know, you get to meet other people as well. I was more involved than my husband was. I loved my husband dearly; we were high school sweethearts. And so, when we went through the divorce in 1972, we agreed, but our goal was, even though we would be divorced, we would make sure we would take care of the kids, the children.


But why did you get divorced, if …


Actually, it was me; I think I grew out of the marriage. And then, I met a friend, you know, but I didn’t remarry again or anything. I lived for about maybe eight years with who was, I thought, another mentor. And he was a boss at one time when I worked with the Youth Activity Center. But he taught me about the work life and everything, and he was like a psychiatrist to me. You know. And I lived with him for a little while, about eight years. But he was the one that encouraged me. Rose, go see your family on weekends, that’s okay, Manuel’s there, no problem. That was my husband. And so, I had good relationships with both sides. And one of the things my husband and I said, we want to take care of the kids, we want to make sure they’re okay, their schooling and everything. So, you know, Junior graduated and Darrel graduated, went to University. Carla graduated, and she went into actually beauty school. And then there’s Jeffrey; Jeffrey’s my baby, fifty years old baby. Manuel and I then, in about the 1980s, we got together again, and we lived a little while together, and then we said, Let’s get married again. So, we went through again a second church marriage. I was able to get married in the church again, because I didn’t remarry, and even though we had a divorce. So, it was at Our Lady of Good Counsel, where I go to regularly every day, that we remarried again. And the nice thing about that wedding was, my children were all, you know, part of the package and everything.


It all seems so calm, but it’s not really a situation that usually leads to calm.


No; Manny and I got along well. I would go over the weekend, help them cook, and we would celebrate all of the special type of holidays together; Christmas, New Year’s. You know, and I would always go over to help cook dinners and cook breakfast or things for them. We had a good relationship, and I think it had to do with the spiritual upbringing that we both had.


How does this spiritual belief help you in your daily life?


You know, I get angry sometimes, but then always is, you know, the prayers, daily prayers. I find myself always doing the sign of the cross as I’m driving, or when, you know, I’m walking, or when I’m talking. It really becomes a part of me. You know, and actually, it is important; you know, very, very important. The Lord has blessed me, I feel that, with family, with my children. I have actually three boys and one daughter. And they’re all busy now with their own lives and everything, but I’m glad that they’re all in good health, they’ve got good jobs.


While Rose Galera was raising her children, she continued to work outside the home, too. An opportunity to enter the cleaning profession came up during this time, and that’s when her career started to take off.


I looked back to when I was a nanny, you know, ‘cause I had experience there, learning how to clean and everything, and taking care of things. And then, I worked for the Army at the Schofield Barracks guest house, and I was at that time, a front desk clerk and a supervisor. But how I got that guest house job, which is people would come in and stay there; it’s like a little hotel. Because I was working for the Navy too, at the service station, but because I had what was called NAFE experience, you know, non-appropriated fund, I got hired at the Schofield guest house. Then from there, I got back into the cleaning aspects, because I became a housekeeping supervisor and an assistant manager at the guest house. Then when Hale Koa was built, and then they had announced the opening of the Hale Koa Hotel, I thought, Well, you know, I could do it there. It’s a four hundred sixty room hotel, and it was gonna be the first military hotel. But of course, I took advantage of the fact that I knew Commander Bennett and Mrs. Bennett. So, asked them, Could you write me a letter of reference? ‘Cause I was a housekeeper for them. And of course, Commander Bennett’s name, you know. And then, working at the guest house, I learned military regulations, Army regulations. So, Commander and Mrs. Bennett wrote the letter for me, and then I turned that in with my resume. And then, of course, with the guest house experience as well, and knowing Army regulations—


What does Army regulations tell you about housekeeping?


Actually, the Army regulations had to do with managing. When I went for the interview, I cited AR-230-1, AR-230-2, and it had to do with personnel, how you deal with personnel and management. They were very impressed, because they didn’t know the ARs.


So, I got hired to be the first executive housekeeper of the Army hotel. I knew about cleaning, but I didn’t know much about chemicals. So, through the magazines, I would read and keep track, and keep articles and everything. And I remember how I had vendors come to me, and these vendors selling chemicals. So, I pulled out some articles from the magazine, and I put it under my glass on my desk. And so, when they tried to sell me the chemicals, I would ask those vendors certain questions. What kind of agents are there, you know. And through that, I learned how to actually become very well versed in the chemical. And then, I got close to some vendors who also taught me, and then I always kept up with the trends and technology of cleaning. You know, reading up about it, working with vendors, learning what’s new in the field and everything.


I think you learned at a very early age just to keep learning, and keep reaching out. Plus, you had confidence, too, that you could do it. And you’ve cut a career for yourself that I don’t know if anybody else has in Hawaii. You’ve just taken cleaning to another level. And you call it Cleanology.


Well, actually, I became a member of the International Executive Housekeeping Association. At that time, it was called NEHA, National Executive Housekeepers Association. I became a member in ’74. Then I decided to go for certification, and this was at KCC. And after I got my certification, KCC asked me if I would do some training on certification, and I did. And so, with certification, you have to keep up with CEUs, you know, continuing education credits, every three years renew your certification. And I did that; I made sure I stayed on top of it, stayed on top of trends and technology of cleaning. And then, the leadership roles that I took helped me as well with NEHA, IEHA. I ran for the board, the association board.


The national board?


The National Board of Housekeeping Association. Got elected in 1980, and this was in New York City. And I thought, Ooh, wow, you know, I’m with all of these people who have college education, and I don’t have a college education. But I learned a lot from them, and they learned a lot from me. And they liked it because I was from Hawaii. My first convention was in 1976, then I attended every convention thereafter. I only missed one, and that was in 2014. But then, I ran for office, first vice, second vice, ran for the board a couple of times again. So, I served about sixteen years in leadership role. And then at the chapter level, now we have a chapter, I was president on three different terms.


And you do have a genuine passion for cleaning.


Definitely. Cleaning is a science and an art. And people would ask me, What do you mean science? I bring up some questions. Do you know what PH is? Okay; when you buy chemicals, we need to know the different PHs of the chemicals. Now, the other sciences of cleaning is, germ kill. What are the three scientific processes of germ kill? Lot of times when I ask even medical people, they tell me, washing their hands, hot water. Sanitation kills at least fifty percent germs. Disinfecting, ninety percent-plus. Sterilizing, hundred percent. Those are the three scientific processes of germ kill.


In doing these corporate housekeeping jobs, and then later your private business, you really had to understand people, too.




It wasn’t just the process of cleaning; it was how to use people and manage people.


When I was in the hotels, I used to do a lot of walking around, and even to the degree where I always used to tell the housekeepers, Your cart should be right parked in front of the room that you’re cleaning. Okay; and it’s a certain way parked. Your vacuum cleaners, your equipment should be there with you. So, sometimes, I would walk around and I’d see the vacuum cleaner way down the hallway, and the cart. So, I would steal their vacuum cleaners and I’d take it to my office. So, if they saw, Oh, where’s my vacuum cleaner? Right way, they’d know, I gotta go see Miss Galera. You know.


So, you must have scared and intimidated a lot of your employees.


No, I didn’t intimidate them. I think I trained them, and they learned. And then, I would have morning briefings. My morning briefings would not be scoldings, and it would not be what you did wrong, and it would not be complaints. It would be how we can make improvements on things. You know. And ‘til today, when I run into some of those; Hey, Miss Galera, I miss your briefings.


You know. Because they remember, you know, some of the things. I think I had good relationships. When I had the Hale Koa Hotel, it was a union property, I never had one union complaint. I believed in working with the people. And when I had the hotels, every morning, I would be in front of my door greeting them coming in, and in the afternoon thanking them going home.


As a manager, as an executive, how do you get people excited to have a passion like you have for cleaning?


Well, when I work with the high school students, the approach I take is, I get them to become paranoid.


I show them pictures of what germs would look like.


Mousey mold; right?


Yeah. And maybe a picture of a body, you know, a body piece that shows the germ, you know. And I try to encourage them about the profession in that if you’re looking for a profession—‘cause lot of the students will tell me, Oh, we want to get into a job that pays big bucks. Okay. And I’ll tell them about the profession. Yes, I encourage you to go to college to get a degree, because you can demand more in your salary. But if you didn’t get a degree, but you went through a certification program, you still can be well paid. I try to talk to the students or even people when I do my training about how beneficial the profession of cleaning is. Because it’s very diverse. Not only hotels, there’s hospitals, today there’s a lot of retirement communities, there’s schools, there’s colleges. I mean, every building needs to be cleaned, and you need to know about the building environment. So, there will always be a job. And even your retail outlets, the Macy’s and all. At one time, I saw an ad where they were looking for a housekeeping manager. You know. Because they need somebody to make sure they know that the people are cleaning.


You actually still clean as a service in selective cases. Where do you personally clean?


For this family, and they have a business, and I do their office as well. I’ve been doing, I think, her home for about a good maybe fifty years. And I know she likes me, because she knows that I’m gonna do a good job. You know, I put my whole heart into it.


And this is a large executive home, I take it.


Yeah; I consider it to be a large executive home.


And you do it by yourself?


I do it by myself. I do backpack vacuuming. I also do what is called the Easy Trap dusting. I do the microfiber flat mop systems, and the microfiber cleaning technology. Microfiber cloths, microfiber flat mop, vacuuming. And there’s this one tool which is a disposable type; it’s called Easy Trap. And I use it with the flat mop. And because there’s a dog, there’s a pet in the house, it picks up everything. Picks up all the hair, pick up everything. And on top of that, I also change the beds, do it hotel style, and wash the linens and everything, and fold it.


I know you’re not self-conscious about your age, so I really feel like I should point out at this point that you’re approaching eighty.




And you’re cleaning this large home and business, even though you don’t have to.




You’re an executive.


Well, actually, you know, I get social security, but I want to supplement my income as well. And yeah, yeah, I can still do it. It helps me keep fit. It’s my way of exercising as well. And staying on top of what’s happening with the industry as well; I’m still a member of the association. In 2015, I got over being the chapter president, so I’m also doing some consulting and training. I’m going to be working with McKinley Community School. Right now, I’m doing some training there. One Friday, I have a workshop there called Cleanology 101, that has to do with communicable diseases and infection prevention in non-health facilities; schools, hotels, retirement communities. And I go into the process of telling them about epidemiology, what communicable diseases are, what are the different kinds of communicable diseases, infection preventions that they can use in their facilities, about outbreaks, should there be an outbreak.   And come up with programs, techniques. I’ve come up with something called Best Practices. What are the best practices you can use in homes, hotels. And you know what? It’s not complicating.


Mahalo to Rose Galera of Ewa, in West Oahu, for sharing your life story with us, and for your lifelong passion for cleaning. And thanks to 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


Do you ever get tired of the whole cleanology business?






No. I would like to see our profession be raised by people doing it scientifically, with knowledge as well, and our custodians and our janitors and all, are all trained so that we can cut back on infection, you know, controls, or cut back on infection spreading. And also, have people do the jobs right.


You are a one-woman crusade for cleaning.


I am; very much so.






Original air date: Tues., Apr. 27, 2010


Honolulu-Born ‘Slam Poet’


Leslie Wilcox talks with Honolulu born and raised slam poet Kealoha. He has represented Hawaii seven times at the National Poetry Slam and is the founder of local events like First Thursdays – the largest registered slam poetry competition in the world with an average attendance of 600+. In 2009, Kealoha was featured on HBO’s Brave New Voices series.


Kealoha Audio


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As you sit here, it—




—it seems like you have trouble sitting here.




Do you?


I have total trouble sitting and being still; yes. I’m always moving and shaking, or whatever.


Today we’re talking with a nuclear engineer, a business consultant, and a slam poet. What do these three people have to do with each other? They’re all one person…a young man who has collected his life experiences, and is turning them into positive messages.


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, we’ll meet the young man who’s been called the slam poet laureate of Hawaii. His early years have a comfortable familiarity to them…growing up in a small neighborhood, surrounded by family and friends, playing outdoors until the sun went down. He didn’t know it at the time, but his destiny was to travel far away, in order to come home. He was born Steven Kealohapau‘ole Hong Ming Wong, but now he is simply, Kealoha.


[DRUMS] Connect to your roots. The rhythms of our ancestors smiling down on us each time we chant their chants, each time we dance their dances, each time we surf the waves that they did. Connect; we are the next generation carrying the flag to the United Nations, stating truce or peace, love, unity, and respect. The products of global consciousness mixed with cultural pride, we are raised to take our place in the history of the islands. We are raised that we will make love on shining sands, ride waves and play with times long past. Connect to your roots. The rhythms of our ancestors smiling down on us each time we chant their chants, each time we dance their dances, each time we surf the waves that they did. Connect.


Growing up with my parents was…I mean, it was just so genuine, you know. We grew up and a lot of stories were told, and just listening. A lot of just listening and playing, and just exploring our own little things that we did, whether it was me and my brother just playing games and making up games. We grew up spitting on the wall, and dancing, and singing about it [CHUCKLE] like seriously, honestly. We had a game called Juju on the Wall. [CHUCKLE]




Me and my brother, or whether it was like, getting pieces of tape and winding them together, and throwing them, and hitting them, or whatever. We made up games. And then my parents were very involved in our extracurricular activities, so whether it was driving us to the soccer games, and then like, spending that time afterwards, where my dad would kind of critique my game, or whatever it is, and we would talk then and have those moments of interactions. Or else, with my mom, just kinda cruising with her, like, going on errands. You just had those moments where we’re always—they were always involved in our lives, to the point where, like, sometimes it was just like, Mom, Dad, why you gotta be everywhere that I am?




It was all love. And that was the thing. We came to realize that later, that they just wanted to be a part of our lives. That was much—that was like, the best thing that they could have done for us, is just to be involved.


And you have two brothers?


Two brothers; two older brothers.


Did you all get along? Were you close in age?


We—I’m not. Those two are. The oldest one is seven years older than I am, and the next one is five years older than I am. My oldest bro, he was more distant from me. The middle one was more of the peace keeper, so I was kind of like the little kid trying to come up, and just like, do my thing, but all in all, I mean, when you look at it in the grand scheme of things, we’re close now.


You didn’t maim each other.


Yeah. We—[CHUCKLE] clearly. No limbs were lost, so we made it out of that.


So like many kids in the area, you started off going to elementary school at Koko Head.


M-hm; Koko Head Elementary. So public school, which was really cool. ‘Cause it was all about the after school experience as well. I mean, like you’re interfacing with kids in your neighborhood, so you’re riding bikes, and just going to people’s houses, and it was very safe. It was like you’re in your neighborhood, you’re safe. And then eventually, I ended up going to private school.


What was that like?


The transition?




It was a shock. I mean, all of a sudden I wasn’t doing so well, in terms of my grades and all that kinda thing. It was just kinda like, here’s all these other kids who are working really hard, and I had to learn how to work hard, and work ethic. And my father, he was very…he didn’t care about the grades; he cared about the extra little things on the side that the teachers write, that tell you about, like, how the effort was, and how engaged the student was. And I was getting bad marks in that. And my dad was like, that’s what matters, what kind of effort are you putting into it? I don’t care about the grades; put the effort in.


Did you work hard?


Yeah, absolutely.


Did you have to work hard?


I busted my butt throughout high school and throughout college. I had to in order to just learn the stuff.


Did your classmates have any idea of how hard you worked?


They didn’t. Actually, I actually hid—I was good at hiding the amount of effort that I was putting in. ‘Cause no one wants to be the nerd, right? I mean especially for me. I mean, I was so involved in sports, and all those things…the sports, and dancing, and playing music that I was able to hide the studying, the books and all that late night stuff.


So you’d do sports, you’d do music, and then you’d go home, and you’d hit the books?


Yeah; totally. I mean, I was in the car on the way to and from school and/or the soccer practices, or the basketball practices, whatever, studying. And then I would have this weird thing that I would do, is that if I had a test or something or a major homework assignment, I would do it until I fell asleep. The light would be on and then the next morning the homework assignment would be done, or whatever I was studying would be in my head. I would just wake up with it, with it there. I don’t know what happened during the whole sleeping process.


You let it set overnight.


Yeah, like, it was just marinating, or I would—I probably was waking up in the middle of the night, and then studying, and then going back to sleep. And I had these cycles that would happen.


What about rebellion? What about, I don’t think I want to do it your way, Mom and Dad?


[CHUCKLE] That happens to everybody, and that happened for me roughly around like eighth grade, ninth grade. It lasted for about a year and then I got through it once I realized—


What was your way of acting up? How did you let them know?


Just those little things that teenagers do, by making sly remarks, or ignoring them, or whatever. But the quicker—the way that I see it now is that the quicker you can get through that, the better it is. I mean, ’cause really, it’s all about the love, and returning to those good values. I mean, we have so little time with our family and with our parents, I mean, in the grand scheme of things. I lost my father a couple years ago, and I’m just glad that we got through that stupid stuff quickly, so we could get to the good stuff, which was the love and the sharing, and just the exchange that should be happening between family members.


You went to school with quite a few wealthy children. What was it—




—like? Were you feeling like, my parents are on a budget, I really gotta work here, and value what my parents are doing for me?


I mean, it was easy to stay grounded. I was never really concerned about looking at other people and seeing what they had. I was just really happy just being me. Of course, I had coaching along the way in terms of, like to stay grounded in that sense, and not worry about other people. Whether it was my parents or their friends, and I had a whole community kinda backing me up in terms of raising me, and raising me right, and not being concerned about judging other people and having them judge me.


You were admitted to MIT.


I was admitted to MIT, which was huge.


And you pursued your studies in science and math.


M-hm, m-hm. For me, it was…I mean, it was a full blast of information. And it was just like, you go there, and you get thrown all these thoughts and theories, and you just get fully immersed in this world of technology and science, and just theory.


Well, first of all, there was another culture adjustment you made.


Oh, yeah; East Coast.


East Coast; yeah.


Oh, man, local boy going to the East Coast, saw snow for the first time when I was there. I didn’t do the whole college touring thing that a lot of kids do. I just said, This is where I want to go, and whatever. I mean, like, it’s gonna be rough. I assumed it was gonna be, and—


And it was?


—it was, major, major culture shock. I spent the first year…I got really depressed, actually. ‘Cause, I mean, you end up in a place where it’s snowing, it’s really cold, you can’t go outside, there’s not a whole lot of sunlight. So you get done with classes, and it’s dark. And so I went through, seasonal affects disorder. Right?




It was—




—just like—


And did you feel like you were up to the competition of the other kids, who were hand selected from all over the country?


[CHUCKLE] Sure. I busted my butt. I don’t think I slept a whole lot during college.


So you were depressed and tired. [CHUCKLE]


[CHUCKLE] Yeah. Well, they have this saying over there, right? It’s—what is it? It’s, sleep, grades, and friends; choose two out of the three.






That’s rough.


—I chose friends and social life, and academics. And so I had to [CHUCKLE] sacrifice the sleep. I figured, I’ll sleep when I’m older. [CHUCKLE]


But you made good friends at MIT?”


Yeah, sure. I mean, it’s all about—and that’s half of the experience for me. It was like, those late night cramming sessions where you’re supposed to be studying, but really, you’re talking about philosophy, or exploring thoughts that are new. And that’s what it was all about. I got hooked deeply into just having good conversation, and philosophy, and thinking. I seek out those types of people. I mean, ’cause sure, you can be good at one thing, and that’s cool and maybe I’ll come to you and really engage with that one thing. But in essence, I’m looking for people who can interface on all different kinds of levels. And we can grow together, and spiral, and build off of each other’s thoughts. I’m really not into debate, as much as I am into just elevation, and building on thoughts. Debate is all about tearing down the other person, right? That’s not for me.


So what you were most interested in when you went to MIT, actually maybe symbolic, nuclear fusion.


[CHUCKLE] Exactly. Nuclear fusion; the combination of particles to create immense amounts of energy. I mean, to me, it’s the Holy Grail, right, and to a lot of people, it’s the Holy Grail. It was to me. I mean I still hope it’s gonna happen sometime soon.


And so is that what you studied? What was your degree in?


My degree was nuclear engineering. Which is sort of a fancy way of saying just like nuclear physics, applied nuclear physics. What can you do with nuclear physics?


Well, what—


[CHUCKLE] What can you do?


What were you planning to do with it? [CHUCKLE]


I wanted to create fusion energy. The next Holy Grail, and just be a part of that movement. But I definitely found out during my college that that’s not necessarily—it’s kind of a fantasy world. I mean, the politics that goes on is not in place to support a technology like fusion energy. I mean, ’cause you think about it, right? A politician needs to get reelected in four to six years. Investing in a technology that’s gonna come fifty years from now; not a whole lot of politicians want to devote that kind of money to it. And most of this country is concerned about the everyday things, like jobs, which is great; people need to work and people need to eat. But if we’re looking at the long-term survival of our society, we need to start thinking big. And fusion energy is a really big idea that needs a lot of money in order to develop.


I can picture this island boy at MIT studying nuclear fusion. Even when you sit with Kealoha it’s as if he himself is a source of energy…he really does have a tough time sitting in one place. And when you first meet him, he leaps out of his chair to shake your hand. It’s not just physical. His mind seems to always be on the move, searching for something new, fresh, and challenging.


Okay; so you graduated with your degree in nuclear engineering.




And then, what?


[CHUCKLE] And then I thought, I need a break. It was really cool to be an engineer for a while, but I realized that I didn’t want to be in a laboratory all day. For me, I needed to be outside, interfacing with people, and just have that interaction stuff going on. So I went into business consulting. I made a full one-eighty switch.


In a warmer place, by any chance?


In a warmer place. I was like, get me out of the East Coast. I went to California. So I ended up in San Francisco, which is actually kinda cold in itself, but a lot more temperate than the East Coast. And for me, it was like a really great stomping grounds, ‘cause there’s a lot of artists in there, and it’s a very progressive city.


But your role was business consulting.


It’s true; my role was business consultant.


And so how did that work out?




Because you didn’t go to school for that.


I didn’t. So the idea was that you’re going through MIT, and there’s a lot of recruiting going on. And so these business companies would come; they knew that none of us had any business experience, they just cared that we could solve problems and think.




So they would come in, and they would ask us sort of brain teasers.




To have us think on the spot. They would ask, How many telephone booths are in New York City? And so we’d have to sit there and show them our process of thinking, of how many telephone booths are in New York City. And just kinda like show them the way that we logically deduced things.




Because that’s what happens in business, you get presented with a problem, and you have to break it down, and solve the problem. So that’s all it was. They knew that they could teach us business.


So it was a natural adjustment, it was a natural move.


Sure. But it took a lot of extra studying, because you’re going into this environment where there were a lot of business people who had studied and got their MBAs and all that kind of a thing. So I had to learn the basics of business in order to sort of keep up with that.


Did you enjoy it?


Yeah, I loved it. It was fun. I mean, it was a love-hate relationship. It really freaked my brain out and sort of got me into another level of thinking.




But at the same time, what I realized was I was working for these companies that really weren’t doing a whole lot of good in the world. I mean, it was these large corporations, and helping large corporations get richer. That’s really what it was. So I thought to myself, Well, how can I devote my time—if I’m gonna devote hours, and hours, and hours of my time, I want it to be towards something that’s doing societal good.




So I had to get out of there. I spent two years in consulting, and it really taught me a lot of the way that the world works, and the way that business works, and marketing, and saving money, and all that kind of a thing.




So I was able to take those skills and start my own thing in Hawaii.


Because that seemed like a natural thing to do; go to where you’re from.




After going East Coast, West Coast.




Science, business.


Yeah; come home, return to the source. It had always been my goal. Ever since I left I was like, Okay, I’m gonna have these experiences, but I want to come home. Home is—this is—I mean, come on; Hawaii is the greatest place on Earth, as far as I’m concerned.


But had you intended on coming home to look, to continue to look for—




—nuclear fusion? Or how did you imagine yourself coming home?


I wasn’t exactly sure what was gonna happen to get me home. I never really knew what the path was gonna be. Even when I did come home, I didn’t know how long I was gonna be able to be here for.




I just knew I needed to be home, and that it would work itself out somehow. So I came home. I had saved up enough money to sort of take some time off and just really just figure out, Okay, well, what am I about?




I talk all these big things about how I want to do good for society. But what is that? What are you gonna do? So I just spent the year thinking, hiking, surfing, just getting back to, like, who I was when I was growing up.


A whole year?


Yeah. I saved up—well, here’s the thing. Right? I was sleeping on my brother’s couch, my parents’ living room, in my car sometimes. I was just kinda like a nomad, and I just pared down all my expenses to be able to just survive as long as I could without having to worry about making money.




I mean, consulting paid well.




That’s kind of the reason why a lot of kids go into that, is just ‘cause it pays really well. So I was able to save that money and invest in my thinking and in my life, which was a really good investment, because I found my calling, which was to write poetry and perform it.


How did you find that?


[SIGH] Well [CHUCKLE] the first time I saw slam poetry was when I was in San Francisco. I just happened to—I was reading the newspaper, trying to look for something to do during the weekend, and I saw this slam poetry thing. I was like, Okay, let’s go check it out.




And when I went there, my brain just got…you have those moments where you’re watching a performance, you’re watching something, and your whole body just starts tingling, because you’re really just engaged in everything that’s being said. And like, I just got in my mind [CLAPS], blown.




Uh, and I was hooked from that point on, and I just started writing a lot right then and there. So that was like, what, uh, the year 2000. Still in San Francisco, kind of all my work just sort of got pushed to the side, ‘cause I would spend all my time writing. I was spending all those late nights, on Sunday night going to these poetry slams. And Monday morning, going to work all tired. And I didn’t care; I was living again. I had something that really inspired me. So when I came home, I was doing all that hiking and surfing, and just thinking, but my way of processing all of that was through writing.




So I would find myself hiking up to the top of the Koolaus, and I got the journal and the pen, and I’d get to the top, and I’d just write a poem. These things were happening. So then I’d come back from the mountain and go to the—whatever—the coffee shop, and there’s a open mic going on, and I’d read that poem.


What are most of your poems about? Or are they very, very different?


I try and keep myself open to whatever comes in. But I mean, I guess if you had to pare it down to something that’s always there, there’s always some level of positive messaging in there. Like how can we shift our thinking or our lives to get to a better place.


M-hm. Well, you seem like a positive person.




There’s that slam poetry poem you wrote, Recess. And it’s all—






Yeah, yeah.


—the mad joy of recess.


Yeah; absolutely. I mean, I wrote that piece. I used to do acting for kids, so I would go into these schools and the cafeterias and like, we’d do crazy songs and act.




And just one day, after doing that, I was just so inspired by the kids’ laughter and I was driving up the Pali, and I was like, Oh, yeah, remember the days when we used to play in the playground every—you know, like, the poem just started coming. So I just pulled off to the side of the road, turned on my hazards, and just wrote the poem right then and there on the Pali Highway, cars are whizzing by at thirty-five miles per hour, whatever it was. And people are thinking, What is this kid doing, right? That’s about, hmm, four hours.


Do you remember the days when we used to play on the playground every day? [SCREAMS] And what was that thing we took? Recess! Yeah, that’s right; recess. Fifteen minutes of sheer madness. Fifteen minutes of running around, getting down with all of your friends until the bell sounded. That inevitable bell that wrought the well of time dry. And I remember those days so vividly. Licking Jell-O Instant Pudding off our hands, making forms out of sand, and doing everything you can to just play. When’s the last time you took fifteen minutes out of your day to just run around and play? I mean, we used to do this every day. It was a staple of our existence in those days, are now distant. But if you close your eyes, you can remember those fifteen minutes that now seem trivial. But when you’re a kid, fifteen minutes is ephemeral everlasting. It was a fleeting moment, but it was so dang real.


The best subjects are the ones that when you’re writing them, move you in some way, shape, or form. Either you laugh out loud, or you cry, or you feel yourself just compelled to some kind of emotional whatever, response. And then when you communicate that to an audience, you’re aiming to get that same emotional response from them. As a performance artist, you’re searching for those audiences that get you, or that get the type of work that you’re doing.




So what I’ve tried to do is, in Hawaii, I’ve tried to create an audience that treasures, or that values the messaging.


Well, you said this type of poetry, or any type of poetry, perhaps, can make your life better. How has hearing all of these wonderful poems, and maybe not so wonderful ones too—


Sure; sure, sure.


—changed your life?


Whenever you go to one of these events, something is gonna connect with you, hopefully.




And then you go home, and you think about it. And you write about it, and then it just makes your life better.



You can’t fool the youth

Cause we know the truth

Said your fact is fiction

And addiction is the only thing you’re selling

And we’re not buying

The rebellious-glamorous-pimped up-hyped up-gullible-transparent-everybody’s

doing it-inflated-played out-image you’ve created

You see we’ve done our research and found that out of all the teens in Hawai‘i

Only fifteen percent are smokers


Fifteen percent of us think that cigarettes have a physical effect that’s worth

risking lung cancer

Fifteen percent of us are inconsiderate to our neighbors

Fifteen percent of us actually think that cigarettes make you look like the hot

model in the commercial who obviously doesn’t smoke `cause she knows

that if she did then ten years from now,

she’d be sporting yellow teeth, wrinkles, and whacked-out breath

And the other 85 percent of us?

We’re the ones running courts, running squads, running circles

Dunking, jumping, riding decks

Scoring points, meeting cuties, looking hot as all heck

Caring about our bodies, getting A’s, getting grades

Saving our lives, smelling like we’re supposed to

Throwing spray, getting barreled

Living dreams, scaling mountains

Flying, thriving, diving, striving, hiking, riding, climbing

And we’re tired of the smoke ad fads

Pushing fictional fact

And when they offer me a smoke

I laugh, then just give it right back

Said you can’t fool the youth

Cause we know the truth

Yeah you can’t fool the youth

Cause we know…



So lots of transitions in your life.


Lots and lots of—


Navigating cultures, and then moving between one poem and another, one song and another.


Yeah, absolutely. And I love it, I embrace it. Really, I feel like I’m just here to learn about everything that I possibly can. I’m a sponge, so I’m trying to soak up everything. If there’s some weird thing going on, some event that I’ve never been to, I want to go. And I just want to be in the middle of it, and learn everything that I can about it.


I have a feeling you don’t have a five-year or ten-year plan—




—it’s a straight course, do you?


I don’t think I have ever had a five or ten-year plan. I don’t even know what I’m gonna do tomorrow. [CHUCKLE] That’s the way that I live my life, though. I try and keep myself open to the possibilities. For me, it’s comfortable. I’m comfortable not knowing what’s gonna happen in the future.



After the unpredictable path that his life has already taken, who knows in which direction Kealoha will turn next. But with his positive messaging, his boundless energy, and his ability to lead and mentor people of all ages, we can’t wait to see what he’s going to do. For Long Story Short and 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


The first time that I saw a poet who completely resonated with me, and opened me up to…wow, like, that voice is mine. I felt like she was speaking for me; it was Lois Ann Yamanaka. She came to my high school, and she just read poems. And I went away from that session going, Wow, you can do that with words? Really?