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LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Ted Dintersmith

 

As a child who played a lot of baseball in rural Virginia, Ted Dintersmith wanted to be a Major League Baseball pitcher. By serendipity, he says, life took him on a completely different path, when he got a job at a high-tech startup. For 25 years, he made a name for himself in the venture capital realm, before leading the charge in America as an advocate for transforming education. He is Executive Producer of the documentary Most Likely to Succeed and a co-author of the book by the same name. In the 2015-16 school year, Dintersmith visited all 50 states to meet with parents, students, educators and politicians, and encouraged communities to work collectively to re-imagine school and its purpose.

 

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

 

Ted Dintersmith Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

So, you start to realize, what is the point? Is the point of school to weed people out and to rank people on relatively irrelevant measures, or is the purpose of school to help every individual, every child develop their full potential? I think right now, in American education—this is not a Hawai‘i statement, but a fifty-state statement, the purpose of school is to rank kids’ potential on a very artificial limited measure that gives outsized advantage to the affluent. And we have to do better than that.

 

He’s on a personal crusade to bring about change to the American school system. Ex-venture capitalist turned champion of education reinvention, Ted Dintersmith, next on Long Story Short.

 

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

 

Aloha mai kākou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. After a career as a highly successful venture capitalist, Ted Dintersmith of Virginia found a new calling as a crusader and philanthropist committed to seeing the reinvention of our education system. He’s been traveling eighty percent of the time, and dedicating millions of dollars of his personal finances to bring about change and innovation in the U.S. school system. To show how classroom education could be more effective, Ted Dintersmith produced a documentary called “Most Likely To Succeed”. Starting in 2015, Dintersmith took the film to all fifty states to encourage communities to rethink how children are educated in this country. Among the states where he’s found real promise and breakthroughs in innovation is Hawai‘i. More on that later. Ted Dintersmith grew up in a small town just twenty miles from Washington, D.C., but the family wasn’t much interested in the political scene. The family struggled to make ends meet with blue collar wages.

 

Oh, my dad, you know, for most of the time I was growing up, was a carpenter. You know, my mother stayed at home. She was really the intensity in our family. And so, she was the one who, in a fierce way, fought for her kids and wanted life to be better for us. Had a lot of good aspects to it, it had some things that might not be entirely positive. But we were just sort of, I’d say, fairly, you know, lower income, lower middle income. We didn’t have a lot of money, for sure. And you know, it was one of those neighborhoods where there were no fences. People just rolled out of the back. Every family had two, three, four, five kids. And we would just play all the time. Back then, school was maybe a third, maybe less than half of our life, and the rest of the time had nothing to do with it. You know, very little to no homework, just kinda do things.

 

You didn’t have play dates?

 

No. No. You know, it was like, it was just random. And you know, you realize the incredible value of growing up in a situation where you just are given that kind of space to go figure out yourself.

 

You learned something about your father after you grew up.

 

Yeah.

 

And it made all the difference in understanding him.

 

So, my dad was in World War II. And he enlisted in the Navy before he was eighteen years old. So, didn’t finish high school. And within a month or two, he was on a destroyer in the Pacific Rim, and he went through six combat exchanges. You know, the really bad one. People blew up around him, he came close to dying multiple times. But you name a major Pacific Rim exchange in that window, he was in it, and affected. And in number six, something happened. I obviously wasn’t there. And he was discharged with a partial nervous breakdown.

 

What was the battle?

 

I think that was Iwo Jima. And so, he came back home, and met my mother, and they got married. You know, in the postwar, you know, euphoria, they got married. And you know, then they had kids. And he was not easy to be around, growing up. You know, angry a lot. You know, my mother pushed him a lot to do more with his life. You know, there were some difficult things as a kid in that family. And my siblings, we talk about it, and I think we’d all share that perspective. You know, we grew up the whole time knowing kind of that he was in World War II, but nothing about being discharged with a nervous breakdown.

 

Even your mother?

 

She knew. But this was not to be talked about. Now, what that dynamic was, whether they both agreed never to talk about it, or whether … well, I don’t know. And only when he died, did we find—now, he died twenty years ago. So, I was forty-five-ish when he died, and then we found out. And for all of it was like, oh, my gosh. You know, like had we known growing up.

 

Had you known, what? I mean, what would you have done differently?

 

You know, as a kid, when you’re seven years old and your father is furious at you, you don’t think: Oh, so he’s got an issue going on from his past and it’s not me. You think: What did I do? Like, you know, like it ripples down generations.

 

Did you feel he thought you weren’t good enough?

 

I think I probably felt that at some level. I certainly felt enormous pressure to do well on behalf of the family. And I felt—you know, it’s like always feeling so nervous around the house, because you never knew what would trigger something.

 

Was he violent, as well?

 

Never hit; nothing ever physical.

 

Your father, you say, was a carpenter.

 

Yeah.

 

And I believe your grandfather was bricklayer.

 

He was.

 

Were you expected to follow in the family tradition of, you know, blue collar work?

 

Well, no. And I actually speak about this a lot, because I think we underestimate the power of learning by doing. We underestimate and don’t give kids a chance to do more. My vintage was vocational education or career and technical education, so I actually today have sort of come full circle. But when I was growing up, my mother was crystal clear; all of her kids were going to college, period. And in those years, right, college was, you know, kind of an equalizer. I mean, my college tuition, senior year—so, I went to a public college in Virginia. for the entire year, the tuition was two hundred and fifty dollars. Not for an hour, not for a course, not for a quarter or semester; two hundred and fifty bucks. You know, I mean, I could make that much money easily in the summer, you know, minimum wage. I bagged groceries in a grocery store. You know, today, it’s a totally different story. But for my mother, that was really an important value. And we all did go.

 

What about your dad? Did he want you to go to college?

 

Honestly, in our family, with our dynamic, my father wanted what my mother wanted. You know, it was pretty clear who the CEO of our family was. And it was my mother; no question about it.

 

So, you went to college.

 

I did.

 

And majored in?

 

I majored in, which people will say, Ah, he must be a Gemini; I majored in physics and English. I did. And I am a fierce advocate for the liberal arts. Those are great vehicles for developing the skills and the mindsets that help you later in life. I often tell people that majoring in English helped me a lot more in a career in business and technology, than the physics ever did.

 

Well, what did you do after attending your college?

 

I got into a graduate program in physics at Stanford. I said: Don’t know if I’m really gonna want to stay in physics, but California, that sounds pretty good. And they have a lot of different things, so it would give me different options. Best decision I ever made. And I got there, and I’d say within a month, I said: Uh-oh, you know, like, these people that I’m in graduate school with are way smarter than I am in physics, and far more interested than I am in physics. That’s not a good leading indicator. And I just said: I’m going to be a mediocre physicist if I stay here. Then I started just meeting and talking to other people, and I found this different program that was, for me, very interesting. It was sort of math modeling, applied math to real problems. Switched into that, got my PhD there. And I was just happy to be in Silicon Valley, where every month or two, a new building would pop up for Intel, or Apple, or you know, all these companies, many of which have disappeared at this point. And I just kind of said: You know, this high tech stuff sounds interesting, like maybe I should do that.

 

Ted Dintersmith of Virginia pursued his interest in high tech, and was hired at Analog Devices, a company at the forefront of the digital revolution. In 1981, he made the move from Palo Alto, California to Boston, Massachusetts, and at age thirty-two, Dintersmith became the general manager of one of the company’s businesses.

 

But I was miserable, and I wasn’t good at managing people, and I didn’t like it. And I did it for like, three and a half years, then I finally just said: Oh, I just can’t do this anymore. And that’s how I ended up in venture capital.

 

Well, okay, that’s not a natural. How did you end up in venture capital?

 

When I joined them, they were pretty small, Analog Devices, and they just got bigger, and bigger. I had some ideas to start a business. And then, somebody said: Oh, if you’re gonna start something new, you ought to talk to these people in Boston called Venture Capitalist. And so, I put together a little outline of the business, and used some friends and connections, and started meeting with some. And in one of the meetings, kinda like this, somebody said: You know, your business, that might be interesting, but have you ever thought about being a venture capitalist? We have a search underway to find a new associate, and you’ve got a really good background for it. It was one of those where I said to myself: Do I be honest and say, honestly, I don’t have an idea of what—I mean, I don’t know what a venture capitalist is, I know nothing, or do I say, which I did, you know, that’s always been something I’ve thought about and wasn’t sure whether this was the right time, but that would be a discussion I’d like to have.

 

It was kind of a fake it ‘til you make it.

 

Yeah, yeah; a little bit. Try not to say something totally dishonest. And I ended up joining this group. And you know, as difficult and as unhappy as I was as a manager of a business, it was just a totally different world for me in venture capital. I just loved the business. It, you know, went well, and those were great years for me.

 

So, you were shaping businesses, even though you hadn’t really owned a business yourself?

 

Right; right. Oftentimes, this is kind of the kiss of death in venture is, you fail every single time if your attitude is: I want to work with people that will listen to me and do what I tell them to do. You want to back people who know what they want to do. I mean, it’s great if they listen, and they should be open-minded, but I always said to people: If you don’t reject nine out of ten of my suggestions, I’ve backed the wrong person. Because if I’m making a bunch of suggestions to you, somebody else is as well, and somebody else is as well.

 

Talk about a judgment call on your part. Because the money is big.

 

Yeah; sometimes. And I did feel like, you know, I picked people well. I mean, if I have any claim to fame in venture, I think I did over forty early stage, kind of one to three person startups. And I don’t have these exact, it’s been a while, but eighty-five percent were successes. You know, it’s an industry where if it’s one-third that succeed at that stage, that’s pretty good. So, my hit rate, my success rate was really quite good.

 

And it’s the Charles River …

 

Charles River Ventures. And so, our eighth fund, which we raised in 1997, on a fund, not on a given investment, but we raised a hundred million bucks, and we returned twenty times that. It’s one of the best funds in the history of venture capital. And it was a cross of a bunch of different companies.

 

As a partner in the Boston-based firm Charles River Ventures, Ted Dintersmith became one of the most successful venture capitalists in America during the mid to late 90s, funding innovative startup companies. High risk, high reward; it was a great run. After a quarter century as a venture capitalist, Dintersmith shifted priorities.

 

My kids were like five and seven. And I said: You know, like, I can either keep doing what I’ve done for the last twenty-five years, and knowing that there’s way too much money in the industry and it was gonna be really tough, or I could just say I’m gonna really spend time with my kids.

 

And how old were you at the time?

 

I was about fifty.

 

Okay.

 

Yeah; fifty, fifty-five.

 

And did your kids go to public schools?

 

I figured if they charged money, they’ve gotta be better. Big mistake. They were in this private school in Central Virginia. Then I got this note to parents saying: Brown bag lunch, come listen us, we’ve got these new programs to teach your kids important life skills. And it got me thinking. Like, why do you need a new program? Isn’t it obvious that schools should be preparing kids for life? I mean, a new initiative to teach kids life skills? I mean, isn’t that what school is all about? And I went to the program, and it was about, you know, like we’ll teach kids to drive safely by showing pictures and videos of car crashes, we’ll teach kids not to smoke by showing them tar-infested lungs and people who’ve had their larynx removed. And it’s like, you know, like I get that, but you know. But I made this list, and I said, you know, like important life skills, irrelevant life skills, and started paying attention to what my kids were doing in school. And very little, almost nothing was falling into the important life skills category, and a lot was falling in the irrelevant. But I had to add a new column, which was: harming them. What was actually going to damage my kids going forward? Because I knew, having lived and breathed innovation, how kids need to be prepared for a world where everything’s changing on a regular basis. And I knew, you know, you ask a million questions, you know, learn how to learn, think outside of the box, question everything. You know, like certain things that I just had seen over and over were the success predictors for people in these innovative companies. Not that they had to start the company, but just to be part of it and on the team, and do well.

 

M-hm.

 

You need to have certain mindsets. And I said, these are all disappearing, right in front of my eyes, for my kids in this school process. And this was a school most parents thought was great, certainly was expensive. I said: Whoa, you know, if this is going on in a school people think is great, what’s going on in other schools? And that just sort of led to complete immersion. I wasn’t feeling like they were doing good things, and I went in and met with the headmaster, and sort of laid out my concerns. And to his credit, he was honest with me. He said: I agree with you completely, but if I tried to do this, my board and the parent community would fire me. And as I say, I joke, but it’s not really a joke. That’s when my life turned into a cause. You know, like a lot of the things that normal people do, certainly at a point where they could retire, I don’t do anymore. And I just sort of am, this is the issue, and I feel it’s the most important issue of our ages.

 

Ted Dintersmith of Virginia put to use the analytical skills and out-of-the-box thinking that made him a successful venture capitalist, and he observed and reimagined what he calls an obsolete American education system.

 

I think one of the most misunderstood things in education is, what’s it mean to learn something? Lawrenceville Academy, which is extremely exclusive, very expensive, feeds all the Ivy League schools, and they took kids who had done really well in courses in a year, and when they came back in the fall, they gave them a subset of their final exam questions. Just the essential concepts they thought every kid had mastered. In two years across all these students, the average grade went from a B-plus to an F, and not one kid retained every concept that the faculty thought every kid had retained. And you start to say, the best of our best students in a school that’s on most people’s list of the top twenty private schools in the country, if they’re not really remembering …

 

I’ve heard that, too, from Ivy League grads who said they retained information as long as they had to.

 

Yeah. I think the main skill that gets developed in a lot of schools is short-term memory. We don’t even give them courses on memorization techniques. A teacher in high school in Minot, North Dakota related to me this. He said he told his high school juniors, one class period a week you can work on whatever you’re interested in. He said over half the kids did a Google search: What should I be interested in? And you know, when I relate that anecdote to audiences, the pattern is always the same. Lots of laughter, and then it settles in. And people realize, my gosh, are we hollowing out all the passion and interest, and joy from the kids, all in the sake of covering every possible smidgen of content that some committee has decided they need to know.

 

And how did all of that happen with our school systems?

 

Well, I think the short version is, thoughtfully invented a hundred and twenty-five years ago to prepare people for a world of routine worked well in manufacturing, from manufacturing to paper processing and shuffling, and bureaucracy still worked well.

 

But that was a long time ago.

 

Long time ago.

 

During the covered wagon era.

 

Yeah; long time ago. And then, I’d say over the last twenty years, we sort of made a choice.   And I frame it this way. Do we do things better, or do we do better things? But instead of saying: Let’s reinvent, let’s reimagine, let’s do something really different that makes sense for a world where content is at your fingertips and where you’ve got to solve big bold problems, instead, it was a lot easier to say: Hm, test scores are flat, let’s do everything we can to get test scores to go up. Five years later, ten years later, with No Child Left Behind, they’re not budging. Oh, I know; let’s hold teachers accountable to those test scores. Ah, still not going up; what do we do? And so, doing things better, or I always say doing obsolete things better, you know, doesn’t do anybody any good. We need to reimagine education.

 

To help inspire innovation in American education, Ted Dintersmith funded and produced an education documentary called “Most Likely To Succeed”. The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2015, and Dintersmith took the film across the nation, all fifty states, for community screenings and discussion. He wanted to convey the value of project-based learning, and yes, the need to rethink how to educate children.

 

I mean, after I came to this epiphany about life skills, and were my kids really being prepared for life, and then saying not only are they not, they actually may be damaged through this process, it may be actually harmful, I said: I gotta do something. And so, I went through a process. I said, so I’m anonymous. You know, like I’m not famous. I’m not Bill Gates; I’m like, Joe Bag of Donuts. And I said, like, I could write a book, and you know, like, yeah, maybe somebody would read it. I just sort of thought of like, I’m telling you what you guys know so well. I mean, how do you change people’s mind? Visual, something with emotion. And so, I said: This could fall flat, it could be a waste of time and money, but if we could somehow come together and produce something really remarkable, that would have a chance to sort of start changing the discussion broadly.

 

The things I think in life that give us some of the greatest satisfaction is making something that wasn’t there before.

 

I can’t wait for that moment, when it does work and I’m completely done with it. And it’s like always, it’ll be…

 

Kids have that feeling that’s transformative; I made this, and everyone’s going to look at it.

 

We filmed for two years, six hundred hours, times two, two cameras. And just got lucky with something that really does kinda get people energized about what could be done in school, and shows them kids learning in a way that doesn’t look like normal school, that they ordinarily might view as summer camp, you know, that you know, you watch these kids and they’re building things, and making things, and working in teams. And if I’d written about that, people would say, “that sounds good.” When they see it, when they see how it affects those kids, when they see teachers trusted to teach to their passions and do what they entered into the profession to do, it just makes an indelible mark on the audience. And so, we only do community screenings, we’ve done two here with you guys, which have been great. And we wanted to bring people together for discussion.

 

And you’ve had many discussions.

 

Yeah.

 

All over.

 

Over four thousand around the world, four hundred in Hawaii alone. And you know, but it’s what you guys know; right? It’s what’s so special about what your work is all about. It’s community, it’s family, it’s bringing people together.

 

In 2016, Ted Dintersmith made his first visit to Hawai‘i to show the film. He also met with local leaders, and visited a variety of island schools. He saw a fertile field for change, and he’s come back again, and again. His national crusade was intensive, and he’s not yet.

 

And so, this was not just like come there and have a meeting or two. I mean, I had for nine months, fifty states, every day from seven-thirty in the morning ‘til ten at night, meeting, after meeting, after meeting, after meeting. You know, from governors to commissioners of education, but lots, and lots, and lots of school visits, meeting with teachers, meeting with parents, meeting with students.

 

And out of those fifty states, you find yourself revisiting two states.

 

Two states.

 

Would you tell us about that?

 

The two states which are very, very different states, and I’m on the plane tonight to the second one, but North Dakota and here. And for very different reasons. But North Dakota, tomorrow I’ll be there, it’ll be the eighth time in two years. And I’ve gone all over the state, and working really closely with their governor and their superintendent of public instruction. And you know, we’re funding some things that they find helpful, and they’re just very all-in at the state level for preparing their kids for a world that’s really different. And they’ve got a lot of things that I think are great, and I think they’ve got a real chance. And I did almost every town, and we had community events. But with me on all these events were either the superintendent of public instruction or the number two, one of the top two or three from the teachers union, one of the top two or three from the chamber of commerce. You can go to a lot of states where those two people won’t even be in the same city.

 

And you bring money to the table, as well as insight?

 

I give some grants. And so, you know, I don’t charge for any—I mean, it’s always an embarrassing thing, because, you know, when I give these talks, what I know is that I’m doing it all on my own nickel, and I’m actually supporting things. And it sounds braggy to say that. But then it gets like, when you come to North Dakota or Hawai‘i, and you say: You guys can do amazing things, you know, I’d hate it if people in the audience say: Well, somebody must be just paying him to say that. You know, what drew me back here, honestly, I wouldn’t keep coming back if it weren’t for this guy Josh Reppun.

 

And he’s a former educator.

 

A former educator, and now just passionate about his state, about the heritage of the state, about what people can do about giving these kids opportunities. So, that first week was unbelievable. You know, they did a documentary on the visit. And the reason I keep coming back here, you know, the people here doing the innovative work in education—

 

In Hawai‘i.

 

In Hawai‘i. Are the best of the best. I would challenge anybody to go to any other state in the country, and I’ve been to them all, and find other examples that are better. You’ve got remarkable innovations going on in your schools here. But if you want to get really energized about education, you know, go to, you know, Waipahu. See what Keith Hayashi’s doing there. I mean, it’s just like, whoa, this is like, education at its finest.

 

And he is the principal of Waipahu High School, who, you know, left the number two position in the DOE, because he wanted to be at his school.

 

Yeah. Go to Waianae, go to Candy Suiso’s, you know, media arts program. I mean, you sit there and you talk to these students, and if you ask them: What are you working on, and why does this matter to you? They have great answers; right? Most places I go to, if you say to a student: What are you working on? They’re not even sure. You know, you go observe a lab and you say: What are you doing? They’ll say: Step 3. What’s more inspiring than what these kids have in this state? And so, I just say, like these people, they just care about it. So, for me, it’s tiring ‘cause I travel all the time, but it’s inspiring.

 

Former top venture capitalist Ted Dintersmith says he’ll continue to be a change agent for education by personally funding and gathering resources for innovative learning approaches such as those shown in his film, “Most Likely To Succeed”. Mahalo to frequent Hawaii visitor Ted Dintersmith of Earlysville, Virginia 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.

 

I was in West Maui, and I’m talking to these kids. I said: Well, tell me what you’re interested in. When I ask kids even in sixth grade that question, the question they’re often hearing is: What career should I have? And I always say: Don’t worry about that. Right? You’re in sixth grade. You know, and I tell them, you know, that I did fairly well in business, and if you’d asked me at age twenty-eight what a business was, I didn’t know.

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Henry Rice

 

A direct descen­dant of a missionary family, Henry Rice’s roots run deep in upcountry Maui. His grandfather purchased Ka­onoulu Ranch a century ago, and with roughly 10,000 acres of land stretching from the top of Haleakala to Maui’s south shore, it remains one of the few nearly intact ahupua‘a left in Hawai‘i. After a stint as a banking executive in Honolulu, he returned to Maui and his paniolo origins, and continues to honor the traditions passed down to him.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, Nov. 1, at 11:00 pm and Sunday, Nov. 5, at 4:00 pm.

 

Henry Rice Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

Does it irk you, though, to be a missionary descendant, and to hear comments about missionaries taking advantage and getting rich?

 

Getting rich off the Hawaiians. I think a lot of that … in some ways, I do. But I tend to get it corrected in what they did well, and why they did well at it.

 

His family arrived in Hawai‘i around 1840, after a long journey from New York around Cape Horn. He describes himself as a Caucasian with a Hawaiian cultural background. Growing up, he didn’t need toys; just his horses, Nellie and Kamehameha, and the slopes of upcountry Maui. Next, on Long Story Short, Henry Rice.

 

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

 

Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Henry Rice is a third generation rancher and former bank executive from Kula, Maui. His family’s century-old ranch named Kaonoulu, which means the good or plentiful breadfruit, is one of the few nearly intact ahupuaa left in Hawai‘i. The ranchlands span from the top of Haleakala down toward the shores of Kihei. Kaonoulu Ranch, now roughly ten thousand acres in size, has been in operation since the Hawaiian Monarchy. Henry Rice is a direct descendant from a missionary family.

 

Well, I think it goes back to they came here in about 1840, 1841.

 

What for?

 

On my father’s side, the Rice side, was William Harrison Rice. And he came here as a missionary. My grandmother’s side, which was the Baldwin side, they came here as a doctor. When they first got here, William Harrison was actually to go on down to the South Pacific; the Society Islands. He got ill here, and so, he and his wife stayed here, and consequently, never did get down permanently to the South Pacific.

 

And where were they from?

 

East Coast; New York.

 

And what generation are you on down the line?

 

Fifth, if I count correctly. Yeah. Because it would have been William Harrison Rice, then William Hyde Rice, then my grandfather Pop, then my father, and then myself. So, we’re fifth generation.

 

And the family business was not being a missionary; that ended with that generation?

 

Yeah.

 

How did ranching get into the family blood and property?

 

Well, I would say, really, Pop Rice.

 

Was he already a rancher?

 

No; he grew up on Kauai with his brothers and sisters, and moved to Maui in the sugar business, and also in the fruit growing business in Haiku. And it was there on Maui that he met his bride, Charlotte Baldwin, who was Henry P. Baldwin’s daughter. And they got married there on Maui, and lived on Maui. Our ranch is probably one of the last ahupua‘as on the island, running from the top of Haleākala Crater down to the beach. Going back further, it was under King Kamehameha IV. It was this huge tract of land from mountain to ocean was given to, or deeded to a Hawaiian. And then, that was about in mid-1800s.

 

Do you know what Hawaiian family?

 

It’s Kaoahokoloi. And then, the ranch itself, which is the Kaonoulu Ahupuaa, eventually ended up in farming with a Chinese person by the name of Young Hee. And Young Hee in turn, in the early 1900s, about 1902, sold it to Colonel William Cornwell, who at that time was a sugar grower on Waikapui. Then my grandfather, Pop Rice, purchased it from Colonel William Cornwell’s daughter, who was married to John Walker. And he purchased it in 1916 from them.

 

How much did it cost?

 

It’s always been a wonder. Everybody has wondered about that.

 

headed the ranch and the lands before you did?

 

He was a very large person, with a very large voice. Very heavily involved in politics, but ranching was his life and his love. But he was never afraid to try something new, and he was always experimenting with a farming operation, a large piggery.

 

Was he fair?

 

Very fair, and very well appreciated by our neighbors. I always admired; in different walks of life, people would come up and tell me of things that he did. But he was a very modest man, and he was very much below the radar in that aspect. Very above the radar in politics.

 

What kind of politics?

 

State Senate. He was a longtime Republican, but then, I think it was back in the late 30s, he switched to Democrat. He rode his own trail.

 

So, that’s a large legacy. You know, that’s your grandfather. What was your father like? Did he also live large?

 

He was very much under the radar; very much under the radar. And he did not like politics, per se. His integrity and character was something that I always admired. You know, at one time, he was head of the Maui Police Commission. At one time, he was head of the Maui Water Department, which was at that time autonomous to the county government. He was a very influential person in my life.

 

So, he didn’t run for office, but he was appointed to office.

 

Yes; right.

 

He was also in public roles, but in an appointed fashion.

 

That’s correct; yeah. But he was a wonderful person.

 

When you say his integrity always impressed you, do you remember as a little kid feeling like, Wow, my father is really a straight, fair guy?

 

Absolutely.

 

Do you remember anything?

 

Oh, there are just numerous incidents. And that’s the beauty of growing up on the ranch, was the ability to work side-by-side with your father every summer as a small child, growing up to when I went away to college. Then after college, we were weaned.

 

So, you rode alongside him, and worked alongside him in the office?

 

There was no office.

 

No office?

 

It was always horseback.

 

The office was out on a horse back.

 

The office was down in Wailuku, and we didn’t go there.

 

What did the paniolos you worked with teach you about life? Lots of Hawaiian families have grown up on your ranch.

 

Yeah; yeah. What’d they teach me about life?

 

Yep.

 

I think the first thing that comes to my mind is the importance of the ‘aina, the land. And that in Hawaii, it is very important to have good stewardship of your lands, that lands in Hawaii should never been taken for granted, and that you’re responsible for good stewardship. That, followed with a lot of good fun.

 

In addition to laborious duties on the family ranch, Henry Rice did make time for fun, and took advantage of the open country on Maui.

 

I grew up in our family home in Makawao, which is a home above Makawao. The ranch had a few hundred acres in Makawao there, so it was where the horses were all kept. And in our yard, I had two horses, Nellie and Kamehameha, that I rode all the time. It was mostly outdoors you made your own fun.

 

So, you raced; did you play polo?

 

I played a lot of polo. A hard, but a very fun sport. I was very, very lucky in that my years in polo, I got to play for the Maui Polo Team. Probably the last Maui polo team to play outdoor polo at Kapi‘olani Park.

 

Yeah; so you came before the days of people staying inside with their digital devices and watching Netflix on their Smart TVs.

 

Right.

 

Always outdoors; nighttime too, campfires?

 

I think our best camping trips were during the summers, where we would get on our horses with my mother and father, and family, and packhorses and ride a whole day around the Island of Maui to an area called Waipai, and spend about five days over there, hunting goats and fishing. That was a lot of fun. And then, ride all the way back.

 

As a teenager, Henry Rice traded in his daily life of horseback riding in open spaces for city life on Oahu.

 

Afterwards, then came down to Honolulu to go to school here.

 

Did you board?

 

At Punahou. Yes; we boarded. And then, on to Fort Collins, Colorado at Colorado State University.

 

Why did you go to Colorado State?

 

Well, number one, I had a very good scholarship to go there. Secondly, I knew some people from Hawai‘i that were already going to Colorado. And I knew they had a good ag school, and I was gonna major in animal husbandry. And so, the combination, ‘cause I had never been off to the mainland before, knowing that some people that were already going there was a big influence. There was a Hawaiian gal, and her name escapes me right now, that was going to Colorado State University. She came from the Big Island. And she was a friend of Sandy’s. She’s the one that said to me; she said, You ought to meet this lady, Sandy Goodfellow.

 

Did you know when you saw her, she would be your wife?

 

Very shortly after I met her, I knew. She was a very beautiful person, Sandy was, and still is.

 

It sounds like you intended to take over the family ranch after college.

 

No; no, no.

 

Even though you were majoring in animal husbandry? Which you already knew a lot about.

 

I think very early on, growing up on the ranch, and especially as we got into college and came back during the summers, it became very important in my father’s eyes, and I really thank him for this, that we get weaned and go out and find out own way, and gain some experience at other ranches. So, when you graduate, find a job.

 

M-hm.

 

But get it on another ranch.

 

But it was gonna be ranching?

 

It was gonna be ranching. And I started out at Moloka‘i Ranch. By then, I had gotten married to Sandy, the wife I have today. So, we moved in 1960 to Moloka‘i, where I was employed by Moloka‘i Ranch. And we were five years on Moloka‘i. They were wonderful years. God, this wonderful place. It still is a wonderful place. And I had always been interested in what made certain businesses successful, and what made the same type of business unsuccessful. When I made the change to go to Bank of Hawai‘i, a lot of that played a role in why would I leave ranching to go into banking. Primarily, at that time, Moloka‘i Ranch was negotiating with Louisiana Land Company to develop the west end of Moloka‘i. And so, the chairman of the board of the ranch was also the chairman of the board of Bank of Hawai‘i, and he thought it would be very good for me to go down and learn a little bit of land development and land financing, and get my feet wet there. So he, together with another person, Wilson Cannon, talked me into going down to the bank. So, Sandy and I picked up our two children who were born on Moloka‘i, and came down to Honolulu.

 

What did you start off as at the bank?

 

In the vault, counting currency, I think it was. Then I got moved up in the training session to a teller. But I could never balance.

 

So, they got me out of there fast.

 

So, you started kind of at the bottom?

 

At the bottom. It was fun. It was hard work in that I had to really grind myself into a lot of areas that I’d not touched before. Especially accounting and business financing, and credit. So, I did a lot of night schools.

 

You had connections, two generations, yourself and your daughter, with the family of Barack Obama.

 

My daughter uh, graduated with President Obama. They were in the same class together. My connection was, I worked for his grandmother, Madelyn Dunham, in part of going through the various parts of the Bank of Hawai‘i. In fact, I think I still have a couple of scars on my back from her.

 

She was known as a very strong woman.

 

She was an immense banker.

 

How did she leave those scars on your back?

 

Just because a of my stupidity of not doing things right.

 

But she was a marvelous person; marvelous person.

 

And then, you rose to become an executive in Honolulu.

 

I first became in charge of the corporate banking division, then did that for about five or six years. And then, moved over and became head of all retail banking units, domestically and internationally. And it was a lot of fun. What made it a lot of fun was, I was with good people all the time.

 

While ranching was profitable for Henry Rice’s grandfather in the early 20th century, by the 1950s, when Henry’s father Harold “Oskie” Rice and uncle Garfield King bought the ranch, it was a break even business. As time marched on, and as Henry Rice and the third generation came of age, the family was faced with tough decisions. They sold their coastal lands in Kihei to survive in the family business.

 

It was about ’81, ’82, early 80s, that we formed the family partnership. Then unfortunately, my father passed away in ’83, I think it was. And unexpectedly, my uncle passed away uh, in ’87. So, my cousin Charley King came on as a general partner, and my Aunt Mary came in as a general partner, and I was the managing general partner. But I was still at the bank, still enjoying my banking days there. But, I kid everyone. Finally, my Aunt Mary said that I’d been playing around long enough, and I had to come home and work.

 

I came home. The Pi‘ilani Highway down in South Kihei was being built, and it was gonna be cutting off a portion of our makai ranchlands. We got ourselves together, and said, You know, those lands are gonna become valuable. It was at that time that we made the decision, Okay, let’s entitle the lands below the Pi‘ilani Highway.

 

You sold the coastal lands.

 

Coastal lands; all the coastal lands. But we put it into other properties, which in turn then produce income. So that you would not wake up one day and say, Where’d all our assets go? We have three warehouses in Austin, three in Ontario, California, and a few others. Since then, the younger generation has brought on a commercial fence company that’s doing very well.

 

I presume your banking background, you were a banker for twenty-five years. That must have informed what happened to how you could support this wonderful land, where renting couldn’t do it.

 

Without it, I wouldn’t have been able to bring the ranch to its financial stability that it is now.

 

As the patriarch of the Rice family, Henry continues to honor the traditions of his family’s past, and values the importance of staying connected with his extended ‘ohana.

 

You work and live with lots of family. I think I read somewhere that at Thanksgiving, you have fifty-two people show up; they’re all family. I mean, you’re intermarried a lot in the Maui area, and then, you’re involved in business with family, which seems like a very hard thing to do, especially when it’s generational. How do you make that work? It can’t be all sweetness and light.

 

I tend to leave it to Sandy and Wendy.

 

My wife and my daughter. I try to stay out of the loop as much as possible. But, you know, we live in the ranch house, the old ranch house where my grandfather lived. And you know, in fact, this year it’s a hundred years old.

 

Congratulations. I hope you have new plumbing, though.

 

We do; we do. And Thanksgiving, even Easter, but not as big. But Christmas Day, families from all over come to the ranch. It’s an important aspect for me and Sandy that they enjoy that this is their land, this is their ‘aina, and the responsibility they have, but to be able to come together and enjoy a day together. Thanksgiving dinner; yes, gets up to forty-five, fifty sit-down dinner. We have to do a little rearranging in the living room, but they get it done.

 

You know, I’ve run into people who talk about having spent years on the ranch, and they always say the Rices take good care of their people. Meaning, their employees. How do you?

 

It’s a matter of how you’re brought up. You know, as the saying goes, you ride for the brand. Like in any business, whether you’re in very nice brick and mortar, it’s still the people that make the business a success or not. Our ranch foreman always said, Henry, you tighten your own girth, your own saddle girth, you’re responsible. But don’t forget, the guy next to you is gonna make you good or not good. And so, you just naturally take care, and they take care of you.

 

Over the last few years, Henry Rice has slowly handed over the reins of Kaonoulu Ranch to the fourth generation. Although he says he’s retired, he hasn’t quite ridden off into the sunset, and he serves as senior advisor to the ranch.

 

Even our own ranch, the transitioning of bringing in three general partners that are of the next generation, one being my daughter Wendy, and a new general manager Ken Miranda, who’s married to my niece, their ability to flow with new ideas, and take really careful calculated risks—not stupid risk, but calculated risk, is a lot better than in my time, where we tended to be more structured. I would say that’s biggest thing I’ve seen.

 

You don’t have trouble letting go of things; right? Your banking career. I mean, you seem like you’re ….

 

Always looking ahead. Never dwell on what you did in the past. I think it’s very important to look ahead all the time. For years, we had a foreman on our ranch, Ernest Morton, who was probably another one of my great mentors. He never looked backwards; he always looked at what was ahead. Never say whoa in a tight spot.

 

You can’t take the cowboy out of Henry Rice. Here he is, back in the saddle, helping with the cattle drive in July 2016. In April 2017, Henry was inducted into the Pani‘olo Hall of Fame in Waimea, Hawai‘i, taking his place among revered Hawaiian cowboys of past and present. Mahalo to Henry Rice of Kula, Maui for sharing your story with us. And thank you for joining us. For PBS Hawai‘i and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha, a hui hou.

 

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

 

You know, you’re very self-deprecating. You know, you say you leave the family stuff to Wendy and your daughter, and you know, the younger generation is smarter than you are. Were you always this modest, or at some point, was there—

 

I’m not very modest.

 

You’re pretty modest.

 

No.

 

I don’t think I’ve heard you really take credit for anything.

 

They do it better.

 

Was there ever a different kind of Henry Rice?

 

I don’t think so. I’m just who I am; myself. Maybe it’s the local style. You’re just never really that way.

 

[END]

 


KĀKOU – Hawai‘i’s Town Hall:
Have You Fact-Checked Your Truth?

 

With ever-increasing divisions in our country, PBS Hawai‘i introduces a new series of live town hall events called KĀKOU – Hawai‘i’s Town Hall. In this first live discussion, we ask: “Have You Fact-Checked Your Truth?” We take on the meaning of “truth” and how we view truth in an era of “fake news,” “trolling” and filter bubbles on social media. Is there one truth – or is truth in the eye of the beholder?

 

You can email us with your thoughts in advance at kakou@pbshawaii.org, or post on Twitter using the #pbskakou hashtag. The town-hall will also be live streamed on pbshawaii.org and on Facebook Live, where you can also join the conversation.

 

 




LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Benny Rietveld

 

Benny Rietveld’s first experience playing music was at the age of six, in the piano department at Gem’s in Kapalama. “I liked the idea that you could press something, and it creates this…cool sound,” Rietveld remembers. He was mentored by band director Henry Miyamura at McKinley High School, and played in local jazz and rock bands before moving to San Francisco and touring with Sheila E. and Miles Davis. Today, Benny Rietveld plays bass for Carlos Santana, and still sits in with the Hawai‘i musicians he grew up with.

 

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

 

Benny Rietveld Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

Do you think music is more than just fun?

 

Totally; yeah. Music is powerful, music is magic. It allows us to do so many things invisibly. You can put it in the background, you can have it in the foreground, you can stop, start. You know, it’s always there, and it helps you celebrate things, it helps you mourn. It drives people to battle, you get married and you can create babies with it. It transports you, it reminds you of things in your life, just hearing something. Like, oh, my god, you know.

 

M-hm.

 

It’s an incredibly powerful force, and it can actually change people’s lives, you know. And that’s why I think musicians have a really big responsibility to just keep on point, keep being mindful, keep getting better, showing up. Because it’s a really powerful thing.

 

Benny Rietveld, who still calls Hawai‘i home, is the bassist and music director for Santana, a band he first heard when he was a young boy growing up in Honolulu. He’s been recording and touring with Santana since the 1990s, and he’s also known locally as a member of Topaz, a jazz fusion band that he and his high school friends had in the 1970s. Benny Rietveld, next, on Long Story Short.

 

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

 

Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Benny Rietveld has recorded three albums with the iconic Latin rock band Santana, including Supernatural which became a worldwide sensation when it was released in 1999. Rietveld was born in Holland to parents of Dutch, French, and Indonesian ancestry. They moved their family to Hawai‘i when Benny was three. He grew up in Honolulu, where he started showing musical talent at a young age.

 

I took piano lessons when I was six.

 

Why did you take piano when you were six? Now, that’s early. How did that happen?

 

Remember Gem Store on—well, I don’t know …

 

Kapalama?

 

Yeah; in Kapalama. Yeah. Well, we used to live in Kalihi, and so we’d go through there, and it was always the piano section, and I was always plinking on the piano, you know. And my mom thought, Oh, he’s musical. You know how kids, you know, they hit a hammer, and it’s like, Oh, he’s gonna be a carpenter when he grows up.

 

But were you plunking better than most kids, do you think?

 

I don’t think so. I just liked it. I liked the idea that you could press something, and it creates this cool sound. I think. That’s how I remember it. And then, so we got like a little piano, upright piano, and she gave me lessons at Palama Settlement. And I think the first teacher was named Mrs. Leong. I think. But I didn’t really like ‘em. And I was like, Oh, really? You know, really like boring music, and River keep on rolling. You know. I just didn’t get it. And then, when was ten, we still had the piano in the, you know, attracting dust. And then, the song Hey Jude came out from the Beatles, and it had that cool piano intro. I was like, wow, that’s cool. I was like, wow. And then, oh, it’s sort of like that instrument that’s in our living room. So, I was like, huh. And it was really easy for me, and it was really fun. So, I thought, well, this is great, I’m gonna keep doing this. You know.

 

Then you learned other songs.

 

And then, I learned the entire Beatles catalog, practically.

 

By yourself, or with a teacher?

 

No, no; by myself. Yeah. You know, then I was hooked. And it was like, this is fun, I don’t want to do anything else. And I was just on my way. And then, I met my cousin, the guitar player in Topaz, or calabash cousin, actually, Fred Schreuders. And he was slightly older than me, but he was already playing music. He was, you know, playing guitar, and his dad also played music. So, I was like, wow, cool. And we met, and we jammed, you know, tried to play songs together.

 

You were on the piano?

 

Yeah; and then, I branched out to drums, and then a little bit of bass. And then we started, you know, playing. Hey, let’s do a band, you know. And so, yeah, we put together a band. So, when I was about twelve, I was playing in these dances at, you know, Star of the Sea.

 

And that was kind of the beginning of that. So, you know, I met the guitar player for Topaz way back then.

 

You were just picking it up as you went.

 

Yeah; yeah. ‘Cause it was easy.

 

And you were playing for high school dances at age twelve, or middle school dances?

 

Yes; yeah. My parents were really worried. ‘Cause there were some situations where sometimes we’d play a party, and and more like a high school kids’ party. And so, there may have been some illicit drugs.

 

And it was nighttime.

 

And it was nighttime.

 

Driving.

 

Yeah. So, my parents, you know, lost a lot of hair.

 

And you gave them reason to.

 

A little bit. But, you know, I wasn’t that wild.

 

And where were you on instruments? ‘Cause right now, you’re a confirmed bassist.

 

Yeah.

 

How did you pick the bass, or did the bass pick you?

 

Well, yeah. This is the joke. Usually, the bass picks you. It’s usually because you don’t know anyone else who plays the bass. So, you’re like, oh, you play the bass. So, what happened to me was, I was playing drums in this little dance band, and our bass player left. So, we didn’t know any other musicians, but we knew one drummer. So, it was like, well, what do we do? You know, so we’ll just get him, and you play bass. So, that’s how it happened. But I kept playing guitar with Joe the Fiddler, because, you know, it worked better for chords and stuff, and I kept up on piano playing. You know, I just like always was interested in all of that stuff. But you know, I started getting kinda good on the bass, which is easy to do.  Yeah; so that was that. It just happens like that, you know.

 

What schools did you go to?

 

I lived in town mostly, and I went to McKinley High School.

 

You had a band director who is legendary.

 

Yes, legendary; Henry Miyamura. He’s like one of the big musical mentors of my life, and of Noel’s life, and of Allen Won’s life, too, the other guys from Topaz. He was … amazing. He was like that Mr. Holland guy. I mean, just deeply, deeply committed to the real essence of music performance, which goes beyond, you know, the notes and stuff, but the actual conveyance of the emotion or of the story, or of the tragedy or comedy, or whatever. And to get a bunch of high school kids, half of them who weren’t really gonna go into music anyway, or most of them, and get them to sound as good as he got those bands to sound was really a remarkable feat.

 

How do you think he did it?

 

I think he really loved music, and he loved people. He knew how important it was, you know, even if we didn’t. You know, we were kids then. He knew.

 

While Benny Rietveld was busy playing music through high school, his parents were thinking about his future. They didn’t consider music to be a suitable career path. But Benny was already doing what he loved, and it wasn’t long before his talents took him from the local venues in Hawai‘i to a larger stage.

 

Did you decide consciously, I’m going to be a musician as a livelihood?

 

I don’t think so. The only time it was a conscious thought was like as, you know, graduation from high school was imminent. Then my parents were like, So, you know, what are you gonna do? You’re gonna go to trade school? You should go to trade school, because you know, you learn a trade and make a lot of money. I guess they didn’t see me as the scholarly type, which I wasn’t.  And I said, Oh, I’m just gonna play music. I just assumed I was.

 

Were you already getting paid to play?

 

Yeah, yeah. Yeah. Just like, well, I don’t know. You know, I just thought I was gonna be a musician. And they went, What? No, you can’t. And they were very upset for a little while, only because, you know, they just saw their child being an intravenous drug user and being in the gutter, and you know, whatever. So yeah, I totally get why they freaked out. But then after a while, they thought, Well, he seems to be doing okay, and he’s playing, you know.

 

And you went to college right after that, here.

 

Not right after, but yeah, I did.

 

Oh; so you graduated from high school.

 

Graduated from high school. I was living on my own. I think for about a year, I was living on my own, then I got a scholarship for UH, through Mr. Miyamoto, who suggested I do that. So, he championed me as far as getting a scholarship.

 

And didn’t graduate.

 

No.

 

Because?

 

‘Cause I was also playing music, and then I got a road touring gig with The Crusaders. It was very short. But with all my other gigs in Hawai‘i, and then going off to the mainland for a little bit, just like I lost the whole momentum.

 

How did you make the transition from having lived almost all of your life in Hawai‘i, to the mainland, to the continent?

 

With scarves and heavy sweaters. Basically, that’s how I made the transition. I went to San Francisco first.

 

And that was, I’m going to go try my luck in the San Francisco Bay Area?

 

Well, because I had a friend there already. And he said, You gotta come here, there’s a lot of good music there. And there was, at the time. Lots of great musicians there.

 

You played with some biggies, fairly early on.

 

No. I mean, I don’t know. Pete Escovedo, you know, I learned a lot from him. Ray Obiedo, you know, he used to play with Herbie Hancock and really good songwriter. And a lot of really great local San Francisco Bay Area musicians.

 

When was the first time you played with someone that you went, Whoa, I’m with so-and-so, I’m intimidated?

 

Well, sort of like Sheila E, because her producer was Prince. So, he’d be around, and I’m like, Whoa, you know, ooh. You know. That was my sort of introduction to the high end pop world.

 

And you went on tour with Sheila E, didn’t you?

 

Yes, yes; for about two years.

 

How did you get along with Prince?

 

He was like kind of a mysterious background guy. So, he didn’t talk much to us, but he seemed okay, you know. But he kinda kept more to Sheila and, you know, just sort of like that.

 

Now, did that tour lead to anything?

 

Then I was playing around the Bay Area for a while, and then, I guess Miles Davis was looking for a bass player, and he kinda wanted that sort of Prince-influenced sound. Then we rehearsed, and I met Miles, and it was crazy. And I think I was too much in shock to be actually intimidated, tell you the truth. It was only until I think a year later, I was on the stage, and I was like, Holy crap, that’s Miles Davis. You know, and then I had that moment. But I think, you know, your body blesses you with the gift of shock, so you’re just, you know, immune.

 

And how was it? You know, you have to feel each other in music, you have to work together. How did that go?

 

It went fabulously. You know, he would, you know, give direction while we’re playing, and sometimes before the shows we’d talk about let’s do this part a little faster, or let’s do this kinda rhythm and, you know. And we would keep trying, and so really, back then it was like a laboratory, you know. Because we would do the same song, and it would just evolve. It was like a petri dish. I mean, the songs would evolve so that if you hear the same song two years apart, they’re almost radically different. You know, the tempo is like way slower or faster, and this part is really loud, you know. It was really, really interesting, and it just demanded that you focus a hundred percent on him and the music all the time. You know. That was the big deal.

 

You had to be really mindful.

 

Yeah; like mindful to an incredible degree, because if you weren’t, then then he’d know, you know, and then those eyes would, you know, turn. You know, zzzz, laser, laser. So yeah, you really had to have presence of mind.

 

So, you had a real sense of what he wanted, who he wanted—

 

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

 

–how he wanted.

 

Yeah, yeah. And yet, there was that … still, the challenge was to inject yourself in that, within that framework, you know.

 

And he expected you to.

 

Yeah; yeah, yeah, yeah. And so, that was really intimidating, ‘cause I felt like I wasn’t really mature enough as a musician to inject a lot of myself. I don’t know, maybe I did. I don’t know.  That was another coming of age thing, because I had to, I think, almost completely relearn music. You know, really music and bass playing, and the ethos of what it means to be a bass player and what it means to be a musician.

 

Why?

 

Well, because I hadn’t learned all these really basic fundamental things well enough, you know.

 

So, you were good enough to get in the band.

 

Yeah.

 

And once you were there, you had to up your game.

 

Yeah; yeah, yeah. It was like raw talent is one thing, but to really like hone it is another thing.

 

After two and a half years playing with Miles Davis, Benny Rietveld moved on. Two months later, he met Carlos Santana.

 

Coincidentally, I did a recording session with Carlos Santana.

 

You sound so casual when you say that.

 

Well, no. I mean, because it just happened, you know. It was somebody else’s session, and we met. And that was another intimidating moment, ‘cause it was Carlos Santana, and I grew up looking at that album cover, you know, and all that stuff, listening to all those albums over and over again. And he said, Yeah, you know, I might need another bass player, and you know. Luckily, we lived both in the Bay Area, so I called him and I said, Yeah, I would love to play. Are you kidding? You know. So that’s how that happened.

 

Aren’t you the musical director as well now?

 

Yes. I don’t know, I’m not really the musical director so much as like traffic cop. You know, ‘cause I consider Carlos actually is the musical director, ‘cause he’s very hands-on and he has an uncanny ability to know what he wants. It’s more about during the show itself, when he calls an audible, which he does every time, then I just help direct traffic. Okay, we’re going here now, instead of, you know, how we rehearsed it.

 

How much of the year do you go on tours?

 

With Santana, it’s roughly four to five months out of the year. But it’s broken up. You do get burnt out, you know, no matter what you do. And it’s always gotta be really, really high level, energy, fun. And the minute it’s a little bit below that, then we’re not doing it.

 

Do you ever get sick of being asked to play a song you love, but you’ve heard it and you’ve sung it … Black Magic Woman, so many times before?

 

No; love it. It’s great. I don’t care about all the other times I’ve played it. It’s like, oh, wow, this is the first time I’m playing it. You know. That’s special, and we have to convey that to people every time. That’s the hard part. That’s the higher level stuff. Not playing the music; the notes are like whatever, you know. That’s like hammering a nail; okay? But it’s how to get into that thing, and it sounds so, fluffy and goofy, you know. But that is, to me, the higher level of music.

 

Did working with Santana when you started require a different sensibility than working with Miles Davis? Did you have to shift in any way?

 

Only superficially, actually, with the style of music, the genre, you know. Because it’s more rock-oriented, Latin, which we hardly ever did in Miles’ thing. But in essence, it was actually very similar, because they both demanded passion and fire, and presence of mind, like all the time. And not being afraid, you know. I think that’s another thing. You cannot have any fear.

 

Is there a way to describe how they work musically, and how you work with them musically?

 

With both of those guys, it was about trying to … articulate the in-articulable.  That’s the weird part about music, is that like underneath the hood, underneath all the technique and theory, and all the numbers, which are all useful, underneath it all, I like to say the last thing that music is about is music. You know.  It’s really about feeling and life. And it sounds so, you know … fluffy. You know, like, Oh, it’s feelings. You know. But all the major guys hardly ever talk about nuts and bolts of music, you know. The jazz guys, a little bit more, because it’s more their realm, you know. But all those guys share the predilection for using aphorisms to describe music. It should sound like, you know, red wine streaming through. You know, something like that. And sometimes, it just sounds so bonkers, you know, to the uninitiated. But then, you realize it’s just a personal lexicon and a cosmology. And actually, now that I’ve known Carlos for a while, it makes complete sense, you know. Now when he says something, you know, like really poetic, I’m actually kinda knowing what it means in dry, boring music terms. Sometimes Miles would say—an actual musical thing would be like, Give that part a little lift. Instead of, you know, doong, doong, doong, doong; maybe like doong, ka-doong, ka-doong, ka-doong, doong, ka-doong. You know, all these little things between. I think everyone knows that deep down inside, it’s really silly to talk about music, because it’s the most abstract of all art forms, you know. But we try, anyway. We have to, sometimes. You know, we’re trying to convey what we want, you know.

 

Although Benny Rietveld lives in L.A. when he isn’t touring with Santana, he likes to come to the place he calls home: Hawai‘i. In 2014, he and some of his former bandmates from Topaz reunited for a show.

 

What brings you back to perform with your old high school buddies?

 

Love of music, and love of them. You know. We’ve kept in contact all this time.

 

And tell me what the names are. Who’s your gang?

 

The gang is Noel Okimoto on drums, Allen Won on the saxophones, Fred Schreuders on guitar, and Carl Wakeland on keyboards.

 

That’s a pretty amazing group from McKinley High School, isn’t it?

 

Yeah. Well, me and Allen, and Noel are from McKinley. Carl is from Mililani. Fred ended up graduating from Kaiser High School. We got kind of popular because we were this bunch of high school kids that could play this kind of difficult and technical music known at the time as fusion. And we loved jazz and all that. So, there weren’t many eighteen-year-olds playing that at the time in Hawai‘i. So you know, we got a kind of rep, and we were the little darlings there for a while, and we even played at La Mancha for two weeks. We disbanded ‘cause we all had stuff, and we were doing our lives. And Noel stayed here, so he’d play. And his late dad, unfortunately, George Okimoto, would go to his gigs all the time. And George actually managed us back then, because he was the manager of Easy Music Center, you know, by McCully. And so he was like, You know, you kids really got something. And he got us equipment to use, you know, cool new gear. So he was like our manager, and really championed us. Cut to couple of years ago. We’re at Gordon Biersch, I’m visiting, and I see Noel, and like you know, listening to him, Byron Yasui and all these great local guys. And there was Noel’s dad, George Okimoto, and he goes, Eh, hurry up, you know, get a reunion. And it was like, actually very bittersweet because he actually made a joke. He was like, Eh, hurry up, before I die.  And what I got from that was like, he wasn’t really joking around. He was like, you know, everyone is about to move on here, and you guys should do something, ‘cause it was really special. So, we did a show last year. It was really, really fun. So, this year again, earlier in the year, we recorded a CD. But you know, we all have these other crazy lives, and we’re not gonna like, Yeah, let’s have a band and tour together. That’s not gonna happen.

 

Did you ever conceive, did you ever think in your young life, that you would be in your fifties, and it’s a tour, it’s concerts and crowds, and music, and vans?

 

I had no idea. Who really knows what their thing is, you know.

 

And how long do you see that going on?

 

Playing music, being involved in music for me will go on until either I die, or I find suddenly that I don’t like it. You know. I don’t really see the latter happening.

 

Benny Rietveld has not stopped having fun playing music since figuring out how to play Hey Jude on the piano at age ten. Along with his raw talent, his dedication to his craft, his ability to work with people, his fearlessness and his determination took him to a world stage. Mahalo to Benny Rietveld, a proud graduate of McKinley High School in Honolulu, and longtime bassist for Santana. And thank you, for joining us. For PBS Hawai‘i and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha, hui hou.

 

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

 

[END]

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Billie Gabriel

 

Billie Gabriel’s life was forever changed when her brother James “Kimo” Gabriel Jr. was killed in the Vietnam War. She was only 11 when he died, and the tragedy left its mark. She has dedicated much of her adult life helping to preserve the legacies of the more than 270 Hawai‘i servicemen who lost their lives in the Vietnam War.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Thursday, Sept. 21, at 11:00 pm and Sunday, Sept. 24, at 4:00 pm.

 

Billie Gabriel Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

Everyone gathered around the television to watch the special about Vietnam. And then, they showed … the chopper landing. You could hear bullets flying, so the Vietcong were there. And them jumping out … tying rope on the legs of two American soldiers, and dragging them … to the helicopter. I didn’t know that was my brother, until the announcer said: We have recovered the bodies of. And at that point, my mother … it was a wail; it was a cry that you … never want to hear.

 

Her brother, James Gabriel, Jr., was the first Native Hawaiian soldier killed in action during the Vietnam War. Five decades later, she continues to honor his sacrifice. Billie Gabriel, next, on Long Story Short.

 

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

 

Aloha mai kākou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Billie Gabriel of Honolulu lost her older brother, James Kimo Gabriel, Jr., to the Vietnam War in 1962. Not only was her brother the first Native Hawaiian soldier to be killed in action, but also one of the first U.S. Special Forces soldiers to make the ultimate sacrifice in Vietnam. Four years later, Sergeant Barry Sadler released the song, The Ballad of the Green Berets. The original lyrics were written to pay tribute to James Gabriel, Jr. In 2010, Billie Gabriel used her public relations contacts and experience to spearhead the Hawai‘i Call for Photos project. She tracked down photographs of two hundred seventy-six Hawai‘i soldiers who lost their lives during the Vietnam War. The plan is to display photos from across the nation in an education center to be built in Washington, DC. Billie Gabriel read the letters from her late brother, hoping to gain an understanding of his views on Vietnam. What she found brought her closer to the big brother who died when she was just eleven years old.

 

Yes. My mother is pure Hawaiian, and my father is half Hawaiian and half Filipino. So, yes, there’s a lot of kanaka in us. There is; there is. And there were nine of us. And my father was … quite the disciplinarian, very old school. It was his way, or his way.

 

Was he affectionate?

 

He was not. My father was not; he was very stern, hard worker, a perfectionist, and he expected the same out of his children. My father was a voracious reader. He would make me read the dictionary with him. That’s what I had to do; read the dictionary. And every week, I had to randomly choose a word, and I was told that I needed to use that word in conversation with him for the entire week. And my mother, on the other hand; she was a very humble, giving, loving, local girl from Waialua. When she was going to the eighth grade, my tutu pulled her out of school and told her: From now on, your classroom will be our lo‘i, the ocean, and my kitchen.

 

Wow …

 

So, she never went past eighth grade. That became her schooling, and she may not have, like my father, been a voracious reader, or loved words, but her family and her home; that was her life. So, she was the balance in in our home. She filled that part that gave us the softness.

 

Nine kids; that must have been a hard household to support.

 

It was.   And you know, and I grew up in Palama. Proud to say that I’m a product of Mayor Wright Housing. And when I tell people that, either it raises an eyebrow, or they laugh because they can’t imagine; You grew up in the projects? You know. And I thought, Well, back in the 50s, Mayor Wright Housing was not what it—you know, back then, families, they manicured their lawns, they watched the other kids. If you did something wrong, you know, Auntie would come pull your ear and take you home, and then you would get double spankings, you know, for doing something wrong.

 

And your father was working?

 

He was working. My father was with the Royal Hawaiian Band, and he managed all of their engagements, and their travel, and everything. My mother was a homemaker, stay-at-home mom. And she was there for the family. We always, you know, came home; there was always something on the stove. We never knew that we were low-income.

 

Because you felt like you had enough?

 

We had enough, and we were happy.

 

I think you’ve said that your mother … she never yelled, and she never complained. And I find that so hard to believe, having been a mother myself.

 

Me, as well. She never raised her voice. She never did.

 

With nine kids?

 

With nine kids. She didn’t. Because my father ruled with an iron fist.

 

Now, I think you were seven among the nine children.

 

I was the seventh; yes.

 

And what was your brother, Kimo?

 

He was the first. So, there’s a thirteen-year difference between Kimo and myself. So, really, the only thing I remember is … he was the brother who taught me how to spit-shine my shoes. So, whenever I, you know, do that, I think about him. But, you know, he was always in his ROTC uniform. Just looked immaculate. I remember him being happy-go-lucky, always having his ukulele, and singing a lot, joking. Always hugging my mother. Always; Hi, sweetheart. You know, just very loving.

 

But loved the JROTC program at Farrington High School.

 

Yes; yes. And I believe that that’s where, for him, a seed was planted about serving your country, was in the ROTC.

 

Did he talk about joining the military after high school?

 

He talked to my parents about that, you know, and they both said: If that’s what you want, you know, we’ll support you.

 

In 1956, James Kimo Gabriel, Jr. enlisted in the U.S. Army right after graduating from Farrington High in Kalihi. He excelled in the Army, and qualified for the elite U.S. Special Forces, also known as the Green Berets. In 1961, Kimo was sent to Vietnam as an advisor to train the local civilians who were recruited to serve in the South Vietnamese Army. That meant teaching those villagers to fight North Vietnam’s experienced regular army, as well as the elusive Vietcong Guerillas in the south.

 

He would write to my mother every two weeks. Because I still have her letters, and when I look at the date, every two weeks, he would write to her.

 

What did he write?

 

Well, when he was in basic training, he’d write about, you know, how the boys, the Hawaiian boys, they were just joking, playing jokes on each other, and how they missed the Hawaiian food.

 

To have succeeded in Special Forces, he must have been quite the person. I mean, that’s something most soldiers don’t want to do.

 

Yes.

 

Or aren’t able to do.

 

Aren’t able. He was very focused. So, from my father, I believe, he got those traits. Being focused, setting you mind on doing something almost to perfection. And he really did want to, my mother said, become a Special Forces soldier.

 

Your brother entered the Army before the war began. Had his feelings about the war, about his service changed over that time, I wonder?

 

Once he got to Vietnam?

 

M-hm.

 

I could see the transition in his letters. The earlier letters would talk about, We’re here training, I can’t tell you what I’m doing, but I know we’re preparing for something big. But even he didn’t quite know. So, he would talk about things that they were doing. He’d also talk about the jungle, the conditions in the jungle, or the weather, how bad it was there, and that there were these giant ants, and … leeches. And local boys, we don’t know what leeches are; we see slugs on the ground, but you don’t see leeches. And so, he would say, these leeches would attach themselves on you, and they would expand.

 

With blood.

 

Yes, as they suck out your blood. And you can’t hit them off, because you’re in the jungle, and you don’t want the Vietcong to hear you, to see you, any kind of movement. And the last few letters were really about not just the conditions, but … I remember one in particular where he told my mother; he said: When I’m in a quiet place, I ask myself, What am I doing in this hell hole? These people don’t want us here. Sometimes, I wish could trade places and be home; and he says, But then again, I realize I need to be here. Better me than my brothers or others; I’m here to fight for all of you.

 

Close to the time he died, he sent something. He enclosed something in a letter to your mother.

 

M-hm. He enclosed the Green Beret Creed. So, I read the creed. And it’s almost like he knew, or he was preparing himself. He knew that, I may not get out of this.

 

And in the creed, I believe it says, you know, Even if I’m the last, I’ll keep fighting ‘til the end.

 

Yes; yes.

 

That’s my profession, and I’m a consummate professional.

 

Yes; exactly.

 

It probably took you a while to find out what did happen to him in Vietnam.

 

M-hm; m-hm.

 

Are you able to tell that story?

 

Times had a magazine article that was written in 1962, and the title of it is, We Are Overrun. And in that, they chronicle what had happened. But what I read then, and what I just learned about a month ago; two different stories.

 

Okay; tell us the difference.

 

Well, the first story that I’ve been led to believe for … forty years has been that there were four Special Forces that were advisors. And they were among the first Special Forces sent there. And the advisors go there to train the villagers how to fight.

 

M-hm.

 

And so, he was in a platoon of four. And what I read was that their camp was overrun, and that my brother and Sergeant Marchand were the only two who were injured, and that the other two Special Forces soldiers were forced to carry them into the jungle, so that the U.S. troops weren’t gonna come back there and find Vietcong. I was led to believe that they carried them into the jungle, and … they were too heavy, they were slowing them down, so they were told to just leave my brother and Marchand there, and the Vietcong executed them. Tied both their hands behind their backs with their tee-shirts, and shot them in the back of the head. That’s what I have led to believe all these years. And just recently learned that two of the four Special Forces, they were down at the river. So, they had left the camp, went down to the river.

 

This was before the fighting began?

 

Before the fighting began.

 

Okay.

 

They went down to the river to bathe. So, that left Marchand and my brother there, and they heard the sound of these bells, like bamboo bells. So, they sent up flares to see if they could see who was out there in the jungle. They were just ambushed at that time, while the other two were still down the river. So, that left two men fighting about fifty Vietcong guerillas who were coming in. But the signal came from someone in the camp, that these four Special Forces were training. So, what I’ve learned is, they plant villagers in the camp to serve as spies, and they relayed to the Vietcong: Here’s where we are positioned here, we’re gonna be moving here, now’s the time to attack. I had never known that there were only two in that camp when they were killed. Now, I understand why my brother’s last words were: We have run out of ammunition, we’re being overrun. So, they said that he was changing clips. He had already been shot twice; changing clips, shooting, on the phone calling for backup.

 

What do you remember about the day you heard?

 

You know, it is almost like yesterday, when I think about it, and I share the story with people. I was eleven, and this was in 1962. My mother and I, we were in the garage doing chores. She was hanging clothes, and I was, you know, outside doing my chores. And this black bird, this Alala flew into our garage, and just fluttered up in the garage, on the ceiling. And I looked at it, my mother looked at it, and it looked like she was in distress. And my mother told me: ‘A‘ole ho‘opa ‘e manu. Don’t touch the bird. So, I ran in the house, and came out with a bowl of water. When I came out, my mother was sitting on the ground with the bird in her lap. And she was stroking the bird, and the bird died in her lap. And she looked at me and she said: Tomorrow, we will have visitors. I had no idea how connected she was to our ‘aumakua, ho‘ailona. Even I was not exposed to that, at that age yet.

 

So, she knew at that point.

 

She knew, at that point. She felt that this was my brother coming to her to say goodbye. So, the next day, I was at school, and my brother and I were pulled out of class, and told we needed to go home. So, when we got home, parked in front of our home was an unfamiliar car. So, I thought: They must be the visitors my mom talked about.

 

Because she didn’t explain further at that time.

 

Did not.

 

Okay.

 

Did not. So, from there, the ‘Alalā was the ho‘ailona to prepare her.

 

And what does hoailona mean?

 

Ho‘ailona is a sign; it’s a sign. Hawaiian culture, we believe that our ‘aumakua, our spirits, come in different forms, our ancestors. It could be a good sign, it could just be an omen of something to come. So, I knew that she felt that the ‘Alalā was her visitor carrying a message. But I didn’t expect that they came to tell her that he had been killed. I thought maybe to say that he was coming home, or something. And when I walked in, and my mother was just … crying.

 

Did your dad cry?

 

You know, that really is one of the only times I did see my father cry.

 

James Kimo Gabriel, Jr. was awarded a Bronze Star for Valor, and a Purple Heart. At the time of his death, Kimo’s wife, who was living in Okinawa, was expecting their first child. Later, the Gabriel family would welcome her to Hawai‘i, along with James Gabriel, III, the son Kimo never saw. In 1963, Kimo’s remains were recovered from Vietnam, and he was buried at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl.

 

And his wife, who is Japanese …

 

Japan national?

 

Japan national. Well, he met her in Okinawa. And so, when he passed, she was six months pregnant.

 

Mm …

 

So, she came here. And to prepare for her coming here, my father taught himself to speak Japanese; to prepare for her. Because he wanted to make sure that she was gonna be comfortable coming here.

 

Your father did that?

 

Yes. Fast forward thirty-two years later to 1994, and the memorial that’s down at the State Capitol, Korean-Vietnam Memorial. There was a dedication ceremony, and I was asked to be on the planning committee to represent the families. For the dedication itself, they asked: Would your mother come and lay the wreath to represent all the families? And I said: Absolutely, I’m sure she would. So, I brought my mother. And General Cockett was standing on my left, General Richardson on my right; both Hawaiian generals, very proud that she was standing there with the wreath. So, the Taps played. Then, they did the flyover, the Missing Man formation. So, the three jets, and one flies off.

 

M-hm.

 

So, we were watching that. And as that jet flew off, a black bird flew in its place. And my mother looked at me, but this time with a smile, and she said: Kimo’s here, your brother is here.

 

Billie Gabriel says the hoailona of the black bird also appeared at the dedication ceremony to honor her brother at the Gabriel Memorial Field at Fort Campbell, Kentucky in 2010. Also in 2010, Billie Gabriel would become part of the photo project that would make her feel closer to her late brother.

 

Call for Photos is part of a national project that was being launched in Washington, DC. And the gentleman who founded the Vietnam Wall, Jan Scruggs, felt that he wanted to put a face to every name; fifty-eight thousand plus names engraved on the wall. He wanted to put a face and a picture because they were building an education center in Washington. And this education center would be for future generations to learn about the various wars that the United States has been involved. One room would be dedicated to Vietnam, and it would be called The Wall of Faces.

 

How many faces would there be?

 

Fifty-eight thousand, plus. So, Jan’s vision was to put the face and a story to every name.

 

Billie Gabriel spent much of her professional career as a fundraiser who coordinated and publicized events such as the Kapi‘olani Children’s Miracle Network Telethon and the Easter Seals Taste of Honolulu fundraiser. In 2010, she answered the call to spearhead what she considers the most important project of her life: tracking down the photos of two hundred seventy-six Hawaii soldiers who never came home from the Vietnam War. Completing the Hawaii Call for Photos project would take several years.

 

I decided, okay, here’s where the PR skills come in, here’s my networking with friends. So, I contacted the various stations, and Honolulu Star Advertiser. And I went to see the president then, Dennis Francis. And he’s one of those who was accustomed to me knocking on the door for money, and he says: Okay, Gabriel, what do you need this time? And I said: Something very simple. And I put the list on his desk. And he says: Well, what is this? I said: Here’s a list of two hundred and seventy-six men who were killed in Vietnam, they were all from Hawaii, I need to find their pictures. He said: Okay, so what is it that you want me to do? I said: I’d like you to publish their names in paper and state that I am searching for their photos, and if you have a photo to contact me. And I’d like a full-page ad. So, he said: This is about your brother. And I said: You know it’s not just about my brother; he’s one of the two hundred and seventy-six. It’s about all the families and all of these young men, and it’s a project that we need to make sure that we put a face to every name that’s engraved on the wall in Washington.

 

So, you ended up speaking with many of these family members.

 

I did; I did.

 

I can’t imagine the emotion involved in those calls.

 

Heart-wrenching. Yes; yes. One man called me, and just berated me for five minutes on the phone. How dare you, how dare you publish these names of all our men who died in Vietnam, in a stupid war. And then, he said: My nephew was nineteen when he enlisted. So, I thought: Okay, this is a family member, I can understand now why he’s so emotional. And he says: That boy, poho his life; he’s going over there to fight for people he doesn’t even know. Why? So, I told him: Uncle, I know how you feel, because my brother also died in the war, he was the first Hawaiian boy. And his voice changed, and he says: Oh, you local girl? And I said: Yes, I’m from here. And he says: Oh, I saw the article in the paper, I thought I was calling somebody in Washington, DC. I said: Oh, no, no; this project is for here, and I’m trying to find all the pictures so that we can honor them. So, he did send; subsequently, he did send a picture in. But that’s when I understood that this project was bigger than just finding the pictures. I became an ‘umeke, a bowl for many of these families to pour their emotions into. We cried together, we laughed together, you know, and we talked about our respective loved ones. But collectively, we knew that we had to stand by the fact that no matter which side of the fence you stood about the war, how you felt about it, we were here to see that our loved one would be honored for their courage, for the sacrifice they made, and that they would never be forgotten. That was our bond; our bond.

 

And you could come together over that.

 

We could come together on that; yes. They soon became family to me. Some of them called and said: I just want to meet you, just to hug you, to say thank you. But it just allowed so many people to have a voice, and to finally say what they’ve been wanting to say for fifty years.

 

Through the efforts of Billie Gabriel and many others who lost loved ones to the Vietnam War, Hawaii became the eighth state to locate all of the photos for its section of the Call for Photos project. Billie says she’ll continue to honor the memory of her brother, James Kimo Gabriel, Jr., and all the soldiers who are casualties of the Vietnam War. She’s working on new memorial projects with Hawaii high schools. Mahalo to Billie Gabriel of Honolulu for sharing your story with us. And thank you, for joining us. For PBS Hawai‘i and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha, a hui hou.

 

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

 

I was invited to go to Washington, DC for Memorial Day to represent the State in laying the wreath. My mother told me: Whenever you’re on sacred ground, to remove your shoes. Then, President Obama, I had a chance to meet. And he says: I know who you are. He says: As soon as I saw you standing there with bare feet, I knew you were a local girl. And he just started laughing.

 

INSIGHTS ON PBS HAWAI‘I
Vietnam – Nobody’s Right If Everybody’s Wrong

 

Leading up to the September 17th premiere of THE VIETNAM WAR, the 10-part documentary by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, INSIGHTS ON PBS HAWAI‘I examines what Hawai‘i was like during the Vietnam era. A Buffalo Springfield tune from the 60s declared, “Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong.” After decades of trying to forget, are we ready to talk about Vietnam?

 

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

 

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

 

Email:
insights@pbshawaii.org

 

Facebook:
Visit the PBS Hawai‘i Facebook page.

 

Twitter:
Join our live discussion using #pbsinsights

 

AMERICAN EXPERIENCE
Walt Disney, Part 2

 

Walt Disney was uniquely adept at art as well as commerce, a master filmmaker who harnessed the power of technology and storytelling. This two-part film examines Disney’s complex life and enduring legacy, featuring rare archival footage from the Disney vaults, scenes from some of his greatest films, and interviews with biographers, animators and artists who worked on early films, including Snow White, and the designers who helped turn his dream of Disneyland into reality.

 

INSIGHTS ON PBS HAWAI‘I
Can We Double Local Food Production by 2020?

 

Hawai‘i continues to be heavily reliant on imports to feed its 1.4 million residents and 8 million visitors. About $3 billion a year is spent to ship in approximately 90 percent of our food, with 6 million pounds of food arriving daily by cargo ships and planes. If these ships and planes stopped arriving, Hawai‘i’s food supply would last only 3-10 days. This is why Governor David Ige has set a goal that we double local food production by 2020. What will it take to reach this goal – and can it be done?

 

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

 

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

 

Email:
insights@pbshawaii.org

 

Facebook:
Visit the PBS Hawai‘i Facebook page.

 

Twitter:
Join our live discussion using #pbsinsights

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Art Souza

 

As a teacher, Art Souza encouraged his students to approach learning from an experiential and exploratory angle. Now as a Hawai‘i Island complex area superintendent, he supports the 19 schools in his district from an administrative position, guided by his educational philosophy and an unyielding positivity.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, Aug. 30, at 11:00 pm and Sunday, Sept. 3, at 4:00 pm.

 

Art Souza Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

Students have access to information, and learning, and knowledge that they’ve never had before. They’re more independent in their learning, and these are all good things. Technology has been a tremendous gift to young people, because it sparks creativity in thinking and learning. I think the challenge is … for the adults to catch up with the kids, and to have an understanding that kids can create their own learning because they have that technology available to them. And so, it’s kind of a reverse catch-up, if you wish. School hasn’t ever been that way before.

 

Art Souza’s ideas may sound new, but a lot of his philosophy is based on how he learned best; through experiences. West Hawaiʻi Island public education official Art Souza, next, on Long Story Short.

 

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

 

Aloha mai kākou. I’m Leslie Wilcox Arthur Francis Souza, Jr. has gained a reputation as a visionary administrator of public schools. He oversees nineteen public schools and special education services at five charter schools over a large expanse of the Big Island. He started teaching on Hawaiʻi Island in 1989 at Honokaʻa High and Intermediate School. Originally from Honolulu, he was inspired in his teenage years to go into teaching.

 

I was a little local kid growing up. You know, grew up in Liliha and spent my time going between Liliha and Puʻunui, and Palama, and hanging out in Chinatown at the old Chinese herbology shops, and exploring the rivers, Nuʻuanu Stream, playing baseball. Just the way kids grew up in the 50s.

 

So, kids would travel all that territory alone?

 

Oh, yeah, yeah. Well, you went anywhere with a friend or a pack, a herd. And you know, you went up and down the street and just got yourself into any number of adventures.

 

Did you get into adventures that got you into trouble?

 

You know, nothing that ever got us into real serious trouble. I think we were smart enough to know what the limits were. But risk-taking; that was part of the adventure, right? So, we took every opportunity to do that.

 

What’s your ethnic background?

 

I’m Portuguese, Japanese.

 

And your mom was, too; right?

 

My mom was Portuguese, Japanese; yes.

 

So, at this time, that’s probably not that unusual. But for somebody your age, and for your mother, that was unusual. I mean, we have so many mixing of races, but those two races weren’t the most common races to mix.

 

Yeah; I think that’s probably true. Maybe that’s where a little bit of the risk-taking and the adventure comes from. I think my grandparents and my mom were that way. And I think that’s vestiges of the plantation camps. You know, I think the people had to rely on one another, and that sense of community was strong. So, that integration and that opportunity to engage with each other was greater, perhaps, than sometimes it is now. Yeah.

 

Was that an accepted intermarriage in your family?

 

Oh, yeah. Yeah, yeah; it worked wonderfully well for my parents. I think my parents’ philosophy was real experiential. You know, they let us explore. At least, I had that opportunity. Maybe it was a little bit more tight-strung for my sisters. But I really had freedom to just kind of get involved in adventure, and to learn experientially.

 

What did your parents do for a living?

 

My dad was a sheet metal worker, Shop 39.

 

At Pearl Harbor?

 

Out at Pearl Harbor. And my mom was a registered nurse at Pearl Harbor as well, and before that, at St. Francis Hospital.

 

And you lived pretty much on the site of the current State Education Building?

 

Yeah, yeah; that’s right. From the time I was a little boy. I was born, and then until I was about six or seven years old, I guess—six years old, maybe, we lived in Perry’s Court, which was just … an interesting little enclave carved out of the middle of Honolulu, right where the Queen Liliʻuokalani Building is now. And there were about six or seven homes for rent in there, and that’s where we lived for the first five or six years of my life.

 

Did you ever report to work in that building on the land where you used to live?

 

You know, interesting enough, I probably do. Because I end up in the Liliʻuokalani Building often enough for meetings and Board of Education hearings, and those kinds of things. So, hadn’t thought about it that way, but yeah, you’re right. Yeah.

 

Did you have a sense that you would go into education?

 

Yeah; very early on. I think my inspiration was, as a sophomore in high school, I had an amazing social studies teacher who let us, you know, talk about things, and express ideas and thoughts, and share what we were pretty radical notions in 1962. And I just thought that was … to allow people to think and speak that way would be a really important thing to do. So, that’s what encouraged me, and I became a teacher, I think, as a result of that.

 

What was the teacher’s name?

 

Terrence Healy; he was a teacher that I had at St. Louis High School.

 

Did you ever have a chance to thank him later?

 

I did. One of the really neat things that happened. There was a reunion at one point; I don’t know if it was our fifteenth year reunion or something. But there was a football game out at the stadium, and he came to the game. And we had a reception before the game, and I had a chance to say that to him. So, he passed on shortly after that, so I was happy to have been able to do that.

 

So, you believe it was one teacher that sort of made you pivot?

 

Without question. You know, I had a lot of teachers, but there was something special about this guy, and he just let me to do what I want to do.

 

That’s when you started thinking, I might want to be an educator myself.

 

Yeah; yeah. Yeah; so that led me to the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. And I was fortunate to go to school probably in the most socially dynamic time in the history of our country. I started college at Mānoa in the Fall of 1966, and lived through so much of what was America at the time: the Civil Rights Movement, Vietnam, the Women’s Movement. And so, boy, what an opportunity. I probably spent as much time at marches and peace gatherings as I did in classrooms. But I learned. I learned.

 

And you continued your education after UH Mānoa, where you majored in …

 

I was a history and English major; a dual major. Yeah; my education was interrupted quite a bit by travel. You know, I spent a lot of time independently traveling, and you know, it was a time when, you know, as a young man, you’re looking to make meaning for yourself as well. So, I spent a couple of years traveling around South America, and you know.

 

Did you do that alone?

 

Yeah. I traveled in South America, and then later, my current wife Vicky and I traveled for another couple of years space in time, and spent time in Africa and the subcontinent. So, I’ve spent a lot of time just on the road, and … you learn an awful lot about the human condition that way.

 

What kind of travel? Is this backpack travel?

 

Yeah; yeah. Just backpack, and you know.

 

No plans?

 

Vague ideas of where you want to go. But when I was traveling in 1971 and 72 in South America it was very inexpensive. You know, for a dollar a day, I was a rich man. Riding buses and hitchhiking and doing that kind of thing. But to be immersed in the indigenous cultures and to see the things that were there to see and experience was amazing.

 

Did you travel continuously?

 

You know, pretty much so. I mean, there were brief stops to do a little bit of work here and there, but it was pretty much continuous travel. And you know, starting in Mexico, and going through Latin America, and then all the way down into South America, and you know, I got all the way down into Tierra Del Fuego, and got out to the Galapagos Islands. And did a lot of things that a lot of people don’t have a chance to ever do.

 

That’s amazing. So, you just kind of broke out of college and said, This is what I’m gonna do right now?

 

Yeah; I needed to do that. You know, college was stale. I was learning, I was experiencing. But I really wasn’t getting what I needed. So, this was something I wanted to do. You know, I tease people now that say that that was my retirement, that’s why I’m working so long now.

 

But it was the most important learning that I ever have experienced. It was worth twelve PhDs to have been able to do that kind of thing, and to just absorb people, and absorb cultures, and understand how people think, how people learn. It was really amazing.

 

After spending several years traveling the world, Art Souza came home. He went back to school, eventually earning two Master of Arts degrees in community leadership and in educational administration. In the meantime, he started teaching on Oʻahu, and later made a permanent move to the Big Island.

 

What made you move to the Big Island?

 

Thirty years ago, Oʻahu was crazy enough for me and my family. So, my wife and I just had our first child, and it was a chance to get to the Big Island and get to some place quieter.

 

Did you move directly to Waimea?

 

Yeah.

 

That’s where you live now.

 

Yeah. We did.

 

And why’d you choose Waimea? Did you have family?

 

You know, my wife and had been on vacation going up to the Big Island a number of times, and we just kinda fell in love with the area. And it all worked out nice, because the school I wanted to work at was at Honokaʻa High School. I wanted to teach at Honokaʻa High School. So, we ended up living in Waimea. I taught English at Honokaʻa, and eventually became a vice principal there. Went off and did principaling at Waikoloa Elementary School, and came back to be principal of Honokaʻa High School. So, it all worked out.

 

I think a teacher and a principal are not necessarily—I mean, that’s not necessarily an incremental step.

 

No.

 

Those are two different jobs. Really; aren’t they?

 

Yeah; they’re very different jobs. And you know, in all of my years of education, as an educator, there’s nothing that will replicate that time I had in the classroom. That’s the best work; working with the kids that way.

 

So, why did you go into administration?

 

You know, it’s one of those things. You do it for the right reasons. First of all, I was asked. And I said, If I’m gonna be asked and you have that kind of faith in me, Mr. Kainoa, I’ll step in and help out where I can. But over time, you come to understand that your span of help, your span of influence that you can over kids and communities becomes greater as an administrator. So, one thing led to the next.

 

So, the systems part of it attracted you? Being in charge of not just a classroom and individual lives, but a systems approach.

 

I guess you could call it a systems approach. Not a systems in in terms of the structural bureaucracy, but the systems approach in terms of, Wow, can do more for more kids.

 

Reach.

 

I can reach. And what if we did this with this community? You know. So, it was that kind of thinking. Yeah.

 

The community leadership masters came in handy?

 

Yeah; it did. It did. I think it just sparked a way of thinking about how we might be able to do education a little differently. Yeah.

 

So, from teacher to vice principal, to principal.

 

M-hm.

 

And, then what?

 

And then, to the complex area superintendent position. I was principal at Honokaʻa High School in 2005 at the time when Pat Hamamoto, who was superintendent then, asked if I could step in. There was a vacancy; the previous superintendent had left. And again, it was as much as anything, a call to duty. I was asked to do it. And you know, I hadn’t really thought about being a superintendent, but when asked to serve, and you think you can serve that purpose, you do it.

 

You know, for those who aren’t familiar with the structure of the DOE, people may not realize what a critical and strategic job the complex area superintendent is.

 

Yeah.

 

Would you explain that, what exactly it is that you do? And there are others statewide as well. Others in the state, as well.

 

Yeah. It’s an interesting structure. It’s one that was created by by Pat as a way to try to decentralize the Central Office and personalize supports in a very unique way for each unique community. So, a state superintendent sits at the top with a deputy and five assistant superintendents at the state level. And below that are fifteen of us; my colleagues. And we are scattered about in different areas of the State. So, my particular area is on the Big Island in West Hawaiʻi. My colleagues are Brad Bennett in Hilo-Waiākea, and Keone Farias in Keaau-Kau-Pāhoa. I have nineteen schools in my area; they’re all Title 1 schools, which means that they meet the poverty guidelines. So, we have access to federal dollars through that means. I also am responsible for special education services in five charter schools.

 

That is a huge responsibility. And you know, when you say West Hawaiʻi, I know that’s the title. Honokaʻa is really northeast; right?

 

Yeah.

 

So, you kinda go right around the top of the island, and down on the other side to Kohala.

 

Yeah; it’s an interesting geographic area. I go as far as east as Hilo to Paʻauilo, which is the school that’s furthest east. And then, I’m responsible for all of the schools in Waimea, Honokaʻa up to North Kohala, and then down through the Kealakehe complex in Waikoloa in the central part of the island.

 

That is a huge and diverse area.

 

Yeah; and then down to Kona. Yeah.

 

Down to Kona, too.

 

Yeah; down as far as Hoʻokena, near Miloliʻi, is where my area kind of stops.

 

That is monstrous.

 

It’s a large area.

 

That’s like an island in itself.

 

Yeah; I spend a lot of time on the road.

 

DOE Complex Area Superintendent for West Hawaiʻi Island, Art Souza, strongly believes that community building will help to build academic success in these rural areas.

 

The opportunity is the challenge, and the challenge is the opportunity. It’s how you reconcile all that. And it’s about how you lead, how you choose to lead, and how you build those partnerships and relationships with all those entities. And you get better at it over time. And I think I’ve gotten better at it over time.

 

How long have you been complex area superintendent?

 

This is my twelfth year. No one teaches you how to be a superintendent. You don’t go to superintendent school. So, I remember the turnover from the previous superintendent to me was about a thirty-minute meeting where I said, What is this job, what do you want me to do? He says, just read those books. And that was it. It was exploratory learning and experiential learning.

 

And that’s exactly what you love to do.

 

That’s exactly how I learn best. So, that wasn’t a challenge for me. I mean, yeah, you have to learn the rules and regulations, and yes, I did have to read those books. But finding my way, and creating the learning and creating the leadership as I learned it was really a remarkable opportunity.

 

Now, everyone talks about collaborative leadership.

 

Yeah.

 

And I believe you’re a collaborative leader. Were you always? Was that your nature?

 

I think so. Yeah; I think so. And I think that’s the only way we can learn and lead. You know, can I tell a story real quick?

 

Sure.

 

So … because it just strikes me as kind of a metaphor for education. But Gloria Steinem tells a story about a time when she was in graduate school, and she was out on a field trip with her class. And she watched as this turtle perched itself on the side of the road, a very, very busy thoroughfare. So, she raced over, picked the turtle up, and took the turtle back down the hill from whence it came, and dropped it back at the pond, and feeling good about herself because she salvaged a dangerous situation. Her professor came up to her and said: You realize what you just did; it took that turtle six weeks to get up the mountainside to come to a place where she could lay her eggs safely, away from the predators and allow her children to scamper down to the pond to safety. And so, Gloria Steinem asked him in return: Well, what should I have done differently? He said, Next time, ask the turtle. And I think it’s a great metaphor for education; it speaks to why we try to do education by infusing policy, whether it’s at the federal or state level, or we infuse millions of dollars in technology or fancy curriculum, but we don’t ask the turtle, we don’t ask the kids, we don’t ask the communities, we don’t ask the people who are most impacted by our work. So, I think if we kinda flip the notion of how we do education, and make it more of a community business, I think we’d get further with our outcomes.

 

And yet, there’s less and less of a sense of community, even in rural areas, because people are working or they’re isolated. How do we get that community fabric?

 

You know, I think it’s incumbent upon us as educators in schools to create that opportunity for community. You know, school traditionally has been a standalone process where kids come at eight o’clock in the morning, and they’re dropped, and at three o’clock they go home, and we’ve done our job. But we haven’t made ourselves very welcoming to community, and we have to recognize that there’s huge wealth and resource. The teachers are in the community, so how do we create the community as the classroom. So, I think it’s that reciprocal trust that has to be built. And we’re getting there; that’s kind of the process of what we’re trying to do in West Hawaiʻi now.

 

So, how does that actually help the students?

 

What happens is that we’re creating opportunities for site-based and place-based learning opportunities, mentorships, internship opportunities for kids. It’s a funding source that can hopefully help to develop opportunities for more money for our dual college and dual credit programs. And I think it just creates an opportunity to have more voices tell us what education should look like. Because you know, I believe that our authority and our accountability, and our authenticity as school leaders really comes not from us doing it, but from us being able to say, Are we acting that way on your behalf. And so, that’s kind of why I believe that through this partnership, and through this community building we’ll make some gains.

 

So, you feel empowered and free in your position to do what you think best? I mean, ‘cause you know, you just hear of so many people who feel like they’re just in straightjackets of bureaucracy.

 

You know, there are elements that are straightjacket-like. I mean, it’s the bureaucracy. But I think within that, there’s plenty of room for flexibility, there’s plenty of room for autonomy. But you have to be willing to take risks, and you have to be able to know that it’s not always gonna be easy to fund. There are those challenges. But you have to start somewhere; right?

 

What’s it gonna take? That’s a very complex—speaking of complex. You talked about that several times. That’s a tough thing, to change somebody’s way of thinking based on their experience and their concerns.

 

You know, one of my favorite metaphors, if I could share with you, is one I read in a Paul Theroux book some years back, where you know, we have so many entities that are involved in education; right? We have the department, we have the collective bargaining units, the legislature, the governor’s office; you name it. But traditionally in education, when we bring all these entities together, it’s much like two bald men arguing over a comb. You know, because—

 

Who said that; Paul Theroux?

 

Paul Theroux, it’s a great visual because when you think about it, ideally and philosophically, you’re there for the right reason. We’re here for kids, we’re gonna do the right thing for kids. But you so quickly default to: But I gotta take care of my kuleana first, and I’m gonna do what I need to do for my entity. We have to switch that thinking. And so, yeah, that’s the hard work of transformation, is it’s changing traditional ways of thinking, and getting agreement that, Can we get a common agenda around hopes and dreams for kids?

 

 

You’re not a digital native.

 

No.

 

No such thing as cell phones in your time, or nobody was using the web or smart TVs.

 

M-hm.

 

So, you’re teaching children who are all digital natives.

 

Yeah.

 

And obviously, infrastructure has been added, and policies have been made. But also, you know, there’s an argument that children are even hardwired differently now.

 

Yeah.

 

What have you seen?

 

I think students have access to information, and learning, and knowledge that they’ve never had before. I think they’re more independent in their learning, and these are all good things. I think that technology has been a tremendous gift to young people, because it sparks creativity in thinking and learning. I think the challenge is for the adults to catch up with the kids, and to have an understanding that kids can create their own learning because they have that technology available to them. And so, it’s kind of a reverse catch-up, if you wish. School hasn’t ever been that way before.

 

 

Where teachers sometimes have to get out of the way, or they have to be able to lead and follow.

 

That’s right; that’s right. And so, the role of the teacher is different, because you’re not just the dispenser of information and knowledge, but you’re a facilitator of learning. And that’s a different way of looking at it. The young people today are just absolutely brilliant. I’m amazed by, when I go and see what these guys are learning, what they’re capable of doing, when you see their senior projects and you see what they’ve accomplished at graduation. Sometimes, we just have to get out of the way and let ‘em learn.

 

And yet, you say all the schools in your district are Title 1?

 

Yeah. Yeah. So, we have those challenges, and you know, the social and emotional needs of our communities are such that, yeah, we have issues with drugs, and we have issues with teen wellness and teen suicide, and we have issues with teenage pregnancy and all. And the role of school has changed dramatically, and all the more reason why we have to understand we can’t do all of those things, and educate. But our job is to make kids well, to create leaders who will sustain their communities. You do that by having the community involved. So, if you have a successful student, I believe that has to be mirrored by a successful community. They’re one and the same, and we should have the same measures in defining what a successful student and a successful community look like.

 

You know, as you named some of the challenges, I thought, you know, you have to have a certain mindset to do the job you have. Because many people, when there’s a problem, when there’s a fear or a problem that takes precedence because that’s a danger. You have all of those things on your horizon, you know, as possible problems or threats, or immediate.

But you have to see the bright skies around the darkness, or you couldn’t do your job.

 

 

You know, I like to think of myself as irrationally optimistic. And I think you have to be. And I think if you ask any of my colleagues in any of the fourteen other complex areas, they have the same challenges I have. You know, some might be larger than others, but we have to remain positive in our belief that, you know, if we do it right, those goals, and aspirations, and hopes that kids have will be realized. They will be realized.

 

Although, on the other side of the fence, if you do it right today, it doesn’t mean it’ll work tomorrow.

 

Yeah.

 

So, you’re always having to change, as necessary.

 

Yeah; that’s a good point. You know, the work of the educator is probably the most dynamic one there is, and you always have to be aware of that. And that’s the biggest challenge in education when I’m asked. It’s not about lack of funding or resources; I think we have enough to work with. The challenge is changing mindsets. You know, I’ve been an educator for forty years, and we’ve been talking about transformation, but we haven’t really come much of a way toward real true transformation. So, it’s a constant effort to do that.

 

 

Following his philosophy of asking the turtle what it wants, State DOE Complex Area Superintendent for West Hawaiʻi Island, Art Souza, allowed his sons to find their own way in school. His older son Nathan graduated from private Hawaiʻi Preparatory Academy in Waimea, and gravitated to the arts. He now lives in Portland, Oregon. Ethan graduated from public school at Honokaʻa High, and works in environmental conservation on the Big Island. Mahalo to Art Souza for your passion and vision for quality public education in rural areas. And thank you for joining us. For PBS Hawaiʻi and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha, a hui hou.

 

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

 

Do you ever want to just get your backpack and hele out?

 

Oh, you know it; you know it. I don’t have too much longer for my formal working with the Department. I’m kind of ready to start that transition, I hope it includes some backpacking. Absolutely.

 

Where would you go now? You’ve been to South America and Africa.

 

Yeah, yeah. No, there’s a lot of places that I haven’t been. I’ve always had this fascination with the Trans-Siberian Railroad, and getting up into some of the more remote areas of what was previously the Soviet Union. I’d love to get to China; I’ve never been to China. Those would be two destinations.

 

[END]

 

 

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