Corbett Kalama

Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation grants $2 million for PBS Hawai‘i’s new home

PBS Hawaii

 

HONOLULU, HI – A large grant from the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation has propelled PBS Hawai‘i to within $200,000 of its $30 million goal for its new home at 315 Sand Island Access Road.

 

The $2 million grant to Hawai‘i’s statewide public television station will provide facilities for education through storytelling, and workforce development. The foundation’s focus is helping those who are vulnerable and at-risk.

 

From left: Ben Nishimoto, PBS Hawai‘i Vice President of Advancement; Corbett Kalama, Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation Vice President of Real Estate Investments and Community Affairs; Leslie Wilcox, PBS Hawai‘i President and CEO; Gailene Wong, Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation Grant Director; Robbie Alm, PBS Hawai‘i Board Chair; Bettina Mehnert, PBS Hawai‘i Board Secretary; Jason Fujimoto, PBS Hawai‘i Board Vice Chair.

 

“Harry Weinberg was thoughtful and considerate of those in our community who are less fortunate,” said Corbett Kalama, Vice President of Real Estate Investments and Community Affairs at the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation. “PBS Hawai‘i provides opportunities for youngsters in Hawaii to be creative and be a part of something that helps them be better people.”

 

The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation is naming the building’s two largest areas: its main Multimedia Studio, where PBS Hawai‘i productions will be produced; and the Learning Zone, the open area at the heart of the second floor built for collaborative projects with filmmakers, students, teachers and others in the community.

 

PBS Hawai‘i staff reported to work at the new building at the beginning of the month, and is currently troubleshooting its new technological systems.

 

PBS Hawai‘i Board Chair Robbie Alm stated: “We share with [the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation] a deep and abiding desire to see those who begin life with less have the greatest opportunities possible to change their lives. At PBS Hawai‘i’s new home, every person and especially every young person can find their own future based on their own talents, dreams and ambitions. Their opportunities are, thanks to this gift, without limit.”

 

Naming opportunities, including spots on our two donor walls, are still available. More information is online at PBSHawaii.org/newhome.

 

Download this Press Release

 

For questions regarding this press release:

 

Contact: Liberty Peralta
Email: lperalta@pbshawaii.org
Phone: 808.973.1383

 

PBS Hawai‘i is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and Hawai‘i’s sole member of the trusted Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). We advance learning and discovery through storytelling that profoundly touches people’s lives. We bring the world to Hawai‘i and Hawai‘i to the world. PBSHawaii.org | facebook.com/pbshawaii | @pbshawaii

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Hawaii as Home

 

Original air date: Tues., Nov. 13, 2012

 

Leslie Wilcox presents stories from previous guests about being at home in Hawaii. Some guests reminisce about their neighborhoods and families; others talk about how they embraced Hawaii as their new home. Kū Kahakalau, Corbett Kalama, Derek Kurisu, Nola Nahulu and Puakea Nogelmeier are among the guests featured.

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. In this special edition of Long Story Short, we celebrate Hawaii … our home. We look back on conversations with Hawaiian language professor Puakea Nogelmeier, educator Ku Kahakalau, cultural consultant Kepa Maly, bank executive Corbett Kalama, grocery store executive Derek Kurisu, and choral conductor Nola Nahulu. Stories of Hawai i as Home, next on Long Story Short.

 

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

 

We begin with a story from Puakea Nogelmeier, a leading Hawaiian language scholar. You might recognize him as the voice of The Bus on Oahu. Born Marvin Nogelmeier in Minnesota, he set out on a post-high school adventure. Hawaii was only supposed to be a stopover on the way to Japan, but Hawaii is where he stayed.

 

Lost my wallet in the San Diego airport. So we had driven cross country, gone to San Diego, we had an airline ticket to as far as Honolulu. I would pick up a passport here. I don’t even have a license, I don’t have a birth certificate, no money really. I had my plane ticket. Came to Honolulu, had to call and say, Okay, you know, big adventure, I already blew it, lost my wallet. You know, Mom.

 

Send money. [CHUCKLE]

 

Yeah, Mom, get me a birth certificate. The money came first, birth certificate took probably a month. By the time the birth certificate came, it just seemed there was no rush to get to Japan. So, put that off, and put that off.

 

Why did you decide to stay? I mean, what happened in that month?

 

Oh; from the airport, we ended up going out, we stayed at Makua Beach.

 

How did you find your way to Makua Beach from the airport?

 

The two kids I’m traveling with actually knew people here. There was a Minnesota house at Makua Beach. A lot of that was Vietnam War folks, you know, guys who had come back. They weren’t ready to go back to the states, and a whole bunch of folks ended up out there. So, we end up in this handmade little nadas in Makua Beach. I lived there for three months. Maybe the nicest three months of my life, really. Just blissful ignorance. I didn’t read a newspaper, I didn’t think about anything, just wandered along, enjoyed water, enjoyed sand. [CHUCKLE] And I guess, they would have thought of this as homeless, although it’s really the most organized homeless that I’d ever seen. They were full houses, fully equipped.

 

And this is right on the edge of the beach?

 

Right on the edge of the sand, up against the keawe trees and the haole koa. I mean, it was really a remarkable place. There were probably fifty people. The Minnesota hooch had two bedrooms. Two like formal [INDISTINCT] and a bunk bed. It was made out of plywood, made out of leftovers that were found all over the place. Kept very tidy, actually. Full kitchen setup, dishes, everything. It’s not exactly the way the homeless are running today. It did fall into decline by the late 70s. They were doing cleanups, and should have, it had gotten pretty … just a lot of rubbish. But it was actually tidy, nice place to be. The beach was pristine. Stayed there for three months. I actually got an infection on my foot and had to go to the hospital. They would not let me out of the hospital if I didn’t have a residence, so I ended up moving into Makaha, moved in with friends in Makaha.

 

Puakea Nogelmeier confesses that his first means of support in Hawaii was living off his unemployment checks. Then, he linked up with a community of artists in Waianae, and became a goldsmith.

 

Oh; that was my career. That was something I could do for the rest of my life. And I’ve not done it now for thirty years. But who would have thought? One of my co-craftspersons was Mililani Allen, who became my kumu hula. She did beautiful silk batik with Hawaiian motifs, and just beautiful things. But one day, she was talking about, Well, I’m teaching hula. We didn’t know she taught hula.

 

I want to open a men’s class, but guys are so gun shy they won’t take it. And so, we pretty much said, We should open your class, we’ll take your class. Would you? Okay; so now, we’re all committed. So, her class of men started up with a motley crew of craftspeople. They were not dancers.

 

What was the name of the halau?

 

Halau Hula O Mililani. [CHUCKLE] Which, that was her name. She had been teaching maybe two years. She had graduated from Maiki Aiu Lake, she had been teaching women. It’s very formal halau structure. Classes run for an hour, once a week, et cetera, et cetera. So, she opens the men’s class. We’re all dummies. We don’t know anything. I didn’t know any Hawaiian history. I didn’t know Hawaii had a kingdom or kings, or I didn’t even know they had a language. I came as an empty calabash. And I’d been here for a while, but I learned Waianae stuff, not necessarily Hawaii stuff. So, we step into class, and it’s just a doorway to a whole new world I didn’t know was there.

 

Speaking of a whole new world, our next guest, educator Ku Kahakalau, grew up half a world away. Jazz music was on the rise in Europe in the 60s, so Ku ’s musician father moved the family to Germany. Ku did her best to adapt, but in her heart, she knew she wanted to return to Hawaii, back home.

 

We spent several years in Europe, and my father really, really liked it there. He liked the part that they took good care of the environment there, he liked the part that a handshake and a promise really meant something, and he liked the part that when they did things, they did it the right way, or they did it at a level of sophistication and rigor that our Hawaiian kupuna also did things. And so, he saw many things that were very similar they way people acted in Europe, compared to how his Hawaiian kupuna taught him.

 

You know, it just occurs to me that you must have been around people who didn’t realize you’re Native Hawaiian.

 

Definitely. That would be something that not anybody figures out right away. [CHUCKLE] And that’s perfectly fine, because I know who I am, and … the way we grew up, I mean, people never really knew who we were in the first place. And I always felt people have to accept you for who you are, no matter what nationality you are, what ethnic background, or what your IQ is. And so, I haven’t had a big problem with that, actually. I’m proud of my German heritage, I still practice some of those pieces, or at least don’t deny that or don’t want to have anything to do with it. But my dad was the only Brown person in town when we first got there, and it was not easy, even though we physically would fit in. But when your last name is Kahakalau no matter what, you can’t hide that.

 

And that was the reason you didn’t fit in? It was the name and the Brown father?

 

It was the color of it, but then also, my father’s very unconventional lifestyle certainly didn’t help either. All the other fathers worked every day from whatever it was, eight to five kind of a thing, and my father never had a regular work schedule in his entire life. So, I think those things certainly didn’t help either. And so, we just always felt a little bit odd. And then, as we got older, we met so many military people that were stationed in Germany, and I worked for the military for one year after high school to make money to come home. And the more we sang the songs, and the more we tried to eat the food it became like, What am I doing here?

 

So, when you hit high school graduation, at that point, you were making money to get home.

 

Yes.

 

No question?

 

No question. That was one of those single-minded decisions and without any concrete plans as to where to go from there. There was no doubt in my mind. As soon as I had enough money for an airplane ticket and a couple more thousand dollars that could hold me over for a little while, I was gonna come home. And I did.

 

For cultural historian Kepa Maly, Lanai is home. Growing up, he immersed himself in stories about Lanai from his hanai, or adoptive parents, Tutu Papa Daniel Kaopuiki and Tutu Mama Hattie Kaenaokalani Kaopuiki. As a gift for Tutu Papa and Mama’s seventy-fifth wedding anniversary, Kepa wrote a song based on those stories from his childhood.

 

A stronger section of the verse, a softer section of the verse being Tutu Papa and Tutu Mama, who always covered him. Gave him that softer, you know, 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 of places of Kaa Ahupuaa, which is the northwestern end of the Island of Lana‘i, Keahiakawelo, where you and I visited. 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 Lana‘i for the Pele migration, where Pele, you know [CHANTS]. 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 Lana‘i 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.

 

[UKULELE/SINGING-HAWAIIAN LANGUAGE]

 

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

 

[UKULELE/SINGING-HAWAIIAN LANGUAGE]

 

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

 

[UKULELE/SINGING-HAWAIIAN LANGUAGE]

 

So the last line says, These are among the storied places of Lana‘i which is beloved and set there in the calm. And this comes from Tutu folks, their stories, 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.

 

Our next guest learned about the importance of keeping connected with family and community at a young age. Corbett Kalama, the Kamehameha Schools trustee and First Hawaiian Bank executive vice president, grew up in Kailua, Oahu, which he calls a playground. And growing up with ten siblings, Corbett never ran out of playmates. Including Corbett and his parents, the Kalamas were a family of thirteen. The family home was a one-bedroom, nine hundred square foot house. With a large family came certain responsibilities.

 

One important responsibility was, the oldest sibling was responsible for the younger ones. That’s automatic. The other thing was to make sure we took care of our clothes. Right, because we knew that our siblings would have to use the clothes, especially those of us who were going to St. Anthony’s grade school; they were uniforms. So we were very careful. Where kids would be scraping their knees and tearing the pants, for example, we couldn’t afford to do that. Right? We had to do that.

 

Because you were thinking of the next kid.

 

Thinking of the next kid. We’d help my mom wash clothes. We had an old washing machine, the old scrub type thing, and wring it out, put the clothes into a big pan with starch. Starch it, and then we’d do the ironing and different things. But we did whatever we could do. We never had, as a child, a lot of apples and those types of things, so in retrospect, it was probably very healthy for us, because we’d go into the mountains, we’d pick guavas and mangoes, and mountain apple, and lychee, and just everything there, and mangoes in the tree. And you learned to pick enough. We’d sell mangoes, we’d do different things. There was a golf course nearby when we moved over to Kailua, Mid Pac Golf Course. It wasn’t unusual, I loved tournament days, I’d sit out there in my tin canoe, and a foursome would come by, at least two would be in the water. Dive in with scoop net and my goggles, and either try and sell it back to them, or else I’d sell it up at the country club. Just trying to make ends meet and to help my parents take care of all of us that way.

 

Was that something your parents told you, you should be doing?

 

No, no; we just realized. You know, love runs deep and different things, and we shared everything that we had. My father shared all the knowledge that he had, we spent a lot of time in the ocean. We lived a lot off the ocean. I don’t necessarily go out of my way to eat lobster or those types of things anymore, because it was right there in our front yard. But we learned the right way to pick lobster and not to damage the hole. We were very, very protective of sustainability, as they talk about it today. But we learned that way, so we all had to pull our load.

 

What was the fishing out Kailua way like then, compared to now?

 

Unbelievable. Unbelievable. Kailua Reef used to be like an aquarium. You had every type of fish that you could think of. There was white coral; you could go just a little further outside that, deep enough to where you’d see a lot of black coral that was there. There were lobster holes everywhere in Kailua. You could walk right from the sand into the water, and find a lobster hole, octopus holes. It wasn’t unusual for us to take that small island off Kailua Beach is called Popoia Island, they refer to it as Flat Island. But we’d go out there, and we’d go surfing. It wasn’t unusual where we’d just take a bottle of water, some matches, and we’d hide an old refrigerator grill, and then we’d junk and po at about lunchtime to see who was gonna go in the water to pick slipper lobster. We’d go out there, and it was two apiece. One person would have to dive in the water and pick it, and that’s how we lived. We’d go out there and do that. So we had a park that was there. We were windsurfing before there was windsurfing.

 

Did you see other people taking too much? Was there some kind of a neighborhood—

 

As a child, no, you never saw that. The neighborhood was very, very protective of each other. So even when you went fishing, you went to visit the other families to make sure that they had enough food too. So it wasn’t unusual. But see, with that responsibility, they also had the responsibility of the discipline aspect of it. So no, it wasn’t unusual, it wasn’t unusual for the neighborhood kids to just sleep on the beach as a group. It wasn’t unusual to be sleeping at someone’s house, and know that everybody was okay.

 

When you have something, you always share.

 

You share it. You share it. And it worked out, and kids talk about that. Now they’re all adults or grandparents, they talk about coming to our house when we were youngsters. And my dad, at a very young age, even though we lived in that small house, it wasn’t unusual for him to go around and pick up the homeless in those days that were in Kailua, and bring them home to our house.

 

I think that’s so true that so often, it’s the people who have less who give more.

 

M-hm.

 

Do you find that?

 

I still see that. And I think it’s just finding the opportunity for those that do have to help connect them to the group. ‘Cause, a lot of the work that I do in the community now, it’s not for a lack of desire on the part of individuals that are a little better off than others, but it’s trying to make that connection.

 

Hilo’s Derek Kurisu also knows the importance of connections and community. He and his siblings, including younger brother Duane Kurisu, the entrepreneur, were raised in plantation communities on the Big Island. There, Derek saw for himself how everyone pitched in to help their neighbors. The value of collaboration continues as he serves as executive vice president at KTA Superstores, Hawaii Island’s locally owned grocery chain.

 

The great thing about living on a plantation, there were so many great people; right? And everybody had some kind of strength. And the key, too, is that you know, people in their different strength area would help each other. For instance, your car break down, a mechanic would come and fix it; right?

 

And he wouldn’t charge you?

 

Oh, he wouldn’t charge you.

 

But what would you do for him?

 

Oh, no, and if you went fishing, you had fish, you’ll bring fish over to the home. So a plantation family wasn’t just made of five or ten people; it was thousand, it was family of families. And that’s what made it so great living on the sugar plantation. I have an older brother. His name is Hervy.

 

Hervy.

 

And for him, I mean, when I look at him [CHUCKLE], he reminds me of these plantation men. They’re so kind, sincere inside and then, if they’re your friend, they’ll just do whatever it is to make something happen. Lot of these plantation guys, they wouldn’t tell you anything. But you’ll learn a lot from them just by looking at them, by observing, by watching. ‘Cause they don’t say stuff. Let me give you one story. Okay. I used to enjoy going bodysurfing, swimming, and all that, as a youngster. We used to make our own body board, right? And I never had one, so I used to go bodysurfing. And one of these plantation men told me, Eh, Derek, tomorrow after work, I’ll come and I’ll get you something. We used to make our own body board, right? And I never had one, so I used to go bodysurfing. And one of these plantation men told me, Eh, Derek, tomorrow after work, I’ll come and I’ll get you something. So I said, Okay. So all my friends went surfing, and I went down to the gym. I was waiting for that man. He got through—came out of his truck, told me to follow him home. So I went down to his house, and there, I saw this big table. And I looked at the table. I go, Ho!

 

And it was like those ply board, a thick one like that. And I can still remember being under that house. Then he told me, Oh, Derek, draw your surfboard on this thing. So I drew my surfboard on his nice table. Then he grabbed a saw, he cut it. He made for me one board. That’s the plantation kinda thing, yeah?

 

Yeah.

 

Then he put on the skegs for me, and he said, Come back tomorrow, I’m gonna go and waterproof the thing. But that is what it was all about. You know, I think why I was real fortunate, that I had a great-grandmother. And she used to live up close to the forest line of Hakalau. All of our families, my aunties, uncles, and my grandparents used to gather at my great-grandmother’s house every week, at least once. Used to get about forty or fifty of us. And I think for myself and my brothers, we have learned a lot of the values, the cultures things and also traditions from that. And we have also learned, and they always used to remind us, to make sure not to bring shame to the family. [CHUCKLE] And I think that ingrained in each one of us. They really took care of us, they gave us everything. Met all our needs, our life was very simple. And I still tell myself, Wow, I better make sure I’m on the right path. I guess for me, that was like the foundation of my life.

 

Seeing yourself as part of something larger.

 

Oh, larger. So whatever I do now, I know if I do something bad, it’s a reflection not only me. All my families, all my ancestors, all my friends that helped me out, KTA Superstores where I work, all of the employees gets affected. And you know what? To me, that is very, very important. I try to make sure that I don’t go and upset anybody or make any enemies. And I guess this whole thing about an obligation to the family or to the organization or whatever you belong to helped me keep a straight life, and motivated me to move ahead.

 

For over three decades, Nola Nahulu has brought out the best in Hawaii singers of all ages. In this next clip, the respected conductor shares some of her earliest memories as a Japanese-Hawaiian girl on Oahu’s Waianae Coast.

 

My sister and I went to Waianae Elementary School. And to date us, that’s because there was no Makaha Elementary School at the time. My parents would wake us up in Makaha, we would drop off at our Obachan’s house, ‘cause she lived right across the street. Then the routine was, go Obachan’s house, have breakfast, go school … go back to Obachan’s house, have guava ice cake that she would have made. And then, go to Japanese school.

 

Where was Japanese school?

 

Japanese school was at the Waianae Hongwanji. And everybody went. Sometimes, we even got to ride our bikes there. And for those now, in this day and age, it’s right behind the McDonald’s in Waianae. But at that time, it was an open-air theater. Waianae town had two theaters; one regular theater house that was covered, and the other one that was open-air.

 

Was it a drive-in theater?

 

No, it wasn’t a drive-in; there was just no roof. And there were seats, wooden seats, and the screen.

 

Wow.

 

Yeah. And around fourth, fifth grade, we had the opportunity to take piano lessons. I keep on saying we, because my sister and I got afforded the same opportunities. So, we took piano.

 

Did you take piano because it was a good thing to do, or because you had a yearning, desire to take piano?

 

You know, our parents said, Do you want to take piano? And we said, Yes.

 

Really? Because I said, No. I had no desire to take piano when I was a kid.

 

We had nothing to gauge against. It was an opportunity that came up, and there was a piano teacher that moved into Waianae, and so they asked. And we were, Yeah, okay. And then, we actually got a piano. And we know that was a big sacrifice. But one day, a piano showed up in our house, and we know that our parents invested in that. So we got to take piano.

 

What was your parents’ background?

 

Dad’s from Nanakuli. Well, Nanakuli via Lualualei, via Laie.

 

Okay.

 

And my mom’s Waianae, plantation. My grandmother, my maternal grandmother was a picture bride. So she came over early 1900s as a picture bride.

 

So your mom was Japanese. Was your dad full Hawaiian?

 

Yeah, he’s full Hawaiian. And my mom’s Hiroshima-ken.

 

How many Hawaiian-Japanese families were there around you?

 

Not many.

 

Not a common combination back then.

 

Not a common combination. It is an odd combination.

 

Was there any feeling between sides of the family?

 

Well, I know at first, the Japanese were very concerned about my mother marrying a Hawaiian. Of course, you need to realize, the Hawaiian-Japanese combination is pretty cute when they’re babies. And we were the first two grandchildren, so it seemed to work. We never felt any kind of resistance being brought up. We were always cared for, and loved, and …

 

Did you grow up with a sense of, as many part-Hawaiians do now, you know, I have to learn my Hawaiian culture, my Hawaiian values?

 

No. And let me say no, because we were learning them. It wasn’t like I needed to learn them. Both sides, Hawaiian and Japanese, we were learning the culture from our family and from community activities. And we were learning who we are. I didn’t have to say, I am Hawaiian, or I am Japanese.

 

You didn’t have to choose?

 

No. To this day, I’m both. I’m keiki o ka aina, I’m from Hawaii.

 

Thank you to Nola Nahulu, Derek Kurisu, Corbett Kalama, Kepa Maly, Ku Kahakalau, and Puakea Nogelmeier for sharing personal stories about home in Hawaii Nei. On behalf of PBS Hawaii, and Long Story Short, 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 pbshawaii.org.

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Corbett Kalama

 

Original air date: Tues., Feb. 2, 2010

 

A Community Leader from Humble Beginnings

 

Leslie Wilcox talks story with Corbett Kalama, Executive Vice President and Region Manager at the Oahu Office of First Hawaiian Bank and Bishop Estate Trustee. Corbett comes from humble beginnings – he grew up in a 900-square-foot house in Kailua with a family of 13 – but his road to success was not the typical dog-eat-dog climb up the corporate ladder. It was, instead, formed by his family’s Hawaiian values of family, education, and community.

 

Corbett Kalama Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

Every child on the beach, every child that’s born—they all have dreams. I want people to be put in a situation where they can at least experience working toward those dreams.

 

He grew up in a family of 13…living in a 900-square-foot house…hand me downs got pretty worn out. He went on to become a top official of a leading Hawaii bank and a trustee of the Kamehameha schools. Meet Corbett Kalama — next, on Long Story Short.

 

Aloha mai kakou, I’m Leslie Wilcox. In this edition of Long Story Short, you’ll get to know Corbett Kalama, First Hawaiian Bank Executive Vice President, Kamehameha Schools trustee, husband, father, and much more. Corbett Kalama grew up in Kailua in Windward Oahu…the 7th of 11 children! He describes his dad as a renaissance man and his mom as a Hawaiian cultural practitioner. From them he inherited a sense of responsibility to the community—something that has shaped his approach to business.

 

From a bank perspective, our responsibility goes far beyond profit. Our responsibility goes through our community, and we’re here—banking, when it was originally set up, was to benefit communities. I think there’s a lot of discussion about the more challenging side of banking. But I fortunately, I’ve been raised in a bank that never got involved in a lot of these issues, and we never got involved in sub prime lending, for example, those types of things. And I think that just goes to back to the core of who we are and as organizations. But people realize that even from a bank’s standpoint, general banking, that’s the responsibility that you have to your broader community. And the flip side of it is to look at two choices. We either do it, we get involved and we do it willingly because we want to, and because it’s the right thing to do or you address it some other way, and that’s gonna have to be through social programs and different things. I don’t think one will go away completely, the social programs, but that should be there to be in a supportive role, not the means by which we have our community realize their aspirations. So our bank’s always been that part of it, and I can say that for the other institutions in town, because we work together as teams, that they’ve been actively involved in that.

 

What’s the scope of your work at the bank? What do you do?

 

I head up—I have the Oahu I Region, which is all the majority of the branches here on Oahu, the metro side, Kahala, Hawaii Kai, Kaimuki. And then I also head up the personal and small business banking portfolios, which is about eighty thousand of our customers; Hawaii, Guam, and Saipan. So I’m pretty active on that. I sit on our senior management committee here at First Hawaiian.

 

So your main job is more than enough.

 

To be a servant; just to be a servant. And I think the one string for me all the way across is you put yourself in that position of taking care of people, of providing guidance to people. So I’m a servant to my workers that are out in the field. Don Horner, my boss now, terrific, very humble man, grew up in humble beginnings. He lives our values and he always talks about line and staff, line and staff, right? You got the folks out there that are on the frontline doing everything, and we work for them. And it’s more than just a saying; we work for them in that meaningful way. So you’re constantly serving people in different ways. In the community, we’re out there, even though we go in there and you’re in a leadership position, but I’m serving them.

 

What’s your number one objective serving on the board of trustees at Kamehameha Schools?

 

Educate children, educate as many children as possible.

 

That means a lot of outreach?

 

Lot of outreach. You’ve heard there’s been some discussions about some of the work that we’re doing out in Nanakuli and Waianae. That’s a major effort on the part of Kamehameha Schools. But just a continued outreach working through the charter schools, working through our Ho‘olana programs, the scholarship programs, the Pauahi Scholars. Trying to really strengthen our community from an educational standpoint. So where we may not necessarily have large campuses, there’s a way that we can continue to work through and use our resources to work with the existing schools that are there. And in light of some of the challenges that our state is facing currently, from a budgetary standpoint, there are a lot of opportunities for Kamehameha. But it’s just, education is just critical.

 

At the same time, Hawaiian entitlements are under attack.

 

M-hm. They are; they are, but we have to stay true to our mission, and stay focused on that. My feeling is, you can use the legal system as much as possible to protect the different entitlements that are there, but continue to do your work, continue to do your work. So I’m not really as concerned, not to make light of it. It’s a major challenge for us, but the attacks against different groups have taken place since the beginning of time. It’s history repeating itself. But we can do is, we can address the here and now, and get as many children educated as possible. But we’re not gonna be able to do that by ourselves. I think part of the challenge with Kamehameha is, people look at Kamehameha as having this very large entity, but it was designed to last into perpetuity. And even with Kamehameha going into various communities, I like to use the analogy of a stool. In many instances, Kamehameha needs to go in and be one of the legs on the stool. Because there have been people in these communities for generations that have kept the communities moving, kept it on a positive note, and our responsibility is to go in there and strengthen them, rather—

 

But not be the whole stool.

 

You don’t need to sit on the stool. You need to be one of the legs, because communities—we need to help communities take care of the communities themselves. And the opportunities exist within all of these communities; young leaders that are there, that are committed to making things happen. And it’ll happen.

 

Have you considered quitting your bank job to serve on the board of Kamehameha?

 

No, it’s a challenge, though. I serve…you can’t lead an organization, it’s not—I’m not talking about micromanaging or anything. In order to give direction and to provide policy, and to provide insight to the group, you need to spend time and you need to read. I mean, we’ve got an investment portfolio that’s just enormous. There are issues in the community that go far beyond accounting, far beyond looking at rent rolls. What impact does this have on the community long term. So no, I think working at the bank, one enhances the other, one compliments the other. My background at the bank has provided a lot of guidance. And I say that humbly to the staff, in the sense that I’ve seen things in the banking community from large land developments, for example, the operation of shopping centers, financing of different types of things, leasing operations that assist the organization in growing and when we start identifying different challenges that exist. So do I see myself quitting the bank? No, not in the immediate term. Do I have free time? No.

 

You’ve spent a lot of time considering leadership, haven’t you? Who are some of the other leaders you admire?

 

Well, my father. My father was—leaders have to connect what they say to what they do, and what they do to what they say. My father did that all the time. Leaders have to be caring. My father did that all the time.

 

You know, I notice when you talk about leadership, you tend to say humility, humble, ha‘aha‘a. Oftentimes, when you read descriptions of leadership, it says bold, assertive, decisive.

 

I think it’s possible to be bold, assertive, decisive, and still be humble. You don’t have to be someone that speaks in a loud tone, or a bold tone to be bold. You can be yourself, you can be strong. Like I say, people watch your actions. Right; you can show intensity by not necessarily saying a single word, but just through your actions and your commitment, and your resolve to getting things done in a way that’s very sensitive to the entity or individual that you’re trying to assist. When you sit back and you look at just a real broad perspective, and you look at someone like Martin Luther King, when he was giving his speech, at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, I have a dream; everybody has dreams. Right? But he laid it out, point by point, what he expected to see, and getting people to buy into that dream. For me, if you ask me whether or not I have vision and dreams, I’d like to see our community be much stronger. I’d like to be able to go into our housing communities as we do in a much larger fashion, and continue to build on those things that have occurred. We’ve been very fortunate to have our private school system here willing to go into some of these housing projects and provide scholarships. But my whole aim is to go ahead and work with the homeless on the beach, and really bring opportunity to them to get them to dream.

 

You did something really unusual when we asked you, who are the people who have influenced your life. You named your family, and friends, and then you named the poor—and you’re a banker, and then you named people who you’ve never even met. Could you talk about that?

 

I named the poor because the poor give you a foundation. And I spend time with the poor. And the poor help me appreciate all the different blessings that I’ve had in my life. The different opportunities, the different people that have crossed paths with me, that have said, hi. It’s the simple things. My dad would often say, Say hi to whoever you run into. The worst thing that could ever happen is that they won’t say hi back to you. But you’re not any worse off. But the reason why I say the poor is, when you go and you do work with the poor they teach—you learn so much from that group of people and you can get in there, and you hone your skills. Selfishly, you hone your own skills. We often, from a business standpoint, we push our people into the community. We push them out there, because it forces them to go ahead and really get uncomfortable, and to recognize that that’s part of their kuleana and responsibility. But the poor are just at the forefront for me. Because when we lose the sense of responsibility for that part of our community, it’s over. It’s over. It doesn’t matter what economic programs we put in place, it’s over when we lose that sensitivity working with the poor. And a lot of our leaders and future leaders, and the hope comes from that part of our community that we can’t lose sight of.

 

Corbett Kalama was raised with a strong belief in the values of inclusiveness, stewardship and education. His mother Elizabeth Correa Kalama was a kumu hula. Father Charles Alan Kalama was a plumber, draftsman, musician, and boat builder. He even made musical instruments and fishing equipment. The family didn’t have much money but Corbett Kalama says he had a rich childhood.

 

What was it like growing up in Kailua? This would be in the middle 50s?

 

M-hm. It was fun. Kailua was just it—if I could describe it, it was a huge playground, and I had many mothers and fathers. And it was a time of real broad community, growing up. As a community, we learned to respect our elders, in more ways than one. If we were out of line in any way, shape, or form, we’d go home and get disciplined by our parents, then we’d have to go back up the street and apologize again to Mrs. Esposito or Mr. Grandberg, or Mr. Silva, or Mrs. Kim, and that type of thing. But that was just the way we were raised. And even when we’d go fishing and different things like that, we’d fish as a group. And all the elders, it wasn’t unusual for them to sit down and give us guidance on what to look at in the ocean. So they were constantly teaching us. But we learned at an early age to share. So we’d lay nets, for example, off Kailua Beach right near the boat ramp, catch fish—they’d teach us how to do that, and take the fish out of the net and make sure that everybody in the neighborhood shared in that part of it. So it was very giving, comfortable, environment. It was a challenge growing up in the types of houses that we were. There were different types of camps. We had a very small home, nine hundred square foot house.

 

Nine hundred square feet, and how many—children?

 

Eleven children.

 

Oh, that must have been rough.

 

Oh, it was rough, but you work it out. Yeah, you work it out, and it was an interesting perspective reflecting with my older brother, Charles, about how he viewed his life when he was growing up. Because when he grew up, he was the first one, so he lived at the time when we only had two, three children. So it was an interesting perspective. It wasn’t until, it got to me as number seven, already; and then there were four more after me. And it’s interesting when we reminisce as a group, as a family, the different perspectives we had at different stages in our life. But it a very very rich time. We shared everything that we had. My father shared all of the knowledge that he had, we spent a lot of time in the ocean. We lived a lot off the ocean. I don’t necessarily go out of my way to eat lobster or those types of things anymore, because it was right there in our front yard. But we learned the right way to pick lobster and not to damage the whole—we were very, very protective of sustainability as they talk about it today. But we learned that way, so we all had to pull our load.

 

What was the fishing out Kailua way like then, compared to now?

 

Unbelievable. Unbelievable. Kailua Reef used to be like an aquarium.

 

You had every type of fish that you could think of. There was white coral; you could go just a little further outside that, deep enough to where you’d see a lot of black coral that was there. There were lobster holes everywhere in Kailua. You could walk right from the sand into the water, and find a lobster hole, octopus holes. It wasn’t unusual for us to take that small island off Kailua Beach is called Popoia Island, they refer to it as Flat Island. But we’d go out there, and we’d go surfing. It wasn’t unusual where we’d just take a bottle of water, some matches, and we’d hide an old refrigerator grill, and then we’d jan ken po at about lunchtime to see who was gonna go in the water to pick slipper lobster. We’d go out there, and it was two apiece. One person would have to dive in the water and pick it, and that’s how we’d live. We’d go out there and do that. So we had a park that was there. We were windsurfing before there was windsurfing.

 

Did you see other people taking too much? Was there some kind of a neighborhood—

 

As a child, no, you never saw that. You always had—the neighborhood was very, very protective of each other. So even when you went fishing, you had to go and you went to visit with other families to make sure that they had enough food too. So it wasn’t unusual. But see, with that responsibility, they also had the responsibility of the discipline aspect of it. So no, it wasn’t unusual, it wasn’t unusual for the neighborhood kids to just sleep on the beach as a group. It wasn’t unusual to be sleeping at someone’s house, and know that everybody was okay.

 

When you have something, you always share.

 

You share it. You share it. And it worked out, and kids talk about that. Now they’re all adults or grandparents, they talk about coming to our house when we were youngsters. And my dad, at a very young age, even though we lived in that small house, it wasn’t unusual for him to go around and pick up the homeless in those days—that were in Kailua, and bring them home to our house.

 

I think that’s so true that so often, it’s the people who have less who give more. Do you find that?

 

I still see that. And I think it’s just finding the opportunity for those that do have to help connect them to the group. ’Cause a lot of the work that I do in the community now, it’s not for a lack of desire on the part of individuals that are a little better off than others, but it’s trying to make that connection.

 

Can we go back to your dad a bit? ’Cause you mentioned him as your first role model as a leader. Tell me about him. I’ve heard from your old-time neighbors in Kailua, he was a character.

 

My dad was a character. My father, he developed a three-prong spear out of aluminum when no one had it. And my father is just very, very creative. But the other side of it too is, he spoke a number of different languages; he could pick up really fast. He had great relationships. In our neighborhood, we had a Filipino community, for example, the Lambitoc family was there, and a lot of Filipino workers that would come in, and we got to really know them. We learned the culture, and that type of thing. My father would include everyone all the time. We’d go through, but he was just able to take things and look at issues, and look at challenges, and resolve them quickly.

 

What kinds of things did he build? You said he was—

 

Well, he built boats. He could build houses. He was a draftsman, so a lot of the big buildings in town, he was there. Lot of the plumbing that went on up on Waialae Iki Ridge and all of those places, my dad’s company did that. He just…motorboats. It wasn’t unusual for my dad to…well, musical instruments, he made banjos, guitars, ukulele, electric things. I mean, he was just amazing. But he could do that, and have it just be perfect. Harmonicas, bass harmonicas. And we had that around, it was just everywhere in our homes.

 

Did you have musicians come to your house too?

 

Yeah, we had a whole bunch of musicians. So you had Charles K.L. Davis, Tony B, Gabby Pahinui, that type of folks that would be in there. And we’d just sit there and listen and watch them play. ’Cause you know, in those days, you never asked too many questions. You just listened, and then you remember the sound. When they’d all pass out eventually, we’d grab the instruments and start playing. And that’s how we all learned how to play music. But we got exposed to a whole number of things. And then my mother was a kumu hula. Her teacher was Auntie Lokalia Montgomery. Her pahu drum was made by Daddy Bray. And the other students in her class were Auntie Maiki Aiu was my mom’s cousin, Sally Woods Naluai, and they were all trained, and they all uniki’d at the age of thirteen. Right, but the story there is, my dad—my mom in order to spite my dad, went ahead and sold her—pawned her pahu drum. And on her pahu drum, her name’s there, Kekauilanikaeakawaha is on it. So lo and behold, this lady named Auntie Pilahi Paki is walking past the pawn shop. And Auntie Pilahi is relating this story to me. And she says that the drum was calling out to her. So I’m in my little back yard in Kailua Beach, I’m raking up the panax hedges. And I see this lady, who I’ve never met before, was Auntie Pilahi Paki holding my mother’s pahu drum.

 

Was she considered a cultural expert at that time?

 

Didn’t even know who the lady was. This was my first experience with Auntie Pilahi. I looked at her, and I said, Auntie, how come you have my mom’s pahu drum? I didn’t know my mom had pawned it. And then Auntie Pilahi started chanting to my mother. So I ran in the house and I said, Mom, there’s this lady out there, she has your pahu drum. So that’s how I got to meet Auntie Pilahi. And I was about six, six or seven years old. And that’s why our relationship started. But that was just part of the music part of it. Then from that, I got to meet Uncle Eddie Kamae.

 

Okay; well, let me ask you about Auntie Iolani Luahine.

 

Very special, very unique, very spiritual. It’s my experience with her was going up to Mauna ‘Ala with my mother, who was a kumu hula, and I went up there grudgingly ’cause my mom would have us in the days when I was growing up in Kailua, not too many men were dancing anywhere. So my brothers and I would often have to go ahead and perform for my mother in the Waikiki Shell and then pa‘i umauma. All that stuff. And then every so often, my mom would want to go up and visit Auntie Lo in the 60s, and she was up at Mauna ‘Ala. And we’d go there, and it was always an interesting time for me. Auntie Io had a way about her that demanded respect immediately. And you were a bit scared, in a real respectful way, because she had these eyes that could basically burn holes through you. And then her hair was this way, and what she used to do was let her hair out, and her and my mom would dance on the lawn there. I would [DRUMS TABLE] for them, and they would uh, Kaulilua was—she would—and so I remember vividly—she would teach me how to take the ti leaf and fold it, so that I could pa‘i my [KNOCKS TABLE] puniu my drum for them.

 

Is it true that when she danced, something seemed to come from within her? She almost became another person.

 

She was larger than life. Auntie Io—I get chicken skin, my whole body is alive now, ‘cause I can just see her, and she was just a very, very unique, very powerful.

 

Why do you think that was?

 

She just had—she had mana. She had the spirit in her.

 

And she was—connected to the spirits, as the—curator of Mauna ‘Ala.

 

She was connected. People went to her for guidance.   She was a beautiful dancer. And as a child growing up, it was people doing kahiko was very special. You never used to see that. It was interesting to watch the transition when the whole Merrie Monarch and everything, and then everybody started doing it. Because even as my mother was going through and training her haumana, very few were taught—

 

Your mother’s generation, was the generation that generally was looking more Western than going back to roots.

 

Yeah. See, my mother was raised around that, so my mother was a chanter. My mother was a chanter that would actually—Auntie Maiki, her haumana would come to my mom, and my mom would provide them guidance.

 

But were they going against the mainstream grain at that point? Everybody else was looking elsewhere.

 

They were somewhat, to a certain extent. But if you get back to who we are as a people, as Hawaiians, it’s to be inclusive. The Hawaiians, when they talk about aloha, and reaching out to everyone, that’s what it was. You know, so they went far beyond, and you find a lot of our folklore and a lot of our stories about Hawaii in all parts of the world. You can go to Japan, it’s a big part. There are olis out there that talk about the volcanoes in Japan, and why they’re so tied. There are a lot of things that have gone on in Hawaiian history that have gone on and ’til today, you have that challenge between the kumu that want to leave it, and the others that want to continue to grow. And it’s been growing.

 

Kamehameha Schools trustee Corbett Kalama graduated from Kailua High School with honors. Also from Western Oregon University and the pacific coast banking school at the University of Washington. He’s taught high school and college courses. His love of learning started at a young age. It was something that came naturally to him.

 

I just blazed through school. There wasn’t anything that I couldn’t do in my mind’s eye. I was an honor student, and it just goes back to high school. I remember walking into an assembly one day as a sophomore at Kailua High School, and I saw a guy walking and had one of these yellow braids, right. And I said, What is that? And he said, That’s the Honor Society. I said, I’m gonna get one of those. Right? Well, there are no—so I went and I figured out what I had to do. And one way to get in, I went and took a trigonometry class. But I was the only Hawaiian in the class. And I decided, okay, I’m gonna get the top score in the class. So that’s what I did. I got straight A’s and I aced all my tests, and all that stuff. And it became a challenge. The things were pretty easy for me. And then when I went to college, the same thing. I challenged a bunch of courses, so I had enough credits to graduate within three years. So life was easy.

 

Tell me about meeting your wife. You met her—legs first?

 

Yeah. My wife it’s really interesting. I came back. I was a freshman in college, I came back to Kailua Canoe Club, and I’ve always been very successful in canoe paddling since I was a youngster. Did a lot of big races, and those types of things. So I got out there, and in Waikiki we have a 4th of July regatta, the Walter J. MacFarland Regatta put on by the Outrigger Canoe Club. I’m an experienced steersman, so I get to go out there and steer the canoes. Not everybody does. Well, my wife was paddling in the seventeen and under women’s crew, and I as the steersman. Well, as we were coming in, the boat sunk. We filled up with water and swamped. So part of the steer’s responsibility is to make sure that you’ve got your passengers okay. So I went underwater and I was counting legs. You know, five sets of legs, and I saw these long legs. I go, Ho, who is that? Came up, and it was Sandy. So she didn’t know this; I decided right then, that’s who I’m gonna marry, was that. She was seventeen years old, and I was eighteen. And then we struck up a relationship over time, and then I’d go back to school in Oregon, and she was here. And she’s a very, very hard, hard worker, very patient, very patient. She’s a kindergarten schoolteacher in Kailua, loves kids, kids love her. She’s done a tremendous job.

 

So could you really make a lifelong commitment based on underwater legs?

 

Yeah, uh—no. But it was a start. Starts from the toes.

 

Is there anything else you want to talk about that I havent asked you about?

 

The idea of aloha. Being kind to people all the time, recognizing the importance of working together as a group, seeing the good in all people, recognizing that we have to be good servants, and recognizing that through patience and perseverance, you’re gonna emerge successful, but you cannot do that by yourself. One thing that I learned as a child growing up is you need to understand your history and where you come from. And so it’s not uncommon for me to go ahead and share my genealogy when I meet with Hawaiian groups, especially, because that’s who I’m representing, that’s who I come from, that’s who I am.

 

Corbett Kalama connects to the past, lives in the present and helps shape the future with his commitment to children and the community. He draws from the Hawaiian values he learned, growing up in that tiny home with a large family and an open door to those less fortunate. Mahalo to Corbett Kalama…and to you…for joining me on Long Story Short. I’m Leslie Wilcox with PBS Hawaii. A hui hou kakou.

 

So I decided, without telling my mom, that I’m gonna go to Kailua High School. So what happened was, I turned out for the football team, and the Kailua coaches didn’t know. And I turned out for the junior varsity football team, and I made it all the way through the cut, and it came time to register me, they realized that I wasn’t going to Kailua yet. So I went to my mom, and I asked her, I went to her house and I said, Do you mind dropping me off at school? So we were driving up through Kailua town. And I said, No, you have to take a left here. [chuckle] She said, Where you going? I said, Kailua High School. And she said, When are you going to Kailua High School? I said, This year. When? You didn’t tell me about this. I said, Don’t worry, Mom, don’t worry; I’ll be okay. That’s how I got to go to Kailua High School.