grit

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Lois Kim

 

Strength and grit were the two values that Lois Kim’s Korean American parents instilled in her from an early age. But when tragedy struck, she turned to drugs, which took her down a dark path that resulted in prison time. She’s since served her time, and is now using the power of storytelling to share her exploration of vulnerability – and a new source of strength.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, Dec. 9, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

Lois Kim Audio

 

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Transcript

 

I remember this one time, right before my mom passed.  I think it was maybe two or three months I’d been out on the streets, and she saw me on Kapi‘olani Boulevard.  She had lost a lot of weight by then, and she started crying and she said: I thought you were dead.  You know, where have you been?  And you know, I was dressed kind of scantily clad, and … I remember feeling a little embarrassed to see her.  And the only words that could have come out of my mouth at that wasn’t: I’m sorry, Mom, I’ll be home, I’m sorry what I did to you.  It was: Mom, do you have money?

 

She was a young wife, mother, and assistant vice president at a local bank when events in her life triggered a downward spiral: drug addiction, life on the streets, and a spot on Hawaii’s Most Wanted List.  Lois Kim candidly shares her story, 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.  Recovering addict Lois Kim describes her childhood as growing up in a stable middleclass family environment, surrounded by siblings, a grandmother, an auntie, and her parents, who were immigrants from South Korea.  Her father was an engineer who later become involved in local politics, and worked on behalf of the Korean community in Hawai‘i.  She says her mother was a workaholic, an entrepreneur whom some referred to as the Godmother of Korean Restaurants.  Kim says her mother would take a struggling business, and turn it around with her instincts, reputation, and cooking skills.  And it was not unusual for her busy working mom to send a taxi to pick up her children at school.

 

With all that work she did for so long, were you close to her?

 

Not growing up; no.  I remember always longing to have what I saw on TV, the Western family.  Longing to have a mom that would pick me up every day, go to like after school practices with me, hug me, say I love you; all that cheesy stuff.  I remember longing for that.  But today, in retrospect, I think she did the best she could. She came from a different culture than I was brought up watching on TV.

 

She was busy providing for you.

 

Yes.

 

So, that means when you were sick from school, you were alone.

 

My grandma; my mom had brought over my grandma to watch over us from Korea.

 

So, you always had somebody in the house?

 

Yes; either grandma, or before that, there was this auntie that my mom trusted with us.

 

You said your dad was a politician.  And was he a strict father?

 

He was very quiet.  Extremely strict; he would make my brother and I uh, meditate at night. You know, he’d sit us in front of him, he’d sit on the couch, and he’d watch us for an hour.  And I think we were like … I was ten and my brother was six. You know, for a ten-year-old to sit there with their eyes closed and meditate for a whole hour was impossible. But my dad just grinded it into us. He tried to teach us a lot about discipline and being strong.  He wasn’t very loving in a sense, only because, you know, traditional Asian family; he was the man of the household.  But when he spoke, you listened.

 

He would spank you?

 

He did, at times.  I remember being afraid of the golf club at times.

 

He would hit you with his golf club?

 

Yeah.  For me, looking back today, it’s just discipline; a different type of discipline. I wouldn’t call it child abuse. Maybe some might today, but it was just to make me a stronger person.

 

What were you like as a kid?  Besides being bratty.

 

I was an introvert.  Childhood was kind of rough for me, only because you know, I couldn’t really fit in well.

 

Did you speak Korean, or what was your language like then?

 

My first language was Korean.  So, going into school, I really couldn’t converse with the other children, the culture was different.  So, I was kind of an outcast.  And then, I think later on, as I got older, I turned to food to comfort myself.  And this is back when childhood obesity wasn’t that prevalent.  I was extremely overweight.  I remember being the biggest kid in class, bigger than all the boys and the girls, height wise and weight wise.

 

Did you get picked on?

 

I did.  I got picked on, but because of my size, I was able to stop the bullying right there.

 

How were your grades?

 

My grades were mediocre, only because I think it bored me; high school didn’t really challenge me.  At some point, my father thought that maybe it would be a losing investment to put me through college, only because my grades were pretty low.  I was determined and stubborn.

 

What made you determined?

 

I think a little bit of my dad refusing to pay for my college.  ‘Cause I knew in the back of my head that, you know, that’s what parents are supposed to do.  They’ve provided for me up until now.  They haven’t provided a loving family style, but they’ve always provided financially. And it goes without saying, they’re gonna provide for my education.  But that day when he told me that he’s not gonna put an investment into my education, is when I realized: Hm, what?  I’ll show you.  My father paid for everything for my brother.  ‘Cause in our family—and I think it’s typical of all Asians, you know, a son you take care, he’s like the king of the family.

 

Yeah. So, I can see how there were a lot of reasons to feel resentment and worry.

 

M-hm.

 

As a child.

 

I did; I did have a lot of resentment, a lot of anger.

 

But somehow, you said: I’m gonna go to UH.  How did you pay for that?

 

I worked at the bank as a teller, and I got grants and loans.  I’m still paying off my student loans now.  But I made it happen; I made it happen.  Yes.

 

You enjoyed college?

 

It was challenging, and that’s where I excelled, because it was something that mentally stimulated me.  And when I graduated, I graduated on the Dean’s List.  So, I was holding down a job, paying for college, and getting good grades.

 

What happened next?  At some point, you met somebody that you married.

 

A gentleman I was working with at the bank introduced me to his friend.  He said: Hey, look, I’ve got this friend, he lives in Guam, but I think you guys would match; you guys are both intellectuals, you’re both Asian, both Korean. And that’s an important thing. So, I started emailing him.  We emailed back and forth.  He came down to visit for about ten days.  My family met him.  He was the perfect son-in-law my mother and father had always wanted.

 

What about you; were you in love with him?

 

Well … I loved how happy my mom and dad were. And he was a good man.  You know, he is a good man.  He’s good on paper, accomplished.  I think he was pre-law at that time.  So, love was probably the farthest thing from my mind.  He just made logical sense.

 

And at some point, you had a baby.

 

About a year or two into our marriage; yes.  The right thing to do; right?  The typical thing to do.  I had a daughter.  I remember giving birth to her, and just instantly falling in love, and thinking: I’m gonna do everything in my powers to protect you; and at the same time, I’m gonna do everything in my heart to love you and show you the love that I’ve always longed for.  But time will tell.

 

What happened to change your daughter’s life, your life, your husband’s life?

 

Those turning points in life; huh?  So, I was at the top of my career, doing so well. My father and I were finally building up a relationship.  You know, he called me just because he was lonely or bored.  I’ve never had that.  It was amazing.  I remember receiving a phone call saying: This is St. Francis Hospital; you need to come here right away.  I asked for more information, but of course, they couldn’t give me any information over the phone.  I remember driving up to St. Francis, and the first person I see is my mom.  She runs to me, and she collapses in my arms.  She tells me that my dad passed out, he’s on life support, and he’s in the ICU.  Speaking to the doctors, they told me that he’s got like, ten percent brain activity left, and prepare yourself.

 

Shortly after Lois Kim lost her father, her mother was diagnosed with cancer, and the grandmother who looked after her as a child passed away.  It seemed that just as her life was finally coming together, those she loved were being ripped away.  She says she couldn’t cope with so much loss, and that’s why she spent more time away from home, at bars and clubs, where she met someone who introduced her to cocaine.

 

It did a weird thing.  It alleviated some of the pain; it made being conscious and awake a little bit more bearable.  And that’s when the downturned happened.  You know, of course, the more your body gets used to something chemical, it needs a little bit more.  And then, that’s when I started to experiment with crystal methamphetamine.  I can handle it.  This drug will never bring me down.  I’m just gonna use it for now to get over this hump, and then get back on track. You know?  I’m not an addict.  This drug is not gonna consume me.  Couldn’t have been more wrong.  It took everything from me.  And I let it.

 

So, I need to ask you.  You still had family; your husband and your child.

 

Yes.

 

So, you didn’t lose all your family.

 

Not at that point; no.  My mother was still alive, as well.  But I acted selfishly at that time.  I told my husband that I don’t love him anymore.  I moved out.  I stayed with my mom, and then I remember just going out frequently.  And it was this perpetual snowball.  Like, I wouldn’t come home ‘cause I was embarrassed because of my drug use.  Then I’d feel guilty, and do more drugs.  Then, it would prolong my stay out on the streets, you know, staying at strangers’ houses, drug dealers’ houses, just trying to get high.

 

What was a day like for you when you were on crystal meth?

 

It’s hard to demarcate when the day starts and ends, because crystal meth is a stimulant and it’ll keep you up for days on end.  So, I guess to describe, let’s just say, okay, in the morning, my day would start with having nothing in my pockets, and wondering in my head: How am I gonna obtain this high?

 

And where were you waking up?

 

Sometimes, in stairwells.  Sometimes in game rooms.  Sometimes … at strangers’ houses, being woken up to man on top of you.  It was an adventure, to say the least, I guess. So, I’d wake up with nothing in my pocket, with a goal in mind.  My only priority at that time was to obtain more drugs.  So, I’d go out on a quest.  For a lot of women, there’s only a few ways you can obtain drugs out there. It’s either you sleep with a drug dealer, or you obtain something worth something, to sell.  And because I was Asian, I could fit in with the tourists. I quickly got drawn into what we called boosting, which is essentially shoplifting from stores, and obtaining items that a high demand on the streets.

 

How did you learn to do that?  I guess your native wit takes over.  How did you do it?

 

You have to learn to survive.  So, you know, in the dark world of the drug world, there are some people known as professional boosters.  So, I would go to them, pick their brain, learn from them. And they taught me a few tricks and things that I could do to get past sensors.  And then from there, I took that and just melded my own theories into it. So, I was able to support my habit that way.

 

And all this time, what were your thoughts about your daughter?

 

There would be moments she’d creep into my head.

 

But generally not?

 

No.  I knew she was safe.  I knew she was well, she was happy.  Well, in my head, I convinced myself that she was happy, and that me being in her life might just be worse.  So, I kinda tricked myself into justifying why I wasn’t there for her, or staying out on the streets longer.

 

Did you think of the future?  Like, I’ll just do this for a couple more days, and then I’ll stop.  Did you have that feeling, like it was not gonna be what you did forever?

 

That’s how it began.  It did.  I told myself: You know, it’ll be just until I get over this, or I’ll wake up someday.

 

Get over what?

 

The grief, the pain, the loss.  But then, it slowly turned into … towards the end of my drug addiction, I was hoping that it would be the end of it.  Like, I would die high.  Like hopefully, this drug will do so much damage to me that it’ll just take my life from me.  Towards the ending of my drug use, I was shooing ice intravenously, using needles.

 

Well, how did it get to be in your past?  What happened to change this, where you’re hoping to die high?

 

So, naturally, I got in trouble with the law.

 

I remember seeing you on Hawaii’s Most Wanted.  And it said that loss prevention officers at a store, you were a known person to them, and they followed you and they caught you with a couple of items.

 

Like, five of them just jumped out of the bushes, called me by name, and you know: Drop what you what you have in your hands and don’t move.  Something out of a movie.  But yes, they took me.  It was enough to convict me with felony charges.  I think I had drugs on me, so another felony charge.  I got into OCCC, and that’s when I learned that … my mom was in a coma.  I guess the reason why when she saw me on the streets and asked me to promise to come home that Thanksgiving was because she needed to tell me that she needs me there for her when they’re removing the tumor.  I wasn’t there.  So, in OCCC, I got a phone call from my brother saying that Mom’s on life support, we’re taking her off.  I begged and pleaded, and asked him to bail me out, let me be there for her.  You know, I wasn’t there for her when she needed me the most, let me be there for her now.  He said, no.  So, eventually, I did get put on probation.  But it’s the weirdest thing.  The judge knew I had nowhere to go.  So, at that time, my mom passed, her funeral happened.  I thought my daughter and her dad had moved back to Guam. Nobody communicated with me while I was incarcerated.  And then, the judge let me out on probation, out on the streets.  So, I went straight back to the game rooms, got high within an hour of getting released.  And I think that’s when you saw me on Hawaii’s Most Wanted, ‘cause I absconded. They were looking for me.  I think I was on the run for about two to three months. They found me in a game room, took me in.

 

While serving time in prison in Kailua, Lois Kim was enrolled in a mandatory drug rehabilitation program.  She recalls a life-changing moment of clarity.  During an exchange with her counselor, she declared that since she lost everything and everyone she loved, she just wanted to die high.  The counselor wasn’t buying any of it.  She looked Lois Kim dead in the eye, and challenged her to get off her pity pot.  Something clicked.

 

I was like: What?  I was on a pity pot.  I’m better than this.  I’m stronger than this.  I was bred to be strong, through my upbringing.  Why am I acting this way?  And that’s when that proverbial turn in your life happened again for me. You know.

 

It’s interesting that that got to you, because you probably knew that at some level already.

 

I knew it; I knew it.  But she said to me in a challenging manner, just like how when my father had told me: I’m not paying for your education.  Oh, I’ll show you.  Oh, get off my pity pot; you don’t think I can?  I’ll show you.  Well, getting over addiction and all that trauma in your life is never a one-day thing, or one-thing thing.  I remember just, you know, beginning my healing process at that time.  But again, I was incarcerated, and then sobriety was hitting me.  And when you’re sober, all this guilt just comes rushing back into your life, into your wellbeing.  I remember having recurring nightmares of seeing my mom and my daughter with their back towards me, and me screaming out to them, but they wouldn’t turn around. I didn’t know where my daughter was. I knew there was so much I needed to say to apologize, so much I needed to explain, but I didn’t know how.

 

How many years had gone by since you left the home?

 

Maybe two years straight, and maybe … four years altogether, where I’d come home once in a while.  So, a straight two-year absence from my daughter’s life.

 

And how old was she then?

 

She was probably about six when I started.  And then, through seven, eight, nine is when I was gone.

 

Did you feel like you owed your—was he your ex-husband by that time, an explanation?

 

He knew.

 

So, no need to have words over that?

 

I remember apologizing to him, ‘cause I knew that was what needed to be done.  But as for an explanation; no.  He knew what I had gotten myself into.  I mean, it was plastered all over the news; he knew.  He knew exactly what grievance I was going through too, ‘cause he was there when my father had passed.  He was there through the whole thing.  So, he knew why I did what I did.

 

What was it like between you and your daughter when you were reunited for the first time?

 

It was kinda … you’d like to think it was like a storybook ending, where we ran into each other’s arms, and lived happily ever after.  But it was kinda awkward in the beginning.  She had her wall up, and I didn’t know how to get past that without offending her.  It was kinda like two strangers meeting … but they’re family.  So, it was baby steps.  So, from the first meeting, we started talking on the phone every day, ‘cause I was allowed to talk on the phone for fifteen minutes at a time.  I’d call every evening.  We started to play this game that we made up, where she likes to act out a role, and we’d role-play.  And then from there, it went into her coming and staying, and sleeping at the furlough house on weekends.  And then, when I graduated from the furlough program, her father actually allowed me to come and rent a room from him.

 

So, you had regained, if not his trust, at least a second chance.  And your daughter, too.  You know, your daughter had to be onboard for that too; right?

 

I think what happened was, he knows that who I was while high or addicted isn’t who I am.  He knows the core being of me is responsible.  And I think that’s the thing; responsible.  Maybe not so loving, maybe not so caring, but he knows I’m a very responsible person.  And I remember before he allowed me to rent that room, we had to interview with his landlord.  So, what took me off guard is my ex-husband telling the landlord: You know, I don’t back anybody up, but I’m backing her up; she’s very responsible, she’s changed, she’s a good person.  That’s the first time I’ve ever heard him say anything nice about me.  And that‘s when I knew I’m doing well.  When I got reunited with my daughter, I shared every part of my life with her: the embarrassing parts, the hard to swallow parts. So, she understands.  But the importance is that I told her it was a bad choice, and we come up from that.  I didn’t alleviate any of my wrongdoings, I didn’t wash my hands saying it wasn’t my fault.  I told her: Yes, it was Mommy’s fault, Mommy made bad choices, but I can fix it.

 

At the time of our conversation in the Spring of 2018, Lois Kim told us she was employed fulltime, and continued to work on her recovery and rebuilding her life with her daughter.  She was also committed to earning a relationship with a son, who was born during the years of her addiction.  He lives with his paternal grandmother, who still isn’t ready to permit Kim to establish a bond with her son.  Lois Kim says she understands, and sees this as another opportunity and challenge to prove herself.  We wish her personal peace and sobriety, as she shares with everyone her first published work, Mommy Loves You, a heartfelt message she wrote for her daughter during a critical period of her journey back.  Mahalo to Lois Kim of Honolulu, O‘ahu, for sharing your story with us.  And mahalo to you, for joining us.  For PBS Hawai‘i and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox.  Aloha nui.

 

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

 

What did she make of your book, Mommy Loves You?

 

The book helped open up the discussion.  She told me that she had thought I abandoned her. She thought it’s because I didn’t love her.  And at one point, she thought I was dead; she thought I had passed.  The lucky thing for me is, I got sober while incarcerated. I also got to heal while incarcerated. So, I was speaking about having all that guilt and turmoil inside of me.  That’s when I got granted an opportunity to write a children’s book.  At first, I didn’t want to do it, because I thought it hurt too much.  Like, who am I gonna write to, who am in gonna give it to; I don’t know her address. But someone encouraged me to.  I wrote it within two, three minutes of sitting down.  It just … flowed straight out of me.  Did the artwork.  And that’s when I think I really began to heal.

 

And if I’m her, my question is: How do I know you’re not gonna go right out and do it again?

 

You don’t.  You don’t.  I don’t. I would like to think I won’t. You know, addiction is a very scary thing.  I would say ninety-five percent of my sisters in addiction has gone back.  And like you brought up earlier, the whole relapse thing. I haven’t relapsed.  I hope I never will.  But statistically, it’s likely.  Those times when I think about relapsing, I remember how horrible my life was back then.  I remember everything I’ve earned today, and how hard I’ve worked to get it.  I think before I get high, I think about my child, my children.  I need to be responsible.  That’s a part of my past that, you know, been there, done that.  Let’s never, ever revisit that.  But it’s a notch under my belt.  You know, I’ve been there, done that, I’ve lived through it, and hopefully … I can forever remain a success story.

 

 

 


LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Sarah Keahi

 

As a student at the University of Hawaii in the early 1960s, Sarah Keahi wanted to be an English teacher. But her Hawaiian language instructor, Dr. Samuel Elbert, saw a different path for her. “He said, ‘What about Hawaiian?’ And I said, ‘There were no schools teaching Hawaiian, you know,’” Keahi remembers. “And he looked at me, and he said, ‘There will be a day.’” Sarah Keahi went on to help establish a mandatory Hawaiian language curriculum at Kamehameha Schools, and taught Hawaiian language to generations of Kamehameha students.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, Dec. 16 at 11:00 pm and Sunday, Dec. 20 at 4:00 pm.

 

Sarah Keahi Audio

 

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Transcript

 

I used to tell my students that if you’re somewhere and you’re singing a song, and then you hear all the tutu’s laughing, you will know why, because you probably mispronounced a word, and you didn’t even realize it. But when you mispronounce a word, it changes meaning. And so, in Song Contest time, I would go around and talk to them about the different meanings. And so, you know, you have to draw pictures for them. So, you say the word ma‘I and mai. And so, you want to use the word mai, and you say ma‘i. Well, you know, ma‘i can be to be ill, but ma‘i can also refer to the genitals. You know, so, as in a mele ma‘i. Um, another word that comes up in songs often is the world li‘a. And li‘a has to do with yearning desire. And so, you’re desiring someone. And if you don’t put the okina there, you’re saying lia. And do you know what lia are? Like liha, they’re little baby uku’s.

 

They’re uku nits, baby nits. And so, then they start, Oh, no! You know. And you show them these differences, and then they realize, wow. So now, well, and you know, for many years, the students are really, really concerned about pronunciation.

 

Sarah Keahi expected to be surrounded by Hawaiian-ness when she started teaching at Kamehameha Schools in 1966. Instead, she found that there were no Hawaiian studies courses, and that she was the only Hawaiian language teacher. She advocated relentlessly for Hawaiian language and culture to be taught, and by the time she retired thirty-seven years later, there were ten fulltime Hawaiian language teachers, and a mandatory Hawaiian studies curriculum firmly in place. Sarah Keahi, next, on Long Story Short.

 

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

 

Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Sarah Patricia ‘ilialoha Kwai Fah Ayat Keahi is remembered by many of her students by her previous married name, Mrs. Quick. Generations of high schoolers at Kamehameha Schools took her Hawaiian language classes. In the broader Hawaiian language speaking community, she’s known as a champion who fought to perpetuate the language when it was increasingly marginalized. Today, the Hawaiian language is thriving, thanks to the efforts of Sarah Keahi and other like-minded people in the 1960s and 1970s. Sarah Keahi’s love of Hawaiian culture and language started with her family, and with growing up on Hawaiian Homestead land in Honolulu.

 

Well, I was born and raised on this island in Kaimuki. And we were living with my grandmother, my maternal grandmother, Sarah Keahi Smythe. Eventually, we moved to Papakolea and settled in Papakolea.

 

Because you were granted a homestead lot?

 

Right; my mom was granted a homestead lot in 1950. And when we moved to Papakolea, my mom was pregnant with my youngest brother. You know, her tenth child. And so, we moved up there in December, early December in 1950, and my brother was born in February of 1951.

 

Ten kids.

 

Yeah.

 

Mom and Dad.

 

Yeah.

 

How big was your house? I mean, I can’t imagine—

 

I know.

 

–twelve people in house.

 

We all had bunkbeds, and of course, in those days, you only had one bathroom, you know. It was a wonderful life, we had chickens and ducks to eat.

 

You raised your own chickens and ducks, and then you’d have to kill them to eat them?

 

Yeah.

 

Farm to table.

 

Yeah. See, my mom would go out, get a chicken, kill it, clean it, cook it, and serve it. I couldn’t do that. I’d have to go to Costco, you know.

 

Well, those feathers that your mother took from the chickens; did they go anywhere?

 

Oh, yes.

 

Since she used everything.

 

She made feather leis.

 

She did?

 

Yes; she did.

 

Where did she get the time to do all that?

 

That’s a good question. You know. But she was an incredible woman. Her thing was, If you see something needs to be done, you do it. Don’t want to be asked; just do it. She was amazing. I mean, she was a homemaker; my dad worked. But my mom made all our clothes. She cleaned the house, and she’d put fresh flowers and plants every week. You know. She’d go out and cut things, and bring it in. And I think that’s why my love of gardening—I love gardening and I love flowers and plants. My friends would call and they would say, Who was that Haole woman that answered the phone? I said, That’s my mom. Your mom? Is she Haole?

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

I said, Well, yeah, she’s half Haole. You know, half Hawaiian, yeah.

 

So, she spoke Standard English.

 

Oh, yes.

 

And she insisted you do, too.

 

We had to speak Standard English in the house. Yeah. If we were outside with our friends, you know, we could speak Pidgin and everything, but when you came in, you had to speak Standard English.

 

Was there a drill with the kids so that the older kids would take care of the little kids, to take some of the pressure off her?

 

Yes; yes. And she assigned each sister, older sister to one brother. And so, we had to make sure, you know, that their teeth was brushed and everything like that. But my mom ran quite a tight ship, but she was super-organized. And then, she went out and entertained at night. My mom had studied hula in the early days. In fact, Iolani Luahine was one of her hula sisters. And so, we were involved with hula. And we were involved with pageantry and Aloha Week. And when Auntie Elsie Ross Lane was living, they had wonderful pageants every year. And we were always in the pageants, ‘cause my mom was costume director for Aloha Week. So, she even made costumes. [CHUCKLE]

 

What was your dad like? What kind of a match were they?

 

My dad was a really easygoing guy. He was really easygoing. Hard worker.

 

Two hard workers.

 

Two hard workers. You know, my dad, he would come home from work after working all day, and if there was a pail of clothes to hang up, he’d hang it on the line. If there was something to iron, he’d pitch up and iron. I mean, he was … you know. He painted our house about every five years; my dad did. We had an imu in our yard, so my dad, you know, every so often he would kalua pig and all his friends would come over. He went fishing with his friends. If my dad got extra fish, he’d share it with the neighbors.

 

Even though he had all these kids in the house?

 

Yes; yes. And my mom, she sewed clothes for our friends across the street because, you know, they didn’t have a whole lot of stuff. If we had extra whatever, you know, bananas or whatever, we’d share it with people.

 

Your mom was half-Hawaiian, your dad half-Hawaiian. That was the time when people were really trying to be Western, wasn’t it?

 

Right; right. Yeah. They were. Some people, you know, they were embarrassed about, you know, their Hawaiian. In fact, some people, you know, some of my … people even didn’t want to say where they lived. They didn’t want to say they lived in Papakolea. And Papakolea didn’t really have, you know, a very good reputation. And I think the media tends to, you know, sensationalize and maximize the negative and minimize the positives, you know. I was proud. I mean, we had people from Papakolea, Danny Kaleikini’s family, Iolani Luahine, Hoakalei Kamauu, Auntie Genoa Keawe. We had people who went to the military academies, you know. The Kukea family, Kala, Kahele, and his sister Mele. So, we had lots of people who, you know, were notable people.   They don’t talk about all of those things, you know. They talk about the negative things. And I had wonderful years there. Parks and Recreation was a really wonderful program. We had a wonderful director, Mealii Kalama, and she was a very, very influential woman in my life, very firm and organized, and just wonderful, warm, and compassionate, you know.

 

From the time she was a little girl in Papakolea, Sarah Keahi knew she wanted to become a teacher, and she knew she’d need a good education to accomplish that, even though it wouldn’t be at the school that comes to mind first.

 

I think everybody who’s ever come to your class to learn has probably been surprised, if they didn’t already know, that you did not attend Kamehameha Schools.

 

Right; right. You know, my students would say to me, Well, Kumu, what year did you graduate? And I would say, I am a proud public school product. What? You didn’t come to Kamehameha? And I said, No, you know, unfortunately I didn’t, but I’m a proud public school product, and you know, I have no regrets. Roosevelt was a really good school, academically aggressive, and you know, I think I learned a lot from it.

 

As a matter of fact, your mother didn’t really want you to go to Kamehameha.

 

Yeah. [CHUCKLE] Yeah; she didn’t. Because you know, she said to me, Well, you know, part of the girls’ training is, they learn how to take care of a baby, and they learn how to cook, and sew; and you know how to do that. You know. You already know that. I said, But Mom, that’s not all they learn; they learn the basic stuff. You know, they have to take the classes of math, science, and English, and so forth, so that’s in addition to that. Well, she still thought it was—you know. So, I just went to Roosevelt, which was, you know, a good thing. I enjoyed my years at Pauoa Elementary and Stevenson Intermediate, and Roosevelt.

 

Right in your neighborhood.

 

Right; exactly.

 

At that time, there were no career days. Kids weren’t channeled into, you know, Try to think now what you might want to do for a living.

 

Right.

 

Was that something you gave thought to?

 

Oh, I knew; I knew from the very beginning, I wanted to be a teacher.

 

Because?

 

Well, you know, my grandmother, she wasn’t a formal teacher, but she did some teaching. And she told me about her experiences teaching. And ever since I was a little girl, my mom said, Do you know that you used to call the neighborhood kids and bring them over, and you’d play school. You’d pass out pencils and paper, and under the house, and you’d play school. And I said, Really?

 

You were comfortable with having authority, because you’d been in charge of a younger brother, and you’d seen your mother as the head of the household on the homemaking side.

 

Right; right. So, yeah. But my very first teacher at Pauoa Elementary was Manu Boyd’s grandmother, Julia Boyd. And the teachers then were very strict, like the Gladys Brandt type people. I just admired and loved Gladys Brandt. But they hapa Haole teachers, and very, very, you know, strict.

 

Did you get in trouble?

 

Oh, no; no.

 

You were always a good student.

 

I know. My brothers and sisters teased me; You’re such a Goody Two Shoes, you know. And I guess I liked school, and I did well in school. I studied hard. It didn’t come to me naturally. I mean, I had to study hard. And I did, ‘cause I really enjoyed it. All my friends said, You’re so studious. And you know, at Roosevelt I was kidded about that, how studious I was.   I was one that didn’t go out very much. You know, I was such a homebody. I wasn’t a real social kind of person. Like, you know, I didn’t care to go to proms or stuff like that. My brothers and sisters would say, We go to the beach, and there you are under a tree reading a book or something. You know. I mean, I went in the water and all that, but I just wasn’t perhaps as active as they were. But we did go hiking. You know, we lived in Papakolea, and behind our house up the mountain and Tantalus, and we explored all the trails.

 

Sarah Keahi had always wanted to learn Hawaiian so she could speak the language with her grandmother, who was a manaleo, a native speaker. After graduating from Roosevelt High School, Sarah Keahi enrolled at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, where she had her first opportunity to learn the Hawaiian language in a formal setting.

 

Now, was Hawaiian spoken in the house at all?

 

Well, my grandmother spoke Hawaiian with my mom sometimes. And I was fascinated. You know, I would talk to my grandmother a lot, ask her zillions of questions, and I really did want to learn Hawaiian. And it wasn’t until I went to the University that, you know, I saw Hawaiian 101, and I’m gonna take this. But my mom spoke Hawaiian with my grandmother, and my dad spoke sometimes. The only time we spoke Hawaiian was when they were scolding.

 

Scolding …

 

Scolding; they would scold us.

 

And you would know what it meant?

 

And we knew all the scolding. Like, you know, kulikuli, and you know, some of those things.

 

What does kulikuli mean?

 

Kulikuli is the not-so-nice way of saying, be quiet. It’s more like, shut up. You know. And so, we knew those kinds of things.

 

You were spoken to in Hawaiian as a way of scolding you, but it was also kind of a secret language too, among the adults.

 

Well, yes. ‘Cause like, when friends would come over, or my grandmother would talk with her friends, it was all in Hawaiian, you know.

 

It was the adult language.

 

Yeah. They never really sat down and taught you anything, because that’s not how they do it. You know. If you’re interested, you would sit down and listen. But it wasn’t until I was in college and when I started studying Hawaiian, and then you know, I think the day when I could understand my grandmother was just like, Oh, yes. You know?

 

She was a manaleo?

 

Yes; she was a manaleo.

 

And you were learning textbook Hawaiian.

 

Right. But I had my grandmother to practice with. I was really fortunate, because when I was at the University, I worked in the recording lab at the Bishop Museum with Eleanor Williamson, who was like my second mom to me. And Ele worked with Kawena Pukui, and they went on the road and they interviewed native informants. So, I got to go. And Kawena wanted to interview my grandmother, ‘cause she knew my grandmother; they were in the Royal Society together. And she said, I haven’t seen Grandma for a long time, I think I should go interview her. So, I went with them up to my grandmother’s house, and did the interview. And so, on the way back to the museum, Kawena said to me, You know, Grandma used so many words I haven’t heard for so long. You know, it’s so nice to hear those words again. I said, They’re probably archaic; right? [CHUCKLE] Only you native speakers know those words. And you know, my grandmother was a really fascinating woman because she was born when Kalakaua was King. And she lived through the Provisional Government, she lived through the Republic, Territory, and ten years into statehood.

 

Wow.

 

So, she saw all of those periods.

 

What was her take on statehood?

 

Well, she told me that on the day of the annexation down at the Palace, you know, the women who came, and she said as they saw their flag coming down, they wept, and they thought they would never see their flag again. So, they all went home and made Hawaiian flag quilts.

 

Wow …

 

And my grandmother made one. She made one. And I remember there was a time when Napua Stevens was having a program at the Ilikai, and she announced that she would honor Liliu’s birthday. Anyone who has a Hawaiian flag quilt in their family, if they would bring it forth, and they would have a display of them. So, Mom took Grandma’s quilt. And it was incredible, because as you looked at all the different quilts, there was no two alike. We still have that in our family, Grandma’s Hawaiian flag quilt. She signed the petition against annexation. I have a copy of it with her signature. You know, she said the Queen was imprisoned in her own home, and how it was done. I’m amazed, because to me, Liliuokalani epitomizes humility, that in the song she wrote, The Queen’s Prayer, in verse three, she says to her people that, you know, let’s not look at the evils of men, but let’s forgive them for what they did. I mean, that to me, you know, Liliu was just an incredible woman, and I really admire her a lot.

 

Earlier, you said that your grandmother didn’t like the way it was done.

 

Right.

 

But did she come to think that annexation was a good thing?

 

Well, you know, down the road, she did say to me that other powers were looking at us too. You know, she said the Russians were here; you know, they had built a fort. The French were here. I said to her, What about the British? Don’t you think the British might have been a good thing? You know. [CHUCKLE] I mean, look; Vancouver gives Kamehmeha a flag, and Kamehameha asked, What is this? And he says, It’s a symbol of our country. So, Kamehameha has a Hawaiian flag made, and that’s why the Union Jack is in the corner of the Hawaiian flag. So I said, What about England? What if we were English, you know, under England? She goes, Well, you know, it could have been. But I think she kind of came to terms with being part of the U.S.

 

Was there a Hawaiian major when you entered UH?

 

No. In fact, I had to go see the dean. It was Dr. Elbert who actually encouraged me to consider Hawaiian.

 

This is Samuel Elbert.

 

Yes; Sam Elbert.

 

Who co-wrote the Hawaiian Dictionary.

 

Yes; and everything else. Place names.

 

What was he like?

 

Warm, you know, kind, compassionate person. I loved him. I remember when I saw Hawaiian 101, I told my grandmother; Grandma, I’m signing up for Hawaiian 101. And she said, Hawaiian, at the University? I said, Yeah. So, I walked into class, and there was this man with gray, white hair, dark skin. And I thought, Wow, he looks like a Hawaiian grandpa. You know. And I sat right in front of him and I looked at him, and I smiled. And he introduced himself, and then he said, You know, I am not Hawaiian. And everybody was like, Really? He said, I am full Danish.

 

And he taught you your first Hawaiian language class?

 

M-hm. He called me up one day after class, and he said, Now, what do you want to do when in college? I said, Well, you know, Dr. Elbert, I’m gonna be a teacher. He said, Oh, maikai, maikai. And he said, Well, do you know what kind? I said, Well, I’m thinking English. He looked at me and he said, English? English? He said, What about Hawaiian? And I said, Hawaiian? There were no schools teaching Hawaiian, you know.

 

It seemed like bum advice.

 

Yeah.

 

Because you couldn’t get a job.

 

I said, Dr. Elbert, there’s nobody that I know, except the University. And he looked at me, and he said, There will be a day. And he just looked at me; There will be a day.

 

And he was right.

 

And he was right.

 

Sarah Keahi continued her English and Hawaiian studies at the University on her way to becoming a teacher. She was set to be a student teacher at Farrington High School in Kalihi during her senior year when she received a phone call that changed everything.

 

When it was time student teach, I got this call from Donald Mitchell from Kamehameha Schools. And he said, You don’t know who I am, but I know who you are. And I said, Oh, really? And he said, I know you’re gonna be ready for student teaching next year, and I would like for you to come to Kamehameha and student teach. I said, Really? Wow. I said, I’m already assigned to Farrington, you know, with Marion Lee Loy. And he said, Yes, I know, and I talked with the University people, and they said if it’s okay with you, it’s fine. [GASP] So, I got to student teach with Dr. Mitchell. And that was just transformative in my life. That man was just incredible.

 

You had already heard of him?

 

I didn’t, until I got there.

 

And then, he turned out to be—

 

Yes. Because see, if you were a Kamehameha student, you would have known him. But I wasn’t, see? And so, when I got there and really mentored by him, he was just an incredible person. I consider him Mr. Hawaiian Studies at Kamehameha. I really do. Because if it weren’t for him, you know, and Auntie Nona Beamer, those two people just welcomed me with open arms and thus, you know, we began a wonderful relationship. And Dr. Mitchell wasn’t even Hawaiian. He was from Kansas. But he was culturally Hawaiian. I student taught with him, and then he went on sabbatical, and I taught. And he would come and sit in my language classes. He would actually come and sit in my language class, and then I’d go sit in his culture class and learn everything that I could. So, it was a really wonderful relationship.

 

What was there of Hawaiian language at Kamehameha when you went there, I think, in 1966?

 

Yes. Nothing. We proposed a requirement in Hawaiian culture and history for years. Seven years, I think it took. Nothing happened, nothing happened. Then the Hawaiian community, you know, got involved in it. But I think when they did a graduate survey, and the graduates said—the five-year graduate survey, that they were deficient. The school prepared them well for math and science, and all, but they were totally deficient when it came to anything Hawaiian. And as they were in college on the mainland and people would ask them questions, they couldn’t answer them intelligently. Like, where did the Hawaiians come from? Or, could you say something, could you speak your language? Or, is there a language? I mean, they were embarrassed. So, the graduates said that they were really deficient, and finally, the requirement materialized.

 

And you were no easy teacher. You were no softie.

 

No. You heard about that?

 

Yes. I heard so many of your students who just admire you greatly; they say, She’s tough, but fair.

 

Yeah.

 

And you’re really adorable, except when you’re really not happy. You know, you have high standards.

 

Yeah.

 

And you’re just not gonna accept less.

 

Right; exactly. I said, you know, you cannot expect maximum grade if you put minimum work. You know? It doesn’t work that way. When I started in 1966, I was the only teacher. I couldn’t take sabbaticals because there was no one to replace me. You know, so I had to put it off, and put it off. And finally, you know, I was able to take a sabbatical. But I’m really happy to say that when I started, you know, yes, it was only me for years, and years, and years, and when I retired, there were like ten fulltime Hawaiian language teachers.

 

And you taught them all, I bet.

 

And most of them were my former students. Yes; I’m so proud of that. I could pass the baton.

 

And yet, she is still Kumu Keahi. Even though Sarah Keahi has retired from teaching, she continues to share her knowledge with the community, including serving as senior editor of the Hawaiian Bible project. Not only was she able to share her love of the language through her work on the Hawaiian Bible manuscript, she calls this the best job she ever had because she got to work at home in a tee-shirt and shorts. Mahalo to Hawaiian language champion and retired groundbreaking Kamehameha Schools teacher Sarah Keahi of Honolulu for sharing your stories with us. And thank you, for joining us. For PBS Hawaii and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha, hui hou.

 

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

 

If you look across the State, a lot of people in the Hawaiian world and the Hawaiian language field are Kamehameha graduates. And I’m really happy about that, you know. Because I said to them, you know, you need to share what you know, and go out there and spread the aloha, you know, and help your people, help your people.

 

[END]

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Holly Henderson

 

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

 

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

 

Holly Henderson Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

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

 

Holly Henderson came of age in the 1960s, a member of a generation that redefined values and spoke up for change. For decades, she has trained and advised nonprofit leaders in Hawaii. Holly Henderson, next, on Long Story Short.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

And your father; was he more open and forthcoming?

 

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

 

Because?

 

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

 

And your mom was an archeologist?

 

Yes, she was.

 

Wasn’t that uncommon at the time?

 

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

 

Your mother could have gone back to work. No?

 

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

 

And commitment to family means staying at home.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Gym tunics?

 

Yes.

 

And I remember you called it hideous.

 

It was.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Yes. I was thirteen.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

It still is. It still is.

 

Did you finally find happiness in college?

 

No.

 

Never did?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

And off to college. Where’d you go?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

You should have stayed in high school.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Which was?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Oh …

 

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

 

So, divorced, I take it.

 

Yes. That was the baby marriage. Yes.

 

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

 

Yes, I did.

 

Were those marriages happier?

 

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

 

Two husbands died at the eighth month?

 

Yes. So …

 

So, what was the effect on you?

 

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

 

So, you were a single woman traveling alone.

 

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

 

When you were there, Grace Guslander owned it.

 

Actually, Amfac owned it.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Yes.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

I’m not.

 

You mean, you’re still not?

 

Well, I’m nicer.

 

It did sort of work.

 

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

 

No.

 

Not that. You just were not a kind person?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Names on the stationery.

 

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

 

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

 

And you’ve been minting nonprofit executives.

 

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

 

And your core mission.

 

Your core mission.

 

Besides that.

 

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

 

I was one of your Weinberg Fellows.

 

Yes, you were.

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

M-hm.

 

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

 

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

 

And you made a film?

 

I did make a film.

 

And that’s the subject of it.

 

That is the subject of it.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

You clearly weren’t following a formula.

 

I definitely was not.

 

[END]

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Bob Apisa

 

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

 

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

 

Bob Apisa Audio

 

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

 

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

 

Before Marcus Mariota, there was Bob Apisa, a Samoan recruited from Hawaii, who also made history on the football field nearly half a century ago. Bob Apisa, next, on Long Story Short.

 

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

 

Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Bob Apisa was the first all-American college football player of Samoan ancestry whose achievements helped open the door for Polynesian players like Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariot. Apisa’s athleticism made him a college football star, and led him to a long career as a stuntman in Hollywood’s film industry. However, Apisa’s early years were a struggle. When he moved to Hawaii at the age of seven, he couldn’t understand a word of English.

 

Where were you born?

 

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

 

But you didn’t stay there, obviously.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

But you didn’t know why.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

It really was a salt lake then.

 

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

 

ILH.

 

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

 

The immigrants got left behind.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

And are you still wearing your baseball shoes?

 

I was wearing my baseball gear.

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

How’d you do in the doubleheader?

 

I hit a homerun.

 

It was a good night; a very good night.

 

It was a good night.

 

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

 

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

 

A.

 

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

 

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

 

Yeah; yeah.

 

What a team.

 

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

 

And that’s when you were a sophomore.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Bob Apisa, the fullback …

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Okay. This was Michigan State, and …

 

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

 

Small screen.

 

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

 

No cable television back then.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

And other than that, you feel good?

 

Other than that, everything else is working.

 

You’re okay.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Were you excited?

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

Well, you were comfortable with yourself; right?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Yeah.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

[END]

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Lessons on Leadership

 

This special edition revisits conversations with Hawaii’s business and community leaders as they share their thoughts on leadership. Featured are: Maenette Ah Nee-Benham, the late Skippa Diaz, Glenn Furuya, Hokulani Holt, the late Daniel Inouye, Thomas Kaulukukui and Colbert Matsumoto.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, Jan. 27 at 11:00 pm and Sunday, Jan. 31 at 4:00 pm.

 

Lessons on Leadership Audio

 

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I had my responsibilities as the platoon leader. And we had this code in the regiment; Don’t expect your men to go up if you’re not willing to go up. In the so-called book, the training book, it’s never led by the officer. Patrols go out. Scouts out, or something like that. The leader stays in the back. But in our code, as the boys would say, You go first, buddy.

 

Don’t ask anyone to do something—

 

Yeah.

 

—you’re not willing to do yourself.

 

 

The late Senator Daniel K. Inouye learned the intricacies and demands of leadership on the battlefields of World War II. He took these lessons with him into the world of government and politics, where he became one of the most powerful and influential leaders not only of our state, but of our nation. In this edition of Long Story Short, we will look back at some of our previous Long Story Short guests and their lessons on leadership, including how the nuances of local culture helped to shape their … leadership styles. Lessons on Leadership next, on Long Story Short.

 

Aloha mai kakou, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Master navigator Nainoa Thompson defines leadership as “stepping up….knowing … the right thing to do,,, and making it happen regardless of the consequences.” Doing the right thing can sometimes require an extraordinary amount of conviction, courage, and the ability to inspire others. In this special edition of Long Story Short, we revisit some of the stories and challenges shared by Hawaii … leaders. We begin with Thomas Kaulukukui, Jr., Chairman of the Board and Managing Trustee of the Queen Liliuokalani Trust, who, like Senator Inouye, picked up many of his first lessons in leadership on the battlefield.

 

I went into the Army in 1968.

 

You went to Vietnam?

 

I went to Vietnam for a year, 1969, ’70.

 

What’d you do in Vietnam?

 

I was a platoon sergeant in the paratroopers. Uh, did well in training, because I had the Kamehameha School ROTC background. And I ended up leading a platoon of men in … uh, basically jungle fighters.  Young men, at the time, uh, um, they’re like a pack of wolves. And they will do whatever the pack wants to do, unless there is an alpha wolf that keeps them on track. And um, if you’re not that person, they will get rid of you and get somebody else. So, you know, you really have to learn to step up.

 

Was there any particular event or moment when this all came clear to you, when you had any epiphanies over there?

 

Well, it was clear to me from the beginning. It’s uh, it’s—you know, when you’re with a group like that, it’s really clear. Uh, I’d never been in a fight in my life. I was in three fights in the first month I was there, because the men decided to test me. You have to realize, this is Vietnam War—

 

And you—

 

–and look at the way I look.

 

Uh-huh.

 

You know, I’m not a six-foot uh, uh, fair-skinned, round-eyed person. Uh, I was brought in to lead them, and I was obviously Asian. So I looked more like the enemy, than I did look like them. So it was an interesting experience, because um, I was in three fights with my own men, um, shortly after I got there, because they wanted to test whether or not I was tough enough to lead them.

 

And part of it was your culture?

 

Part of it was what I looked like. Uh, part of it was there was another leader there who they wanted, who had been there a month longer than I was, and they weren’t sure about me. So …

 

So you saw no—you had no—you had to fight. There was no—

 

Gotta fight.

 

–other way to do it?

 

Yeah. Fortunately, I was a black belt in taekwondo by then.

 

Before I got there, so without having to really hurt anybody, I guess they kinda … got some religion and said, Well, I guess he can beat up everybody else, so he’s all right.

 

We were someplace where uh, another unit got in trouble, and they called us and said, You need to go help them. Uh, there’s a battle going on, you need to go help them. And you need to get from Point A to Point B, right now. The trouble was, to go from Point A to Point B, you had to go between two hills. General rule, bad idea to go between two hills, because if the enemy is up on both hills, they’re gonna ambush you, and you’re gonna—you’re never gonna get there, you’re gonna be dead. So I called my squad leaders together. I ran a platoon of about thirty-five men. And I said, We have to go from Point A to Point B. They looked at the map, they said, We can’t go through there. I said, We don’t have a choice, because if we don’t go through there, by the time we take an alternative ro—route, our … people will be dead. So I gave an order. All the people kinda sat around, and they looked at me when they figured out where we were going. And they said, We’re not going. Now, think about the magnitude of that problem. Battle commander, give an order, people won’t go. Okay. Squad leaders, gave an order, they wouldn’t go. I tried to exhort them to move, they wouldn’t move, because … you know, the consequences were deadly. Uh, so finally, at that point, I got my radio telephone operator, made him saddle up, put on his backpack. I put my mine on. I said to everybody else, If you’re afraid, I’ll go save them myself; will fight this battle by myself. But you better hope I get killed, because if I’m not, I’m gonna come back and fix this. Off I went. Took the longest, slowest, smallest ten steps of my life down the trail waiting for—to hear if anybody else got up. And—and—and fortunately, I started hearing people getting up. They got up, and … they followed me, and off we went, and we—we made—we made it all right. Difficult experience, um … I’m not sure what would have happened if they didn’t follow. But one of the things I learned from that is, you gotta lead in front; can’t just tell people to go, especially if it’s difficult. You gotta be willing to pick up your rifle, put on your pack, and lead in front.

 

And be willing to go it alone.

 

And be willing to go it alone, if you have to.

 

So do you have a, you know, 25-word nutshell definition of leadership?

 

I have a … three-word definition, a three, word definition of leadership. My definition is that leadership is influence; nothing more and nothing less. If you have influence, and can influence, people and their thoughts, and emotions, and, actions, then you have leadership ability. That says nothing about your morality, because Hitler had leadership ability. But in—in a very … condensed, sense, I think leadership is influence. And—and learning to, influence in a positive way people’s thoughts, and emotions, and actions, were what—are the core of leadership, I think.

 

A wartime battlefield can shape leaders. So can growing up in a rural environment, where shared values help to create community well-being…. Colbert Matsumoto, born and raised on the Island of Lanai, is the Chairman of Island Insurance Companies. He also is a community leader in Honolulu, serving on … nonprofit boards in addition to corporate boards. Glenn Furuya, President and Chairman of Leadership Works, a leadership-training company he started more than 30 years ago, grew up in Hilo, on Hawaii Island. At the heart of the leadership style of each of these men is their understanding of local culture, and how being an effective leader in Hawaii can be very different from anywhere else.

 

Being local is not about where you were born. You know, it’s really about the kind of values, you embrace and the kind of philosophy that you use to guide your life, and the decisions you make in your life. So, there are many local people that you know, who were born and raised here that, you know, I don’t think espouse local values. You know. But on the other hand, there are many people that have moved here that clearly you know, the things that make, I think, Hawaii special resonated with them, which is why they chose to, come here and live here, and stay here.

 

This whole idea of local culture and what works; it used to be that certain positions in Hawaii guaranteed authority and respect. But that’s less and less true now; isn’t it?

 

Uh, yeah, I think that’s, definitely the case. You know, I think that you know, when I grew up which was when, you know, I think in the 60s, the plantations were still uh, very influential … forces in shaping our—our—our community. And there tended to be, you know, informal, leaders within those communities that people looked up to provide leadership. So in like the time that I grew up in, well, the principal of the school was, considered a very important figure. Some of the union leaders were considered important figures. Some of the, plantation bosses were also—

 

M-hm.

 

— looked up to as being, you know, important, community leaders. And so, um, people gravitated to them, and as they would in turn communicate, different, you know, projects or, concerns, you know, people would rally around them. And so, I think that those days have passed. I think that it’s harder to get people to align behind uh, different initiatives. In my experience, you know, run across, two different kinds of leadership. One—one is, implied leadership; leadership that is the result of the position that you hold. And most people fall into the category of having power because of, you know, the implied authority associated with them.   Whereas, you know, there are other people that, you know, have I think real power; a power that, you know, it generates from, they are able to assert themselves and the kind of vision and their ability to art—articulate concepts and ideas in a way that makes people feel like it resonates with them.

 

Definitely, you know, leadership requires a level of trust and confidence. It all starts from that. And if you don’t have the ability to engender the trust of the people that you’re trying to reach, you cannot lead them, you cannot convince them to move in any particular direction. That’s why, you know, great leaders have a certain special ability to engender that kinda trust.

 

You know, you have to be able to stick your neck out, because that’s how, you know, you progress. And, so asserting leadership involves taking risk, being willing to stand apart from the pack. And that takes a level of courage.

 

And so, you know, those kinds of leaders are fewer and harder to come by. But—but those are the kinds of leaders that I think exercise real, ability to move people, to affect change. And I don’t know why. I mean, it just seems that I don’t find as many of those kinds of people around as I think used to exist in the past.

 

I really do believe that the upbringing in Hilo— one thing it does is, you know, you’re humble. You you grew up humble.

 

Do you think humility … we prize humility—

 

M-hm, m-hm.

 

–in the Hawaiian culture—

 

M-hm, m-hm.

 

as well. But humility is seen as a weakness, other places.

 

Yes, it is. It’s viewed in many Western cultures as a weakness. But to me, I think that’s strength, when I can stand in front of my group and say, You know what, guys? I’m really sorry; I messed up, forgive me. You know, and just lay it out there. What’s the—what’s the alternative? What, blame people? Make excuses?

 

I do a lot of work on island style leadership, because I do believe it is a distinct and unique form of leadership. There’s this thing I call the same-same equilibrium; the same-same equilibrium. And it roots back to ahupuaa, where it was—society was an egalitarian society, where everybody in the society had a role, and everybody did their part. But all of the contributors within that society were viewed as equal, so everybody same-same.

 

M-hm.

 

Right? Okay. So, here’s the deal. Centuries later, the same-same essence mentality still is—is embedded in all of us. You’ve got to stay in this equilibrium, same-same. Everybody same-same, everybody does equal in their contribution. What’s very interesting is, whenever you break same-same, okay, and you think you’re—you act as if you’re better, right—‘cause if everybody’s same-same, then nobody’s more important or better than anybody else; right? But the minute you break it—and this is where a lot of times people who come from away, good people, they don’t understand this equilibrium. They break it. As soon as you get to this I’m better than you mentality, through your tone of voice, through your being too direct, not listening—

 

M-hm.

 

–showing everybody how smart you, the immediate response always is, Who the heck does he thinks he is? Who the heck does he think is? Immediate response.

 

Right.

 

And once that response comes out, you can’t lead in Hawaii. Who the heck you think you are? And they don’t tell it to you in your face. It’s—Hawaii is—

 

They just turn away.

 

I always say—

 

Right?

 

–to my leaders that I work with, Hawaii is the world capitol of passive aggressive behavior.

 

I do a lot of work with mainlanders coming down, to try to help them understand some of these little nuances of this place. Do not break the same-same equilibrium. Because as soon as those words come out, that question pops, it’s really hard to recover. The other thing with island people; they don’t—they don’t forgive. They—they take forever to let go.

 

The way I teach it is this. There are two types of leaders, Leslie. There’s circular leaders. These are people are who are very collaborative, they’re relationship-oriented, they’re kind, they—they really engage people.

 

M-hm.

 

Circular. Island people are generally more circular.

 

M-hm.

 

Okay. And that’s because in Hawaii, we’re a three-way blend of cultures. We are influenced heavily by Eastern culture, ‘cause in the 1940s, forty percent of the population of Hawaii was Japanese. So, heavy bushido code influence here.

 

The one element of the—the bushido code is this; you always operate from a sense of imperfection. You always come from a state of dissatisfaction. ‘Cause—

 

Oh, I didn’t know that.

 

Yeah. So, if you’re always dissatisfied, and you’re kinda imperfect, you always gotta work harder. You gotta try harder, you gotta study harder, you gotta go to school, you gotta learn. I never got praised by my parents; they never, ever praised, said, Good job, Glenn, won—you did a wonderful job. Nothing. And I think, bushido. They didn’t want me to get all big-headed and arrogant, and thinking I’m better than anybody else; right?

 

Right.

 

So, they kept—they kept it really, really restrained, the praise and things like that.

 

M-hm.

 

And yet, we’re all Americans; that’s the Western influence. We’re all Western educated folk. But at the same time, the host culture here is Hawaiian.

 

M-hm.

 

We have a major Polynesian influence. And there’s no place in the world these three forces come together like it does here in Hawaii. So, the Polynesian and the Eastern, Asian, right, give us the circular. We understand circular; that’s why people are so collaborative and warm, and aloha spirit, and ohana. Western culture is much more linear. You know, there’s the goal, here’s the plan, now do it. Now, move—

 

And if you have to run over somebody—

 

Yeah.

 

–to get there—

 

Right.

 

–it’s okay.

 

Right.

 

‘Cause that’s the goal.

 

Right, and there are a lot of island people who are just very linear, too. The biggest mistake you can make in Hawaii is take your linear approach, and slam it on the circular. Right? And then, that equilibrium gets broken. Who the heck does he think he is?

 

You’ve gotta be both. Circular, collaboration, involvement, build a relationship. But at the point of execution, we all gotta go linear; we’ve gotta get the job done.

 

I’ve always believed, Leslie, that whenever you impose things on people, when you just shove it in, you’ll get compliance. They’re gonna do it, because I’m afraid if I don’t do it, they’re gonna scold me or fire me, whatever. When you inspire people bottom-up—

 

M-hm.

 

–you get commitment. That’s real leadership.

 

Teachers are among our most important leaders. They have the power to influence and shape the minds of young people who will … become the next generation of leaders. Kumu hula Hokulani Holt, who is also the Cultural Programs Director of the Maui Arts and Culture Center, and Dr. Maenette Ah Nee Benham, Dean of Hawaiinuiakea at the University of Hawaii at Manoa’s School of Hawaiian Knowledge, are two such leaders. Their career paths are based on kuleana, the responsibilities handed down to them from their families and ancestors….

 

Hula has always been in our ohana. My grandmother was a kumu hula, she had seven daughters. Of her seven daughters, three became kumu hula. And of her granddaughters, first just me, and now my sister. And then of her great-granddaughters, my cousin Melia.

 

When did you decide you’re gonna be a kumu? Or—

 

Oh, I didn’t.

 

–did you decide?

 

I didn’t.

 

I guess that’s nothing you decide on your own, right, in the hula world?

 

Yeah, yeah; I didn’t decide. My mother decided for me.

 

She said, Well, I think it’s time for you to—to begin teaching. And I went, no, that—that belongs to other people, that doesn’t belong to me. And she said, No, I talked to your auntie, and I think it’s time for you to begin teaching. So I went kicking and screaming, but I went.

 

What kind of a kumu were you and are you?

 

I believe that I’m—I’m pretty strict. I hope to instill in my students a love for hula, but also a love for this place that we call home, and for all the many generations of people that came before us that created the—the chants and the songs, and the movements that we use. What a kumu hula is, is we want things our own way. And we demand that.

 

It is your world.

 

It is my world. I always tell my students, This is the world according to Hoku within these four walls.

 

And as a kumu hula, you get very involved in other people’s families.

 

Oh, yeah.

 

They become your family.

 

Oh, yeah.

 

So you’re privy to a lot of the struggles that—

 

Yes.

 

–people go through.

 

Yes. You know, you get parents coming and saying, You know, my daughter’s not paying attention to school, Kumu can you please talk to her? Or, you know, someone’s marriage or passing; you get involved in your students’ lives, and it’s a good thing.

 

Halau provides, focus, it—it really gets you to appreciate every little thing, I believe. And halau is not only learning hula, but it also teaches you about yourself. How to push yourself a little bit more, how to think about the welfare of others within the halau, and then that translates to others outside of halau, how to practice or do Hawaiian values, because that’s what you must have in halau as well, how to get past pain and tired, and late hours for a goal that you would like to reach. So those are all life lessons also.

 

So you were possessed at an early age of a conviction you wanted to lead.

 

M-hm.

 

Why?

 

Because I was always told that I would. I was always told. My grandmothers— both my Grandma Ah Nee and my Grandma Padeken explained to me when I was very young about my name, Kape‘ahiokalani. And it is a name of—of one of my great-great aunts, who was a chanter in King Kalakaua’s court. And basically, what they said to me was that because I held this name, I had the responsibility of—of remembering the moolelo of our family, and I had the responsibility of contributing to … the health and wellbeing of my family. That was it. That’s what they told me. And … you know, I said, Okay. Because that’s what you do. Your kupuna tell you that, and you say, Okay, so what do I need to do?

 

And there are all kinds of ways to accomplish that too.

 

Yeah, there’s all kinds of ways to do that. And I just found this to be my journey, you know, in educational leadership. I just found that to be what really gets me excited, um, what really inspires me is—and it all started because um, in fifth grade at Koko Head Elementary School, Mrs. Kwon made me do flannel board stories for the kindergartners. And I loved it. I loved just telling stories, creating stories and telling them to young kids, and watching the light bulbs go off. So my first job was as a kindergarten teacher. What a great job, you know, where you get unconditional love every single day.

 

And I know you’ve said you always want to be a teacher.

 

I always—

 

No matter what else you do, or how you do it, you want to be a teacher.

 

Yeah. Always; always. And that came from the stories and teachers over the years. You know, and good leaders are great teachers.

 

The genius of leadership is living into grace. And it’s—it’s that—that idea of creating a space where people can feel really safe, even though you say the worst things. I want you to feel safe here, I just want you to feel safe. And no matter what you have to say, no matter how angry you are, go ahead, go and do that. And when you’re pau, let’s get to work. You know, cause otherwise, we’re not gonna get it done, we’re not gonna—we’re just not gonna do it. And that’s how I—that’s how I lead. You know. And I try really hard to listen; listen, listen, listen. And as I listen, you know, I try to move it back to the core issue, as you said. Ask more questions about how that has to do with the issue, keep moving it, moving it, moving it.

 

But sometimes, there is no consensus.

 

And sometimes there’s not.

 

And then you have to figure out—somebody has to call it.

 

Yes.

 

This is not gonna be solved this way.

 

Yeah. And I do that. I do that too. You can ask the people who work for me. You know, it’s very open, we’re safe, we’re gonna talk about it, and this is how—this is the road we’re gonna take. I’m not afraid to do that. No; I’m not afraid to do that. It’s—it’s nice to know— I want people to know that everybody has a voice. You know, everyone has a voice. It’s a labor-intensive process, but everybody has a voice. And in the end, you know, there will be – everybody will know that there will be uh, a direction we’re gonna go. You know, and move on.

 

Because people want closure. I mean—

 

Yeah.

 

You can’t talk everything to death.

 

Yeah. In a microcosm, yeah, you know, we have a lot of diverse perspectives, but across the United States, across the globe, you know, there isn’t one way to do anything. But I do think that we’re reaching a time where there—there are more young people and young leaders who are seeing the promise and the potential of bringing together different groups, and really talking about hard issues, of renewable resources, about food safety, about education and wellbeing that’s very issue-oriented. And doing it in a way that is grounded in our religion, our stories. I think we’re ready at that point to do that, and I—I think that’s—that’s our work at the University to help prepare, you know, my community leaders to be able to do that.

 

I learned that, you know, you do good work. You have good intentions, you know. Doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter how much I can tell you about what I wrote, or what I studied, or what whatever, right? What matters is that I have good intentions, and I work really hard, and I try to be fair in everything that I do. And I try to be kind, you know. And I—and I lead in grace, developing a space where people can feel grace and welcome, you know. And then, we’ll move forward. Ohana does not always mean that we are of the same blood, ohana means that we can agree on a set of principles and a mission for the work that we’re doing, and we’re gonna be innovative and entrepreneurial, and we’re gonna work together really hard to get there. That’s ohana.

 

Humility, trust, listening, fairness, influence… all important qualities that Hawaii’s leaders say are critical to good leadership. These are values that we can use in our own lives, whether it is how we act with our families, in our jobs or how we conduct ourselves in the broader community. Our closing words of wisdom will be from the late Skippa Dias, legendary football coach at Farrington High School in Honolulu.

 

Mahalo to our Long Story Guests who have shared their stories and insights with us, and mahalo to you for joining us. For PBS Hawaii and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha a hui hou.

 

I developed um, an acronym. And the acronym was spelled out HEART, H-E-A-R-T. And—and each letter represented a basic tenet and belief that … you want the other person to acquire and mind for the young kinds. And the word HEART, the five five words are H refer to humility, the ability to … you know, to … listen to another person and … bite your tongue if—if he’s saying something that’s different than what you want. But being humble is a quality that is really, really … sought after for a lot of people, but never acquire. But humility is a good one. E, education. That one was very, very significant in my family’s upbringing. A, attitude; a positive attitude, making sure that, you know, whatever the goal, whatever the project, you set yourself out to be positive and g—and get the darn thing done. R, responsibility. You gotta be responsible for all the things that you do, and sometimes for the things that your friends and your loved ones are doing. But being responsible in that manner has—has some beautiful connotations that—that grow from it. And then T, of course, stands for team.

 

[END]

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Colbert Matsumoto

 

Colbert Matsumoto grew up on Lanai when it was a pineapple plantation employing both his father and mother. He didn’t set foot on the Continent until he was a college freshman. And he grew up to become an attorney, insurance company executive and business and community leader in Hawaii. Like many successful people, he had some misgivings and missteps along the way. On the next LONG STORY SHORT (Tues., July 7, 7:30 pm), Matsumoto humbly recalls his journey. And he tells of a test of his courage, as court-appointed master overseeing the dealings of then-Bishop Estate.

 

This program is available in high-definition and will be rebroadcast on Wed.,
July 8 at 11:00 pm and Sun., July 12 at 4:00 pm.

 

Colbert Matsumoto Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

You said your dad was a 442 vet, so that means he qualified for the GI Bill. He could have gone to college, but you’re saying he did not?

 

Yeah; my dad unfortunately, as soon as he came back from Europe and returned to Lanai, his father died unexpectedly. And so, my father, because he was the youngest in the household, and his siblings had all left the island already, stayed on Lanai to take care of his mother. So, he was from a generation that had this Japanese value of oyako-ko imbued in him. And so, I think that, you know, basically he said, It’s my responsibility to take care of my mother.

 

Do you think he ever regretted that choice?

 

No. If I he did, I never heard him articulate it. But I think that that was probably why he expected my brother and me to go to college.

 

That sense of doing what’s right was passed on from father to son. Born and raised on Lanai, Colbert Matsumoto would remember his dad’s leadership by example when he took on some of the most powerful people in Hawaii, and helped reshape the multi-billion-dollar Bishop Estate. Colbert Matsumoto, next, on Long Story Short.

 

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

 

Aloha mai kakou. Colbert Matsumoto went from plantation life on Lanai to become a business and community leader in Honolulu. He’s chairman of Island Insurance. Matsumoto’s life and career have been driven by a desire to impact lives, a motivation he’d seen his parents put into action as workers on Lanai’s pineapple plantation.

 

I grew up in a time when—I like to call it the Golden Period of the Plantations in Hawaii. Life was really nice growing up on Lanai. You know, our family, I think, you know, we had a comfortable lifestyle. We didn’t have a lot of extravagance, but you know, we had a TV set, you know, I was in the Boy Scouts. You know, my parents were members of the PTA, you know, we went to church on Sundays. And so, it was a nice place to grow up in. And so, as I look back on it, you know, I realize how almost idyllic it was to grow up in a place like that. But when I was growing up there, I couldn’t wait to leave.

 

Because it was too small a town, people all knew each other’s business, maybe?

 

Yeah; it was confining. I grew up in a community of twenty-five hundred people. Oh, there were many occasions when, you know, I would get into mischief as a little kid on one side of the town, and by the time I got home, my mom would know all about it. You know, and so, yeah; it was hard to remain anonymous.

 

When you said you couldn’t wait to get away, were there other things besides getting ratted on for mischief?

 

Oh, yeah. Growing up, we had a TV set, and I would watch shows about other places, and I always longed for the opportunity to experience some of the things that I saw on the TV programs. Because I didn’t get away from Lanai very much. I had never had the opportunity to visit the mainland until I went to college. And so, I felt somewhat isolated and confined as I grew older, and wanted to have the opportunity to experience different things.

 

The main employer on the island at that time was Dole; right?

 

Right.

 

And did your parents work for Dole?

 

Yeah; both my parents worked for Dole, as my grandparents also. Pretty much everybody on the island worked for Dole, unless you worked for the State or the County, or some of the retail establishments in the town.

 

There are drawbacks to company town, obviously, when you’re held in their thrall; they’re the main gig—

 

Right.

 

–for employment.

 

Well, you know, I think that, yeah, the only jobs that were available were on the plantation. Which is why, you know, growing up, we all knew that once we graduated, we were expected to leave the island. Because there were no opportunities for young people after they graduated from high school on Lanai.

 

Which your parents had that expectation of; right?

 

Oh, yeah; the parents. But you know, it was also the economic reality of the island.

 

I mean, were you concerned? What am I gonna do? How am I gonna make it?

 

No. You know, I think my parents always raised me with the expectation that I was supposed to go to college. They themselves had not gone to college, so they didn’t care which college, or what I studied. You know, they just wanted me to go to college and graduate from college.

 

Did they explicitly give you lessons of life?

 

They did, you know, in different ways. So, you know, they would basically try to teach me certain values. But then, they also, I think, taught me a lot just by their example.

 

Your father, for example; what did he teach you? What did you come away with?

 

One of the things that he was heavily involved in was with the ILWU. Because the union figured very significantly in our community. So, my father would share with me some of the stories of the struggles that the union and the employees had to go through in the beginning. ‘Cause he was a 442 veteran, and so when he came back, one of the things that he and, you know, people of his generation were struggling for were not just economic justice, but also social reforms in the community. So, the union, the ILWU was very significant in, I think, bringing about some changes back on the plantation. ‘Cause many of them didn’t have the opportunity to own their homes. So, one of the things that they struggled for was to have the opportunity to buy their own homes, which many of the workers did.

 

Under your dad’s tenure?

 

Yeah; during the time that he was involved with the ILWU.

 

What was your mother like? What is she like? Because, you know, she’s still with us.

 

Right. My mother was a strong woman. You know, she made sure that my brother and I kept out of trouble, which she didn’t always succeed at.

 

But she always found out.

 

Yeah; she found out. But she was a stickler for the rules, and you know, she really had a strong sense of fairness, of right and wrong. And I think that that enabled her to go from being a pineapple picker to one of the first female, wahine lunas on the plantation.

 

What was that like? So, did she boss men around?

 

No; she usually headed, you know, gangs of women who were ipicking pineapple for the plantation.

 

Oh, that’s wonderful; a wahine luna.

 

Right. But that wasn’t until, you know, the late 70s, when equal rights became more of an issue for women.

 

So, it sounds like both of your parents challenged; challenged for more fairness, for equity.

 

Right. I think that, you know, that generation, they were second generation Japanese Americans. That generation really was focused on bringing about social change for the benefit of the community. And so, both of them made contributions in various ways through the activities that they were involved in and volunteered in. And they were among many in the community that were also, you know, engaged in those kinds of efforts on behalf of the group, as opposed to just for their own personal benefit.

 

Colbert Matsumoto was valedictorian of his high school class on Lanai. He went on to college in the Bay Area, and graduated from law school at the University of California at Berkeley. He wanted to be a lawyer to have an impact on society.

 

When I went up to college, it was the first time I was up on the mainland. So, it was a total culture shock for me. I had never been on the mainland before, I had never seen an urban environment like that. So, was definitely an eye-opening experience.

 

How was your college experience? What’d you decide you were gonna do with your life? Did you decide then?

 

Yeah; I had gone to college with the intent of becoming a high school social studies teacher.   So, that was my objective going in. About halfway through, I came home for a summer and worked at a warehouse on a nightshift crew, and there were three other guys that were working on the crew that had already graduated from UH in education. One had a master’s degree, the other two had fifth-year certificates, and none of them could find jobs with the DOE.

 

That’s right. I remember that was the time of a teacher surplus.

 

So, I figured I needed to find something else. And that’s when I decided, Well, I guess I’ll try applying to law school, which is what I ended up doing.

 

Any particular reason?

 

Well, you know, I had never met a lawyer before. I had never been in a courtroom, or knew anything about what the practice of law was. At the time, you know, I just knew that lawyers went to court. Perry Mason, The Defenders; those were my images of lawyers. And I thought, you know, lawyers made a lot of money, and didn’t have to work hard.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

And so, I thought that, Okay, maybe that would be a good profession to get into. But I also knew that lawyers had the ability to bring about change, that they had a certain knowledge base that allowed for an advocacy of different ideas. And so, I thought that by becoming a lawyer, I would be able to have an impact in terms of society. Because, you know, I grew up in the 60s, so it was a time of a lot of social change; the Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War and the anti-war movement. It was also a time when, you know, the environmental movement first started to get started. And so, there was a lot of idealism, I think, with my generation. And so, I looked at, you know, practicing law as being an opportunity to become more of a contributor to the kinds of social changes that were taking place in society.

 

You were used to being a really smart guy in all your classes up ‘til now. Now, in law school, everyone was probably the smartest in the class they came from before.

 

Right.

 

What was that like?

 

It was very intimidating. Like I said, I had no clue what being a lawyer was all about. And so, I almost flunked my first semester of law school. Because I thought a contract was a piece of paper that, you know, you put an agreement on. I didn’t realize that it was a legal concept that had, you know, certain components to it. And so, the concepts associated with law were so foreign to me, so I had a hard time grasping a lot of that when I first went to law school.

 

Do you think maybe part of it was because you were used to more of a handshake, and your word was good, and it was sort of uncomplicated on Lanai?

 

No, I think I was pretty much just naïve and clueless about what I had elected to pursue in law. So, fortunately, I had a professor who was very sympathetic, and I had some fellow classmates that were very supportive and encouraging. And so, I stuck it out, and managed to do okay.

 

Colbert Matsumoto did something quite unusual after he passed the Bar Exam and was qualified to practice law. He embarked on a six-month journey that continues to inform his life.

 

I entered a Zen monastery. So, I shaved my head, and then went into this Zen monastery and trained.

 

Where was it?

 

It was in Kalihi Valley. So, it was Chozen-ji. It’s a Rinzai Zen temple. And I had heard about the teacher there, Tanouye Tenshin Rotaishi, who was an accomplished martial artist, but also a Zen teacher. And so, I had trained in the martial arts when I was a kid growing up, and so, you know, I had an interest in it. But I had also realized that Zen was the philosophical underpinnings of Japanese martial arts and so, I wanted to learn more about that. And so, that’s why I asked him if I could, you know, train with him at his temple.

 

And what did you learn?

 

You know, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. It was a very rigorous and arduous kind of training, physically demanding training that I went through while I was there. But it was also psychologically very stressful and difficult.

 

When you said arduous, I don’t really know what that means in terms of meditation or Zen studies.

 

We would get up at like, you know, four-thirty in the morning. We would sit in meditation for hour and a half from five-thirty. And then, we would have breakfast and then, we would do martial arts training from eight to ten in the morning, and then we would have to work out in the gardens or do some construction activity. And then, in the afternoon, you know, we would bathe, and then we would go through another period of intense meditation, and then we would do martial arts training from seven-thirty to like, ten o’clock at night. And you know, it was just physically very demanding. And I mean, I lost a lot of weight while I was going through that, and it was very tough, both physically and psychologically.

 

And was it meant to reduce you to who you really are, to take away the external stuff?

 

Right. Basically, the training had a lot to do with, you know, freeing you from your dependence on the kinds of things that you grow up with, thinking that these are real things that you can hang onto in terms of defining who you are, and defining your life and how you lead your life. There definitely are gonna be times when you’re not gonna be able to overcome certain things. But you have to try. So, it’s more about the effort and how it transforms you as a person, by taking on that challenge.

 

That’s interesting, ‘cause as a lawyer, I think you’re pretty goal-oriented. But you’re saying you learned how to accept that the effort is the main point.

 

Right. I think, you know, as human beings, you know, we have the capacity to continue to evolve and change, and grow. But you have to make the effort at it, and you have to be willing to take the risk associated with experiencing those kinds of changes in your life.

 

Following his Zen training, Colbert Matsumoto went into business as a solo law practitioner. He shared office space with a man who would become governor, Ben Cayetano. Later, he joined the law firm of the late Wallace Fujiyama, one of Hawaii’s finest trial lawyers. Yet, Matsumoto says his early years in law were hardly a success.

 

 

The first thing I did was, I hung my shingle and tried to practice law on my own for two years, which was a disaster.

 

Why?

 

Because I wasn’t prepared. You know, law school doesn’t really prepare you to practice law.

 

To run a business; is that the part of it that got you?

 

No; there is so much more to being a good lawyer than what you learn in law school. And so, I really needed to be mentored and with some people that were more experienced, who could in turn teach me the ropes and help me understand, you know, what you did as a good lawyer. So, I ended up giving it up and getting a job with Wally Fujiyama’s law firm. He established himself, even on the national scene, as a very accomplished trial attorney. But you know, Wally, for all his success as a lawyer, never forgot his ties to the community. And I think that for him, that was an important—he saw it as a social responsibility that he bore to not just focus on his own law practice and pursuing opportunities for himself, but also to contribute to the benefit of the community in terms of, you know, the lives of other people. The other thing about him that I thought was really admirable was that he was a risk taker. And so, he wasn’t hesitant to put himself out front and to become the subject of criticism.

 

Do you remember that time when you were struggling to run your own place, do you remember feeling embarrassed that another lawyer saw you do something?

 

Oh, yeah. No; there were many times when, you know, I realized that I was over my head in terms of the assignment that I had. And it was frustrating. It was frequently humiliating.

 

Did you second guess yourself, saying, I shouldn’t have done this, I shouldn’t have gotten, this is not my—

 

Oh, definitely. No; I thought to myself that, you know, I mean, this was not the right career path. Which is why I abandoned it.

 

But you stayed in law; you didn’t abandon law.

 

No; no. But quite honestly, I hated practicing law. I thought it was a mistake to have become a lawyer, because I just didn’t enjoy it. It took me over ten years before, you know, I finally started to feel more comfortable about what I was doing, and began to enjoy it.

 

In 1996, Colbert Matsumoto was appointed the Court Master for Bishop Estate. It was a role that required him to examine the finances and structure of the multi-billion-dollar trust for Native Hawaiians. Within a year, the Estate came under fire amid allegations of gross mismanagement, and many called for the powerful and highly paid trustees to resign. Matsumoto unexpectedly found himself taking on the trustees in a scathing 120-page report he issued to the court.

 

When the judge appointed me to be the Court Master, the controversy hadn’t erupted.   I knew that being Court Master for Bishop Estate was a high-profile of engagement, but I had no clue that it was gonna be as controversial as it ended up being. So, it wasn’t until almost a year after I had been appointed that things kinda erupted. The Broken Trust essay was published, the march on Kawaiahao Plaza occurred, and by then, I started to realize that, you know, this assignment that I had undertaken was gonna require that I take on the trustees. And that was kind of an intimidating notion to think about at that time. Because I had just started my own law firm a couple of years before that. And so, I actually thought to myself, you know, Okay, here I’m in this situation where if I do my job right, I’m gonna end up getting five of the most powerful people in Hawaii upset at me. So, I did think about tendering my resignation to the judge. But as I was kinda weighing that decision, I reflected on, you know, why did I go to law school, why did I want to become a lawyer. And I thought about the idealism that I had when I was in my twenties, and wanting to, you know, make a positive contribution to society. And so, I thought to myself that, you know, here I’m a positon where I could make a difference if I did my job right, and if I did it in a professional way, and am I gonna walk away from it. And so, when I looked at it in that way, I decided that, no, I should stick this out. And that’s what I ended up doing.

 

And what did you find? You saw the raw data, or at least what raw data was presented to you.

 

Well, I found a lot of issues with respect to accountability and transparency. You know, a lot of the investments that they had engaged in were not going well, were not performing as they should have. The other thing that they had done was, they had divided up areas of responsibility among the five of them, so that each of them basically had control over a different aspect of the estate. Which I found to be a violation of the trust that had been given to them, because Princess Pauahi had basically designated that there were five trustees that were all supposed to act in concert, rather than, you know, five individual trustees—

 

Five CEOs.

 

–that had their own kuleanas, and could make decisions that would be unchallenged within their kuleanas. And so, you know, that was part of the governance of Kamehameha Schools that I felt were not in conformity with what the Princess’ original wishes were, and certainly not in conformity with trust law.

 

What was the turning point, do you think, in the legal case that really turned the trust upside down, and resulted in the removal of a trustee?

 

Well, things started to deteriorate over the three years that this was going on, for the trustees. And I think that they, as I said, hunkered down. They were very resistant to making a number of the changes that the court expected of them. And then, the real blow that I think did them in was when the IRS came in and raised a number of concerns about their behavior and their management of the estate.

 

A lot of that was based on what you had put out; right?

 

Yes and no. You know, the IRS had done a lot of their own homework, and they had other issues that they wanted to raise with the trustees. But you know, IRS has a very heavy hand, and when they enter the picture, you know, it’s pretty tough [CHUCKLE] to fight them.

 

Colbert Matsumoto ended his twenty-year legal career in 1999, and became chairman of Island Insurance. Matsumoto is known as a strategic problem-solver. He used his skills and his influence to help save the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii from foreclosure in 2002. Matsumoto led a team that successfully raised nine million dollars in just a few months.

 

How did you actually get the money?

 

Well, you know, it took a lot of hard work and effort. And so, you know, our group—and we called it the Committee to Save the Center. We knew that this was a desperate cause, and that nobody likes to contribute money to what they think is gonna be ultimately a failed effort, because you know, you’ve heard the term, you know, throwing good money after bad. And so, nobody wanted to throw good money after bad. So, what we pledged to the audience was that we would only cash their checks if we had raised enough money to save the center. But until then, all we were gonna do was collect checks. And so, that’s what we did. And I think that that gave people the confidence to contribute to us. Whenever we would receive a donation, we would do a personalized letter to that person, thanking them for their contribution. And I would sign every letter. And so, my wife would stay up with me at night to help me stuff envelopes, and get the letters ready to be mailed out to the people that donated. And so, yeah; it took a lot of work, but it was very satisfying.

When you look back at that, did you learn new things about yourself?

 

Not so much about myself, as much as my confidence in my community was not misplaced. It reaffirmed my sense that, you know, we are a special place, we are a special community, that you know, Hawaii is a place that retains a lot of the qualities that growing up on Lanai, I think, I felt were unique once I was able to contrast it to my experiences on the mainland. And so, it reaffirmed my desire to try to maintain those qualities about our community.

 

Colbert Matsumoto chose the business boardroom instead of following his parents into a labor union. However, his strong sense of community goes back to his parents’ values and the sense of extended family in his upbringing on rural Lanai. To that, he added higher education and Zen training. Thank you, Colbert Matsumoto, 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.

 

My own daughters, my two daughters, when they were in elementary school, we went to Lanai for a visit, and I remember giving them like ten dollars and telling them, you know, Why don’t you go buy some ice cream, you know, from the ice cream store? And so, they looked at me like, you know, Well, aren’t you gonna take us? And I said, No, you know where it is, so why don’t you walk from Grandma’s house to the ice cream store. And so, they did. And it was the first time they had ever done that.

 

And you felt okay, ‘cause it was Lanai.

 

Oh, yeah. No, I felt perfectly fine about it. And it was definitely a new experience for them.

 

[END]

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Keone Nunes

 

How deep is a tattoo‌? Does the ink only go skin deep‌? Practitioner Keone Nunes seeks to learn more about his subjects before settling on a design and putting ink to skin. He looks to their genealogy, their personal story, their vision, before deciding on a design that he deems appropriate to the individual. For practitioner Keone Nunes, a tattoo is more than skin-deep; it’s a representation of who that person is.

 

Keone Nunes Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

You know, there’s a lot of lore that has been built up around you.

 

Really? [CHUCKLE]

 

You were the first to do this that I’m aware of. And people wanted you to do their tattoo, and this is what I’ve heard, that they wanted you to do a certain design, and you’d say … No.

 

Yeah; that’s true. [CHUCKLE]

 

Why?

 

Primarily, it is because I’m not a tattooist, I’m a practitioner. And … as a practitioner, I have certain responsibilities. And if I know that design is not appropriate for you, I’m not gonna do it, because it’s my responsibility to give you something that is appropriate.

 

Keone Nunes of Waianae, Oahu, has made hundreds of tattoos on Native Hawaiians and non – Hawaiians. Yet, as he says, he is not a tattooist. His cultural practices didn’t initially include tattooing, but his life journey took him in that direction. His dedication to the practice has made him instrumental in reviving this Hawaiian art form that was nearly lost. Keone Nunes, next on Long Story Short.

 

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

 

Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Since the Hawaiian Renaissance of the 1970s, Native Hawaiians have revived many of the traditions that had been nearly lost when Christian missionaries banned Hawaiian cultural practices. Tattooing is one of the customs that has been revitalized, and many Native Hawaiians today proudly display their cultural identity through their tattoos. Keone Nunes is a well – known Native Hawaiian tattooist not only in Hawaii, but through Polynesia, and even in Europe where tattoos are also popular. He was raised in Waianae on Oahu, but that isn’t where his story begins.

 

I actually was born in Japan. I was born in Morioka, Hirata – ken, Japan. My father was in the civil service; he was actually stationed in Japan at that time. And my mom was from Morioka, and so, I was born there. And I came to Hawaii when I was two and a half years old.

 

Who was the Hawaii connection; your father?

 

My father is Hawaiian, Portuguese. And the interesting thing was that before, there was this term that really meant something, and it still continues. It’s FOB, fresh off the boat. I actually was fresh off the boat. [CHUCKLE] We came over on a boat, and I remember that journey. I went back to Japan in 1980; the early 80s. And I was very surprised at how much I remembered, even though I was like two and a half. My mom took me over to her friend’s house, and I looked at her, and I immediately knew who she was. So my mom asked me, Do you know who this is? And I said, Yeah. And the woman was very, very surprised. She says, No, I don’t think you know who I am. And I said, No, I remember you. She said, Well, you used to do one thing, and can you tell me what it was? I said, Yeah, sure. I used to chase you with a bamboo snaking saying, Hebi, hebi, hebi. Hebi is Japanese for snake. And you used to run away. [CHUCKLE] And she was very surprised, but I remember that.

 

Is that your earliest memory?

 

Yeah, pretty much. I remember taking a lot of joy in doing that. [CHUCKLE]

 

[CHUCKLE] ‘Cause she ran; right?

 

Yeah; she ran. [CHUCKLE] Yeah.

 

So, when you got off the boat, you moved to Waianae.

 

Yes; our family land was in Waianae.

 

Your last name is Portuguese, but you don’t identify as Portuguese, I know.

 

No; I was never really taught Portuguese things. It’s kind of sad in a sense, but I don’t know that much. My grandfather kinda identified more with being Hawaiian; he spoke Hawaiian and he was very dark. My father also is very dark, and unfortunately, my father and mother split up in the early 60s. And so, I never was raised with my father. My grandfather died shortly after; I was about seven years old, I guess, when he passed away. And so, his identification was more along the lines of being Hawaiian. He was a paniolo in the west side, in the Waianae side, and so I remember him making saddles and seeing the saddles, and things like that.

 

And you were close to your grandfather?

 

Yeah; I was very close to him. And I remember him rolling cigarettes [CHUCKLE], and how quickly he did that.

 

With one hand?

 

With one hand. Yeah. [CHUCKLE] And I remember that kind of stuff. And he actually spoke to me in Hawaiian. So, I didn’t really have a real good comprehension of English until I was in the first grade. Because my kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Onzuka, gave me instructions in Japanese.

 

Why?

 

Because I couldn’t speak English.

 

Oh, so you spoke Japanese in the home, and then your grandfather …

 

Yeah; Japanese, and pretty much Japanese, Hawaiian, with a little bit of English smattered in. But my English was not as prevalent.

 

Did your mom speak English, though?

 

She did.

 

Along the way.

 

She did. And in fact, after I started learning, she kind of felt bad, because she thought that I was having a hard time during first grade, and she felt that it was her fault because she was speaking to me in Japanese. And so, she spoke to me more and more in English.

 

After your father left, and your grandfather passed away, did you have other father figures in your life?

 

I did. And it was kind of interesting, because throughout elementary, it never really bothered me, because I was surrounded by a community that was very, very caring. When you mention Waianae, you don’t think of a caring community, but it really, really was. And it still is, to a large extent. And our neighbors would watch out for us, and all of that. And when I was growing up, if we were coming home from the beach, oftentimes, neighbors would see us walking up; they would tell us, Come over and eat. And we would do that; me and my brother would go over there, and we would eat dinner and stuff. They would call my mom up and say, Don’t worry about your boys, they’re over here, and all of that. And so, that actually was a reality for us. And so, I never felt that I was lacking anything.

 

You just felt embraced by a community.

 

Exactly. And when I went into intermediate school — I went to Waianae Elementary, Intermediate, and Waianae High School. And when I went to intermediate school, there was one teacher that took a liking to me, Mr. Ben Lapalio. And he really kind of mentored a lot of young Hawaiian boys.

 

I’ve heard his name before.

 

Really?

 

He’s had a wide influence, I think.

 

Yeah; he was great. That’s how I started knowing what the responsibilities were expected from me. And so, that’s the first foundation that I had.

 

As a student, as a boy, as a man?

 

Yeah; as student. He instilled that to us. And he instilled the importance of education. And so, that was really, really important to me. Then, when I went to high school, I had another really strong male influence by the name of Kona Smith. And he passed away several years ago. But he was another one that instilled pride in who you were, and things of that nature. And he kind of got me started dancing hula and such. There were other influences in high school, too. I think the educational influences was basically from Kona Smith and also from Mrs. Korenaga. She was my counselor, and she influenced me a lot, and she wanted me to go to college, whereas other counselors felt that it would be best if I went into the military or something like that.

 

Because?

 

Probably because I came from a single parent family and other issues.

 

They thought that was your best shot.

 

Yeah. I don’t really fault them for that type of thought, but I think that if a person shows interest in bettering themselves, then you be as supportive as you can. And Mrs. Korenaga was; yeah.

 

Keone Nunes graduated from the University of Hawaii at Manoa. His career path went in a direction that he was not expecting.

 

I majored in anthropology, and I had a certification in Hawaiian language. I taught Hawaiian language at Hilo Community College for a while. Then after I came back, I worked for the Bishop Museum, then Kamehameha Schools. And also, a year with Office of Hawaiian Affairs. I landed at Kamehameha Schools, and I was working for a program that did a lot of outreach to Hawaiian communities. And so, it was really an opportunity for me to give back to the community. And I always wanted to do that, so I took that opportunity. And it was there that I really got a little bit more focused. It offered me the opportunity to give a presentation where we had some national facilitators from Washington, D.C. who was in the audience. And they approached me afterwards, and asked if I would be willing to facilitate on a national level. And I told them, Sure.

 

Were you surprised?

 

I was very surprised; yeah.

 

Did you know you were good at what you did? Because obviously, that’s why they asked you; right?

 

[CHUCKLE] Yeah. I didn’t know that I was good. I think that there’s a lot of local people that have good facilitation skills, but they don’t know about it until somebody tells them.

 

What do you have to have to be a good facilitator?

 

You have to have the ability to listen. You have to have the ability to think on your feet, and you have to have the ability to put things in ways that will not offend anyone else. And so, as far as that’s concerned, that’s the path that was opened up to me, and I chose that path.

 

How did you develop that style?

 

I don’t know; I really don’t know. I can’t really say. A lot of it is from talking story with a lot of the older people. Because when I graduated from high school, that was one of my passions. When everybody else was going out to nightclubs and such, I was talking to elders, a lot. Auntie Muriel Lupenui was a tremendous influence to me. That’s Darrell Lupenui’s mother, and I danced for Waimapuna. And so, she was a very, very strong influence for me. Auntie Emma Defries and I had a lot of good conversations. Papa Kalahikiola Nalielua was another. Uncle Herman and Auntie Frieda Gomes really, really took me under their wings and taught me how to do musical implements, and things of that nature. And so, I had a lot of different influences. I think part of the facilitation skills that I picked up was through them. And I definitely know a lot of the cultural things that I know was definitely through all of them.

 

And so, you got noticed by national people, and trained by them?

 

Yes. I went for training in 1990, and I was working freelance with them until 2006. Yeah; about there.

 

And then?

 

I started working with ACO Incorporated, and they’re the largest Native American corporation. They needed someone in Hawaii to work the Pacific region, and so they asked me to do it. And they kind of mentored me and encouraged me to have my own company. And so, I opened up my own company, and that’s what we do now.

 

Was that a passion for you, the facilitation?

 

Yes. Facilitation has always been a passion, I guess because I could see the good things that would come out of it. As far as my cultural work is concerned, I can only reach out to a finite group of people; whereas if I do something like facilitate a meeting that’s, say, for a nonprofit organization, that network really, really spreads out.

 

Keone Nunes’ ability to work with organizations to help them understand their common objectives and achieve their goals is a skill that came naturally to him, not only because he was a good listener, but because the kupuna had also taught him how to resolve conflict without taking sides. Yet, he is better known in Hawaii and the Pacific for doing something else that stirs his passion.

 

You’re running a business, and you do all these other cultural things. Are you the kumu of your halau?

 

Yes.

 

And you do what else?

 

A lot of people know me for tattooing. [CHUCKLE]

 

Because of all the Keone Nunes tattoos I see around town, you must be busy.

 

Yeah, I’m pretty busy.

 

But you only do it …

 

On weekends.

 

— in your off hours.

 

Yes; for the most part.

 

Non – hula, non – facilitation, and non – grant – writing.

 

Right; right. And so, I hardly have days off. And sometimes when I have one day out of the week off, I cherish it. [CHUCKLE] But it’s important work, I was really, really fortunate to have strong influences along those lines. I learned a lot from a lot of these kupuna, many of which I mentioned before. People like Auntie Muriel Lupenui knew quite a bit. And Papa Kalahikiola Nalielua; he knew quite a lot also. As well as Emma Defries and Auntie Martha Lum Ho, Johnny Lum Ho’s mother; she remembered family members that had traditional tattoos and all of that.

 

So, when you were just talking story with these elders because you enjoyed it, you were actually learning something that was to be a game – changer for you, and also for many people who are looking for tattoos that spoke to their family and their genealogy.

 

Exactly. At that time, I never recognized the importance of what they were

 

saying. I never thought that I’d be a tattooist. It’s not something that I would have chosen. And it was really interesting, because these people would talk about it, but not force it upon me, but just give me enough, just enough palu, enough bait for me to ask more questions. It was really, really important.

 

Do you think they were trying to pass that on to you?

 

In retrospect, yeah; definitely. And because I know with several of them, they never passed it on to their blood relatives. Although, I was related to Auntie Muriel Lupenui, the others didn’t really pass that much of that information on to their blood relatives.

 

That’s so interesting, because many kupuna have passed on without passing on their knowledge, because I think they perceived that no one was interested in taking it forward. But you’re saying, that’s not what you were planning, either. But you must have shown interest.

 

I think part of it was that I was willing to sit down and listen, and I would ask some questions afterwards. I think a lot of kupuna, and I can kind of understand that now as I’m getting older; a lot of the kupuna didn’t want to just give the information out to everyone. They wanted to give their information out to someone that they felt would appreciate what was being told to them. And I did appreciate things. I didn’t have full comprehension of it, but I did appreciate every second that I sat on the foot of all of these kupuna.

 

When they spoke of tattooing, did you get into the details? Like, what kind of bone did you use for your tool, and all of that?

 

I got more into the design element. Auntie Muriel knew about the tools, and she talked to me a little bit about that, and also the making of ink and all of that. So, I knew those type of things from one source, and that’s my one source for that. But everybody else knew about the patterns, the meanings, what families was connected to, and all of that kind of stuff.

 

Did you sit down and look at patterns with them?

 

Yeah. They actually drew some patterns for me, and all of that.

 

Did you keep any of the drawings?

 

Yeah; I have them. It was quite exciting. And I never realized, though, how close we were to losing that. Because at that time, I thought it was common knowledge. I thought people in all families were having discussions like I was. And it wasn’t until much, much later that I realized that that was not the case. And so, it’s important to understand these things, especially when you’re going through it, because I think if I had not recognized that, then you know, I might be doing something else. [CHUCKLE]

 

But you saw it was a need.

 

Yeah.

And it would be lost.

Yeah.

You eventually did.

 

I eventually did, and that came about in 1989 when I got my first tattoo. I was looking for about eight years for someone to do work on me. Auntie Muriel gave me a pattern that she said would be appropriate for me.

 

Appropriate is a vague word for me. What does that mean?

 

Sometimes, some people will give me a design and say, Oh, well, this is a family design, and all of that. Then I look at it, and I recognize that it’s borrowed pattern from other cultures. We never had curvilinear designs, with the exception of round and half – round designs. If I wouldn’t want someone walking around with patterns that belong to my family, then what makes it right for me to appropriate patterns from another culture, that may belong to someone else’s family?

 

I guess it goes to what one’s reason is for having a tattoo; right?

 

Exactly.

 

I think you think of it as identification.

 

Yes.

 

And other people may just want a cool design.

 

Yeah. And that’s fine. If you want a cool design, that’s great. But there’s hundreds, thousands of other tattooists out there that would probably be better than me. [CHUCKLE]

 

Does that mean if somebody who is not Hawaiian comes to you, you won’t do their tattoo? You won’t give them a tattoo?

 

If they’re a good person, it doesn’t matter to me. Because they have to defend, and they have to defend who we are as Hawaiian. And so, I think it’s a good thing. It was done traditionally; it wasn’t just Hawaiians. There are noa designs, there are designs that do not belong to anyone, or that signify certain aspects in life. And with those noa designs, just about anyone could wear them.

 

Did everyone have tattoos in the ancient Hawaiian culture?

 

Not everyone. I think to one extent, a lot of people did. But all of the intricate extensive tattoos were primarily for the people of the upper echelons. Because they could afford to have it done, one, and they were people that didn’t need to go out to the loi, they didn’t need to go out to the taro fields, they didn’t need to do any of that kind of stuff, so they could heal properly. So, I think that that’s important to understand, is that the people of higher status oftentimes had more tattoos. One of the things that is unique being someone putting on uhi, putting on tattoos on someone else is that that was the only class of people that could spill the blood of alii without being killed. And it was us that controlled the protocols. And a lot of people don’t understand that, because we had to control the protocols. The protocols were important for us; we could not adhere to other people’s protocols because it might not be congruent to what we needed to do. So, we set the tone. And a lot of people don’t realize that.

 

And what’s the tone?

 

The tone is, we determine who comes, who goes, where it’s done. and even to an extent the designs. I mean, at this point in time, if you were to come and watch me tattoo, I would make several lines, some hash marks on a person, and not draw any of the design on, because that’s all in my mind. And the people who are getting it do not know until it’s done what it’s gonna be. For a lot of people, they have a hard time with that.

 

‘Cause it’s forever.

 

Yeah; it’s forever. But for other people, they trust me enough to put something on them that would be aesthetically pleasing, as well as significant. And that’s how it was traditionally. And so, in that regards, it’s moving back towards how it was before.

 

The Hawaiian kupuna passed on their knowledge of tattoo patterns and designs to Keone Nunes, but no one was left who could help him with making traditional tools. He would have to find the knowledge elsewhere if he was going to truly revive this ancient art of Hawaiian tattoo making.

 

The person that taught me how to do traditional tattoos was Paulo Suluape. Amazing tattooist.

 

That’s a Samoan name.

 

Yes; he is Samoan. You see, we had not had anybody that had tapped in Hawaii, from what I know, since the 1920s.

 

It’s like Hokulea folks.

 

Right; exactly.

 

Nainoa going to a Micronesian.

 

Yeah; exactly. And I never, ever, ever expected to learn. I mean, because when I first started on this path, I made tools and I tried, and it was so difficult. And so, I realized I couldn’t do it. So, that’s why I turned to machine. And in 1996, I went to Samoa, and I saw his brother Tele Suluape tattoo. But I knew that they would not teach someone outside the family, so I never even asked. But in that same year, this gentleman by the name of Henk Schiffmacher, Hanky Panky, who is from Holland, he was running through Hawaii, and he videotaped me explaining some of the tattoos, and videotaped me working. And he told me that he was gonna visit Paulo. And I said, Oh, I met Petelo. He said, Well, Paulo is his older brother. And I said, Oh, okay. So, he went over there, and he showed Paulo the footage that he took while in Hawaii. Paulo got excited, and called me.

 

That’s cross – cultural Polynesian right there.

 

Yeah; exactly. He got excited, because his vision was that he wanted to teach someone from each of the island groups in Polynesia. Because it was our right to do, it was our culture. It was who we were, and who we are now.

 

That’s interesting; but he couldn’t put out an all – points alert, ‘cause it has to be the right person.

 

Exactly. And so, he called me, and we spoke on the phone, then he invited me to take a trip with him to Samoa. And I did. And on that trip, he taught me how to make tools. The first tool he took, and he put it in his rack. And he said, Oh, this is really good. And he said, Okay, make another. So, I made another. And he looked at it, and he said, This is good. He said, There’s only one thing missing. And I said, What? I was excited to get some criticism. And he said, The only thing missing is that you don’t know how to use it; would you mind if I taught you? And there was no question; that’s when I first became his student.

 

Do you believe you’re the first to start doing the cultural tapping for tattooing?

 

As far as I know, yeah, I’ve been the first one that has done that. I started in 1996 as far as using traditional tools. At that time, I was still learning, and so I had the traditional tools as well as using machine. And I think in 1998, my teacher Paulo came to Hawaii and saw what I was doing, and he gave me a set of tools. He encouraged me to start using it more. Since 2000, that’s all I’ve been using.

 

There are hundreds of people who wear the traditional designs that you gave them now, and other people have come up inspired by you and now, I think you probably trained them. Did you train all of them?

 

Yeah; there’s a couple other people tapping, and I did the initial training. I have not yet graduated anyone, but I have students. And so, my whole vision is to be able to pass this on. Because it’s way too important for us as a culture, for it to be lost. And so, it’s gonna be passed on. I’m very confident in that. But even with that, we’re not strongly established; still handful of people. Sometimes that’s concerning for me, and other times I think, Well, you know what, that’s how it should be.

 

The kupuna passed on their knowledge to Keone Nunes, and now he’s sharing it with the next generation, helping to assure that this Native Hawaiian cultural practice of tattooing will never be lost. Mahalo to Keone Nunes of Waianae for sharing his stories with us. And mahalo to you for joining us. For PBS Hawaii and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou.

 

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

 

What part hurts the most? That’s what I want to know.

 

For everybody, it’s different. For some people, it’s a walk in the park for the whole thing. For others, it’s a struggle. So, everyone has different sensations, so I really can’t answer that. It depends on you.

 

I’ve heard people talk mostly about their ankle. That hurts over there.

 

Any place that’s right by bone will be a little bit more sensitive.

 

So, the knee, too?

 

The knee; the knee hurts a little bit. But for some people, the knee doesn’t hurt at all, and the ankle doesn’t hurt at all. So, it really is different for everyone.

 

Have you had people who say, ‘Nough already, I can’t finish?

 

That happened only once, and that was about ten years ago.