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LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Susan Scott

 

One of my favorite Hawaii newspaper columns is about the marvels of the sea – and who would guess its writer grew up in a land-locked state? As a kid, Wisconsin native Susan Scott would page through National Geographic magazines, imagining herself traveling to distant lands. When she moved to Hawaii, she was afraid of the ocean. Today she loves sailing her own sailboat to distant shores. On LONG STORY SHORT, I get to talk with Susan about her discoveries and delights in living on and near the ocean.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, Jan. 12, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

Susan Scott Audio

 

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Transcript

 

My neighbors were two sisters; they called them the old maids in those days—it was in the 50s, and they subscribed to National Geographic, which was the enormous of my attraction to go over there to their house. And I would sit on the couch, I remember it vividly, and page through the National Geographics, which we did not have. My family were not readers. And they would explain things to me. And I remember Easter Island was a big one. I’m going there, and I’m going here, and I’m going here, I’m going here.

 

Susan Scott of Oahu has been to those places she dreamed about in her childhood, and then some. She’s a familiar name to those who followed her weekly Ocean Watch column in Honolulu’s major daily newspaper, which she’s been writing since 1987. Susan Scott, next on Long Story Short.

 

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

 

Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. In addition to her regular Ocean Watch column in the Honolulu Star Advertiser, Susan Scott has written seven books about Hawaii’s wildlife, including publications about plants and animals that live in the ocean as well as on land. Yet, having grown up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Susan Scott knew very little about Hawaii when she and her husband, Dr. Craig Thomas, decided to move here in 1983.

 

What was it like for you, your childhood? How would you characterize it?

 

My childhood was very loving and happy. We had a big extended family until my mom remarried. And she married a man who was not very enamored with children or really comfortable around children. And I was the oldest, so we didn’t get along that well. He was pretty strict with manners, and all kinds of things that I hadn’t really ever heard of before. [CHUCKLE] So, we had a hard time of it. They were heavy drinkers. Everybody in my family drank. All four grandparents, all my aunts and uncles; everybody. It was a drinking culture. It is a German-Scandinavian community, and drinking was an enormous part of the culture. I didn’t know people didn’t live like that until I left home. I just decided pretty much when I was fifteen that I was not gonna have children, and that I was gonna have a different life.

 

At fifteen?

 

At fifteen.

 

What did they encourage you to do with your life?

 

They encouraged me to be part of the extended family, and work in factories, and stay there. And I think the vision was that we would all stick together and do the same thing. But whatever it is, I don’t know what happens, but I think some kids just grow up with the travel bug, an adventure bug. And that was me, and I really, really wanted to do that a lot. And everyone thought I was crazy. They didn’t get it. They still don’t get it.

 

I left home when I was eighteen, and the first time in my life I heard a foreign language. I heard a migrant worker in Milwaukee who had been through our county to pick cherries, and he asked me a question in Spanish. I remember it vividly. I was dumbfounded. I could not believe how beautiful this language sounded. And so, he was lost, and in a little trouble, so I took him home where I lived, in a little commune kinda thing with some other hippie kids, and we found someone who spoke Spanish, and on the phone, and he said what he was looking for, a bus station and a place to sleep for the night. But it was this enormous thing. I’d never heard Spanish, I never heard any other language, really.

 

It was all Caucasian people in your small town, too.

 

Yeah; yeah. And I’d never seen Black people, or Asians, or anyone. And so, just leaving was just a really wonderful thing for me. And you know, I certainly had ups and downs as an adolescent and as a hippie, kinda wandering around, wondering what to do. ‘Cause I didn’t go to nursing school until after that. And then, that’s when I decided if I went to nursing and got an RN, I could go back to Europe and maybe live and work in Ireland. When I met Craig, uh, which was in 1980, it was the end of that whole hippie thing, and he was really instrumental in helping me stop doing drugs and alcohol, and smoking, and all of those things.

 

How did you meet?

 

I met Craig in the hospital. He was an intern, and it was his first week there, and it was my last week there.

 

And where was this?

 

In Denver. He had gotten a residency there, and I had gone to nursing school in Denver. And so, we had just met just barely as we were both off going to do different things. I was going back to school to do something else.

 

You had decided not to be a nurse.

 

Right; I decided not to be a nurse.

 

Why not?

 

I think it was too indoors for me. I think I really had an adventure outdoor travel bug.

 

And it’s kind of hard, isn’t it? I mean, devote years to this training and this education, and you did it for a good reason, then you decide it doesn’t work for you?

 

Well, it was only two years.

 

Still, two years.

 

It was an associate degree. Yeah, it was two years. I didn’t feel that I could do it. I’m not sure why, exactly. I worked in seven different departments in seven years. I was a nurse for seven years. And I finally thought, I don’t think moving around the departments is gonna do it for me.

 

And even though it helps with my travel bug, you decided, No, try something else.

 

Yeah. It just didn’t work for me. And I did my pre-med courses after that, at the University of Colorado. And then, Craig finished his residency and really, really wanted to come to Hawaii and rest, and have some time off before he started working. And so, we came to Hawaii in 1983 just for the summer. And that was it; we’ve never, never even considered living anywhere else. But we always said if there’s another place we find—‘cause he likes to travel, obviously, too. If we find a place better, we’ll go there. And we still say that, but you know, the places that we’re going now are wonderful, and I really enjoy the South Pacific and the other islands, and Mexico, and the places that I’ve been sailing these last few years., but I would never leave Hawaii.

 

What was it about Hawaii that made you know, We’re gonna stay here, we’re putting down roots?

 

Well, part of it is, I feel really at home here. I think the culture is American, and there’s a lot of wonderful things about America that I really like. But I also think that the multicultural part of Hawaii really spoke to me. Well, I went to Chinese New Year and had a fantastic time. We just loved it so much. You know, we watched the lion dances and the dragon dance, and we had Chicago hotdogs. And all this different ethnic mix is really, really fun, and I appreciate that all the time. I like the mix here. And I feel like I’m always kinda traveling while I’m here at home and meeting people from different places. So, it really works for me.

 

The multi-ethnic cultures and people may have been Susan Scott’s initial reasons for wanting to stay in Hawaii, but there was something else here that she hadn’t discovered yet, something she probably would never have guessed would become her life’s passion.

 

When you came here, you enrolled at UH Manoa.

 

I enrolled at UH Manoa because I was so afraid of the ocean. And Craig and I both really liked Hawaii and the cultural part of Hawaii, and we loved Oahu.

 

You were afraid of the ocean?

 

I was afraid of the ocean. Well, I grew up in Wisconsin and went to school in Denver. I had barely seen the ocean. So, I didn’t know what a tide was. And when people said the surf was up on the North Shore, I didn’t know. I remember thinking, Up where?

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

What does that mean? [CHUCKLE] So, it was interesting to go to school, and thinking I would just take a couple of courses. And I had just come off the really hard pre-med schedule, which I’d finished, and so, it was really fun. And I had all these different people from all over the world at school. My lab partner was from Singapore, and I met a lot of local people who made fun of some of the things I said, and about the ocean, and they thought that it was just crazy that I thought, wana, for instance, was really a cool interesting thing. ‘Cause I had thought that sea urchins were plants.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

I had no idea. So, the more I learned, the more interested in got, and I finally ended up with a degree in biology and a certificate in marine journalism from the Marine Option Program. So, I’m a very proud graduate of MOP.

 

Well, what is your job?

 

I’m a freelance writer. And so, I’ve contracted with the Star Advertiser, the Star Bulletin for many years, to do a weekly column. And one of the things the editors were interested in the beginning was that I would have the science point of view from the animals. So, I could write about the marine animals and marine science in a way that reporters probably wouldn’t. And so, those were sort of my sample columns, and the editor who hired me said, Well, let’s just try this for a while and see how it goes. And that’s the only contract I ever had.

 

And as the Star Bulletin dissolved, here you are with the Star Advertiser.

 

Star Advertiser; right.

 

You continued along with them.

 

Well, I was lucky. I made the cut.

 

You did.

 

Yeah; I was very lucky.

 

From being afraid of the ocean to essentially spending your life around it.

 

Right; exactly.

 

In it, on it, around it.

 

Yeah. I think part of the feedback I get for my column and my books is that the sense of wonder is still in the writing. And I feel that; that’s very genuine.

 

And the curiosity is the case there too.

 

To me, I feel like I’m in a movie sometimes; just even walking on the beach, I don’t have to get in the water. And I feel so lucky that I not only got to study and learn the science part of marine biology, but that I get to live it. You know.

 

Well, I love your column. And you know, I think so many people read it and say, Ah, I always wondered about that. In fact, I was gonna tell you that there was this period, I think it was a month; it was one June, I can’t remember which June, but I remember thinking, Everything you’re writing about this month, every week I open it up, and it’s something I really, really wanted to know.

 

Oh, that’s great. Oh, I’m glad to hear that. Yeah; I get really good feedback from the column, and it really keeps me going, keeps me interested. I think I’ll be a little old lady going into the newspaper, still writing about my experience with the ocean. But it is a lot of fun.

 

A lot of it is based on observation. You see something, and you wonder about it.

 

Right.

 

You do the research, and then you talk with people.

 

Well, and I have lots and lots of really interested readers, like you, who write me notes and say—

 

Yeah; what is this?

 

I found this, can I send you a picture? Or, Have you ever heard of this? And uh, I just feel really lucky that I have so many readers now. And I have readers in Australia, now that it’s online, the newspaper’s online. I got an email from Switzerland last week, and another from Malta.

 

And there are infinite things to learn about the ocean. It covers, what, three-quarters of the Earth’s surface. You’ve got a lot of material forever.

 

I’ll never run out of material. Yeah.

 

Tell me about some of the columns that have resonated most with your readers.

 

Well, I think that sailing columns resonate the most. And it’s interesting, ‘cause I worry the most about those being boring to people. Probably because I feel like the column should be about discovering marine animals, and I think the thing I like writing best about is, what you said, finding something and wondering how it works, and then discovering, like, Oh, my gosh, this nudibranch has its own little garden on its back. Which we have right off on the North Shore, we have a bunch of these. And so, if I’m writing about sailing, it feels more like a little bit of a travel log. Like, I did this, and then I did this, and then I did this. And I think, I’m probably driving people crazy. It’s like, Oh, big deal.

 

What’s the latest new thing you’ve learned?

 

Chitons; I’ve never seen a Hawaii chiton. And so, when my friends emailed me that from California and I looked it up, I looked it up in the Hawaii books I have and said, We have those. They wear a girdle. [CHUCKLE] This is called a girdle that goes around. I found a website by Sam Gon, who’s the Nature Conservancy biologist here, and who I’ve meet several times, and so, he had something about chitons, and trilobites. He calls the chitons trilobite imposters. [CHUCKLE] Pretenders, or something. ‘Cause he gets emails from people that say they found a trilobite.

 

Chiton; so that’s C-H-I-T-O-N.

 

Right. That was all new for me. I spent two days doing it. So, I don’t earn very good money, because I spend so much time writing each column. But I have really a lot of fun doing it. And then, I think if I quit the column, would I still work so hard at getting all the little details and getting it right? And I don’t know.

 

Gives you a reason to give structure to your positive wonder about the world.

 

Well, it does. It does.

 

Makes you more alert, too, I would think.

 

It does. ‘Cause I’m always thinking, Oh, I’ve gotta write about that.

 

Right.

 

Well, then I have to remember what kinda day this was, or what beach it was, or was it rocky beach, or sandy. A lot of my observations are not actually in the water. Which is one of the things a lot of my readers write and say, I’ve never been in the ocean, I don’t swim. I love your columns, because I can relate to it through your eyes, but I don’t feel like I have to actually get in the ocean to know about these things. ‘Cause I don’t always get in the water, either.

 

And meanwhile, you’ve been writing books as well. I’m fascinated by All Stings Considered. And I know everyone has asked you, I’ve asked you, when you get stung by a Portuguese Man ‘O War, which is very common, there’s always someone willing to give you their home remedy.

 

That’s right.

 

But do any of the remedies work, or is it just time that works?

 

Well, I had a doctor friend that used to say, tincture of time was the best remedy. And what we say for almost all jellyfish stings.

 

Almost all.

 

The reason so many things work, and everyone has so many different remedies is because it’s a self-limiting injury that goes away by itself anyway. Craig and I did some studies with the City and County lifeguards, and we had a really good time. We had unmarked bottles, so it was a blinded study, so no one knew what they were putting on. And then, we had victims of jellyfish stings fill out a questionnaire; spray this on and tell us on a pain scale how it was. And so, we had a statistician from City and County running the numbers, ‘cause we wanted to make sure we weren’t making something worse. And we had meat tenderizer mixed in a concentrated form in water, and we had Sting Aid which they were selling at the time in all the stores, and fresh water and sea water. Sea water was our control. And the statistician called us, I remember the day, and said, I think you might as well stop the study, ‘cause the sea water is so far ahead of all the others. So, that told us that it was statistically significant. So, don’t do anything. Rinse it off with sea water and go home.

 

Sea water seems to be an answer to so many things.

 

Yeah; it really is.

 

I always remember a prominent coach who had a progressive disorder, and I asked him what he was doing for it. And he goes, The ocean is my therapy, and it’s made me happier than anything could have.

 

Well, I could say the same thing. Yeah. There is something about sea water. And even walking next to it works for me. [CHUCKLE]

 

Yeah.

 

I don’t have to actually get in it.

 

Discovering new wonders about the ocean and wildlife and writing about them has never stopped being exciting and fulfilling for Susan Scott. Yet, after doing this for eighteen years, she came to a point in her life where she needed to do something different.

 

You know every type of animal you could ever find in a tide pool.

 

Yeah; exactly. Well, I’m still learning. That’s the fun of it. So, I still really find the thrill of it and the joy of it.

 

As your life has gone along, you’ve actually gotten more and more, well, immersed in the ocean.

 

Right. Yeah; I started sailing. I didn’t know how to sail before I met Craig, but uh, in 2005, I sailed to Palmyra. I learned how to sail.

 

Wait a minute; that’s a big jump.

 

Oh.

 

First, you’re afraid of the ocean.

 

Yeah.

 

And then you’re sailing with Craig, and all of a sudden you’re sailing to Palmyra?

 

Well, I had a big midlife crisis. I had a really, really hard menopause shift in hormones, I think. I don’t know; I felt crazy. And I think a lot of women have these hormone times in their late forties and fifties, and people do think they’re crazy. People thought I was crazy. I felt like I did lose myself. I thought, I don’t know who I am or where I’m going, or what’s happening. I had been trying to write a novel, and like most novel writers in the world, it was rejected, rejected, rejected. And that’s normal, but I took that so hard. I took to my bed and didn’t get up for days. And I’m not like that at all. And so, I had a really miserable time with it, and that Women’s Health Initiative study came out that said hormones are bad for women, so I was not on hormones. And finally, I said, [CHUCKLE] I’m going somewhere. My life feels like it’s over anyway, so whatever happens, it’s gotta be better, it doesn’t matter what I do. So, I learned how to sail a boat by myself, without Craig, which was the first time. And a lot of people said, Well, he taught you how to sail, or you learned how to sail with him. Taking it myself was an entire different universe, and making all the decisions was really different.

 

Were you a solo sailor going across the ocean that way?

 

I got a job with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as a volunteer in Palmyra. They really needed some help doing a study there, and it would take four months. But they didn’t have any way for me to get there, or a place for me to live when I did get there. ‘Cause Palmyra is a pretty remote camp. And so, I thought, Well, I have a sailboat. I’ll just go there. I’ll sail there, and I’ll live on the boat, and then I’ll see what happens after that.

 

How long did it take you to sail there?

 

It took me a week to sail there, with some big catastrophic boat failures, actually. And I sailed with a biologist friend, a young man who’s still a very dear friend. And he had never been on a sailboat before or never sailed. So, the two of us were really novices. And we made it to Palmyra. We managed to patch the boat together enough to sail there, and Craig sent down the parts to fix it.

 

What was that failure? What happened?

 

The forestay broke. Which for sailors, if you know boats, is what holds up the mast and the sails. And so, we managed to save the mast.

 

It broke in bad weather?

 

It broke because it was put together wrong.

 

Oh!

 

Here in Honolulu. It was new. That’s a very big deal. It’s about as bad as it gets without getting a hole in the bottom of the boat where it’s sinking. But we did fine. We didn’t know much then. I know a lot more now. I think I’d be a lot more calm now.

 

All the elements are bigger than yourself, and can combine against you.

 

Yes. And I learned too, that you’re really dependent on the boat for your life, but you’re also dependent on your wits to fix the boat, because things break all the time. The most common conversation among sailors is what big thing broke, and what did you do. And I wrote a book about it called, Call Me Captain, which is a really big part of my life. I’ve been writing that for a long time. And University of Hawaii Press is publishing it.

 

It’s so hard to write about yourself, I would think.

 

It was very hard. I actually had a wonderful editor from San Francisco, a really good editor who’s a professional editor, and she helped me. And I think the big part of her, besides being a good editor is, she didn’t know me personally. And so, she could say, I can’t picture this; I don’t know what were you feeling. And so, I rewrote with her over years.   And the UH Press does not usually publish memoirs.

 

Oh, congratulations.

 

So, I feel very lucky. So, I sailed to Tahiti from Palmyra, and then to Australia. I really got the bug.

 

That’s amazing.

 

I had different friends help me. I never sailed alone until I got to Mexico. And in the Sea of Cortez there’s only seventy-five miles across, and so I started sailing alone there. ‘Cause I thought, Oh, I’m never gonna be that far offshore. My big problem with going offshore alone is, if something breaks that’s beyond my strength, I don’t feel very strong, and as I age, I feel less strong. I lift weights, but it doesn’t make me feel capable. And on the way to Palmyra, when we had the big boat failure, I really needed Alex’s strength.

 

You’ve seen some amazing visuals at sea. I know you’ve described spinning dolphins.

 

Right.

 

What else at sea have you seen that’s amazing?

 

Well, one thing that I saw that was amazing, but I didn’t really realize it until later when I looked it up and read, it was pilot whales. And pilot whales are among the very few—I think there’s only two species, maybe three, in the world of animals that have menopause, and females live long after they stop reproducing. And pilot whales are one of them; Hawaii’s pilot whales. So, when they swam up to the boat, on my trip to Palmyra, they were the only whales that came to the boat. And then later, when I read about them, I thought, Well, there you go.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

They were coming over to see me, and that was a really good sign.

 

How’s that going for you? [CHUCKLE]

 

That was good.

 

Do you sleep well on the boat in the middle of the sea?

 

No. I don’t sleep hardly at all. I sleep; I feel like I’m not totally exhausted, but when I get somewhere, I sleep a lot. But I’m always on call.

 

And yet, you love being on a boat where you don’t sleep much?

 

Well, I’m not offshore that much. So, the trip from Mexico to the Marquesas that I did this year was a twenty-eight-day crossing. And that’s really a long, long crossing. And then, the rest of the year was just little trips, so you know, a day or two. And then when you get where you’re going, it’s a wonderful, peaceful anchorage usually, and you can sleep just fine.

 

How big is your boat? Tell me about your boat.

 

Oh, the boat’s thirty-seven feet. It’s French ketch, and it’s easy to single hand. It’s set up so you can single handed maintain the sails and do what you need to do by yourself. But it’s also roomy enough to sleep comfortably six people. So, there’s three separate cabins. It’s a center cockpit boat with an aft master cabin, and a center and a forward.

 

So, you could conceivably go alone, although that’s not advisable.

 

I could go alone. And people do go alone. I think part of it, too, it’s a social event. You know, it’s been really a good social thing for me to have, to be able to skipper the boat, and have friends come along. And as a biologist in Hawaii, I have a lot of friends who are really good on the water and they’ve been on research vessels, and they know the water, and they’re not afraid of big waves. And so, they may not necessarily know a lot about sailing, but they do what I tell them, and we’ve had a really good time.

 

You like being the skipper?

 

I do like being the skipper. I do. Sometimes, there’s times when I think it’d be really fun to just be on somebody else’s boat and let them worry about what’s going wrong, or where we’re going, or should we go all night, or should we pull in. But mostly, I like it. I enjoy it.

 

And you’re telling me menopause is what triggered all of this?

 

It is. I think, Leslie, I would have never gone on that sailboat by myself, unless I was really desperate and miserable.

 

I’m wondering if those people who you said thought you were crazy; did they think you were even crazier when you started taking the sailboat out virtually on your own?

 

That I was crazy when I got home?

 

Well, no; you know, once they heard you were—

 

When I got home, I was fine. [CHUCKLE] It cured me. [CHUCKLE] I think getting outside of my own self, and I think if there’s a lesson there, and I would never presume to tell anyone else what to do with their own. Menopause or misery, or midlife or early life crisis; I felt as confused and mixed up as I had when I was a teenager, with all those hormone storms and things, and trying to figure out what I was gonna be, where I was gonna go. And I came from a place where I really wanted to do something different, but didn’t know what. And this was the same kinda thing. And I thought, whatever happens, I’m losing it here, so it’s gotta be, it’s gotta be good. And if I never come back, or Craig and I don’t stay together, well, that’s just life.

 

Susan Scott has made it through many challenges. She continues to sail and explore with the same passion and wonder that she’s always had, and through her writing, we all get to tag along. Mahalo to Susan Scott of Oahu for sharing her stories with us. And mahalo to you for joining us. For PBS Hawaii and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou.

 

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

 

Where are the places you’d still like to go?

 

Well, I’ve never seen the pyramids of Egypt, and that one of the pages of the National Geographics of the Imer [PHONETIC] sisters. And we talked about the pyramids. I remember that, and Easter Island, which I did get to see the moai. So that was good. So, I would like to go to Egypt, but there never seems to be a very good time, politically. I’m never sure.

 

Because think the open ocean is safer than Egypt.

 

Oh, I do; I do. I think it is.

 

[END]

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Experience the triumph of the first moon landing, witnessed by the largest TV audience in history. But dreams of space dramatically intersect with dreams of democracy, raising questions of national priorities and national identity.

 

 

 

AMERICAN EXPERIENCE
Chasing the Moon, Part 2 of 3

 

Discover what it took to beat the Soviet Union to the moon in the space race. In the turbulent and troubled ’60s, the U.S. space program faced tragedy with Apollo 1, but made a triumphant comeback with Apollo 8.

 

 

 

AMERICAN EXPERIENCE
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Explore the early days of the space race, the struggle to catch up with the Soviet Union and the enormous stakes in the quest to reach the moon. This episode reveals both the breathtaking failures and successes of the developing U.S. space program.

 

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Susan Ballard: Finding Strength in Childhood

 

Honolulu Police Department Chief Susan Ballard reflects on her formative years growing up in the South and the difficult experiences that drove her to develop strength and resiliency.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, Apr. 14, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

Susan Ballard: Finding Strength in Childhood Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

It was a very interesting upbringing with my mom.  She was really into the manners, and the whole Emily Post.  And believe me, it stuck with me.  When you were at the table, if you ever tried to, like, reach across the table, your hand would get smacked, you know.

 

You always made sure you passed things around the table.  You had to have conversation.  And you know, when you think back, to this day, I really think that that’s one of the things that’s missing from so many families.  That, you know, if you really sit down and have a meal with your entire family, and you force the kids to talk about their life or what happened, you know, during school or whatever, you know, I think, one, social skills.  You know, instead of always looking at the computer.  And two, I think that, you know, we would have a lot less problems than we would have today if we still had family dinners.

 

The young life of future Honolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard was a mixture of practicing good manners, while learning to stand up for herself.  Sometimes, the two did not mix, but the result was that she grew up with strength of character, and people skills that helped her to become Honolulu’s top police officer.  Police Chief Susan Ballard, next, on Long Story Short.

 

One-on-one engaging conversations with some of Hawai‘i’s most intriguing people: Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox.

 

Aloha mai kākou. I’m Leslie Wilcox.  Susan Marshall Ballard became Honolulu’s first female Chief of Police in 2017, and hers was not a meteoric rise.  Barriers take time to overcome.  She had already served thirty-two years on the force.  Ballard was born and raised in the South, with Southern manners required at home.  But the kids at school were not genteel in their teasing.  She says they made fun of her for being tall and wide, with buck teeth. Her parents’ divorce forced her to grow up quickly, and as a young woman, she says she experienced domestic violence by a boyfriend.

 

I was born in Norfolk, Virginia.  But unfortunately, I was only there for about maybe five years before we moved away. And we moved to Jacksonville, North Carolina, and that’s where I started school.  And then, I was only there for about a year, and then, we moved to Fayetteville, North Carolina.  And no, my family was not in the military.  But my father was into the manufactured homes, so we always seemed to end up in large military cities.  So I went there.  I finished elementary school and junior high school, and high school in Fayetteville.

 

So, was he a salesman in mobile homes?

 

Yes, he was.  And then, he eventually became president of the company, and doing the manufactured homes. So, I lived in uh, mobile homes. I was the typical Southern type girl. You know, we started out in a single wide, and yeah, got to play out in the yard barefoot.

 

You know, run around in the South.  You know. And then we moved to double-wides, and then I think it was probably about junior high school, we had our first house.  We bought our first house in Fayetteville.

 

And your mother?

 

My mom was a homemaker up until my mother and father got a divorce.  And so, she took care of the house, and took care of us.  And then, she went back to work as a secretary at an insurance agency. Speaking of my mom, she used to always tell us when we were growing up that it’s not your kuleana.  And this was from the South.  And so, you know, we knew that it meant responsibility.  And this is like, North Carolina, and this is like, way back.  And so, when I came over here and I found out kuleana, and I was like … they said: Oh, that’s a Hawaiian word.  I says: No, it’s from the South.  And then, because, I mean, my mom—so I have no idea how she ended up getting that.

 

That’s so interesting.

 

Yeah; yeah, yeah.  Yeah. ‘Cause she used to always tell us: Don’t pay any attention, it’s not your kuleana, just let it go.

 

Did you have any idea how that came about?

 

I have no idea.  And she was not really—well, I would ask her things, like: What about this?  And ah, she never really—you know, she was—

 

So, old—

 

I couldn’t get information from her.

 

Old school.

 

Yes.

 

They don’t like to talk.

 

Yes.

 

Right?

 

Very much so.

 

Would you consider it a middleclass, non-dysfunctional childhood?

 

Yeah. Growing up, I would say that very much so is what, you know, would describe.  It was just like a normal upbringing.  You know, did school, did after school types of things.  And you know, one of the things when I was growing up is, I was … uh, quite large.  I was fat. I guess obese is more what the medical community was calling.  So, it was a interesting upbringing, because you know, when you’re in school, you know, you found out the kids were actually pretty mean when you’re overweight.  And my nickname was uh, Tub, Tub of Lard. So, all the way, even through high school until I left Fayetteville, even though I had lost weight in high school, I was still called Tubs.  Yeah.

 

How did you deal with that?

 

You know, I guess I was able to uh, carry my weight.  I did a lot of activities.  I was really good at football; they always wanted me to play the line in the neighborhood.

 

Were you tall as a child, too?

 

I was. I’ve always been taller than everybody else.  And so, I got to be the line in our neighborhood football team because, you know, I was so big, I could just knock people over.  I know, I know.  It sounds bad, but you know, I mean, you just kinda dealt with it.  But I mean, it was a name, you know, but we were still able to get along and, you know, do different things.  But it definitely does make a mark on you, you know.

 

And did it change your social life, do you think? I mean, do you wish you’d had a different social life?

 

Yeah, I think so.  You know, my mom was the typical Southern belle.  You know, we were raised with Emily Post.  So, you know, everything was manners and, you know, had the right way of sitting at the table.  We had to have dinner every night; Mom, Dad, you know, the kids.  My father traveled, so he was only at home on the weekends, most of the time.  But we were always required to have dinner, you know, as a family.  And then, she wanted us to go to learn to cotillion and go to the dance, and all like that.  So, like I said, I was large, so nobody wanted to take me to cotillion. So, I’ll never forget that my mom had to talk to the teacher, and had to ask one of the guys to please ask me to cotillion.  And that’s kinda something that sort of always stuck with me.  You know.

 

Was he good guy?

 

He was; he was.  He was very nice.  I mean, back in the South, doesn’t make any difference, ‘cause if you didn’t say, yes ma’am, yes sir, and treat people nice, you’d always get a whack one way or the other.

 

And you would actually do what your parents said, it sounds like.  Which often doesn’t happen nowadays.

 

Oh, yes.  And don’t ever bring a note home from the teacher.  Because if you got a note from the teacher, it didn’t make any difference; you were wrong.  The teacher was always right, so you shook in your boots if you had to bring a note home from your teacher.

 

And these things stay with you, as far as what seems right to you?

 

Yes; it really does.  And I think a lot of it is just, you know, how you treat people, you know, and just being able to talk to people, you know, and have a decent conversation. You know, ‘cause you were brought up to always appreciate, you know, everything that you have, and not take it for granted, ‘cause it can be gone the next day.  Which is what happened, like, when my parents got divorced.  It was like, we lived comfortably, and then when they got divorced, all of a sudden you had nothing.  So, you know, when you look back, you appreciate everything that you had, you know, when you were growing up.

 

Obviously, not everything was polite.  I mean, you were teased at school, and for a long time. How do you think that affected you, now that that weight is certainly not a problem?  I mean, how do you look at that experience, and how did it affect you?

 

Well, I think a lot of it, as far as affecting, you know, when I look at people, if they’re large, it’s like, you know, I can kinda empathize with them. And then, you know, a lot of times, you see people who are exercising who are large, and you know, human nature: Oh, look, that person’s fat, or whatever.  And I’m looking at ‘em going: At least they’re doing something.  You know, they’re out exercising, they’re out walking around.  So, you know, you give people more slack.  I mean, there’s no such thing as, you know, this whole perfect body thing, you know.  And especially for women; you know, we’re brought up that you’re supposed to, you know, look just so, and you’ve gotta be skinny.  ‘Cause my sister was completely opposite.  She’s probably about six inches shorter than me, she never had a problem with her weight.  The other thing I had, I had buck teeth, I had to wear braces.  But you know, she was always like … I don’t want to say perfect, but she never had to worry about, you know, her looks or anything. And she used to have guys always coming over to the house.  Where for me, it wasn’t until I lost weight that I actually really was able to, you know, really start dating.  And so, you do know that, you know, the whole body image, you know, is an issue.  And it does stay with you.  So that to this day, I mean, I make sure that I exercise and I eat right, because you know, I do know that even—is it right?  No.  But you know, I mean, if you see kind of an overweight man, you know, it’s like: Okay, well, you know, it’s okay.  But if you see an overweight woman, then it’s like: Oh, look, she’s not taking care of herself.  So, you know, especially in the position I’m in, you know, I always try and make sure that, you know, I exercise and eat right.  And I think that just always goes back to the childhood, that I never want to get to the point where I was overweight again, because I know how hard it was too, to lose weight and to keep it off.

 

Well, how did you do it, and when did you do it? You graduated still overweight?

 

No. I lost it when I was in high school. So, actually, I did it relatively quickly.  It was about four or five months.  It was like, from the end of my—I believe it was my sophomore year of high school, towards the end.

 

Was there something that made you do it?  I mean, was that some inspiration caused by an event?

 

There really wasn’t.  I think I just had gotten to the point where I was just tired of being made fun of, and it’s like, you know, it’s time.  I needed to lose weight, and you know, so I put my mind to it, and I did.  And of course, when you’re younger, it’s a lot easier to lose weight than when you’re older.

 

And you did it by a combination of dieting and exercise?

 

Diet and exercise; yeah.  Yeah. And from that point on, I have always exercised.  I mean, I was able to play on the softball team in high school, play on the basketball team in high school, because you know, I lost the weight and I was able to, you know, function in those type of sports.

 

No more linebacker stuff?

 

No more lineback.  I still played football, but you know, they let me be receiver now.

 

And so, then all of a sudden, guys came calling?

 

Well, I mean, yeah, more.  But I’m kind of selective too, so—

 

 

You know, we’d go out on dates and, you know, if I really didn’t like ‘em.  But I had a serious boyfriend in high school, and you know, we almost got married.  And then, I’m the one that’s kinda like: Um, this isn’t really what I want. And so, I usually get into long-term relationships, but I’m usually the one that—because I value my independence, and I think that came from when my mom and dad got divorced.  Because I saw my mom, who hadn’t worked, and all of a sudden, she had to get a job, and that you know, we basically lived from, you know, paycheck-to-paycheck, and you know, where was the next meal gonna come from. And so, I said to myself: I’m never gonna be like that, I refuse.  So, from that point on, I mean, I think I started working when I was like, fourteen years old. And actually, at that point, I really started saving for retirement.  Because I said: When I get older, I want to make sure.  I said: I can suffer when I’m young, but when I get older, I want to live like a queen.  And I said: I never want to be dependent on somebody, where I need them to the point where I can’t live my life.  And so, I think that’s really, you know, caused me to take a look at a lot of things.  And I think that’s why probably I’ve never gotten married, is because I like my independence, and I don’t like to really answer to anybody, you know, when I get home.  Other than my dogs.

 

What was life like when your dad left, and your mom was in reduced circumstances?

 

I mean, it was difficult.  I mean, one, because they didn’t get along.  You know, it was kind of an ugly divorce, and we had to leave our house and move into a two-bedroom apartment.  So you know, very small.  And my sister at the time, she and I didn’t get along at all, she didn’t get along with my mom.  So, it was just really—

 

Lots of conflict all around.

 

Yeah. It was just conflict everywhere. And then, so my sister ended up leaving, moving away, and so it was just, you know, me and Mom.  And you know, I mean, the fact that, like I said, you know, where was the next meal coming from.  And then, she had to go out, you know, and get a job.  And you know, all of the luxuries that I was used to no longer had.  And so, that’s why I went out and you know, got a job, and I figured I’d just, you know, take care of myself.

 

How old were you when you got the job?

 

The first job I had, I believe I was fourteen, close to fifteen years old.

 

So, this was all around the time that you lost the weight, as well.

 

Yeah; yeah.

 

All of it happened around the same time?

 

Yeah. Yeah, yeah.

 

Really kind of a pivotal period in your life.

 

Yeah. It really was.  Yeah.  And then, decided: Okay, well, I’ll go to college.  But there was no money for college, either.  So, my grandmother, when she was alive, every Christmas, I’ll never forget, my sister and I both, we would get savings bonds from her. We’d get hundred-dollar savings bonds from her.  And you know, when you’re kids, it’s like: Why are you giving us savings bonds; we want toys, we want material things.  Right?  But it was like she’d give us a savings bond every single year for Christmas and for our birthday.  And so, it had gone into the bank, and so because of that, I was able to pay for the first year of college.  And then, you know, while I was there, I was able to get, you know, a couple of jobs and was able to, you know, uh, earn enough money to pay for tuition and a place to live.

 

After graduating with her bachelor’s degree, Susan Ballard went on to graduate school in Tennessee, where she stayed and worked after receiving her master’s degree in athletic training, now called sports medicine.  She says she and her boyfriend decided to leave Tennessee and travel west.  They got all the way to Hawai‘i.  And it was here, she says, that her boyfriend smacked her. It was a turning point in her life.

 

When I left Tennessee, a friend went with me and we had stopped in California. And you know, obviously, looking back, you know, even when I was dating him in Tennessee, there were instances where he was very controlling, and you know, did things that he shouldn’t have.  But you know, you’re young, and it’s like, you know, you get into that: I’m sorry, but you know, you kinda made me mad, and—

 

And I’ll never do it again.

 

Right; never do it again.  That whole type of thing.  And so, you know, it didn’t happen like over, and over, and over again.  It was just occasionally.  And so, you know, you kind of put it out of your mind.  So, when we came over to California, and decided that you know, we weren’t gonna stay in California, and so we continued over here to Hawaii.

 

Now, why did you come to Hawai‘i?

 

Well, one, because there was no way I was driving back across the United States again.  ‘Cause we drove from Tennessee to California, to Los Angeles.  And I just was not gonna drive back.  And plane ticket is eighty-nine dollars one way.  So, jumped on a plane, came over, you know.

 

What were you thinking you would do?

 

Well, I figured if nothing else, I could go to McDonald’s and work as a manager at McDonald’s.  Because, you know, it was something that I had been doing working, so it was just kind of a stopgap and, you know, I figured I could get a job.  And that’s what I ended doing when I first came here.

 

And is what did he do?  What was his plan?

 

He really just kinda lived day-to-day.  And so, he got a job, you know, at one of the restaurants and stuff here. And then, we ended up getting an apartment, and then things just sort of kinda snowballed at that point.  I mean, he … you know, I caught him a couple times with other people.  He would come home drunk, you know, kinda force himself on me.  And then one time, when it got to the point where he hit me one time, I said: That’s it.  I said: You ever hit me again, I’ll kill you.  Because I knew at that point in time, I’m either gonna stay here, or I’m gonna get out. And obviously, it was hard, because I’m in a place where I really didn’t know anybody.

 

And cost of living was high.

 

Well, you know, I guess back then, I didn’t really notice it that much.  I mean, things weren’t that expensive.  And I guess, you know, I was doing okay, and I had money saved.  And money really never came into the equation as long as we were together, because we could split the rent, you know, and whatever that way.  But then, when I made that decision that I was gonna leave, it was like one of those, oh moments, and you’re like: Okay, now what.  So, I thought: You know what, if anything else, I’ll just get on a plane and I’ll just, you know, fly back to North Carolina. But you know, I had met some really nice people from Central YMCA, and they were officers, a lot of them were officers.  Funny thing about Central YMCA; you you had cops, and you had crumbs.  You know, so it was a really interesting combination. But the officers, I met this one guy, and I used to play racquetball a lot.  And so, I kinda told him what was going on.  And so, he came and he stood by.  He did what you call the standby, while I packed everything up to move out. Now, I’m standing there in the hallway and I’m thinking: Okay, so where do I go now?  So, he called a friend of his, who talked to another friend, and then I swear it was no more than maybe an hour later and he says: Okay, come with me, I’ve got a place for you to stay.  And so, this lady, her name’s Marsha, and she lives in Seattle now. But she had a studio apartment out in Makiki.  She actually allowed me to come to her studio and live on her floor, not even knowing me from Adam.  I mean, I could have been a serial killer, for all she knew.  But you know, this lady, a nice Japanese lady, she let me come, she let me sleep on her floor.  For four months, I was there, until another studio came open in the same building.  It was a little walkup in Makiki.  And you know, I mean, she taught me so much.  She taught me about taking your shoes off, going in.  You know.  The guys at the Central Y took me to the Korean bar for the first time, which was really an experience.

 

You know.

 

I mean, she was an awesome cook, too.  So, you know, I mean, I got to—

 

Local foods.

 

All the local foods.  I mean, you know, if it wasn’t for the folks at the Y, and then for Marsha, I’m sure that there was no way I would have stayed over here.

 

And what happened to the boyfriend?

 

You know, I don’t know.  I saw him one time, in town.  But I don’t know if he went back to the mainland, or if he’s even still over here.

 

So, you had to make a decision that enough is enough.

 

Yeah; enough is enough.  And you know, at that point, I said: You know, nobody’s gonna ever touch me again. You hit me, and literally, you’ll be dead.  Because you know, there’s no way that I would allow that to ever happen.  And you know, sometimes, you know, you just have to stand up for yourself.  And thank God that I learned to be independent, so the fear of going out on my own was not something that I was worried about.  You know, because, you know, especially if you’re young.  You know, if you’re young, it’s like you don’t worry about a lot of things, that you know, if they happen when you’re older that, you know, you can, you can just go forward and make it happen. Yeah.

 

When you came here, what did you think of the mix of races?

 

It was really a culture shock, because you know, you had all these people who didn’t look like you.  And so, you look around, and it’s like: Ooh, okay.  And then, you know, people would explain to me about all the customs and everything else.  And I was like: Wow, okay.

 

It’s a lot to take in.

 

It was; it’s a lot to take in.  And then obviously, you know, sometimes, you know, the discrimination against being Caucasian, Haole, whatever when I first got here.  And I think I took the bus for the first and got lost.  I ended up going around the island to get to Ala Moana Shopping Center ‘cause I didn’t know what I was doing.  I remember I was on the bus one time, and this guy looks at me and says: Eh, you F-ing Haole, get in the back of the bus.  And me, I’m just oblivious.  I’m like: Oh, who are you talking to?  I had no idea.  And it was the first time.  Because being from the South, I mean, basically you have Black and you have White. I mean, it’s pretty much that’s it. You come over here, and you know, all of a sudden you’re in a minority.  And it was something that I never really experienced before, you know, any type of racism, and it was sort of an eye-opening experience.  In the first six months, I was almost ready to pack up and leave.  But it was like all of a sudden at six months, you know, I looked around, and I was like … well, once again, people are just who they.  And it’s not like, you know, well, what is her nationality? I don’t know.  I mean, you know, Asian.  Are they Japanese, Chinese?  I don’t know; they’re just people.  What difference does it make?  You know. And so, it was, it was really a learning experience, and I absolutely love it because I love all the culture, the different cultures and stuff.  But you know, once again, you had to learn because you didn’t want to offend anybody.

 

Let’s see; you’re eight months into your five-year term as police chief.

 

Right.

 

You’ve gone through a lot of things.  Is there a common thread?  I mean, how do you decide?  ‘Cause you’ve always been in positions where you might be a one-of.

 

Yeah.

 

How do you know who you are?

 

You know, I’ve always tried to be myself.  I never tried to be someone I’m not.

 

You didn’t try to emulate anyone?

 

No; not really.  I mean, you know, as I was growing up, there really was nobody that I really wanted to emulate.  So, I sort of developed who I was along the way.  A good example is like, you know, on the weekends, I just wear my hamajang shorts and tee-shirts.  And people go: Oh, you’re the chief, you should dress up.  I’m going: No, that’s not who I am.  You know, and it’s the same thing about, you know, wearing makeup and things like that.  You know, ‘cause when I first became chief, they put all this makeup on me and made me take this picture.  And I saw it, and I said: No, take that down; I look like a hoochie-koochie mama.

 

You know.  But I just try to be true to who I am.  You know, I don’t want to be someone that I’m not.  Sometimes, I say things that you know, afterwards, they’re going: We can’t believe you said that.  But I mean, you know, that’s how I am.  You know, I try and be cognizant, and make sure that, you know, I don’t say anything inappropriate, you know, considering my position now.  But sometimes, it just comes out.  And honestly, you know what the best compliment I’ve gotten throughout my career with the police department, and even up to being chief, is people tell me: You have not changed one bit from the time that you became a police officer.  And that is probably one of the biggest compliments that they could have ever given me.

 

You’re at what, thirty-three years and counting in police work.

 

Yep; August 22nd, I’ll make thirty-three years.  Yeah.

 

We continue our conversation with Susan Ballard about her path to becoming Honolulu Police chief in the next Long Story Short.  Mahalo to Susan Ballard of Kailua, O‘ahu for sharing your story with us.  And mahalo to you, for joining us.  For PBS Hawai‘i and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha nui.

 

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

 

 

I know you always have loved pets.

 

Yes.

 

Is it since you were a little girl?

 

It was. I’ve always had either a dog or a cat, you know, in the family and stuff.  So, I’ve always been a consummate animal lover.  So, currently, I have three dogs.  I have Mango, who’s an English Setter; he’s the youngest.  And then, Kai; he’s a Golden Retriever.  And then, Kona, who’s the oldest, and she’s a Border Collie/Spaniel mix.  And she’s the boss of all three of ‘em.  And then, of course, I can’t forget Koa Kitty, who’s my cat who has no eyes.  He was born without any eyes.

 

How did you come to be his owner?

 

His mom.

 

Mom.

 

Yes; his cat mom.  Well, believe it or not, I actually happened to be on Craigslist, which you should never go on Craigslist.

 

Never, ever, ever, when it comes to animals, ‘cause there’s just a million of ‘em out there that need to get adopted.  I emailed, and so, this wonderful couple emailed back, and so we arranged to meet out in Waipahu.  Well, that’s all you need, of course.  Yeah. Okay; I got me a sucker, you know. So, I went down there, and I met them, and that’s how I ended up getting Koa Kitty.

 

And it worked out with the dogs?

 

It’s worked out well, and the cat walks around.  He’s learned how to go in and out the doggy doors.  I mean, the cat is absolutely amazing.  He’s been a wonderful addition to our family.

 

 


LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Susan Ballard: Path to Top Cop

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX - Susan Ballard: Path to Top Cop

 

The conversation with Chief Susan Ballard continues with insights into her almost-33 years with the Honolulu Police Department. She reveals the ways she had to prove herself as a rare woman on the police force and how she is breaking the mold of her predecessors by just being herself.

 

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, Sept. 2, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

Susan Ballard: Path to Top Cop Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

You know, this lady, a nice Japanese lady, she let me come, she let me sleep on her floor.  For four months, I was there.  We had lunch maybe about a month ago.  And she reminded me, because I had started the process to go into the police department. And she said: Do you remember what you told me?  And this was not when I was living with her, but after I had moved out, but you know obviously, we stayed friends.  She said: You remember what you told me?  And I said: No.  And she says: I’ll never forget that I asked you, How long are you gonna stay in the police department?  ‘Cause she knew it wasn’t anything I really wanted to do.  And I said: Ah, I think I’m gonna stay until I make chief.   And I said: I really said that?  And she said: I will never forget that; and when you made chief, it was just like I was like, holy cow, that really happened.

 

Thirty-two years later.

 

Yup; thirty-two years later.  Exactly.

 

When Susan Ballard joined the police force in 1985, there were few women cops, let alone in high positions.  She didn’t necessarily plan to make a career of being a police officer, but she persevered, and overcame barriers. Honolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard, next, on Long Story Short.

 

One-on-one engaging conversations with some of Hawai‘i’s most intriguing people: Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox.

 

Aloha mai kākou. I’m Leslie Wilcox.  Susan Marshall Ballard grew up in the South, raised to be a proper Southern lady.  She moved to Honolulu in the early 80s with no particular plans, other than to look for work at McDonald’s as a manager, a job she’d done before, until she figured out what to do next.  Ballard became friends with police officers at the Central YMCA, and they persuaded her to apply at the Police Department.  Now, there weren’t many women cops at the time, and there were many male officers who felt that women were not up for the job and could put them in harm’s way.

 

I guess I’ve always been a rebel, too.  I mean, you know, even growing up, I was kind of a tomboy, you know, just because you sorta had to, to take care of yourself because of the situation. But when I went into recruit school, we had like about four women.  We started out with like four women in our class, which was a large amount at the time. And unfortunately, I think we only ended up—I’m sorry, started with five, and we graduated with three that continued on, actually all the way through retirement.  Two of ‘em retired already; I’m the only one left.  But you really did have to prove yourself.  I mean, when you went to defensive tactics, it was like, you know, they would try their best to try and, you know, get you to quit, you know, to give up.  You know, I always tell the story that, you know, there was a bunch of men in the class who formed the I Hate Women Club.  You know, because they didn’t think that women should be in the police department.  Well, I didn’t care.  I would jump in the truck with them and say: Well, sorry, I’m going with you regardless. You know, and I think after you kinda push yourself on ‘em enough, and they see that you can, you know, take care of yourself and you weren’t gonna back down, then you know, things became easier. Is it right?  Well, no, it wasn’t, but you know, that’s the way it was going through recruit school.

 

But you didn’t take offense?

 

No; I really didn’t.  You know, it didn’t really faze me.  Maybe because I was just kind of oblivious, or maybe I was in my own world somewhere, but I didn’t pay that much attention to it.  I’ll never forget when I first went out on the road, the first case that I went to, you know, the guy who was supposed to be covering me off—and it was a domestic.  So, I went in and I said: Are you coming in?  And he’s standing outside the door of this, and he says: No.  And I was like: Okay.

 

No backup.

 

Yeah; yeah.  So, I went in, and you know, resolved the situation and stuff.  And then after that, he was okay.  But I had to prove that, you know, you could.  And you know, couple of the other stories, you know, that I tell is that when I was down in Waikīkī, we had a hostage situation, so we had to call out SSD. At that time, it was the SWAT team. And it was my beat, so it was like, whoo, I was all excited because, you know, I was gonna, you know, be there, you know, and you have this case.  And so, the SWAT team came, and the SWAT major was there.  And my lieutenant, you know, bless his heart, Wally Akeo, he was like the best lieutenant ever.  But you know … he came, and I says: Okay.  I said: You know, I’m gonna go ask, you know, what is it that I can do, because it’s my beat, I want to make sure that I do what I can.  So, I went up to the major of the SWAT team and I said: Excuse me, sir. I said: What is it that you want me to do?  He said: Be a good girl and go get us some coffee.  Well, me being the person I am, I was ready to rip—I didn’t care what his rank was, I was ready to rip into him.  God bless my lieutenant; he grabs me by the shirt and just pulls me out.

 

And he tells me: Calm down; go over there, just calm down.  But did you hear what he said to me?  And he says: Just take it easy.  But you know, those are the types of things, you know, that we had to deal with.  Even at the main station … I don’t know, way back when, our director said that women had to wear brassieres.  It was required.  And so, during our lineups, our lieutenants would come behind us like this, the women, and check like this to see if we had a brassiere on.  Yeah.

 

Wow!

 

Yeah.

 

It sounds like the Middle Ages.

 

Exactly.  Well, I mean, uh, even the weight room.  The weight room was behind the men’s locker room.  And so, for us to go workout in the weight room, we had to walk through the men’s locker room.  And so, we were only allowed to go down one side of the locker room, and as we approached the door, we had to yell: Woman coming through, woman coming through! Well, I mean, let’s face it; all that’s gonna do is egg ‘em on.  So, you can imagine.  Man, we got flashed, I mean, anything that you can imagine.  They always told us: You don’t look, you keep your eyes straight ahead.  It didn’t make any difference what they did.  It was: You look straight ahead.  But, yeah.  So, it was an interesting time.

 

And there was a time when an interview board asked you what rank you thought you thought you would want to be, and you said captain.

 

I did.

 

And they said?

 

They laughed.  They said: Oh, there’ll never be a woman captain.  Okay, well … good.  Okay; whatever.  You needed to ask me something, I answered.  I didn’t even know what a captain was at the time, actually.  So, you know, I figured, hey, that sounds high. I’ll just shoot for captain.

 

 

Along the way, I’m sure you made friends and got advice, too.  What kinds of advice helped you along the way as a, at the time, rare woman, and still a rare woman in the police department?

 

You know, I go back that, you know, I was very lucky as I came through, because I had a lot of really good supervisors.  And obviously, they were all men, because at the time, there weren’t that many women supervisors.  But Bill Clark was my major at the training division when I had become sergeant.  And you know, I guess one of the things I always remember about him is that he would just tell us, he says: You guys do whatever it is that you need to do; you go create programs, do whatever.  And that’s kind of what I got from—you know, take risks and stuff.  You know, try it.  If it doesn’t work, it’s okay.  Then I had Steven Watarai, Chief Watarai at the time.  And everybody was just in fear of him.  I mean, it was like when they told me I was gonna go and work for him, I was like: Oh, no.  I said: I’m in trouble now.  But you know what?  He sat me down and he says: You know what?  He says: I trust you, until you show me that you can’t trust you anymore.  And you know what?  And he always … he would support you, he would, you know, go to bat for you.  You know, and he was true to this word.  And as long as you didn’t do anything that caused him not to trust you, he was behind you one hundred percent.  So, I mean, like I say, I was very lucky.  And like Wally Akeo, when I was in Waikīkīwhen I first went down there, you know, because there were very few women, but he always encouraged me to like, take the sergeant’s test.  He would encourage me to go out and do things that, you know, I wouldn’t normally do. And you know, he would basically tell me: You can do whatever it is that you want to do.  And you know, and that was back, you know, in ’88, you know, back when it was unheard of.  So, like I said, I’ve always really been lucky for the most part, always working with some good supervisors who were very supportive.

 

And then, you dismissed the flack, pretty much. You just decided that you weren’t gonna deal with that.

 

Yeah. Yeah.  You know, I gave this talk to my managers.  And one of the things that I said is, you know, I learn a lot from my dogs.  And one of ‘em is, if you can’t play with it, you can’t eat it, pee on it and walk away.

 

And sometimes, you know what?  If something doesn’t serve you, if it’s not working for you, you know what, you just gotta walk away from it.  You can’t pay it any mind.  It’s like it’s not worth you spending time to worry about.  And I think that’s kind of been, you know, my philosophy all along. ‘Cause you can find yourself getting caught up in things and going: Oh, well, this person’s out to get me, and this person.  But you know what, then you’re letting them control your life.  You have to control your own life.  You can’t let people make you upset because they control you. You’ve gotta control the way that you feel.  And it’s a constant reminder.  I mean, even to this day.  But you know, I mean, that’s one of the things.  If you find yourself getting caught up in stuff, you know, it’s like: Okay, stop. You need to control your own destiny. Don’t let other people control what you think, or what you say.

 

And don’t spend one more moment on it; right?

 

Exactly; exactly.

 

Former Police Chief Louis Kealoha was running the Police Department when Susan Ballard turned in her retirement papers.  Morale in the Department was low, as the police force watched and waited for the Chief to be indicted in a Federal corruption case. A series of events during this time turned Susan Ballard in a new direction.

 

You’d been through years and years of police being unhappy with chiefs.

 

Kinda interesting.  When I was commander of District 4 out in Kāneohe and Kailua, I had said that, you know, when I hit, I think it was like twenty-eight years, I was gonna retire.  So, I was at twenty-seven, and Chief Kealoha and Deputy Chief McCauley were in power.  And they really started … and for whatever reason, you know, I don’t know what it is, and obviously when you have power like that, you have people who are gonna kowtow to you and do whatever it is that they want, so that they can get ahead. And you know, and I saw that.  And so, one person did that, and they made allegations, you know.  Oh, well, you know, she’s not being a team player, or whatever.  And it’s like without even asking me why I was doing what I was doing, it was like: Okay, well, you’re out of there.  You know, you’re going down to Central Receiving Desk, which was, you know, like the place where you buried people.  It was the bad place to work, you know.  We only send people down there who were you know, not doing well, and all this other stuff.  So that’s what happened.  And instead of retiring, I said: You know what?  I’m gonna stay around, and I’m just gonna be a needle in their side. So, I thanked them for transferring me out of District 4, because if they hadn’t, if they’d let me stay there one more year, I would have been gone.  But they didn’t.  Once again, as I said, everything happens for a reason.  So, I went down to the desk.  And I was quite unhappy when I went to the desk.  It was like, you know, I’m not gonna do anything.  You know, it’s like, you know what, the heck with these people.  But then, after about a week or two, you know, I started meeting the people who were working down there and says: You know what, these people don’t deserve it. And so, you know what?  I made up my mind at that point in time; I says: We are going to make Central Receiving Desk the best place to work in the Department. We are gonna take care of our little corner of the world.  We didn’t care what was happening on the outside.  They can do whatever it is that they were doing, but we were gonna take care of Central Receiving.  And that’s exactly what we did.  And I got a team together, the sergeants, the lieutenants, you know, the officers who were down there.  Awesome group of people.  I mean, all of a sudden, it went from a place where half of ‘em would transfer out. Every time that there was a transfer, the people were putting their names in to come and join us down at Central Receiving Desk.  So, I decided, you know what, it was great.  And I knew that they would never transfer me, because they weren’t gonna put me anywhere.  So, it was like, great; just leave me down here.  I was having a great time, you know, I had a great group of people to work with.  And so, lo and behold, you know, all this started happening.  Well, we kinda knew what was going on, I think, long before, you know, the public. And so, you know, when it came out, and then he finally retired … because the indictment was taking so long, I thought, you know what—I mean, ‘cause it was like, two years, three years, or whatever that it took.  And I thought: You know what, I’m just gonna retire.  I said: You know what, I’ve got thirty-two years in the department, um, you know, I’m not gonna, apply for the position.  But what had happened was that officers, not just the people who were working down at the desk, but the officers would coming in, and they would ask me: Are you putting in for Chief?  And I said: No, I think I’m just gonna retire.  So, it was actually the officers, they said: Please, we’re asking you, please put in to become Chief.  And I said: All right.  And I did. And so, I put in.  But honestly, I never thought that this would happen, because of what was going on, you know, with the Chief, that obviously the public, the commission, everybody thought, you know, we’re gonna go on the outside, we’re gonna pick somebody who’s not in the department, ‘cause everybody in the department is corrupt.

 

But it helped you to be sidelined.

 

It was.

 

You were on the outs.

 

Everything happens for a reason.  It was great. I mean, otherwise, you know what, I probably would have, you know, never been selected because, you know, I would have been tainted, you know, with that administration.

 

On October 25, 2017, the Honolulu Police Commission announced its appointment of Major Susan Ballard to become Honolulu’s eleventh Police Chief, and first woman at the top of the Department.

 

When you’re the police chief, you run on O‘ahu. I don’t know if it’s still true, but it was once the eleventh largest city in America, the whole island.  But essentially, you’re running a mini city.

 

Right.

 

What’s that like every day?  When do you start, what do you do?

 

Well, I mean, I do all my workout in the morning.  Because I know that once my day starts, I’ll lose control.

 

Are you a gym person, or do you do that at home?

 

Actually, I’ve got my weight room at home, and then I do my yoga at, you know, a couple of different yoga studios in town.  And then, you know, I’ll jog on my treadmill like three days a week, or whatever. And then, kinda like do a boot camp type workout.  But it’s all within my house.  I really don’t belong to a formal gym, other than the yoga studios.  Because I’m an early morning person, I mean like, really early.

 

Early; how early?

 

Like, I wake up like, midnight.  I mean, because I have a hard time sleeping.

 

When do you go to sleep?

 

That’s why the nighttime events are so hard sometimes, because I usually try and get to bed by about seven-thirty.  And so, yeah, my sleep … I mean, I had insomnia for quite a while, so now that if I can get four or five hours sleep, I’m like: Yes!

 

And then, you wake up around midnight?

 

Yeah. And so, I usually do my workout, and stretching and then, you know, getting ready, and then go do my workout and stuff.  And that usually takes me ‘til maybe about two o’clock in the morning, two-thirty. And then, that’s when I walk my dogs.

 

Wow …

 

So, everybody in Kailua knows, here’s the crazy chief, she’s walking around.

 

It’s funny, because the newspaper people delivering newspapers, they stop by and say good morning.  You know. And then after that, when I come home, then I usually have time to take like about an hour nap.  And then, I get up and then I go do yoga or whatever usually around five, five-thirty, six o’clock.

 

You’ve had a full day by the time you get to work.

 

I do. And that’s why tell people; I said: You know, your five o’clock in the afternoon is my like, midnight.  Okay?

 

Right, right.

 

Yeah. So, yeah.  And then, I usually get to work, and then you know, try and you know, clear up the email.  But like I said, a lot of times, I just have um, events and, you know, those types of things.  And then, we have what we call chief’s reviews, so I, you know, go out to the different districts and the divisions and, you know, talk to the officers.  And we do a little different.  Before, it was very formal.  Now, I like, you know, the officers just to sit down, and I want ‘em to ask questions.  And they can ask questions about anything.  And I told ‘em; I said: If I can answer ‘em, I’m gonna answer ‘em.  If I can’t, I’m gonna find the answer and get back to you.  And they know, I’m not gonna take offense to anything that you ask.  And I think the officers, you know, are realizing that. If I’m lucky enough to have a block of time free, I’ve been trying actually go out and jump in a car with one of the officers, and then, you know, go patrolling with ‘em.  Because you know, you learn a lot from ‘em, sitting in the car with them, you know, talking.  I was down in Chinatown couple days ago, you know, and I was talking to some of the homeless when we were getting ‘em to move off the sidewalk. So, you know, I try and do that, you know, because at the same time, you know, the officers want to know that you’re there for them as well.  So, I mean, it’s not just the community like I said before, but you know, it’s for the officers as well.

 

It’s true; you have a lot of constituents.

 

You know, one thing that people get upset about more than anything else is like parking, and being stopped.  You know, and and they’re all: Oh, you know, you’re just giving us a parking tag, or you’re just giving us a citation because you need the money.

 

Yeah; you should chase real crime.

 

Right; exactly.  You know. And we tell ‘em, we says: Okay, well, first let me clear up a misconception.  HPD doesn’t get any of the money from the citations.  It all goes to the State; nothing comes to us.  But you know, we tell ‘em.  You know, I mean, one of our biggest complaints—like I had one gentleman at one of the talks, and he was very outspoken, that he felt that it was highway robbery that we were stopping people, you know, for different types of traffic violations, and that we should be out there solving the real crimes. And I told him, I said: Do you know what the number one complaint is from the communities, from almost every single community, besides the homeless—we’ll just leave that out for now. But it’s parking problems, and speeding, and other types of traffic, you know, violations.  I said: So, we’re out there doing what the community is asking us to do.  And you know, I mean, it’s just like DUIs.  You know, you stop someone who’s drunk, and they go: Why you stopping me, I didn’t kill anybody.  Not yet.

 

That guy’s drunker than me.

 

Yeah.

 

Do you feel like people are really watching closely?

 

They do.  You know, and I think more so initially.  Like for example, you know, before, if I went out to dinner or, you know, or I’d meet my friends over at Whole Foods in Kailua, and we’d have, you know, a couple of beers or whatever.  I mean, I ride my bike everywhere, I don’t drive my car.  But now, as Chief, I you know, choose not to ever drink in public or have a drink, because people don’t know, they don’t know that I’m not driving. You know, they see me and they think: Oh, well, here she is, having a beer, and you’re talking about drinking and driving.  So you know, I’m very careful about that type of thing.  Um, so that, you know, on the weekends, after I come back from a hot yoga class, I like to have a beer.  So, you know, I’ll have that at home.  But, yeah. So, I mean, that’s something that you know, I force on myself not because, you know, anybody else had said: Oh, well, you can’t do this, or that anybody ever made a comment.  I guess I’m probably my worst enemy.

 

In the more recent past, police chiefs haven’t served all that long.  It hasn’t been a long tenure for them, maybe seven years, five years.  Before, there were long-serving police chiefs.

 

Right.

 

What do you think you’ll do?

 

You know, I’m older than most.  So, you know, like I tell people; I said: You know, we’re just taking it one year at a time. You know, I don’t know, in five years, you know.  And a lot of it is the tenure is shorter because there are just so many issues.  It’s not like before, where it was a more, hate to say, simpler time.  But it was. But now, I mean, I would not want to be an officer out on the road now.  There is so much stuff that they have to deal with and do that, you know, we didn’t have to do coming up.

 

Yeah; I was just thinking about men in the police department over the years, and you know, there is a certain amount of stoicism and, you know, a face that doesn’t show emotion, and sunglasses, and not talking too much.

 

Yes.

 

Did you ever feel like, hey, that’s kind of a model, strength; quiet strength model.

 

It is, and it’s still.  And I mean, even you go up to the chief level.  Because, I mean, you know, all the other chiefs have been pretty stoic, and you know, the model that you’re talking about.  And I think that might have been a big difference, big change for people, you know, the officers who are in the department, ‘cause now all of a sudden, you’ve got somebody who is, for lack of a better term, I’m very loquacious.

 

And you know, we laugh and we joke.  I mean, before, if you went up on the fourth floor, which is where the assistant chiefs and our offices are, you could hear a pin drop.  I mean, it was dead silence.  I mean, you know, it was like you went into this—it’s almost quiet as a cemetery.  Now, you go up there, and people laughing and joking, and you know.  I mean, it’s a big change.  And even the officers, it’s like all of a sudden now, they seem to have permission to smile.  It’s okay to smile, it’s okay to laugh, it’s okay to be happy.  You don’t have to always put up that face.  Unfortunately, we’re still trying to, you know, like with the public, you don’t have to be that robot, that perfect person.  I said: You know, you can come out of your shell. Because, I mean, most of ‘em are very personable people, you know, once you get to know ‘em.  But it seems like, you know, all these years, that is you know, the way that officers are portrayed.  So, we’re trying to break that mold, you know, and trying to move out of that realm.

 

Well, you heard what the Mayor’s representative—I think the Mayor was out of town, but it was Roy Amemiya saying, you know, that you’ve been chosen, and your job is to restore trust in the police.  And it is true that there’ve been a number of scandals and incidents such as domestic violence, and an unwillingness to address that.  And how do you plan to restore that trust?

 

You know, it’s kinda interesting that when I first became Chief, it was during Christmas season, parade season.  And so, I was, you know, walking in some of the parades, and you know, people were, you know, yelling and cheering, and stuff.  And I was just walking down.  It’s like, wow, they’re really excited about their parades.  And one of my deputy chiefs turned to me and said: Chief … you know, I think they’re cheering, they’re yelling because you’re going by. And I’m going: What?  And so, I started going over and shaking people’s hands and stuff, and you know, and basically saying: Thank you.  And it was just so humbling that everything that this department has gone through, you know, in the last several years, that the community—and this was everywhere, was willing to forgive and forget.  I mean, maybe not totally forget, because it’s always gonna be back there.  It wasn’t just the community’s trust that was broken; our department internally, the officers’ trust was completely obliterated.  I mean, to the point where you had retirees that were embarrassed to say that they retired from the Honolulu Police Department, and that they would not say anything.  But you know what?  It’s nice to hear now that, you know, they’re proud of saying that they are, you know, retired from the Honolulu Police Department, ‘cause they see that we are trying to change.  And just like I tell people when we go outside, I said: It’s not gonna happen overnight.  And I’m not gonna tell you that our officers aren’t gonna do anything wrong, because they absolutely will; it’s no different from your children.  They’re gonna make bad decisions, and they’re gonna make bad choices, but we are going to address it.  I tell people even now, the people who get promoted; I said: You know, the higher you go, the more humble you need to be.  Why do you need to flaunt your power?  I mean, yeah, you’ve got it, it’s there.  But why?  I mean, if you have to do that, then obviously, you’re doing something wrong. I said: You know, you should be the most humble person in the world, the higher up that you go.  Because you know, that way people feel comfortable around you, and you can get a lot more things done.

 

At the time of our conversation, Honolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard was eight months into her five-year term as Police Chief, and one month shy of her thirty-third year in the Department. Mahalo to Honolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard of Kailua, O‘ahu for sharing your stories with us.  And mahalo to you, for joining us.  For PBS Hawai‘i and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha nui.

 

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

 

You know, I always tell people; I said: You know, as long as you do the right thing, for the right reason, in the right way, then I feel fine.  I mean, you’re never gonna get everybody to agree.  There’s always gonna be somebody who disagrees with you. And that’s just the world that we live in.  But as long as you don’t do anything, you know, mean or retaliatory, but you do it for the betterment of the community, the betterment for the officers, then how can you go wrong.  You know. And if I’m wrong, I’ll be the first to admit, okay, well, we messed up.  Or if a law is passed and says: Oh, well, you can’t do this anymore.  Okay, well, you know, you’ve given me my direction, you know, and we’ll have to move in that direction.  But as long as long as you do it with a good heart, and you’re doing it for the right reason, you know, I can go home and I can sleep at night.

 

 

INSIGHTS ON PBS HAWAI‘I
The Caregiver Crisis

What can we do to avoid a caregiver crisis? Most of the 150,000 caregivers in Hawai‘i are women over 50 years old, and many are caring for someone in their 80s. Nearly half have left the workforce to be a caregiver, leaving their financial future at risk. With Hawai‘i’s aging population, the pool of potential caregivers declines so significantly that we are headed for a crisis with each passing year. Families, businesses and our entire island state will be impacted by the economic trend this creates.

 

AARP Hawai’i is hosting a Caregiving Conference on Saturday, March 25th. There will be sessions on planning, long-term care and life insurance, reverse mortgages, Medicaid and other government programs.

 

There will also be tips for improving quality of life at home. Saturday, March 25th, from 8 am until noon at the Japanese Cultural Center.

 

Contact:
1-877-826-8300
aarp.cvent.com/care3-25

 






INSIGHTS ON PBS HAWAI‘I
Will visiting our most popular places soon be the toughest ticket in town?

 

As a tourist destination, Hawai`i continues to set new records for visitor arrivals, creating greater demand by millions of people seeking access to the famous, iconic sites throughout our islands.

 

Next month the National Park Service will follow Hanauma Bay State Park and the USS Arizona Memorial by limiting access to the spectacular sunrise at Haleakala, citing safety and environmental concerns.

 

“This date sold out.” “No reservations available.” Will visiting our most popular places soon be the toughest ticket in town?

 

Your questions and comments are welcome via phone, email and via Twitter during the Live Broadcast.

 

Phone Lines:
462-5000 on Oahu or 800-238-4847 on the Neighbor Islands.

 

Email:
insights@pbshawaii.org

 

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Join our live discussion using #pbsinsights

 


LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Holly Henderson

 

From the moment she arrived in Hawaii in 1977, Holly Henderson, a product of New York and Massachusetts, knew that she was home. But she has always thought of herself as a guest in Hawaii. This “guest” was once arrested while protesting the eviction of Hansen’s disease patients from Hale Mohalu, and since arriving here, she has trained innumerable executive directors and board members of Hawaii non-profits.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, Sept. 30 at 11:00 pm and Sunday, Oct. 4 at 4:00 pm.

 

Holly Henderson Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

When I hit the world, it was the 60s, and we were looking at whole different model of what society was like, and what we wanted to be and do. People do focus on the sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll, and there was plenty of that. And I certainly am not gonna deny any of it. But I also remember how many serious people there were talking about issues and what we wanted to do, and what kind of world we wanted to live in, and how to make that kind of a world come about.

 

Holly Henderson came of age in the 1960s, a member of a generation that redefined values and spoke up for change. For decades, she has trained and advised nonprofit leaders in Hawaii. Holly Henderson, 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. Holly Henderson has trained nonprofit leaders in Hawaii for decades. Her social conscience serves her well in advising executive directors and members of boards of directors. She’s an original, known for wisdom and wit, and for speaking truth to power as needed. At the time of our conversation in the summer of 2015, Henderson was letting go of the reins of the Weinberg Fellows Program in which she taught executive directors of nonprofits serving the poor and needy. She continued to serve as the executive director of another nonprofit training and mentoring program with emphasis on early childhood program leadership, Castle Colleagues. She is keenly observant and analytical, perhaps as a result of her upbringing as the daughter of two scientists.

 

I was born in Stillwater, New York to Robert William Eric and Henry Hoskem Eric. And he was an anthropologist, and she was an archeologist.

 

Did they travel the world like in Raiders of the Lost Ark?

 

Yeah.   Actually, that was how they met. They met on a dig, which I think was in Turkey. And they did travel the world after that. And then, my mother came home to have my sister in 1939, when the war clouds were pretty much gathering, and I was born in 1941, two years later, three days before Pearl Harbor. So, my father was gone most of the time when I was a small child; he served in the Pacific, which was the first time he came to Hawaii.

 

And your father; was he more open and forthcoming?

 

Yes. I was my father’s pet. That is true; I was.

 

Because?

 

I could make him laugh. My start at standup comedy.

 

And your mom was an archeologist?

 

Yes, she was.

 

Wasn’t that uncommon at the time?

 

Yeah, it was. She was a biological sport, I think. And when I look at her family, I have no explanation for how that actually happened. ‘Cause she was born in 1908, you know, and there she was, photographing the steps of the acropolis as a young woman, as a young archeologist. But there was really a dark side to that, you know. The 50s were a terrible time for women. Because what happened during the war years is, the women had to basically run the country, because really, almost all the men were in that war. And actually, it was a wonderful opportunity for women to get out of the home and learn trades, and do things. But then, they all had to be stuffed back into the kitchen when the men came home.

 

Your mother could have gone back to work. No?

 

No; she was more complicated than that. She was caught, as so many of the women at that time were, between the idea of your own competence and your own interests, and all of that, and although she would never have wanted anything to do with Tammy Wynette, but that general philosophy, stand by your man and be the good little woman, and all that.

 

And commitment to family means staying at home.

 

Yeah. And it was just a very, very confusing time for women.

 

So, how was that bad for your mother? What was the effect on her?

 

She spent her whole life restless, I think. Because she had that wonderful education, she had that early career path, and never went anywhere.

 

Like her mother, Holly Henderson had a restless life in her younger years. She had a love of literature and a thirst for knowledge, but rejected the formality of prep school, and later, college.

 

It’s interesting to think of you not enjoying school, ‘cause you’re so literate. I mean, you love information and knowledge.

 

I loved to read, but I hated most of my schooling. Except for the last two years of high school.

 

Okay; so where did you go to school before the last two years? Was it at a dreary school?

 

It was an incredibly pretentious place. The kind of place where you called your French teacher mademoiselle. And we had gym tunics.

 

Gym tunics?

 

Yes.

 

And I remember you called it hideous.

 

It was.

 

I bet in the eyes of other people, it was this elite prep school?

 

Perhaps. But it didn’t do a thing for me, except cause me to think like a prisoner.

 

I don’t know how old you were, but along the way, and not early, you found out that you were German and Jewish on your dad’s side.

 

Yes. I was thirteen.

 

And considering the war that had been experienced, you know, it was odd that you didn’t know that.

 

Well, it’s obviously deliberate that I didn’t know that.

 

You know, at that time, it must have been so hard to grasp; German, Jewish. At the time.

 

It still is. It still is.

 

Did you finally find happiness in college?

 

No.

 

Never did?

 

Never did. Nope. Wanted to get out there in the big world.

 

Did you know where you wanted to be in the big world?

 

I knew I wanted to be a writer. My parents really encouraged us to do what we were drawn to, but to work hard at it. I mean, they weren’t overly permissive about it. They just wanted us to be who we are, and I give them a lot of credit for that.

 

And off to college. Where’d you go?

 

I went to Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, and crashed to the ground because we had all been told since babyhood that the main goal in life is to get into a good college, and it was gonna be so wonderful. Well, compared to where I had just been, it wasn’t. And it was very common among the people at that school to think, Oh, I just picked the wrong college. So, we all transferred like crazy, trucked out, took leaves of absences. We were the bane of our parents’ existence, because college was a big comedown after that.

 

So, where’d you go? Or did you end up staying?

 

I went to New York University. I went to the new school, and I realized it wasn’t that I had picked the wrong place. I should have stayed in high school.

 

You should have stayed in high school.

 

In her early twenties, future nonprofit consultant Holly Henderson took a job at a respected national business membership organization, The Conference Board. She started out as an entry level typist, but a series of what she calls “flukey” events would quickly advance her career.

 

I actually was only working there, I guess, about a week or so. But the lady who ran the pool was interested that I was writing these stories. So one day, she came to me and she asked me if I could take dictation. So, I did, and I was able to do a version of it that passed her test. So, she took me to meet the controller of the company whose secretary had just quit. And when I walked into his office, his radio was on and was playing an aria. And I said, Oh, Puccini! And that was it. I mean, he wouldn’t have cared if I couldn’t type at all. The fact that I knew Puccini when I heard him was enough. So, I now left the pool within days of being hired, and I became his secretary, and then the following week they made him treasurer of the company. So, I was now an executive secretary. Picture this, ‘cause I was a hippie in those days; right? So, I had this long, straggly hair, and I had black tights with holes in them, and I was the bane of the actual executive secretaries. Oh! They thought that I was the most awful ruffian.

 

After her stint as an executive secretary, Holly Henderson became a reporter for The Conference Board’s publications. As the turbulent social issues of the 1960s swirled around her, she began to incorporate them into her articles.

 

So, I tried to get into it various pieces on social issues that were important to me, and discovered the most amazing thing. In the belly of the beast, there was this old guy who was there for the same reason.

 

Which was?

 

To begin to get them to think a little bit differently about social issues. And so, we colluded. I was in my twenties, and he was in his sixties or so. I would report on these conferences that they had, where they invited all the Fortune 500, and they had various speakers talking on various issues. And I would write in such a way that I would … I guess I was asking diabolical questions, now that you mention it. I would go up to the speakers afterwards and ask them some questions, and those would make it into the articles. And I remember one that was about the unreliability of lower income employees. And what they didn’t know was that those employees, first of all, had to cross gang territory to get to work. So, if there was a problem, they had to go around, and they were frequently late for work, and they got a bad reputation for that. But I was trying to show the other side of what was going in these people’s lives. So, things like that; I wrote about things like that.

 

Lasting marriage was not in the cards for Holly Henderson. However, her ill-fated relationships would lead Holly to discover Hawaii, which would become her home.

 

I did not know that you had three husbands before you got here.

 

I did, in fact. I mean, that was what I did. I was a slow learner.

 

Yeah; tell me about that. You were young. How old were you at the time you were married?

 

The first time I got married, I had just turned nineteen.

 

Oh …

 

And that was a marriage because of the morays of the times. I had drunk the Kool-Aid, I was a good girl. I wish I had already been a hippie at the time. Because I wouldn’t have married him, and that would have been a much better thing for both of us.

 

So, divorced, I take it.

 

Yes. That was the baby marriage. Yes.

 

But then, you also went through the deaths of two husbands.

 

Yes, I did.

 

Were those marriages happier?

 

I don’t know; they didn’t last very long. The first one died when we had been married for only about eight months.   And then, the second one … actually, when I married him, I was in therapy because I was anxious, and the therapist felt that this was because I was coming up on the eighth month, and that I was nervous about that. And then in the eighth month, he died of a heart attack.

 

Two husbands died at the eighth month?

 

Yes. So …

 

So, what was the effect on you?

 

It was like being hit in the head with an ax or something. Yeah. That’s not the sort of thing you expect is going to happen to you once, let alone twice. But your life goes on; that’s the amazing thing. There wasn’t a whole lot of money, but there was a little. And when somebody that you love dies, and there is money as a result, you feel like you should do something special with that. And what I did was, I traveled, and I went to a number of very interesting places. I was really happy that I got a chance to travel. But the last place that I had been before Hawaii, I had gotten hassled considerably because—I mean, this was fifty years and a hundred pounds ago, so … you know.

 

So, you were a single woman traveling alone.

 

I’m a single woman traveling alone. And I just wanted to go someplace where I could wander around and feel safe, and not be harassed. So, the first night that I spent in Hawaii was on Kauai, at Coco Palms.

 

When you were there, Grace Guslander owned it.

 

Actually, Amfac owned it.

 

Oh, she ran it. But didn’t she own it at one point?

 

Yeah. I think she and Gus did, her husband. But she was the most magic person. And I really think that I am in Hawaii today because of her. Because she managed to show people what Hawaii was really about. Which is interesting, because she did it while at the same time there were the hokey things, you know.

 

Yes. There’s a lot of hokey-ness in a sweet way about the old Coco Palms.

 

Yes.

 

With its channels of water, and its palm trees dipping into the water.

 

But that’s royal ground, you know, and she never forgot that it was.

 

How did she bring Hawaii home to you, the authentic Hawaii, from her tourist accommodations?

 

Oh, so many different ways. The staff at Coco Palms really was a family. And when you would go back year after year, they would whip out the pictures of their grandchildren, they would invite you to their homes. After I saw what Grace had shown me, I thought if I lived in Hawaii, it would make me a nicer person.

 

Did you think you weren’t nice? Not that nice?

 

I’m not.

 

You mean, you’re still not?

 

Well, I’m nicer.

 

It did sort of work.

 

Well, I mean—okay, I’m trying to figure out what you mean by that. Do you mean that you had a wicked sense of humor?

 

No.

 

Not that. You just were not a kind person?

 

Not the way someone who has been born and raised in this culture is.

 

After several visits to Hawaii during the 70s, Holly Henderson decided it was time to make the islands her home. In 1977, she quit her job at the United Church of Christ in New York, and made the move to Hawaii. She didn’t have a job, or even a plan, but Hawaii welcomed her. She secured a position that she called a perfect fit at a human services nonprofit organization.

 

There used to be a wonderful man named Wally Smith in this town. And he ran Health and Community Services Council, which later morphed into Hawaii Community Services Council. I got a job with them. And it was based on a model that came out of United Way of America, to train boards of directors on what their responsibilities should be. You see why this was such an ironic thing for me. Because up until that point, being on a board of directors was often just a sort of honorary thing. They weren’t really expected to do that much.

 

Names on the stationery.

 

Yeah. And at that point, it became important that they step up and know what they were supposed to do, and do it. So, my job initially was to train volunteers, and they were volunteers, to go into all sorts of organizations all over the islands and work with them, work with the boards of directors, so that it functioned on all the different islands. And I did that for many years. And it was while I was in that job that Harry Weinberg died, and Alvin Awaya was one of his trustees, and he thought from his kitchen cabinet ideas for what to fund initially. And the Weinberg Fellows Program came out of that. And then, Al Castle, who was involved in the early years of the Weinberg Fellows Program, and still is to this day, said, You know, we really should do something like this for early childhood centers. And so then, the Castle Colleagues Program came out of that.

 

Holly Henderson continues to train and refine the leaders of many nonprofit organizations in Hawaii.

 

And you’ve been minting nonprofit executives.

 

No, I haven’t been minting them. They come to me already minted. But the thing is that very few people, when they’re sitting outside playing with mud pies say, I’m gonna grow up and run a not-for-profit organization. And there are management responsibilities nonprofits have that sometimes they’re not prepared for. But I know the expectations of them are merciless. Because if you think about the model that we use in the Weinberg Fellows Program, and we look at the different areas that we’re talking about in terms of governance and board relations, HR, personnel issues, financial management, fundraising, planning, evaluation.

 

And your core mission.

 

Your core mission.

 

Besides that.

 

And vision and values at the center of it. And then, marketing and community relations. You tell me what human being is good at all of that.

 

I was one of your Weinberg Fellows.

 

Yes, you were.

 

And I was one of your Weinberg Fellows in the great recession. And I recall you had a board speaker come in, who turned out to be my board chair, Robbie Alm.

 

 

And I thought, Okay, this is the Fellows Program, this is going to be high level stuff. And what happened was, just profound simplicity. I think he came in and he said something like … You guys look terrible. How can you take care of an organization unless you take care of yourself?

 

 

And it’s true. You know, everybody was just kind of working really hard, and burning the candle at both ends, and apparently, we looked unkempt or something. I don’t know, but he called it right. And then, that’s the basis on which that particular Fellows session started. You chose that as the starting point.

 

M-hm.

 

Holly Henderson has a deep respect and appreciation for the Hawaiian culture. Throughout her nearly forty years in Hawaii, she has considered it a privilege and a joy to live here.

 

The word that’s important to me is, guest. I think of myself as a guest in Hawaii. And I have been here since 1977 as a guest, and I will die as a guest. Because there is etiquette involved in being a guest, that’s why that word is so important to me. You know. When you’re a guest, if you expect to be welcomed, you do not criticize what your host says, does, eats, drinks, values … what they believe, where they go to church, how they dress. You don’t try to change who they are; you try to adapt yourself to the way they live. That’s what a good guest does, I think. But the situation of native Hawaiians in their own land … it just breaks my heart. Whether they agree with each other or not is not the point. So, it’s important to me to do what I can, which isn’t a whole lot, but to try to speak up about it.

 

And you made a film?

 

I did make a film.

 

And that’s the subject of it.

 

That is the subject of it.

 

To remember that you’re a guest. You don’t come here and bulldoze your way around.

 

Yes. Because that’s what my people have been doing for a long, long, long, long time, and have no right to, in my view.

 

Nonprofit consultant Holly Henderson says that one of the most important moments in her life was being arrested. In 1983, Henderson stood up for the rights of Hansen’s Disease patients who were being evicted from a State housing complex called Hale Mohalu in Pearl City, Oahu. It was to be torn down, with patients offered quarters in Leahi Hospital in Honolulu. State agents forcibly evicted the residents, and Holly Henderson was arrested, along with seventeen other protestors.

 

I’m proud of it. I’m proud of it. Because I think there are times when you’ve tried everything else, and nothing has worked. You have to know that about yourself, that when the time comes, if you have to go to the mat, you will. Martin Luther King said something I really like. He said, If a man hasn’t found something he will die for, he isn’t fit to live. And you just have to know that when the time comes, you’ll stand up. It took eleven years from then ‘til when they broke ground for the new place in Pearl City, but it does stand as a testimonial that sometimes you do win, if you persist.

 

Holly Henderson was acquitted of the charges for her protest at Hale Mohalu. Her social conscience has not diminished with time; it is felt as she trains nonprofit leaders and consults with nonprofit boards of directors. And you will sometimes see her name on well-crafted letters to the editor about community issues. Mahalo to nonprofit consultant Holly Henderson of Honolulu for sharing your story with us. And thank you for joining us. For PBS Hawaii, and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha, a hui hou.

 

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

 

No matter how imaginative you are, you could never imagine a better life than fate provides. You know? I couldn’t have planned a path like I’ve had, and I’m so grateful that I didn’t try.

 

You clearly weren’t following a formula.

 

I definitely was not.

 

[END]

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Bob Apisa

 

When he first came to Hawaii from American Samoa at the age of seven, Bob Apisa could not understand a word of English. Despite that initial difficulty, he excelled in sports at Farrington High School and won a national championship as a member of the Michigan State Spartan football team. He was drafted by the Green Bay Packers and went on to a successful career in Hollywood as an actor and stuntman.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Wed., Aug. 19 at 11:00 pm and Sun., Aug. 23 at 4:00 pm.

 

Bob Apisa Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

So, forty-nine years before Marcus Mariotta helped to win the Rose Bowl, you were playing the Rose Bowl.

 

That’s correct. That’s correct. I was probably the first Samoan that played in the Rose Bowl; I’m not sure of that. When you’re raised in Hawaii, I mean, ethnically, I am of Samoan mix. Culturally, I am of Hawaiiana. When I’m raised with people here, they would have an influence on the way you look at things in life. And I knew that go up there, don’t shame your surname, don’t shame yourself, and don’t shame the state that you’re from. And that was the driving force for all of us who were up there.

 

Before Marcus Mariota, there was Bob Apisa, a Samoan recruited from Hawaii, who also made history on the football field nearly half a century ago. Bob Apisa, 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. Bob Apisa was the first all-American college football player of Samoan ancestry whose achievements helped open the door for Polynesian players like Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariot. Apisa’s athleticism made him a college football star, and led him to a long career as a stuntman in Hollywood’s film industry. However, Apisa’s early years were a struggle. When he moved to Hawaii at the age of seven, he couldn’t understand a word of English.

 

Where were you born?

 

Leslie, I was born in Fagatogo, American Samoa. And that’s adjacent to Pago Pago, American Samoa. That’s the capital of American Samoa.

 

But you didn’t stay there, obviously.

 

Fortunately for me and my family—well, there were eleven siblings. I mean, I had ten siblings, rather. I was the eleventh. There eight boys, three girls. And my dad was in the military at the time; he knew that the only way to improve our lot in life was to bring us from Samoa to Hawaii, so that we can get into or be engrained with proper uh, education. I remember sixty-three years ago when I left American Samoa in 1952. And I remember pulling out of that port, and we never seen electricity; I’d never seen it. I lived in a house that was lit up by kerosene lanterns. And I never spoke English, could not understand a word of English. And as we left Samoa, two and a half weeks later, we were pulling in at Honolulu Harbor. And the landscape of the land was just lit up, and I was on deck, and I asked my brother, George—his name was Siosi. In Samoan, that’s George. And I said, Siosi, [SAMOAN LANGUAGE]. Meaning, there must be hundreds of, you know, kerosene lanterns out there lighting this place up. And he looked at me; he said, Papu. Papu is Bob in Samoan. He said, Papu, [SAMOAN LANGUAGE]. Meaning, Those are not kerosene lanterns; that’s electricity. I had never seen a switch. We never had an inside toilet; we had outhouses. So, the confirmation of just bringing this whole new world was there. And the reaffirmation of that was the effort that we had to go out and strike it on our own. My mom and my father went up to as high as eighth grade in Samoa. They didn’t have high schools. And that was one of the reasons why my dad brought us here.

 

What was the hardest thing for you? I can’t imagine. The culture, the language; what was the hardest thing?

 

Well, the hardest thing was cognitive skills, social etiquettes; things of that nature. I remember sitting in the classroom at Pearl Harbor Kai Elementary, and when the teacher would gather the kids around, and she would read us a book, like, See Tom run; run, run, run. See Jane hop; hop, hop. And kids would laugh. And they would laugh, and that was my clue to laugh along with them, so I would feel like I’m one of them.

 

But you didn’t know why.

 

But I didn’t know why I was laughing. I didn’t know why I was laughing.

 

No special language lessons, or tutoring; nothing like that?

 

No; this was strictly through osmosis or just by being around the vicinity of being around English-speaking military dependents. Because I was brought up with military dependents at Pearl Harbor Kai Elementary. But I had teachers that helped me. I remember arriving in November, and starting school late. Because it started in September, and arriving, and then I had to re-acclimate myself. Then I got hurt. We were playing cowboys and Indians; I got shot in my left eye with a slingshot, and bled for quite some time. So, I missed more school. And as a result, I was set back a grade to repeat that same grade in order for me to get on. But I took that as an onus that I had some making up to do, but it was incumbent on me to make the move and make the motivation to move ahead.

 

Where did your family live, and what was it like growing up with ten siblings?

 

It was a very disciplinarian upbringing. My dad, I think in my lifetime, because he was a man of few words, but he’ll give you that look, and you’ll know exactly what he meant. But he was very soft-spoken. My mom was the general foreman; she ran the shop. So, she was very dedicated as a mother. She attended and made sure that we went to school. She took us there, and picked us up. You know, she was all-giving and all-supportive.

 

So, at the time, what public school did you go to?

 

I came out of Pearl Harbor Kai. I entered Aliamanu Intermediate when it first opened up. This, I think, was 1960. And I remember going to Aliamanu the very first day it opened up, and the Salt Lake City was just nothing but a salt lake and marshland.

 

It really was a salt lake then.

 

There were no buildings. There were no buildings; just that school there. But from there, I had to go on to ninth grade. They did not have a ninth grade; it was just up to eighth grade. And I had left the eighth grade, so I was going to the ninth grade. And what my brother Bill and I did—I mean, Bill was the catalyst in bringing me to the old Interscholastic League of Honolulu.

 

ILH.

 

ILH. And that was the premier competition. And I think because he felt slighted—I didn’t know any better, but he felt slighted that all the friends that we were playing around with when we were little kids all went to private schools. And he felt slighted.

 

The immigrants got left behind.

 

But the immigrants were left behind. And so, we concocted a story based on Bill’s theory that if we had a district exception from someone, that we can play at Farrington. Because Farrington was in the ILH. So, we asked my uncle, Reverend McMoore—that’s the Scotch part of my family, to use his residence address over at Republican Street in Kalihi. And he said, Yeah, by all means. So, that’s how we ended up at Farrington.

 

Bob Apisa says he didn’t play organized football until he entered the ninth grade at Farrington High School. He was a natural at that, and other sports as well.

 

You did things like you were playing a doubleheader in baseball, and the coach ran you over to the Punahou relays, and you took two events there, and you came back and you played your second baseball game.

 

Yes; that’s very true. This is my senior year, and it was the spring of my senior year. And I had fiddled around with the track team so I can work out and do my sprints, and just starting out, because I knew as a running back, I needed speed. But he needed a shot-putter, and he knew that in my sophomore year, I tinkered around with shot-putting, and it was only about, you know, two feet or three feet and a lot of rolls after that. But I didn’t know how to acquire the skills. So, we were playing Roosevelt at Moiliili Field, and he went up to my coach, Dick Kitamura, and he said, Dick, may I borrow Bob uh, in between the games? He said, Fine. I went up there.

 

And are you still wearing your baseball shoes?

 

I was wearing my baseball gear.

 

 

I took off my baseball top and put on a FHS tee-shirt or shirt, tank top, and I wore my baseball pants and my baseball leggings, and I borrowed a pair of tennis shoes. And these were the best shot-putters from all over the State. And they were all kinda [SNICKERS], you know, laughing and giggling.

 

How did that make you feel? Did that make you feel like—

 

Well, you know, I was laughing, myself. [CHUCKLE] But anyway, I said, Well, you know, I’m gonna do the best I can. My first throw, I said to myself, All I want to do is get some height on it. And I pumped it back, and I let go, and all I heard was the crowd going, Wow! Because I had just broken the State record that was there for eight and a half years later. I mean, previous. And I’m walking around like I knew what I was doing, but I was looking for the first dog poop that I may have stood on before I came into the ring. But, you know, my second and third throws, I mean, ba-boom, little dribbles here and there.   But the damage was done. I had won the shotput, I had set the State record for the shotput of fifty-six, three and three-quarters, and I broke—the gentleman’s name, I think it was Souza that was from Waialua in 1956.   So, I told the coach, I’ve got a second game, so put on my uniform, and went back to play the second game of the doubleheader.

 

How’d you do in the doubleheader?

 

I hit a homerun.

 

It was a good night; a very good night.

 

It was a good night.

 

Bob Apisa’s athletic achievements at Farrington caught the attention of dozens of college football recruiters. He chose Michigan State University, where he became part of a national championship team known for pioneering racial integration, and for having four future Hall of Fame players, all African American. And he earned a spot in Rose Bowl lore.

 

I was. You know, when you’re raised in Hawaii, I mean, ethnically, I am of Samoan mix. Culturally, I am of Hawaiiana. When I’m raised with people here, they would have an influence on the way you look at things in life. And I knew that go up there, don’t shame your surname, don’t shame yourself, and don’t shame the state that you’re from. And that was the driving force for all of us who were up there. You know, Dick Kenney and Charley Wedemeyer, when we were playing, we were ranked number one in the country. We would go to Ann Arbor to play University of Michigan or go down to Columbus and play Ohio State, or go down to South Bend to play Notre Dame; the top schools in the country. And we would look at each other, kust before we’d go out on the field, we’d look at each other. We’d do this. Meaning, when we get together, we say, Don’t make … you know what.

 

A.

 

A; of yourself. Because that’s how local boys related; don’t make A. So, we look at each other, and we knew. We were in tune.

 

And at the same time, Michigan State had an unusual makeup of its starters. I read that there were eleven African American starters, which was really unusual at the time, and you had far more players on the team. And then, there was you, who became the first all-American player of Samoan ancestry.

 

Yeah; yeah.

 

What a team.

 

Oh, it was a great team. You know, at that time in 1964, we had just legislated civil rights. In 1965, there was the Civil Rights Voting Act.

 

And that’s when you were a sophomore.

 

When I was a sophomore. And I looked at Bubba Smith, and Bubba Smith would look at George Webster, and George Webster would look at Dick Kenney. And we would look at each other … people of color. We said, You mean, we can actually vote for the first time? And so, there was a lot of history in that, that we had to encumber along the way. But the fact is, you look at things, and you learn from those experiences, and having African Americans who were great athletes. Being from the islands, again, you know, we had this mantra that you’re there to represent your people, you go out there and kick okole.

 

Here we are at the granddaddy of all the bowl games, the Rose Bowl, in—

 

So, forty-nine years before Marcus Mariotta helped to win the Rose Bowl, you were playing the Rose Bowl.

 

That’s correct. That’s correct. I was probably the first Samoan that played in the Rose Bowl; I’m not sure of that.

 

Bob Apisa, the fullback …

 

In 1966, I was a sophomore. And we were ranked number one in the country, undefeated, and we played UCLA, who we had beaten in the first game of the year. We were behind by fourteen to twelve, and I had scored a touchdown, and we went for a two-point conversion instead of having Dick kick a field goal or a point after. So, that made a difference. So, when we scored the second touchdown, we had to make up two points. And I was given that opportunity, and it’s been in lore, the Rose Bowl lore throughout the years that I was stopped by the one-yard line by Bob Stiles.

 

Apisa the fullback, and Bob is caught a yard short …

 

And Bob … I think he was a hundred seventy-pounds or two twenty-five. But he just threw himself at you; right?

 

Well, he was knocked out in the process. But the fact of the matter is, he did the job. And that’s the important thing. You know, you only had about four major bowls back in those days. And the Rose Bowl was the granddaddy of them all. That was The Big One. And that’s what I wanted to aspire to play in when I left Farrington, to go to a conference that would give me a shot at playing in the granddaddy of them all.

 

Ten months after that close loss in the Rose Bowl, on November 19, 1966, Bob Apisa played a part in history, taking the field in a matchup dubbed The Game of the Century. It was the first ever live TV sports broadcast in Hawaii.

 

I played in that game. And what happened was, prior to that game, throughout that week, people were just so jazzed up about the Game of the Century. We were both undefeated.

 

Okay. This was Michigan State, and …

 

Notre Dame. And Notre Dame at that time had one minority on their team. Just one. They had maybe twenty-seven in the entire enrollment, in South Bend. And that made them change and incorporate more people. But the fact that we were playing … I had a scroll with about three thousand names sent to me from my high school wishing us luck from Farrington. You know, those are cherished moments. And I remember when Dick Kenney and Charley and I got together, I said, You know, this is big-time, guys. I mean, I’m a kid from Samoa, Palama Housing to Kalihi Valley, and we’re playing big-time. People are gonna be seeing us live and direct. And that game, I think it was Governor Burns at that time, I believe it was, along with the Legislature, and they petitioned the FCC, the Federal Communications Commission, to see if they can see it live and direct. So, they got permission from them, and on the morning of November 19, 1966, there was a little satellite revolving around Sydney, Australia. The satellite was called Lani Bird. And they had that satellite beam the signal from Sydney, Australia, ricochet that signal across to Honolulu. And for the first time, you know, six hours earlier, people from Hawaii turned on their TVs, whether it’s an RCA, whether it’s the Zenith or Motorola, one of those brands, with two rabbit ears.

 

Small screen.

 

And with tin foil at the end of it, and with a small screen.

 

No cable television back then.

 

No cable TV. And they turned it on, they saw the splotchy black and white figures, and they finally saw the game, the first live telecast in the history of Hawaii. That’s one of the proudest moments of my life. I know I speak on behalf of my departed brothers, Dick Kenney and Charley Wedemeyer. That made us so proud. If there’s anything that we’re proudest of is that we helped facilitate this state into the 20th Century, as far as telecommunications is concerned.

 

After all the hype, The Game of the Century ended in a tie. Injuries sidelined Bob Apisa for much of his senior year at Michigan State. Still, he was chosen in the ninth round of the NFL draft by the late legendary coach, Vince Lombardi, who was then general manager of the Green Bay Packers.

 

That was a great honor for me, Leslie, because when you’re drafted by the world champions—they were just coming out of their second Super Bowl championship. And I was hoping to get onto an expansion team like the Miami Dolphins at that time, or Cincinnati Bengals. But lo and behold, I could hear vividly well Pete Roselle, the commissioner, announcing my name over the PA, and I can hear them saying, you know, Drafted in the ninth round, from Michigan State, bla-bla-bla-bla. And I can hear there’s cheering. And my heart sank in a way, because I wanted to go to a lesser team in developing. And here I am, I’m drafted by Green Bay, by Vince Lombardi. So, you know, people would see that trophy named after him on every Super Bowl, and eighty percent of the country probably don’t know who this man is. I was honored to be drafted by him. I shook hands with him, I talked to him, I negotiated my contract with him. And that’s quite an honor. The fact of the matter is, you know, to have that opportunity, to have just the experience of someone who is so iconic in football folklore. And when I see that, and I’m tracing myself back to 1952 when that young man who stood on that boat, who could not speak a word of English, and to where I am today, those are some of the moments that I’m most proudest of
You know, your career with the Green Bay Packers was fairly short, because I think you had serious knee damage; didn’t you?

 

Yes, I did. I signed a two-year contract with them. I lasted a year; they paid my year off. And I knew I was, you know, damaged goods to pursue an NFL career, because I paid that price during my collegiate career. But since, I’ve had prosthesis; I had three hip replacements, two on my right and one on my left, and a left knee replaced, so I walk with a shuffle and a distinct gait, and a gimp and a limp.

 

And other than that, you feel good?

 

Other than that, everything else is working.

 

You’re okay.

 

Being a fullback, always working to move the ball forward, Bob Apisa didn’t look back after the end of his football career. He went on to a thirty-three-year career as a stuntman and sometime actor, following a chance encounter with a Hawaii Five-O casting director.

 

I sat there, and there was this silver-haired guy with a beard, and he kept looking at me. And I’m saying, Well, maybe I owe him money or something.

 

So, he finally came over. And he says, I’m Bob Busch, I’m the casting director for Hawaii Five-O. The original Five-O. And he says, You’re Bob Apisa? I says, Yes. And he says, Have you ever done pictures before? And I says, The only pictures I’ve ever dealt with are Kodak cameras and stuff like that. But he says, No. So he said, I’m giving you a card. Why don’t you give me a call tomorrow. And I had a few days before I went back to Flint. And so, I called him on a lark, and he said, Why don’t you come in, I’d like to see you. So, I went down to the studio over by Diamond Head.

 

Were you excited?

 

No, I wasn’t excited. I didn’t know what why he wanted me to come in. Because I wasn’t involved with filming, I did not know what filming was. Once again, this was a first-timer. And as I’m walking in through the door, I noticed that there were about three big guys like me. And as I’m walking through the door, Jack Lord exits his office, and he’s looking right at me. He says, Oh, you’re the guy I’m looking for. I turned behind, and I’m wondering if he’s talking to the guy behind me, but there was nobody there. And then, Bob Busch came out and made the introduction. And so, Jack Lord said, Can you come tomorrow and do a little scene with us? I said, Wow, this thing is happening so quick. I mean, twenty-four hours later, I’m asked to come in another twenty-four hours later to do a jail scene with some people, some guys. And so, I said, Yeah, fine. You know, I didn’t mind doing that just to kill time and get a day’s pay. And he said something; the dialog between him and James MacArthur, Danno at that time. So, Steve McGarrett was saying this to Danno, and then it didn’t make sense. So, Jack looks at me; he said, Bob, when I say this, just say, No, I didn’t do it, or something to that effect. I don’t quite remember. And so, when he said this, then I said, No, I didn’t do it. I was immediately Taft-Hartleyed into Screen Actors Guild.

 

 

 

Forty-eight hours later, no experience as an extra or anything, I went from Point A to Point Z.

 

Well, you were comfortable with yourself; right?

 

I was comfortable with myself, because, you know, I thought it was a new adventure, and I said, Ah, why not. You know. And a week later, just before I left, or a couple days later before I left the following week, they asked me if I could take jeep and squib it and drive it. I said, Hey, it’s no big thing. And had bullet holes. I mean, squibbed it and came right up to the camera, and that was no big thing. And that’s how my stunt career started. I’ve done train falls, I’ve done horse falls, I’ve done horse stampedes, motorcycles, car chases, falling off of four-story buildings into water. You know, it’s all timing. But if you’re an athlete and you have the innate skills to adjust, to make your adjustment. Before I go on a set and they ask me to do something, I’ll turn ‘em down too.

 

So, this is 2015, and you are how old? Seventy?

 

I just turned uh, the milestone of seven, zero.

 

So, it’s a new stage of your life. What’s it like? I mean, you’re now officially retired.

 

Yeah.

 

I mean, that’s another kind of career, because you have to figure out how to spend your time, what relationships to keep, and which to invest time in, and where to go.

 

Well, I have a great relationship with AARP. No, I’m just kidding you. I find time to do things. I can wake up and read the paper, and I go and work out, and I come back and have lunch with friends. Or the wife and I can just get up and go.

 

Bob Apisa lives in Southern California. At the time of our conversation in 2015, he was producing a project dear to his heart, a documentary about the Michigan Spartans’ two-year run as national champions, and the team’s groundbreaking impact on racial integration in college football. Thank you, Bob Apisa, for sharing your story with us. For PBS Hawaii and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou.

 

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

 

People always point out that Bob Apisa came first. He was the first Samoan to really make a dent in the national scene. So, you were the Marcus Mariota of your time.

 

Marcus Mariota is a gentleman that when I looked at the way he carries himself, I’m proud of him. He represents America. He represents the cross-section of all ethnicity; all ethnicity. And he carries himself with humility, which is from here.

 

[END]

 

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