executive

What’s it Going to Take?
An executive forum on making life better in Hawaiʻi

What's it Going to Take? - An executive forum on making life better in Hawaiʻi

What's it Going to Take statistics: • Almost half of Hawaiʻi residents are barely making ends meet. • 6 out of 10 jobs pay less than a living wage. • 3 out of 4 people earning low wages still need housing. Source: Hawaiʻi Community Foundation

 

LIVE Thursday, October 24, 8:00-10:00 pm

 

Something different is happening.

 

Top senior Hawaiʻi executives are joining forces to help solve longstanding
community issues that are holding Hawaiʻi back.

Scheduled to appear:

 

• Duane Kurisu, aio Founder, Hawaiʻi Executive Conference Chairman
• Catherine Ngo, President and CEO, Central Pacific Bank
• Bob Harrison, Chairman and CEO, First Hawaiian Bank
• Rich Wacker, President and CEO, American Savings Bank
• Micah Kāne, CEO and President, Hawaiʻi Community Foundation
• Colbert Matsumoto, Chairman, Tradewind Capital Group
• Jack Wong, CEO, Kamehameha Schools
• Elliot Mills, Vice President and General Manager, Aulani, Disney Resort and Spa
• Robert Nobriga, President, Island Holdings
• Kamanaʻo Crabbe, Former CEO, Office of Hawaiian Affairs
• Ann Botticelli, Senior Vice President Communications and Public Affairs, Hawaiian Airlines

 

These executives are using detailed data* commissioned by the
Hawaiʻi Community Foundation and combining their problem-solving
experiences and influence to engage other sectors in a collaborative
resolve to make life in Hawaiʻi better.

 

Click the link to learn more about the Change Framework: https://www.hawaiicommunityfoundation.org/join-the-movement

 

Join host Leslie Wilcox for an unprecedented public conversation with top Hawaiʻi executives who are armed with detailed information and influence to marshal answers to deep-seated community problems.

 

 


 

Scheduled to appear at this live event:

 

Duane Kurisu
aio Founder
Hawai‘i Executive Conference
  Chairman

Catherine Ngo
President and CEO
Central Pacific Bank

Bob Harrison
Chairman and CEO
First Hawaiian Bank


Rich Wacker
President and CEO
American Savings Bank

Micah Kāne
CEO and President
Hawai‘i Community Foundation

Colbert Matsumoto
Chairman
Tradewind Capital Group

Jack Wong
CEO
Kamehameha Schools

Elliott Mills
Vice President and
  General Manager
Aulani, Disney Resort and Spa

Robert Nobriga
President
Island Holdings

Kamana‘o Crabbe
Former CEO,
  Office of Hawaiian Affairs

Ann Botticelli
Senior Vice President
  Communications and Public Affairs
Hawaiian Airlines

 


 

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Mahealani Wendt

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX: Mahealani Wendt

 

Growing up in the crowded, rundown tenements of downtown Honolulu, Mahealani Wendt witnessed the poverty of the Native Hawaiian people around her. That ignited a passion to help, and she spent more than three decades fighting for Hawaiian rights, with a long run as the Executive Director of the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation in Honolulu. Today she lives in Hāna, Maui, and is a poet and author.

 

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

 

Program

 

More from Mahealani Wendt:

 

“Righteous Cause”

 

Hawaiian Homeland

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, March 24, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

Mahealani Wendt Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

When I went to Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation, I’m not sure that the most effective thing I could do there was as an attorney.  I worked as a volunteer, I worked as a grants writer.  I knew nothing about writing grants.  You know, a lot of times, you’re fueled just by passion, and you have so much … I don’t know how else to put it.  You know, you just feel so, so intensely about something, and it drives you, and you do everything you have to do to make it happen.  And that’s how I became a grants writer.

 

Her success as a volunteer grant writer led to a thirty-two-year career fighting for Native Hawaiian rights.  Mahealani Wendt of Maui, next, on Long Story Short.

 

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

 

Aloha mai kākou.  I’m Leslie Wilcox.  Mahealani Wendt is the retired executive director of the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation, a community activist, accomplished writer, and poet.  She’s the eldest of seven children, grew up on Kaua‘i and O‘ahu, and now lives on farmland on Maui in Wailua Nui along Hāna Highway.  She knew from the time she was nine years old, living in the rundown tenements of Downtown Honolulu, that she wanted to help others.  She was deeply affected by the poverty of Native Hawaiian people she saw around her, and despite being poor herself, she says she was raised in a loving, nurturing environment, and never went hungry.  In childhood, she developed a love of writing and reading.

 

My father is Spanish; he’s second generation.  My grandparents emigrated from Spain in 1906.  They were plantation workers, the first sugar plantation in Hawai‘i, Kōloa Sugar. And so, they settled on Kaua‘i. And eventually, he met my mother, who’s from Hilo; she’s Hawaiian.  And we grew up on Kaua‘i there.  It was very beautiful, very country.  We had horses, cows, pigs, chickens, raised every kind of, you know, fruit tree, we had a garden. We were cray fishing, climbing trees; all this stuff we did, it was beautiful.  My parents separated.  You know, we were pretty innocent; we never understood what happened.  We just knew that one day, my mother decided that we were going to move, and she brought us to Honolulu.  It was a really different lifestyle.  You know, it was kind of an idyllic life, country life, and we moved to the heart of Honolulu, to the tenements.  And I still remember our address; it was 1278 Fort Street.

 

Fort Street.

 

Yeah; Fort Street, and there were twenty-seven steps going up to the second floor where we lived.

 

This was an old, beat-up building.

 

Yeah; it was the heart of the slums, the tenements in Honolulu.  This was in the 50s, mid-50s, and these tenement buildings, the closest thing that would kind of resemble it would be the buildings in Chinatown.  Those are far more well-maintained than the ones we lived in.  The buildings we lived, I’m now understanding, they were at least fifty years old.  They were wooden, they were termite-eaten.  They were firetraps, basically, you know, not fit for people to live in, but we lived there.  My mother, when she left, you know, didn’t have really the means to support all of us, and so … that’s where we lived.  Some slept on the bed, some slept on the floor.  We had, I think, three showers, cold water.

 

On that floor?

 

In the building.

 

In the whole building?

 

Everybody shared.

 

And how many people were in the building?

 

There were fifty-two rooms. There were three areas where we could do our cooking.  There were kerosene stoves.

 

Was it dangerous?  I mean, I know from a fire standpoint, it was dangerous.  What about from a human standpoint in a rough part of town.

 

It was a rough part of town. From my standpoint, I never saw any danger, I never experienced any danger.  It was a new world; I thought it was really kind of cool and exciting. New kids to play with, new people to meet, new aunties and uncles.  All Hawaiians in that building.  You know, in the same way they do now, the aunties take care.  So, we felt very protected and free, and I never felt any danger.  If you were entering from the sidewalk, you know, there were these narrow steps that went to the second floor.  And the pool hall was downstairs, next to a Chinese restaurant, next to a grocery store, next to, you know, all these different kinds of—

 

So, it felt like a neighborhood to you.

 

It did; totally.

 

No creepy people hanging around.

 

I never remembered any creepy people.

 

You know.  And I mean, when I think back on it, I think: Wow, it would be like, you would think there would be creepy people, but in my child’s eyes, I never saw creepy people.  To me, they were really nice; nice people.

 

And you felt adults were looking out for you, too.

 

Yes, we did; we felt very protected.

 

I wonder how your mom felt with seven kids to take care of.

 

We owned our own home on Kaua‘i. My grandparents homesteaded twenty-five acres there, and you know, the lands are still there.  So, you know, what caused her to feel so compelled to move, we never understood.  I never even understood it as an adult.  But there we were.  It must have been very stressful; we were really poor.  I sold newspapers.  I thought that was really cool, ‘cause I could have spending money, you know, and stuff. I was selling newspapers.  My corner was Fort and Kukui, and I sold the Honolulu Advertiser.  I sold forty papers, made a dollar.  And then, that was my lunch money.  I made most of my money from tips, ‘cause I was so young.  You know, I was like, nine years old, standing on the corner with newspapers.  Oh, poor thing, you know.  So, they’d give me a dollar.  Wow, that’s a lot of money.  That’s what I would make for the whole, you know, selling forty papers.  So … I thought it was great.

 

M-hm.

Again, the perspective.  You know, as a child, I was innocent.  I saw all of it as a great excitement.  It was just a different thing, you know.  I mean, one thing, for example, when we lived in Kauai, the store was really far.  You know. When we moved to Honolulu, the store was downstairs.

 

It was amazing.  I was just like, enthralled, you know.  When I lived on Kaua‘i, we’d go to the movies once, you know, every six months or something.  When we went to Honolulu, we lived next to the theater.  You know.  So, that’s how I saw it from a child’s sort of sense of wonder.  It wasn’t until I was, you know, older, maybe intermediate school, I sort of kinda understood that we were really poor.  And then, as I got older, I realized that, you know, the auntie that, you know, was so sick, and da-da-da, this is why.  And then, I realized that, you know, so-and-so, that you know, we really thought was really a cool guy, he’s in jail because he did this.  You know, so I had a sense of perspective, but it was afterwards.

 

After the fact.

 

Yes.

 

Did you ever connect with your father again?

 

Yes.  We saw him as we could afford to.  I think he would send money and, you know, we’d go.  But it wasn’t very often.  And he came to visit us once.  You know, he was not a Honolulu man; he was a hunter, a fisherman.  He would come back from the mountains with, you know, these burlap bags full of ‘o‘opu to feed our family.  You know, very subsistence lifestyle.  When he worked, he worked as a heavy equipment operator, kind of a laborer.  I loved my dad.  Both of my parents read to us.  My father would put us on his lap and read.  You know, those experiences.  I came to really love literature and reading from both parents.  My parents were very good parents, in spite of the separation. And my mother was very strict; she taught us very fundamental values, and we were expected to, you know, adhere to them.  And if we did not, the punishment was swift and sure.  All of the kids turned out good.  I went to Royal School.

 

Royal School.

 

Yeah.

 

Okay; elementary.  And then?

 

I went to Royal Elementary, and then I went to Central Intermediate.

 

And then?

 

And then, I went to Kamehameha in my sophomore year.  I liked public school.  Public school was awesome; I learned a lot.  You know, again, the common theme of, you know, this love of literature, that was more than reinforced in the public school.  In fact, at Kalaheo Elementary, where I went to, you know, from first to third grade, my second grade teacher, Mrs. Robello, encouraged me when I wrote a little poem for my mother.  You know how teachers do.  It’s so important.  She took my little poem, she put it on the wall.  You know how teachers, you can encourage by telling everybody, you know. And when her students would make a little picture, she’d put that on the wall.  So, she had ways of encouraging and making you feel: Ho, this is something I can do.

 

How long were you in the tenements?

 

Well, we lived in Honolulu for three years.  There was a terrible fire in the tenement next door.

 

Another wooden building?

 

It was a wooden building; it was right next to ours on the next block, and it burned down.  And four people died in that fire.  One of the ones who passed was a three-year-old who was my brother’s playmate.  And so, it really affected everybody, the family.  It really had an impact on me.  And it was just … I don’t know; I’ll never forget it.  We stood out there and watched this whole thing happen.

 

And watched it burn down.

 

Yes.  We lived there until my mother could find someplace else she could afford.  So, we moved close to Queen’s Hospital; same sort of building, but not as big.  We lived there for another, like, three or four years, and then we moved, and we actually moved to a much nicer place. Things were getting better; you know, Mom could find work, and so, we moved to a much better place.

 

How formative was the experience of living in places like that, those two different buildings and the fire that took your acquaintances and friends?

 

I know that it has everything to do with my community advocacy work, especially on behalf of Hawaiians.  The people who made a difference in our lives when we were growing up were the social workers who reached out to us. They were so kind.  They were so kind to my mother.  And I grew up feeling that I wanted to be a social worker.  I changed my mind when I realized I didn’t have the fortitude.  I saw what they had to deal with.  And I’m a little bit emotional; I have a really hard time focusing, you know, when I see that.  I got older, I guess I gained a perspective.  As a child, I didn’t really understand what that environment was all about.

 

Yeah; you thought they were nice people.

 

I thought everybody was nice.

 

But they were carrying all this pain, I suppose—

 

Yes.

 

–that they saw.

 

M-hm.  And as I got much older, and we learned our history and, you know, the displacement, I started focusing on Hawaiians.  It happened kind of gradually.  I was, you know, someone who was intent on a social work profession, but I also had competing things that I was really interested in.  The literature thing was always an interest.

 

After graduating from Kamehameha Schools, Mahealani Wendt went to work for big corporations, first on the continent, and then back home in Hawai‘i.  She was good at what she did, but her heart was not in the corporate world.

 

Right out of high school, I lived in Texas.  And while I was in Texas, I worked for a very large insurance company, a national insurance company, and I learned a lot about corporate business.  And so, I worked there for five years, I worked my way up.  Then I came home to Hawaiʻi.  I worked for a local corporation called Crown Corporation.  They had a bunch of industrial loan banks, they had securities firm, they had insurance. You know, I mean, some of the companies are still around; a lot of them are no longer.  But you know, they were real estate developers; all of that.  I was into that.  And I was like an admin assistant to vice president.  So, I did that.  And then, I went to college.

 

That was good preparation.

 

Yeah, it was good preparation. But interestingly, I started doing the community activism, you know, the demonstrations and stuff when I was still working for this corporation.  And my boss, who was a vice president, said: Just don’t let me see you arrested, or on TV. You know, something like that.  I said: I’ll be fine.

 

You know, so I always like, had these two like, sort of identities there.  I would be this corporate thing at work, and then, you know, uh, the rest of the time, I’d be … and then, I decided I needed to go to school, because I needed skills to do the thing I wanted, which is [SIGH] effectuate social reform.  Working for business was really a survival thing for me.  I had good skills, I had good typing, accounting; those sort of things. I had skills that I could market very readily in the business environment, so that’s where I went.  But that’s not where my heart was.

 

So, you’re taking political science now at the UH.

 

M-hm.  I’m taking political science, and I have an opportunity to do an internship with Legal Aid Society, along with thirty other interns, students at UH Mānoa, political science majors.  And we’re placed at the Legal Aid Society of Hawai‘i at a time when, you know, we were coming into a growth of social programs, social economic programs in our community.  So, there was this quantum leap in legal services available to the community through Legal Aid.

 

Because there was more funding.

 

There was more funding.

 

More value placed on that.

 

Yes.  I chose to go with the so-called land unit at the time.  And in the course of my internship, I was assigned to work with community organizations in the Hawaiian community. And that sort of was a catalyst for my future work.  I attended law school, I left law school.  I was very active in the community.  I mean, actually coming into this kind of work, the genesis of it was community activism.  So, the early so-called land struggles—Kalama Valley, Kokua Kalama, He‘eia Kea, Waiāhole-Waikāne, Niumalu-Nāwiliwili on Kaua‘i, Mokauea Island—all of those struggles, I was there.  I was there. I was not there as a leader; I was there as someone who felt compelled to be there.  I really related to what the people were suffering, and I felt I had to be there.  It’s a combination of that activism and my experience at the Legal Aid Society leading me to Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation.  You know, it’s kinda like all boiled into the picture.

 

Why did you leave law school after college?

 

Well, I had children.  At that time, I was a single parent.  That was part of it; it was the economics of it. You know, when I went to Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation, I’m not sure that the most effective thing I could do there was as an attorney.  I found my niche was really talking to the staff about community; how community felt, you know, what was important.  Because sometimes the rigor of legal linear thinking separates you from community. And I think you need both.  So, I think it would have been fine to go through law school, but at that point in my life, I felt I would be more useful in bringing that perspective to the firm.  And I think that it worked really well.

 

And you worked your way up to heading the office; you ran the office.

 

Yeah.  So, the first position was an interim attorney who agreed to come over from private practice to sort of get us started.  The second was Melody MacKenzie.  Then after, I think, a year or two, the first gentleman moved on back to private practice after kinda mentoring us.  I became the third staff person.  And Melody MacKinzie was my boss for, I don’t know, maybe six, seven years. And she taught me so much.  I just owe her a great debt of gratitude.  She’s the kindest, the most brilliant mentor a person could have.  I mean, I just love her; I love her to this day.  She was the executive director, but I guess she was kind of, you know, having to do a lot of this admin stuff.  And it just seemed more efficient to have me do the administrative part, you know, deal with personnel hiring, firing, that sort of thing.  ‘Cause I had a background in it.  Melody has those skills, but she’s also brilliant; a brilliant jurist, a brilliant scholar.  You know, I mean, talking story as a staff, and it just seemed like, you know, a more sensible way to go.  And so, I guess in name, you know, I became the head of the organization, and then she could focus on cases and clients, you know, and I could just deal with the other stuff.

 

You did that for a long time.

 

M-hm.  Well, I retired after thirty-two years.  So, yes, I did it a long time.  It was fun.  I loved it.

 

What kinds of cases did your firm handle?

 

Well, our cases were all Native rights cases.  So, you know, they’re kind of characterized as the things that we require in order to be Hawaiian.  Hawaiians were being affected with respect to land tenure, their ability to hold onto their lands, ability to hold onto their natural resources, have access to it, ability to engage in traditional and customary practices that they require to be Hawaiian.  If their access to the ocean is cut off, then they can’t go fish, they cannot gather limu; these kinds of things.  The ability to exercise practices relating to their traditional religion, things that would impede it, ability to access their trusts, the Hawaiian Homelands trusts or the public lands trusts.  All of those things became our areas of focus.  We had genealogists on staff, we had title people on staff.  We had Hawaiian translators on staff, because we’re dealing a lot with archival documents, many of which are only in Hawaiian. So, we had people on staff who specialized in translating legal documents.  So, the shop is a specialty shop, you know, asserting the rights of native people.  And we did well.  There were many cases that we did, that I’m very proud of.

 

That was a very … just vibrant time, and also, it was a time of people coming into age and being very proud, and also running into a lot of walls, too.

 

Yes; yes.  And I think with knowledge comes power.  You know, and the more we’re able to understand our history—and of course, language is a window into culture, the more we understand our language the more we understand better who we are.  Part of that is having, you know, connection to land, connection to water, connection to ocean, continuing to keep traditional practice vibrant and alive. All of those things are important. And you know, ultimately, it’s about values.  And as many other peoples, including indigenous peoples, those values are really important, not only for us here as a people in Hawaii, and not only for all of Hawai‘i, but even globally.  You know, you join with other peoples.  There are certain values that are universally exalted as being life-affirming and necessary in order for, you know, humankind to thrive.  We can make a contribution, and it’s really, really important that we be allowed to be a people.

 

Why do we do this?  We do this because we love Hawai‘i.

 

A&B doesn’t own the water, the taro farmers do not own the water.  Our people own the water.  Ke Akua owns the water.

 

Ae!

 

Ae!

 

Ke Akua owns the water.

 

Ae!

 

For all of us.

 

So, let our people live, and let the ‘aina live, forever. [INDISTINCT]  Stand up so that we can make that happen.

 

Mahealani Wendt met her husband, Ed Wendt, through her work in native water rights.  He’s a taro farmer with kuleana land.  Where they live in Wailua Nui, in Maui’s Hana District, is beautiful, but as always, farming kalo is hard work.  Besides her passion for justice, Mahealani Wendt has always had a love for poetry and writing.  Even as head of the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation, she found time to write, and has received numerous literary awards, both nationally and internationally. We’re going to close now with a reading from one of her poems that reflects back on her childhood.  Mahalo to Mahealani Wendt of Wailua Nui, Maui, for sharing her life story with us, and mahalo to you for joining us.  For PBS Hawai‘i and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox.  Aloha nui.

 

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

 

At statehood, we trundled kerosene tankards over rutted Honolulu sidewalks, past beer halls, pool halls, taxi dancehalls, past honky-tonk dives, juke joints, and shoeshine stands, to rooming house kitchens where we lit our communal fires and kept vigil for the one day our nation would be restored.  The torches burned bright as we stood watch.  Our children, listless on tenement floors, their coverings prickling with insect filth, and the grit of ambient sounds, incessant scuttlings and winged scurryings inside squalid floors and walls, we sensed a slow collapse under the terrific weight of a people whose gods kept watch with them there. The minions of forest, river, and ocean gods, companions in these root places whispering their encouragements as generations of children turn to hear, like flowers brightening to sun.

 

[END]

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Ulalia Woodside

 

As the daughter of a wildlife biologist father and kumu hula mother, Ulalia Woodside’s passion for the natural world was rooted in her since childhood. This early passion blossomed into a career in protecting Hawai‘i’s diverse natural resources. She is now Executive Director of The Nature Conservancy of Hawai‘i.

 

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

 

Ulalia Woodside Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

And we are, aren’t we, the state that has the most quickly-disappearing species.

 

We continue to be an endangered species capital.  The Bishop Museum, not that long ago, had an exhibit on feather work and Hawaiian birds, and they also had a timeline up on the wall of when birds went extinct.  And … it brought tears to my eyes to stand there, and to look at when I was born, and I don’t remember the number of birds, and to see the number of birds that had gone extinct in my life.  That was hard to look at.

 

She grew up tagging along with her father as he worked on nature preserves.  And now, she is protecting many of those special places of Hawaii. Ulalia Woodside, next, on Long Story Short.

 

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

 

Aloha mai kākou. I’m Leslie Wilcox.  Ulalia Woodside has dedicated her career to managing and protecting the lands and other natural resources of Hawaii. She’s also a kumu hula with a deep connection to the Hawaiian culture.  In 2016, Woodside became the executive director of the Nature Conservancy of Hawaii, overseeing forty thousand acres of preservation areas, not only Hawaii, but as far away as Palmyra Atoll, which is a thousand miles south of the Hawaiian Islands.  Her love of the land and her culture came to her early and easily, taught by example by her parents.  Her mother, Leiana Woodside, was a kumu hula and curator at the Queen Emma Summer Palace, and her father, David Woodside, was a wildlife biologist and naturalist.

 

I was very fortunate to be born and raised in Waimānalo.  I think I had a unique upbringing.  My parents had me a little later in life.  My mother was forty-four when she had me, my father was forty-six.  Now, that’s nothing, but back in the day, that was considered late.  You know, my mother was born and raised in a Hawaiian lifeway.  Her mother, and her mother before her, they had this vision of what it means to be a Hawaiian woman.  And in our family, my grandmother embodied that.  She embodied what it meant to be a Hawaiian woman, or this image of Haumea, the goddess, the deity, that energy that is the life source of creation and of birth.  That Haumea takes many forms.

 

What was your grandmother’s name?

 

My grandmother was Ida Pakulani Kaaihue Kaianui.  And you know, she was born in 1888, and she passed away in, I think it’s 1974 or 1976.

 

So, born during the days of the monarchy, and died after all the cultural unrest of America.

 

And statehood; right.

 

And after Hawaii’s statehood; yes.

 

Yes; until statehood.  So, you’re exactly right.  And because my mother is the youngest daughter of fifteen children—she’s number thirteen, and my mother has me at forty-four, what this means is, I have this really short linkage back to 1888, in a way; right?  And so, our family traditions really compact in these two generations, is the way that I was raised.  And I think that’s quite unique.  It made it challenging going to school at times.  You know, your parents are listening to Frank Sinatra, and your friends’ parents are listening to, you know, the Beatles or, you know, Neil Diamond, or something a little bit more contemporary, and we didn’t have a television when I grew up.  My mother wanted to have a yard that had Hawaiian plants in it.  She wanted a loi, so right there on the beach in Waimanalo, my father created a loi for her.  So, I grew up working in the loi there in Waimānalo.  We went fishing.  My father and I would lay net back in the days when, you know, you still could lay net. In my community, there weren’t a lot of children my age, so I went to work with my parents, I went to board meetings with my parents.  I went to Audubon Society Christmas bird counts with my father from a young age. I guess it’s a shift in how we raise our families nowadays.  My parents didn’t spend their days taking me to my activities, except hula.  You know, my upbringing was going with my mother as she would develop hula productions for State Foundation Culture and the Arts, or for the Aloha Week Festival.  And she would really have the leaders and the influencers of kumu hula, and they’d design these productions together.  My father would help with the staging and the plants.  And you know, those were the things that I needed to participate in.

 

Now, hula is very intensive, and if you’re passionate about it, you can’t have enough of it.  But there are some kids who say: Oh, no, do I have to go today again? What was your situation?

 

You know, I started dancing hula before I could remember.  I have pictures of me, very young, dancing hula.  And it was non-negotiable.

 

Nobody asked; right?

 

Nobody asked.

 

You just did it. 

 

And there was never gonna be a time when hula was not gonna be a part of my life. So, that connection with hula, that responsibility to hula, was there from the beginning, and will be there ‘til the end.  But it was not something that I could in any way step away from by choice.

 

But did you want to?

 

You want to, and then there was a lot of crying involved with hula.

 

Do I have to do that again, you mean?

 

And in that way, you know, when your grandmother—my grandmother was a kumu hula, my mother and two of her sisters were kumu hula, there’s an expectation of how you will perform.  And there’s an expectation of excellence, there’s an expectation that you will grasp quickly the dance or the chant that you need to learn.  And that wasn’t always the case, and sometimes I didn’t want to practice.  Sometimes I wanted to play, sometimes my feet didn’t do what they were supposed to do. But there are so many things that hula teaches you, and it’s something that has existed in my life.  You learn that you can do almost anything.  You can do things you might not want to do, and you can do them well.

 

Now, was your dad Hawaiian as well?

 

My father wasn’t Hawaiian.  But he was born and raised in Kapa‘au, Kohala on Hawai‘i Island, and his father came to Hawai‘i to be a part of the Kohala Mill system that they had.  So they had long roots here in Hawai‘i, but he wasn’t Hawaiian.  This was his homeland; it was the only homeland he knew. He loved this place, and he loved the values and the way of life these islands had created.  So, the forest and those plants created a relationship that we have with them, created this aloha ‘āina, this concept of mālama‘āina, this responsibility to place.  And he embraced that, and that was his career.  My father had spent the majority of his career and his life in remote places caring for Hawai‘i, caring for the natural resources, the forests, the birds.  And so, when they came together, they brought their two worlds together.

 

He let you tag along in his work, which was fascinating and beautiful, out in the outdoors and with the discipline of understanding the environment.  What was that like?  Where’d you go?  What’d you do?

 

I distinctly remember we went out to Mānana, Rabbit Island, right off of Waimānalo and there were rabbits on that island. And one of the things that my father did was spend a lot of time in remote places.  He went to Jarvis Atoll and Rose Atoll, he went up to the Northwest Hawaiian Islands, Tern Island, Nihoa, Necker, Mokumanamana, and he’d spend long time there.  And one of the things that he would do when he would go to places is he would eradicate small mammalian predators, or he’d eradicate things that were disrupting the natural system there; sometimes cats.  And on Rabbit Island, it was rabbits.  And so, it had been years when rabbits weren’t supposed to be on Mānana anymore, but we’d go there, and there’s a rabbit on the island.  And I remember my father getting the gun out.  And we were with a number of other of his adult wildlife friends, and they’re doing their thing.  We’re on a bird count, and we’re studying.  And I am jumping up and down: Run, rabbit, run, get away, get away, get away!

 

And you know, it … it was dispatched. My father dispatched that rabbit.  And then we cleaned it, he and I cleaned it, and then we ate it that night.  But I got to do these really interesting things with him.  And going to Mānana was one of those really transformational days. You have an ‘ewa‘ewa chick, sooty tern chick, just a puffball of fuzz in your hand.  Rob Shallenberger used to work with my father at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and he’s also a great photographer. And he took this picture of me, and you can just see in my face how excited I am to have this little puffball in my hand.

 

As a child, Ulalia Woodside yearned to be like her father, working in the field and watching out for nature.  And that’s the path she started on as a young adult. But she steered in new directions, finding other ways to help the lands and reefs of Hawaii.

 

My very first job was a place where my father worked for a number of years, the Department of Land and Natural Resources.  The Land Division needed student help, a student helper position, so right out of high school, I think two months or so after I graduated, I started working for the Department of Land and Natural Resources.  And it was a tremendous experience.  I worked there all through my undergraduate years, until I got my bachelor’s degree.  And I learned about land tenure in Hawai‘i, I learned about state leases, I learned about shoreline issues, I learned about long tenured families that have long deeds that go back to Kamehameha V.

 

Were you doing paperwork, or were you out in the field?

 

It evolved.  So, when was a student helper, I mostly made copies.  I also was a clerk typist for a period of time, and at that time, I got to see the leasing documents come through.

 

So, you were reading the documents as well as processing.

 

Right. You know, file them and understand them, different islands, the different issues that are going on.  And after I graduated from college with my bachelor’s degree, I worked there for a little bit of time as a land agent.

 

What does a land agent do?

 

So, at that time, I was helping process shoreline certifications.  So, people who would like to build or develop on coastal properties, you frequently need to identify where the shoreline is, because there are specific regulations about setback.  It really taught me a lot about, you know, how things happen.  It was an incredible growth period for me.

 

All while you’re going to college and learning.

 

All while I’m going to college.

 

What were you studying in college?

 

In college, I was studying political science.  And then, I also got a second degree in Hawaiian studies, and I got a certificate in Hawaiian language.  And so, at the time, with the political science, I was thinking of going to law school at the time.  And had some other friends that were in political science, and they were moving on to law school, but I was working, you know, with the state.

 

So far, you’re following a similar path to your father, but you’re taking it in a different direction, ‘cause you’re interested in the decision-making and the issues involving regulation.

 

At that time, I was, you know, I really was interested in that.  And shortly after I finished high school, the State of Hawai‘i workforce went through a really large reduction in force.  And so, I had only been now in my permanent land agent position, was the bottom of the rung position for just a couple of years.  Not even two years, I think.  And so, there was somebody else with greater seniority than I did, and so with that reduction in force …

 

You got bumped.

 

I got bumped.  I got bumped out of that position.  And you know, if that hadn’t happened, I do think about, would I still be working at the Department of Land and Natural Resources today if that hadn’t happened?

 

After losing her position with the Department of Land and Natural Resources, Ulalia Woodside entered graduate school at the University of Hawaii to study urban and regional planning.  From there, she took a new job in the private sector, where her interests expanded beyond land management and conservation and into cultural preservation.

 

And then, I went to a private planning and engineering firm that worked with the Department of Transportation to repair highways or build big highways, and you know, DOT Airports, and you know, had to go out to the community of Keaukaha and talk about the runway that’s next door, to speak to people who want to build industrial parks in areas, and large resort developments, and golf courses.  And so, seeing that side of the equation gave me another level of understanding of our lands here, how decisions are made, why we see that building where we see it. And it was a hard time.  When was working there, the requirement for a cultural impact assessment became law.  And prior to that, it wasn’t a requirement.  Being able to be a part on that front edge of trying to put this into place, and going out and speaking to people of place, and gathering their stories, and then coming back and finding ways in which by incorporating what is about this place actually creates a project.

 

Why was it a hard phase?

 

It was a hard time because at times, you know, you’d sit across from somebody that had a piece of property, and you know, in the environmental review process, you do a biological assessment, you do an archaeological assessment.  You see all of these, all of these treasures that they have on their property.  And I remember sitting there, and I remember the gentleman looking at me and he said: I just want to cut it up and sell it.  And I, you know, was jazzed.  We had found, you know, this ‘ilima on the property, and this.  And it made me think about the other skills that we might need in those conversations. And it also made me think about how the energy within our community helps to shape the change of something. And what I mean by that is, that awareness of what you have on your property of natural resources and cultural resources, that’s also known by the community.  And that community can inspire a developer or a landowner to create something that is even better than what they may have had in mind in integrating and incorporating that unique plant that you found, or that portion of a trail that happens to come through their property.  And that really, really got me inspired.

 

In 2002, Ulalia Woodside joined Kamehameha Schools to work on āina-based educational programs, which ultimately changed how Kamehameha Schools and other Hawaii landowners managed their natural resources, including lands.

 

I was very fortunate at that time, as I was going through that work and starting to get itchy, to be able to be proactive.  And at that time, the Kamehameha Schools had gone through a redevelopment of their strategic plan in 2000, and their land division that managed their agriculture and conservation lands was revisiting how they manage those lands in line now with the new strategic plan that really saw those lands not as separate from the mission.

 

Not commodities, but part of who Kamehameha Schools is.

 

And also, a platform through which the mission could be achieved.

 

I see; with people.

 

With people, and with education.  I was very fortunate to be invited there by Neil Hannahs.  Enjoyed working with him for … almost fifteen years.  There was a kīpuka, there was this stronghold on Kaua‘i, and one of the first projects I got to work with was out in Waipā, Kaua‘i on the north shore of Kaua‘i with the Sproat family and the Mahuiki family at that time, and the Hawaiian farmers of Hanalei.  And they recognized the value in their ahupua‘a, and it had been used for, you know, ranching over the years.  But that community remembered the taro traditions, and they still raised kalo, and that’s what they felt was the abundance and the wealth of Waipā.  But they were talking to Kamehameha Schools, I think, in the 80s or so, and you know, it was at a time when Kamehameha Schools was actually considering putting in a development.

 

I remember that.

 

And they had to find a way to develop a use that would be productive on the lands, would recognize Kamehameha Schools’ needs, but also leave room for being proactive about the growing the community and also where we could be.  So, one of those great lessons, you know, I learned of my time there is, when you work for a perpetual organization that at that time had been around for a hundred and fifty years, you know, your spot is about this big on that spectrum.  You know, what are you gonna do in that spot on that spectrum, and are you gonna do some things that make it harder for those that come down the spectrum, or is what you’re doing keeping the door open, setting the table?  Is it creating an opportunity for those that are going to come after it?  And that’s what the Hawaiian farmers of Hanalei and those families did, is they found a way to be productive users of the land, create capacity within their community, and start to pilot and showcase what a thriving ahupua‘a looks like, with students and learning happening there, which then set the table for us to take that to a whole different place.

 

So, those were very important years for Kamehameha, and those decisions that were made.

 

Yeah.

 

In 2016, Ulalia Woodside was selected to be the executive director of the Nature Conservancy of Hawaii. Big job, overseeing the protection of nature preserves across the ridges and reefs of Hawaii, and in many of the same areas that her father helped to protect.

 

In working at Kamehmeha Schools, being able to think about this return on investment, and the changes that we were making to create this abundance in place, we had worked alongside the Nature Conservancy as partners across the table with the Hawai‘i Conservation Alliance, working together in developing management strategies. We frequently visited each other’s property to see how species were being managed, how they were thriving, to learn those lessons from each other.  And so, when there was the opportunity to join the Nature Conservancy, I valued the work that had been done there.  And also, you know, working at Kamehameha Schools, even when you work for the State, you’re carrying on a legacy.  And I really thought about the legacy of the Conservancy in Hawai‘i since 1980, and the change that they had brought to Hawai‘i, the idea, the concept that there are certain lands that are so special that we should set them aside, and we should protect those lands so that what’s unique about them gets preserved.  Now, at the Nature Conservancy, one of the places that we manage is Palmyra Atoll, a thousand miles south of Hawai‘i. I knew my father went to all of these atolls, but I came to learn that he was a part of the group that went out to Palmyra and identified the biological importance of that place, and integrity of that place, and was part of the effort to protect it, and to see the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recognize that place as an important place that needs to be protected, and to help to encourage and work with the Nature Conservancy in order to set that place apart so that those rare species, those coconut crabs, the largest breeding colony of red-footed boobies in the world, that that continues to exist, a reef like no other.

 

It just seems like everything you’ve been through took you to this place, this job that you hold now.  Do you feel like that?

 

I think life finds its way.  And I do feel like I have stayed a course.  I have followed in the footsteps of my parents.  But I have evolved along the way.  I have been that Haumea and that shapeshifter that has moved along the way. I try to find places where I can be relevant, where I can help improve the condition of our world that we live in, that I can make connections between people and nature so that we might be inspired to have a home that is thriving along with us.  And I’ve been very, very fortunate to find people to spend time with and to find employers and places where I can work towards that mission, work towards that mission of ensuring that we have Island Earth, our earthly home, our earth home and our island home, our Pacific home thrives in that way.

 

Not an easy job.  And it takes constant management.

 

It’s not an easy job.  It takes constant management.  But if we come back to hula … it is about the collective, and it is about recognizing that together, we produce something that is amazing.

 

Ulalia Woodside says she’ll continue to use valuable insights from her hula experience to bring together different people and organizations, and preserve and protect the natural resources of Hawaii and beyond.  Mahalo to Ulalia Woodside of Waimanalo, Oahu.  And thank you, for joining us for this edition of Long Story Short on PBS Hawaii.  I’m Leslie Wilcox.  Aloha nui.

 

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

 

So, between regular school and summer school, I would go with him to work.  And he was managing Ki‘i Refuge.  Now it’s known as James Campbell Refuge out in Kahuku.  California grass would grow very, very quickly, so driving the tractor and mowing the berms, and keeping the grass down was one of my responsibilities.

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Suzanne Case

 

An idyllic childhood spent outdoors in Hilo set the stage for Suzanne Case’s lifelong commitment to the preservation of Hawai‘i’s natural resources, first as a conservation lawyer, and then as the executive director of The Nature Conservancy of Hawai‘i for 14 years. Her deep love of nature has helped guide her current leadership role, as chairperson at the Hawai‘i Department of Land and Natural Resources.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, Oct. 28 at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

Suzanne Case Audio

 

Suzanne Case Transcript

 

Transcript

 

Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park is my favorite national park.  We used to hide in the lava tube and scare the tourists. And at age four saw the Kīlauea Iki eruption, which was two thousand feet in the air.  And you know, I had that experience of hot lava and cold air on my back, and we were all lined up on a wall at the edge of the crater.  So, I mean, that kind of thing is just a powerful experience.

 

She grew up experiencing some of the natural wonders of Hawai‘i.  And now, her job is protecting them for future generations.  Suzanne Case, next, on Long Story Short.

 

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

 

Aloha mai kākou. I’m Leslie Wilcox.  There’s a tremendous amount of legal and other office work that goes into protecting and preserving the lands and waters of Hawai‘i. But Hilo born Suzanne Case, who heads the State Department of Land and Natural Resources, is not only handy with paper trails, she’s handy on mountain trails too.  In fact, she needs nature in her life.  Case is a familiar name in Hawai‘i.  Suzanne’s brother is former U.S. Congress member Ed Case, and her cousin is entrepreneur Steve Case, who cofounded America Online or AOL.  Suzanne Case has spent most of her career looking out for natural resources, first as legal counsel, and later as Hawai‘i executive director of the Nature Conservancy.  In 2015, Governor David Ige appointed her to lead the department charged with managing the State of Hawai‘i’s natural resources.  Her deep connection to nature took root while she was growing up in rural Hilo, on Hawai‘i Island.  Her father, James Case, took a job at the Hilo office of the Carlsmith and Ball law firm in 1951.

 

So, I was born in Hilo, and grew up in Keaukaha until I was about ten.

 

Okay; I have to stop you there, because everyone I’ve met in Keaukaha is a Native Hawaiian homesteader.

 

Yeah; yeah.

 

Your family lived there.

 

So, there is the Native Hawaiian homestead, and a longer neighborhood going down to the end of the road.  We were in that neighborhood; we were down towards the end of the road.  We went to third and fourth grade at Keaukaha Elementary. So, it was a whole mixture there. But it is a very diverse community, and very outdoorsy.  The road goes right along the water.  We lived right across the street from the water.  And so, you know, every day, we were in the water.

 

It’s two steps into the water, practically.

 

 

Totally; yeah, yeah, yeah.  You cross the yard, go down the wall, cross the road, and you know, walk down, and you’re there.  And so, we were there every day, either in the water, or scrambling along the shoreline. You know, it’s all lava rock there, a lot of underground caverns and stuff.  We had ponds on our property, there were ponds in the neighbor’s property. We were right across the street from the Richardson’s, we’d call it, Fishpond, which was and is a beautiful fishpond.  You could scramble along the wall, there’s a mākāhāthere.  And it’s now a community center, which is perfect for it.

 

And why did your family pick that area? Because you have a choice of where to live in Hilo.

 

Yeah. I think my parents just wanted a place. We had a lot of kids in my family.

 

How many kids?

 

Six kids growing up.  And so, were just outdoors all the time.  And I think they just wanted us to be outdoors.  When we were little, my dad would come home from work for lunchtime and have a bite, and take us for a swim.  And then, come home after work, and we’d go for a swim.  And you know, so you learned to swim.  We swam underwater on his shoulders, you know, just right out in front of the house.  And so, that part was really neat.

 

Well, your father sounds like he was such an engaged father.  And your mom.

 

Very much.  They both were very engaged.  Yeah. So, my mom actually finished her college when we were in Hilo, when she had, you know, young kids.  And then later, her master’s when she had more young kids.  But you know, she was at home all the time, and cooking and sewing.  She made our clothes.

 

She had a set of twins among all the kids.

 

Yeah; yes.  They came a little bit later, so I grew up really with three brothers, and then later on, a brother and a sister.  So, lots of outdoor energy from that group.

 

Did your parents or your brothers make allowances because you were you a girl?

 

Not at all.  No; no. And I was pretty much of a tomboy growing up.

 

You weren’t gonna let them take the lead.

 

Right. I mean, there were a couple of things that, you know, I thought it was unfair that they got to do, that I didn’t.

 

For example?

 

I don’t know.  I mean, part of it was just I had older brothers.  But on the flip side, my dad used to take me out to lunch, starting in preschool, on the last day of school, because you know, there were so many boys, he wanted to do something special.  And so, that was a tradition that continued all through high school, and he does it with his grandchildren now.  And my brothers were very jealous of that.

 

Which of your siblings were you closest to?

 

Probably Ed.  Over our whole life, you know, he was really my oldest brother growing up, so I always looked up to him.  And you know, we’re still quite close.

 

Your elementary school was destroyed by a tsunami.

 

Yes; yeah.

 

The old Waiākea Kai.

 

Waiākea Kai Elementary School; right.  It wiped out a whole community.  And I was there from kindergarten through second grade, and then we went to Keaukaha Elementary School.

 

How much of an impression did that make on you?

 

Very bit impression.  Waiākea Kai was predominantly Japanese, mixed community, and Keaukaha was predominantly Hawaiian community.  So, it was a big part of kinda my grounding in Hawaiian language and music, and culture, and in fourth grade, played in the Merrie Monarch Festival.  So, I learned ukulele then, and you know, kala‘au sticks that my friend’s grandfather made.  And you know, so all my friends were Hawaiian, and they got to go to Kamehameha Schools, and I didn’t really understand why I couldn’t go there.  But it gave me a real love of Hawaiian language and music, and culture that I think, you know, lasted with me.

 

You’ve had a couple of aha moments.  I remember you speaking of one when you were a kid, spearfishing, which changed your behavior.

 

Yeah.

 

Tell us about that time.  That was probably in Keaukaha.

 

It was actually in Honomalino Bay in South Kona.  We used to go there for vacations.  A very remote place, very off the grid.  And we spent a week or two at a time, every single year, when I was growing up.  And a very, very special place.  I knew it underwater better than above water.

 

Where is it?

 

Honomalino; it’s south of Miloli‘i, South Kona.

 

Oh, that’s very south.

 

It’s very south.  You know, no roads to it, kind of thing.  So, my dad made our Hawaiian sling spear guns out of, you know, bamboo and surgical tubing, and electrician’s tape.  And so, you know, we always had the right size spear for our height.  And so, you know, we learned how to fish, but we had to, of course, clean and eat our fish.  And so, I finally, at age eleven or so, caught my first weke is what I caught. And then after that, after you got good enough, you had to go for the real eating fish.  And so, for me, that was uhu.  But they were much faster, and I never could spear one.  And so, one day, I just got so tired and so frustrated that I just turned, and I speared a butterfly fish, just because I wanted some success.  And the spear ripped through the fish, and the fish swam away with this gash it in. And I went: Oh, that was not pono. And so, I quit spearfishing.  I knew that I couldn’t do it if I was gonna not do it the right way.  So, I quit spearfishing.  I actually saved up my money, and I bought an underwater camera housing for an Instamatic.

 

Oh, you shot them in another way.

 

I turned into an underwater photographer at age twelve.  And so, it was just a powerful moment for me of realizing you have to do the right thing.

 

Suzanne Case faced a culture shock at age nine. Her family packed up and left the country life in Hawai‘i Island that they loved, and moved to the City of Honolulu, Oahu.

 

When I was almost ten, my dad’s firm asked him to move to Honolulu, to build up the Honolulu office.  And so, we were just between—just finished fourth grade, and so, none of us wanted to move.  First, we thought we were just gonna go for a little while, and so we thought that was fine. But when we found out that we were moving for permanent, we just said: N-O, we are not gonna go.  All of us kids, we just: We are not going.

 

And then, of course, we had to.  But it was rough; it was very rough.  I always felt like country bumpkin goes to the big city.  And you know, it was a rough transition.  I went from public school to private school; that was part of the transition.

 

So, from Keaukaha Elementary to Punahou.

 

To Punahou; yes, exactly.  They were just two worlds.  And you know, Punahou is a great school, but it took me a good maybe four years to really kind of find my place there.

 

You repeated sixth grade.

 

I did. That was probably the thing that was most influential in my getting settled at Punahou and turning out more successful.

 

It was for social reasons?

 

It was for social reasons.  And I was struggling a little bit academically.  I think I was borderline when we moved from Honolulu, and normally maybe they keep you back.  And so, they said: Well, you know, let’s go with it.  But after two years, my teachers and my parents recommended I do that. And you know, that was a hard social adjustment, but really, really good one.

 

I would think it’s hard, because you know your classmates go on without you.

 

Yeah. Yeah; yeah.  Yeah, and you know, and it’s awkward.  Right?  But it was good for me.  I had my first success in school.  We were up at Camp Timberline, and had to do a study project, and a study plot.  I happened to have a spider in my plot, and so, I ended up really studying that spider for a week and, you know, got an A-plus on my science paper.  And I’m like: Oh, that feels good.  You know. Feels good to understand what it takes to, like, really apply yourself, to be really good at something.  And that was neat.  So, you know, that kinda thing helps your transition.

 

You got so comfortable at Punahou, where you had once felt uncomfortable, that you became the first female student body president.

 

I did; I did.  And it was kind of one of those step-up things; right?  So, you know, I remember thinking about it for a while.  I had been on a student council, small advisory council, and I remember just feeling like, again, I should do this, I should step up and, you know, do this kind of service.  So, I did, and I ran, and I was elected.  And so, I was the first female student body president at Punahou.

 

Did you remain an outdoorsy person in Honolulu?

 

Yeah; totally.  So, we moved to Tantalus, and so that’s an outdoorsy place.

 

So, that’s the country in town.

 

That’s the country in town.  It’s a very, you know, special place to live in terms of, you know, it’s very close to town, but it’s in the forest.  So, again, we were just like—the neighbors were much more spread out, so a little more lonely place to have that period of your life.  But you know, we had kids about a mile up the road, and so, we would, you know, find paths through the forest.  And we had this system of neighbors picking up kids after school at the steps at the bottom of the hill.  And nobody does that anymore. but we were essentially hitchhiking, except with people that we knew.  And so, very, very independent.  You know, you could come home whenever you want.  And we had a great mudslide right near our house, so you know, we’d go out especially when it was pouring rain.  That would be the best, and just get covered in mud.  And you know, that was some dangerous stuff there, but you know, you were lucky that you don’t get in too much trouble.

 

In addition to enjoying forests on Mount Tantalus above Honolulu, Suzanne Case continued to be fascinated by the reefs and ocean, with the help of two popular television shows of the time.

 

I just dreamed about being a scuba diver, and used to watch the Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau and Sea Hunt, Lloyd Bridges’ Sea Hunt in black and white. We didn’t have television until we moved to Honolulu, and then it was very, very restricted.  So, I always wanted to learn to scuba dive, and you could get certified when you’re fourteen.  So, soon as I was fourteen, my dad and I signed up for a course, and we both took it.  And I was actually much more comfortable underwater than he was.  But we got certified, and then I started diving, and then I found people to go diving with as well.  And then, I saved up my babysitting money to buy a set of scuba gear—so tank, regulator, pack, vest.  And I used to go diving a lot, mostly on Oahu off of Waikiki, off of Hawai‘i Kai, off of Hanauma Bay, Cockroach Gulch, and also Sharks Cove, Makua. So, you know, I loved kinda the meditation of being underwater, and just blowing bubbles, and being still and—

 

Bringing your camera.

 

I did.

 

With the underwater housing.

 

I did; I did.

 

After graduating from Punahou School, Suzanne Case followed in the footsteps of her father and others in the Case ‘ohana, including her older brother, former Congressman Ed Case, by entering the world of law.

 

In our family, half of us went into law.  I would say on my cousins’ side, they were more on the business side.  But I think all of us had, you know, a sense of like, kind of social responsibility.  You know, a sense that we needed to contribute somehow to Hawai‘i, to society and stuff, and so, it just expressed itself in different ways. You know, Ed’s very much of a public servant in politics, and you know, Steve obviously is a really fine businessman. And you know, all just trying to do something good for the world.

 

Was that said to you explicitly by your parents? This is what you’ve got to do, this is what we believe in.

 

They had a strong sense that we had to contribute to society, I guess is the way we were kind of brought up.  I mean, I can’t point to a specific thing they said, but that was kind of a theme going on.  You know, you need to do something good for society with your life.

 

You chose to go to law school.  Was it a real choice?  Did you feel, you know, expected to?

 

By the time I went to law school, it was a real choice, because I didn’t think I was gonna go for a long time.  And honestly, I didn’t really understand what my dad did.  He did business legal transactions.  So, I was around it all the time; I just didn’t really understand what a lawyer did.  And I didn’t really understand it until I went to law school.  But I think by the time I went to law school, I realized that I needed to do something that was intellectually engaging.  And so, it turned out to be a really good path for me. And I ended up practicing law for eighteen years, mostly real estate transactions, mostly in conservation.  I worked at the Nature Conservancy for twenty-eight years.

 

A nonprofit; and in charge of conservation of lands.

 

It’s a conservation organization globally.  And so, I worked there as a lawyer from 1987 to 2001.  I worked all over the western United States.  I worked in Hawai‘i, I worked in the Asia Pacific region, places like Indonesian and Papua New Guinea, and China, and Pohnpei.

 

Were you negotiating tracts of land?

 

So, in the US, we were, very much.  We were basically doing conservation transactions.  So, real estate transactions to put important pieces of land into permanent protection.  And so, that was just another switch.  I practiced real estate law in a law firm in San Francisco for four years after I graduated from law school.  And that was just straight real estate transactions; one pension fund buys an office building from another pension fund, so I saw it as kind of morally neutral work.  Whereas when I made the switch to the Nature Conservancy, you know, I felt good about everything I was doing.  But it was still real estate transactions, it was still problem-solving in terms of like, what are all the things you need to do to get to this point on closing day. You know, always referred to it as closing instinct.  You need to get here by this date, so what are all the things you need to do.  But that was for conservation.  And then, in the middle of that in 2001, I was in Hawai‘i, still as lawyer, and was asked to be the acting director, ‘cause the previous state director was leaving.  And I said: Uh-uh.  I said: There’s plenty of people that could do a much better job than me, I’m perfectly happy being a lawyer.  And so, the regional director who had asked me just, you know, continued to talk to me about it, and then something just switched in my head, and I said: Yeah, I’d like to do that.  And it was a real switch.  It was a switch from implementing to like, figuring out where we need to go, what’s the path to get there.

 

Also, you began working with donors, too.

 

Very much; yeah.

 

Fundraising big deals.

 

Yeah; yeah.  And that’s obviously a big challenge for people to do and very much of a change from, you know, just doing the legal work.  But you know, my only kind of path in it was just to realize that, you know, what you’re doing is, you’re telling people this great work that needs to be done. And there are people who want to do this great work, so you’re, you know, offering them a path to implementing their own dreams as well.  So, you know, once you realize that you’re talking that language with a person about what they care about too, then it works.

 

Suzanne Case led the Hawai‘i program of the Nature Conservancy for fourteen years before being nominated by Governor Ige in 2015 to head the State Department of Land and Natural Resources.  Case said she had not envisioned herself in that position, but after legislative approval, she stepped up to a new set of challenges.

 

You were chosen after lawmakers didn’t like a previous selection by the governor, who was Carlton Ching.  But when you came onto the scene, many people were saying: She’s perfect for this job.  You live the job.

 

Yeah.

 

And in a sense, I can see exactly what they mean, because you are somebody who loves the outdoors.

 

Yes.

 

You live it.

 

Yeah.

 

And you want to protect it.  So, that’s who you’ve always been.

 

Yeah. I’ve always been very outdoorsy, very deep love of Hawai‘i, deep love of places, and this problem-solving; you know, the how you do it, and the why you do it.

 

Right.

 

In combination.

 

And you had legal skills, to boot.

 

Yeah. And so, that’s been really helpful to me.  So, all of that, you know, DLNR has a broader mandate.  In the Nature Conservancy, we were very focused on protecting our forests and reefs.  And that is true also in DLNR, but there’s also state parks and historic preservation, and enforcement, and conservation regulation, and small boating, and you know, a whole slew of things.  You have to come up with a decision a lot of times, and the decision is gonna affect somebody positively and somebody negatively.  So, how do you make sure that at least they all feel like they’ve been heard.  And then, you know, that you’re doing something that really has a good public policy base in it.

 

But you know that it’ll never be win-win for everyone.  Somebody will always be unhappy with your decision.

 

That’s a very hard thing about it; it’s a very hard thing.  Yeah; yeah.  But overall, our mission is to protect Hawai‘i’s public trust, natural and cultural resources. So, that’s just the underlying driver. And that helps a lot, because a lot of times, there is a greater good and, you know, it may hurt somebody who would like a bigger piece of that greater good, but you’re trying to come up with something that’s fair.

 

Do you sleep at night saying: Oh, no, you know, I’m working really hard in this area, but over here there’s coral bleaching going on.

 

All the time.

 

And what’s gonna go on.

 

All the time; yeah, yeah.  And it’s even much more specific.  It’s like: Oh, gosh, I need to get back to this person, or there’s an issue here. Something is bothering me here, so we haven’t worked this one out yet.  And so, yeah, there’s a lot of processing, you know.

 

Always feeling like you’re not doing enough, and in fact, you’re doing a lot.

 

Yeah; yeah.  But again, you know, you have to find that balance, too; right?  So, you know, I’m fortunate I live on Tantalus again, and around my family all the time, and I’m in the forest all the time.  So, I have that kind of, you know, ability to kinda step back and, you know, take a deep breath, and go: Okay, what’s important to do next.  And that’s been very special for me.

 

Does it ever take away from your feeling of enjoyment in these places that you have the obligation to protect them, and there’s a lot to do?  I mean, does that tarnish some of it for you?

 

Not at all.  It drives it. And a lot of the projects, you know, are also very much driven by the communities that we work in.  And so, they have that intimacy too, sometimes for many, many generations.  And so, it’s a motivator.  You understand how important it is, and so it’s very inspiring.

 

What’s next after this?  I mean, this could go on for a while or not, but what’s after this?

 

You know, I think the point is, you just have to be open to, you know, whatever life brings.  And once you make that leap to leave a whole career behind, and do this public service, you just have to hang with whatever the future brings.  So, I’m definitely in this general field for the long haul, and will just continue to try to do my best for Hawai‘i and the planet.

 

Suzanne Case says that outdoor activities are still her favorite pastime, and they help her to understand her conservation work from inside, out.  All of her career, she’s jumped into her work on site visits, such as on numerous trips to Palmyra Atoll, a thousand miles south of Hawai‘i, for the Nature Conservancy. She likes to get a firsthand look at what needs to be protected.  Mahalo nui to Suzanne Case of Honolulu.  And thank you for joining us for this edition of Long Story Short on PBS Hawai‘i.  I’m Leslie Wilcox.  Aloha nui.

 

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

 

Palmyra is a place to me, you know, it’s both good and bad that more people can’t get there. But it’s the kind of place where, if you can see a place like that, it totally resets your baseline.  You understand what our world is supposed to look like underwater, and you know, what we’ve lost in Hawai‘i just from overuse.  But to me, it’s a great inspiration for what we can make it look like again, if we take care of it.

 

 

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 Sunday, May 13 at 4:00 pm and 11:30 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.