Independence

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
They Did It Their Way

 

Long Story Short looks back on three previous guests who paved their own paths in life and followed their instincts, often against the grain of society’s expectations. Featured: Marion Higa, who spoke truth to power as Hawai‘i’s State Auditor; Kitty Lagareta (now Kitty Yannone), CEO of public relations firm Communications Pacific, whose career has been punctuated by a healthy dose of risk; and Kimi Werner, who gave up her success in competitive spearfishing to reconnect with the ocean in a more meaningful way as an environmental advocate.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, Apr. 15, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

 

FINDING YOUR ROOTS
Funny Business

FINDING YOUR ROOTS: Funny Business

 

Comedic guests Amy Schumer and Aziz Ansari take a serious look at their family trees, learning contrasting stories of assimilation, independence, hardship and success.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Email:
insights@pbshawaii.org

 

Facebook:
Visit the PBS Hawai‘i Facebook page.

 

Twitter:
Join our live discussion using #pbsinsights

 

A Capitol Fourth

 

Actor John Stamos hosts the 37th annual edition of A CAPITOL FOURTH, from the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol. The all-star musical and fireworks extravaganza will kick off the country’s 241st birthday with performances by The Beach Boys, The Four Tops, Dan Aykroyd and Jim Belushi, Chris Blue, Phillipa Soo and The National Symphony Orchestra under the direction conductor Jack Everly.

 

This program will encore at 9:00 pm

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Jeannette Paulson Hereniko

 

Jeannette Paulson Hereniko has always known the power of storytelling. During a troubled childhood, stories functioned as a source of comfort. In adulthood, she founded the Hawai‘i International Film Festival. Throughout her multifaceted life, Jeannette has blazed her own trail, working with unwavering vision and passion.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, April 12, at 11:00 pm and Sunday, April 16, at 4:00 pm.

 

Jeannette Paulson Hereniko Audio

 

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Transcript

 

I used to go to high school crying, with a hand on my hand, where my mother had slapped me. That was me, going to school crying. And on Mother’s Day, wondering what they’re talking about. But I knew in my heart of hearts—and a lot of it was my faith, my Congregational church believing that something else was waiting for me, and I could do it.

 

Jeannette Paulson Hereniko first took comfort in storytelling to escape her abusive mother. She continued to tell stories in different mediums, and in her role as founding director of the Hawaii International Film Festival. Jeannette Paulson Hereniko, next, on Long Story Short.

 

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

 

Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Jeannette Paulson Hereniko has spent her entire life sharing and telling stories. Whether it be through children’s storytelling, television, stage plays, or film, Hereniko has always known the power of storytelling. Hereniko is best known in Hawaiʻi as the founding director of the Hawaii International Film Festival, which has become one of the premier film festivals for showcasing Asian and Pacific films. She’s also gone on to be a filmmaker in her own right, producing the award-winning film, The Land Has Eyes, with her second husband, Vilsoni Hereniko. Jeannette says her childhood years were the hardest days of her life, but they also helped her develop her love of storytelling.

 

I consider myself an Oregonian because those first nineteen years of my life were very influential. The people there were independent people. They vote a lot; they vote on everything in Oregon. You really had to think. And I like that; I love politics. My father was a fireman, and a labor organizer for public employees. So, I was kind of, on his side, anyway, kind of political at an early age, and very interested in changing society and making it a better place. My mother, now I know, looking back, was mentally ill. But at the time, I didn’t know it. And it was a very, very difficult childhood. It was not a happy family.

 

How did you realize later that she was mentally ill?

 

I was emotionally and physically abused. You know, I was hit around, and told I was terrible and an awful person. And I really believed it.  I escaped a lot, and I escaped in stories, I escaped in making up my own fantasies about life. And I was determined not to live a life like I was brought up. And I think that gave me enormous drive. And like, when I was ten, I had my own radio show.

 

Ten?

 

On what radio channel?

 

On Public Radio.

 

On Public Radio?

 

In Portland.

 

What did you do at ten as a host?

 

It was called Tots and Teens, and I was a storyteller. And I told stories that I wrote, and I had my sister come and imitate animals to the stories.

 

I had my girlfriend play the piano. I’d give little reports on the news.

 

What gave you the confidence to do that?

 

Well, that’s kinda what I’m saying. Because my family was so screwy, I just kind of thought this other life at a very, very early age. I was giving children’s sermons in my church. I found people liked that, and I got a lot of feedback that was positive, which I didn’t get in my family.

 

You said your dad gave you inspiration for public affairs.

 

Right.

 

What was his role in the household?

 

Gone and apathetic, and leave it to Mom to do the work. And not terribly supportive. But never mind; he had that fireman outfit, and he came to my school on Fire Prevention Week, and told us the number to call if our house ever caught on fire. And I had a sign when he ran for city council up in my bedroom posted. So, he still inspired me, in spite of being kind of an absent, apathetic father.

 

Were there other children in the house?

 

There was my sister. And part of my mother’s illness really was to pit us against each other. So, we never did become close. And my sister died at an early age, in her forties, and that’s a huge regret that I never was able to be close to her. But on the saving side of all the family stuff, I had an incredible, strong grandmother on my mother’s side. And she was from Russia. She was Volga German; she migrated when the Communists came in and took over. They didn’t want any Volga Germans. They didn’t want any Jews, they didn’t want any Volga Germans, didn’t want any gays. And so, those people left, if they could. And my grandmother ran away from her family home at eighteen, and somehow made it to Ellis Island, and somehow made it to Seaside, Oregon. And in between, fell in love with another Volga German, Jacob Bartholoma. And uh, they bought cottages, little cottages to rent. That’s where my solace was. That’s where I spent my summers. My grandmother was a storyteller; she told me all the stories about Russia and German, and she cooked and she loved me. And so, it was in Seaside, Oregon that I really felt nurtured.

 

While still living in Oregon, Jeannette Paulson Hereniko struggled to make ends meet to put herself through college. At age nineteen, she felt there weren’t many career options open to her, so she quickly set her sights on marriage.

 

So, I worked two jobs, and I went to school. And I thought, what I’d really like to be, you know, is maybe a lawyer, but I can’t be a lawyer, there’s no women lawyers, and there weren’t any women going to law school. So, I’ll marry a lawyer. I was very self-determined, so I went to Willamette University to the law school, and stood down at the bottom of the steps and watched the guys come down the steps.  And one of them said to me, Hi, stranger. And I remembered he had been a guard at a booth where I was a hostess during the Oregon bicentennial. And three months later, we were married. How’s that for a story?

 

You were consciously looking for a husband?

 

I was consciously looking for a husband who was an attorney. Yeah.

 

Wow.

 

Uh-huh.

 

But the marriage was not successful.

 

It was not successful, because we were so entirely different. He was a conservative Baptist Republican, and I was liberal Congregationalist Democrat.  But you know, there were good years. There were good years.

 

You had children together.

 

We had three beautiful, wonderful children. And we came to Hawaii together, you know, and I learned a lot about business from him. I learned a lot about law from him. And I really was close to his family. It was kind of a substitute family, and they were wonderful. So, not all black and dark.

 

What was it like breaking into Hawaii, when you didn’t know anybody, and probably didn’t have jobs either?

 

So, we moved May 20th. So, May 23rd was my birthday, and I wanted to go to this place called The Sty in Niu Valley.

 

I’ve heard of the Sty.

 

I remember that, in Niu Valley. And we walked into The Sty, and I heard the Sons of Hawaiʻi play.

 

M-hm.

 

And I started bursting into tears; I cried and cried, ‘cause the music just—it was Eddie’s voice. There was something very deep.

 

Eddie Kamae.

 

There was something in his voice so channeling something that touched everything inside my soul, with such storytelling like I’d never heard before. And I just knew this is where I wanted to live forever.

 

Before relocating to Hawaiʻi in 1975, Jeannette Paulson Hereniko worked as a professional children’s storyteller in Oregon. She even started a storytelling guild and children’s festival in Southern Oregon, and hoped to continue telling stories when she reached Hawaii.

 

Ray Okamoto was his name, and he was in charge of the Artists In Schools Program with the Department of Education. And before I came, he said, We’d like you to be a storyteller with the Artists In Schools Program in Hawaiʻi. So, I did. But it was part-time, and I needed to work a little more, ‘cause my husband was having a difficult time getting a job, even though he was an attorney, just breaking in. But I actually was having a great time. I was going around Waimanalo telling stories and everything. But I needed a little more money, ‘cause we had these three kids and everything. So, I went to educational television.

 

And that’s the DOE television.

 

That’s right.

 

Right.

 

That’s right. Anyway, they hired me as a production assistant, and I worked my way up as a producer and a writer. But I didn’t have a college degree. But it was that switch from storytelling, because when I was going around telling stories, there were all these incredible Hawaiians, kupuna. They knew the story, they knew the stories of the aina, and they knew the stories of the history. And that’s the kind of stories I love to tell. And I thought, it’s like picking flowers in someone else’s garden, this isn’t right for me to be doing this. But film, that’s another way. That’s another way to tell stories. And so, I quit being the storyteller in the schools, and devoted my time to educational television. But still, as an independent contractor, ‘cause I didn’t have a degree.

 

Jeannette Paulson Hereniko would go on to earn a college degree from Chaminade University in Honolulu. In 1980, she started a new job in public relations at the East West Center, an educational and research institution on the campus of the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. Her new job would soon lead her to the creation of Hawaiʻi’s premier cinematic event, the Hawaii International Film Festival.

 

Where I really wanted to work was the East West Center. And people would say, Well, why? And I said, ‘Cause I’m really interested in cross-cultural relations, and I’m really interested in bringing people together from Asia and the Pacific and the United States. Where do we meet, and where do we differ, and how do we negotiate those different. That’s always been a real strong interest in those questions. So, when they had an opening in the public relations department for a community relations director, I applied, and I was hired by Everett Kleinjans, who was the president at the time. And he directed me to think of three ideas that would bring the community closer together to the East West Center. And one of the ideas, why don’t we create a film festival, and why don’t we put the emphasis on Asia and Pacific films, made by Asians and Pacific Islanders, and have some from America. And why don’t we have an academic symposium where we talk about the difference and the similarities, and why don’t we have it free, and why don’t we take it to the neighbor islands, and why don’t we take tours all around and show these films with scholars, you know, and talk about these issues. He said, Oh, I just love that idea. You go for it. Of course, I’m not giving you any money, you have no budget, so you go raise the money. And I said, Fine, I like to raise money.

 

You like to raise money?

 

I do like to raise money.

 

You like to ask people for money?

 

Because here’s what I believe, and you know this. You bring people who have money, and a cause that they want, and they’re waiting for you, because they want to meet the artists, they want to be part of a bigger vision. I really believe that. And so, I like to put people together, I like to do that. So, I thought, I’ve got to have Jack Lord be for this, ‘cause he’s got money and he’s got a name. But I didn’t know him. So, I talked to Cobey Black, and she introduced me to him, and we just hit it off famously. And he wrote a check; five-oh-oh-oh, you know. First check we got. And then, we gotta have theaters, so who owns the theaters. The person in town was Art Gordon. Do you know Art?

 

Remember him.

 

One of the most wonderful men I’ve ever met in my life. And I went to him and explained this idea, that we had this theme of when strangers meet, and we wanted to have Asian films. And he said, You know what, it’s free, and you’re gonna have Asian films. And he loved Asian films, particularly Japanese films, which he’d shown a lot. He says, I’m giving you the Varsity Theater. So, that’s how we got it started, until six months in, a new president come to the Center. He didn’t like the idea of a film festival, at all, and asked me to stop.

 

This must be Victor Li.

 

Yeah; it was Victor Li, Victor Hao Li. But he really did not believe that the East West Center, with the mission as he saw it, included anything to do with film.

 

I see.

 

And he didn’t think anybody in public relations should be creating program, that that should be left to the scholars. So, it was legitimate policy differences. But, you know, it affected my life, ‘cause he told me to stop. And I said, You know what, it’s too late, ‘cause the tickets have been given out. So, he says, Well, just the first one, then. But the first one, the papers called. Maybe you called; I don’t know. Where were you? And there were lines around the block, and people were loving the festival. And he called me in the office and presented me with flowers. He said, You did it, this is great. But it’s gotta be small, it’s gotta be academic, and yeah, just keep it controlled, and you gotta raise all your money outside.

 

You didn’t keep it small and controlled, Jeannette.

 

Well, maybe that was my fault, you know. And maybe because of my background, I was used to people kind of on my back and telling me, No, no, no, you can’t do it. Maybe that’s why I did it.

 

Under the leadership of Jeannette Paulson Hereniko, and with an army of volunteers, the Hawaii International Film Festival grew, and eventually became an independent nonprofit organization, splitting off from the East West Center. Jeannette went through a divorce from her first husband, and tried to find balance in her new role as the festival director, single woman, and mother raising three children.

 

When one has an abusive parent … unfortunately, that that sometimes shows up in their own parenting. How was parenting for you?

 

Great question. You know, again, you have to ask my children. And I still ask them. And it drives them crazy. They say, Oh, Mom, stop asking that. I had three, and one of them was extremely difficult, and she is no longer with us. And you know, maybe there’s a gene there; I don’t know. It was kind of almost like reliving my mother’s story through my daughter. Except my daughter was much more bright and loving, and a wonderful parent herself. But the other two say that I was okay, but I know in reality that I was gone too much, with throwing myself into the film festival, as almost sort of an escape thing. And I regret that; I wish I’d spent more time with them. But they keep assuring me that I was a good mom, so I hope they’re right. And they turned out great.

 

Jeannette Paulson Hereniko poured her passion into growing the Hawaii International Film Festival. After living as a single independent woman for over a decade, Jeannette says she has the Film Festival to thank for introducing her to the man who would become her second husband and soulmate.

 

We wanted scholars on our jury, and we wanted people from different Asia and Pacific places. And I didn’t have a lot of Pacific Islanders that knew a lot about film, so I asked my friend Jean Charlot, who was on the film selection committee with us, Where can I find a Pacific Islander? And he says, Well, you know, there’s this student that’s getting his PhD from Fiji, and he’s at the East West Center, and he’s smart, he’s written books, he’s written all kinds of plays; he’d be great on your jury. He didn’t actually say student; he just said this person. So, I thought that he was gonna be an old man after I read his resume. And so we had the jury. And he walked in and I thought, Oh, my, that’s an old man.

 

He was younger than you were; right?

 

Yeah. He was pretty cute, too. But he was married, so I left my hands off of him. But I made him my friend and put him on my film selection committee; okay? So, when he got divorced, I decided I would fix him up with some of my young girlfriends. Then, he finally said to me, I’d like to take you to dinner. And I thought, This is really strange. I mean, we’ve had lunch, we’d gone to meetings, but why would he want to take me to dinner? Oh, he wants to announce that he’s gonna marry this woman I’d fixed up. So, we went out to dinner and he says, Before I open this bottle of wine, I want to tell you that I’ve been in love with you for two years, but you’ve been so busy with the film festival. I’m imitating him.

 

And you haven’t even noticed. And I thought, Oh, my gosh. So, I said to him—he’s a Pacific Islander, and I’m Caucasian. Okay, I can get over that, but I’m much older than you are. And he said to me, I have been in love with women younger than me. Where does it say I can’t be in love with someone older than me? I have learned in love, age and race make no difference. Do you think you can do the same? And I thought, Here I am running this film festival, When Strangers Meet, and I haven’t dared to think like that. So, I said, Let’s give it a try. And that man’s name is Vilsoni Hereniko. And a year and a half after that dinner, we were married, and we’ve been married nineteen years.

 

And you have very similar interests.

 

Oh, yeah; we’re both storytellers. My my kids say, You finally found someone as crazy as you, Mom.

 

You know, we’re storytellers, we’re filmmakers. He’s written plays, I’m starting to write plays now.

 

In 1996, Jeannette Paulson Hereniko decided to walk away from the Hawaii International Film Festival, the organization that she created and to which she gave so much of her personal life.

 

And why did you choose to quit the film festival?

 

That’s the object of my first show called Wild Wisdom. And it was because my mother, who I’ve talked about quite a bit in the show got early Alzheimer’s. ‘Cause it ended that there was a gene from the Volga Germans that my family had, and fifty percent of those people, meaning me, Volga Germans, get early Alzheimer’s. I saw it on CNN News one night, and I realized my mother, my grandfather, my sister, and three of my cousins had all died of early Alzheimer’s. And I thought, What if I have that gene? So, I called the Alzheimer’s Association, and they didn’t know, there was no way to test. I thought, Man, I’ve just been giving my whole life to the film festival, a single woman, I don’t even know if I like apples and oranges. I’m quitting, and I’m gonna go around the world, and I’m just gonna enjoy my life, because I might lose my mind. Who knows? And that’s why I quit the film festival. But people didn’t know that at the time. So, I’ve been doing that; it was 1981 to ’96. So, that was long enough. Fifteen years. So, they did find out about a test, and I did take the test, and I don’t have that gene. I wouldn’t marry Vili until I knew that. And he told me; he said to me when we went in to get the results of that test, he said, I don’t care if you have it or not, I still want to marry you.

 

In the year 2000, Jeannette Paulson Hereniko stepped out of her comfort zone as someone who shares and promotes films to someone who creates films. She and her new husband, Vilsoni Hereniko, set out to make their first feature film, The Land Has Eyes, filmed on her spouse’s tiny home island of Rotuma, Fiji.

 

Yeah, we decided to make a feature film together. And he had a film in mind, a script in mind. And we took it to Buddhadev Das Gupta from Calcutta, who was on the jury the same year Vili was on, and a very, very dear friend. And he said, You can’t make that film; your first feature film must be your own life. You have to go fishing deep inside and write your own life story. That’s your first feature film. And Vili took that advice literally, and he threw that away, and he started writing his own life. And then, he got writer’s block, ‘cause it was getting very personal. And I said, Change it to a girl. So, Vili became Viki. And we made The Land Has Eyes. We were on the Island of Rotuma for three months to make it.

 

And you didn’t have a big budget, and you had villagers playing roles.

 

Yeah; it was wonderful.

 

And it was just very courageous.

 

Thank you.

 

It was a gamble; right?

 

Yeah.

 

And it’s a beautiful movie.

 

Oh, thank you. Yeah. Well, it was probably the uh, deepest experience. And talk about shattering illusions. That takes the cake; that did it. Because being married to him, and seeing him in Honolulu, and then to go back to his island, which I had not been to, where he’s the director and I’m the producer, and living in his family’s home. Yeah; it was the most challenging and the most rewarding experience of my life.

 

You know, I look at my life from where I am now, and I am so satisfied. I’m so happy with my life. I don’t think I’ve ever been happier. And one reason is, a lot of my dreams have been realized. And I’m still dreaming, and I’m still realizing more dreams.

 

You’re still working; right?

 

I’m still working. But I just wanted to say that the secret has been what Joseph Campbell said. And that’s, follow your bliss, follow your passion. I really honestly believe that each one of us has been born with a very special, unique gift, and it’s our job in our lifetime to find out what that gift is, and to shine it as bright as we can, to treat it like a precious diamond. And you don’t have to do everything. Like, you know, I can’t sew, I can’t can fruits like so many of my Oregon friends can. But I can tell stories, and I know how to make a movie, and I know how to get things done, and I really love involving other people in projects. That’s my little diamond. We each have that diamond, and you’ve gotta find it and shine it, and give it away.

 

The film, The Land Has Eyes, produced by Jeannette Paulson Hereniko and directed by her husband Vilsoni Hereniko, debuted at Robert Redford’s prestigious Sundance Film Festival in 2004, and went on to win Best Film at the Wairoa Maori Film Festival. At the time of this conversation in 2016, Jeannette had been out of the Film Festival spotlight for some years, but she continues to curate and distribute Asian and Pacific films to universities and libraries through a film distribution company called Alexander Street Press; and Jeannette and husband Vilsoni were setting out to make a new short film atop Mauna Kea on Hawaiʻi Island. Mahalo to Jeannette Paulson Hereniko 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.

 

I’m not afraid. When I stand before a crowd, I’m not afraid. Again, maybe it goes back to that childhood. That’s my home. Ten years old; you know, I was performing at ten, live audiences as well, and I’ve just never been afraid. Sometimes, it’s harder one-to-one.

 

[END]

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Henk Rogers

 

Henk Rogers is well known for his contributions to the video gaming industry – most notably, his involvement with Tetris, one of the world’s top selling video games. The visionary, entrepreneur and philanthropist now seeks to make Hawaii a global model for energy independence with his non-profit, Blue Planet Foundation. “I always had a deep-rooted feeling that whatever it is that I wanted to do, I could do it,” says Rogers.

 

Henk Rogers Audio

 

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Transcript

 

I was in England about twelve years ago—no, twenty-two years ago. Oh, my gosh; time flies. I was at a trade show for the computer business, and I was talking to this person and telling them, Yeah, I made this decision never to wear a suit, and never work nine-to-five. And the person goes, Henk, I don’t think I’ve ever seen you wearing anything except a suit. Do you even own a pair of jeans? That was the question. And I’m going, Oh, my god, I don’t own a pair of jeans. So, I immediately went out and bought a pair of jeans. You know, you could say that fashion wise, it’s been downhill ever since too.

 

You know. Now, I fight places that don’t allow me to wear jeans.

 

Wearing jeans didn’t stop Hawaii Business Magazine from naming Henk Rogers CEO of the Year for 2015. Henk Rogers has made a fortune in the video gaming industry, most notably for bringing Tetris, one of the world’s top-selling videogames, from Russia to the rest of the world. More recently, this visionary entrepreneur and philanthropist has turned his talents to no less than saving the planet. He wants salvation to come through renewable energy, starting with Hawaii becoming a global model for energy independence. Henk Rogers, 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. Henk Brouwer Rogers may be best known in Hawaii for starting the Blue Planet Foundation, which is dedicated to ending the use of carbon-based fuels. This nonprofit organization was instrumental in convincing the Hawaii State Legislature to commit to a goal of making Hawaii 100 percent energy self-sufficient by 2045. Rogers didn’t always have a passion for energy sustainability; rather, he was driven by his love of board games and computers to launch his highly successful career in video gaming.

 

I was born in the Netherlands, and I lived there ‘til I was eleven. And my mother married an American when I was seven years old. My name is Rogers as a result. A Mr. Rogers from New York.

 

What was your name before that?

 

Brouwer; my mother’s maiden name is Brouwer, which is the Dutch version of Brewer. So, if you look at the Heineken bottle, it says Heineken Brouwer, which is Heineken Brewers. So eleven years. And it’s my middle name now, by the way, ‘cause when I moved to the states, I didn’t have a middle name, and everybody kept asking me, What’s your middle name? So, I just put my grandfather’s name as my middle name, since he had all daughters. Eleven years in Holland, then eight years in New York City. I went to junior high school and high school in New York City.

 

Did you learn English in New York City?

 

In New York City. I spoke no English before I landed. And it’s interesting, ‘cause my American father didn’t speak Dutch, and the way we communicated was in German. So, I used to speak German. So, New York City; I lived there four years in Queens, four years in Manhattan. I went to Stuyvesant High School, which some people will know.

 

Which is a fabulous high school.

 

Fabulous high school.

 

Where you learned, what? What did you …

 

Computer science.

 

Oh …

 

Basically, in my four years at Stuyvesant, I had one elective. And you know, my entire career since has been based on that one elective.

 

So, you graduated from Stuyvesant High School.

 

I … dropped out of Stuyvesant High School.

 

Oh, you dropped out?

Didn’t like that one elective.

 

No, I never got tired of the elective, but you know, I had taken that, and there was no more follow-up courses in that. So, everything else was just like …

 

How old were you when you dropped out?

 

Oh, I would have graduated, if I’d just stuck out the last year. I did graduate in New York City, but not from Stuyvesant. And I was convinced that I was never going to go to university. But my next stop was Hawaii.

 

Why was it Hawaii?

 

It was a stop on the way to Japan for my family. My father is an avid Go player, or was an avid Go player, and I think that’s a big part of the reason why he wanted to move the family to Japan. Another reason could be that he looked at me, and he saw like a serious Hippie. I’d turned into a Hippie, and he didn’t want the rest of his sons to become so, I don’t know, wild, whatever.

 

And so, he’s off to Japan, and you think it’s to play Go. Now, you were heavily influenced by games of strategy as a kid; weren’t you?

 

Well, you know, when I was a kid, say in Holland, you know, the game of strategy was Monopoly. So, I was pretty good at playing Monopoly.

 

And you liked board games?

 

Oh, yeah; board games. Board games are great, and I did a lot of it when I got to Hawaii. You know, at the University, we had a group called The ARRG; The Alternative Recreational Realities Group of Hawaii.

 

Now, were you a Hippie at UH as well?

 

I’m still a Hippie. I just get dressed up a little less wild from time to time. So, I’m in Hawaii, it’s been a year. Two weeks of waiting for my dad turn into a year, and so finally, the family is ready to move. But by that time, I was going to UH, because I could get computer time there. And that was the one thing that I was interested in. So, I was going to night school, taking all the computer classes.

 

What did you intend to do as a Hippie, slash, computer guy?

 

I had no intentions. I just knew that computers were the way of the future.

 

Did you graduate from the University?

 

No; I dropped out. So, I had a disagreement with my dad about where I went to university. He wanted me to go to university in Japan, study philosophy, which is what he studied. He dropped out. Studied philosophy, and dropped out. And so, he wanted me to study philosophy.   And I said, You know, I appreciate philosophy, but I need something practical. My grandfather was an engineer. In fact, I found out later that my father was an engineer, and his father was an engineer. I’m the only non-engineer, but you could say that I’m a computer engineer. And so, University had a good computer science program, and so I said, No, I gotta stay behind. As a result of my disagreement with my father, I worked my way through college. I used to do everything; I drove Charley’s Taxi. And so, the idea is, if you’re working to pay for studying something, it better be something useful. And so, at the end of three years, they called me in. Mr. Rogers, you haven’t taken any of your core requirements. And I said, Yeah, I know, and I have no intention. They said, Well, then you’re not going to graduate. And I said, Well, that’s okay. I don’t actually need the paper; I just need the knowledge. And I really got a lot out of going to UH, and I never after that ever had an occasion where somebody asked me for a piece of paper. You know, a degree.

 

You would eventually do what your father wanted you to do, and that’s go to Japan.

 

Yes. I don’t know that my father wanted me specifically to go to Japan. He just didn’t want me to stay behind. And I appreciate that. What eventually got me to go to Japan was, I fell in love with a girl.

I’d been to Japan several times, but I was there, and she was there, and I said, I’m not going back. I called my friend and said, You can have my car. And I told my friends, Throw out all my stuff, just keep this box of uh, computer tapes. I still have this box, and I don’t know how I’m ever going to read that stuff. So, I left everything behind.

 

Henk Rogers married Akemi and stayed in Japan for the next eighteen years. For the first six of those years, he worked in his father’s gem business. When personal computers started to take off, he decided it was time to meld his love of computers and games, and strike out on his own. The result was his invention of a computer game called Black Onyx.

 

When I started my company, I used my Hawaii experience of ARRG, which was playing Dungeons & Dragons. And personal computers happened, and I thought, This is my chance. So, I made the first roleplaying game in Japan. But I didn’t speak, read, or write Japanese, and I hacked that computer and got my wife to try to read something in the manual, but she knows nothing about computers. And so, that was also like hocus-pocus that was coming out of them. Anyway, I hacked my way through the game, made it. So, there were no roleplaying games before The Black Onyx, and it became the number-one game in 1984, and it was the number-two game in 1985. So, it had a two-year reign. And now, something like thirty percent of all games in Japan are roleplaying games. So, you know, people that are in the industry that meet me and find out that I wrote Black Onyx, they say, Oh, my god, you’re the reason I’m in this industry, you know.

 

Wow.

 

And that makes me feel good.

 

So, it’s almost as if you you’ve always liked strategy and games, and you translated your interest in board games to the computer platform.

 

Yeah; absolutely. And it’s the same thing; you’ve got to think about what reward do you want to give the player, at what pace, to keep them interested in continuing the adventure.

 

And it’s a very logical process for you. If this, then that; if that, then this.

 

Oh, yeah. So, computer programming is like the best. Because once you tell it what to do, you give it specific instruction, it will do that forever.

 

Henk Rogers started his publishing company Bullet-Proof Software to market Black Onyx. It became one of the largest game publishers in Japan at the time, and soon, Rogers was traveling around the world, looking for new games to publish. That’s when he discovered Tetris, a game that a programmer in the Soviet Union had developed. Rogers saw its potential, and was determined to buy the international publishing rights to it.

 

Basically, I would say that what happened to me in the Soviet Union is, you have a society where everybody is watching everybody, and they’re very careful what they say. And I walk in, and I’m relaxed, and you know, ask me anything about my business. I don’t have any secrets. And so, I was just friendly, and that is just a strange thing for them. That is not how they do business; it’s all power trips. My power trip is stronger than your power trip, and if you don’t listen to me, I’m gonna get such-and-so to do that to you. You are, you know, blah-blah-blah.

 

But to get their attention, didn’t you have to have power?

 

No; I just had to have honesty. And so, I said, You know, I don’t have a lot of money, I’m not a big business, but I’ll give you a fair share of the money. They had a previous arrangement, where they had licensed the rights to Tetris for personal computers. And just to give you an example, they were getting six percent of … six percent, of six percent. And by the time they figured out that six percent of six percent is zero, you know, a year had passed. And I said, No, that’s not how you do it. This is the retail price; okay? And I will give you a percentage of the retail price, or a flat number. And so, that number will never go down. And if I have, you know, sublicenses, I will make sure that you get your share of the retail price. And that was something they’d never heard before. That’s one thing. And then, another was, we had to do a contract. And I saw the original contract that they had, and it was terrible; they were being spanked. Because they don’t recognize intellectual property in the Soviet Union; therefore, they had no knowledge of how to write an intellectual property contract.

 

So, when somebody came to them and said, This is the contract, take it or leave it … what could they say? They didn’t know what to argue about. And I was the opposite. I called my lawyer—and at that time, it took eight hours to make a phone call out of the Soviet Union. You had to sit by your phone, and if you’re not there when the phone call came through, you had to wait and start again. So, I called my lawyer in Japan. I said, I need a contract. It’s got to be no more than twenty pages, and it cannot use any big words, ‘cause I have to explain every word in this contract to the Soviets. And it’s gotta cover all the bases, and it’s gotta be fair; it’s gotta have stuff in it for me, and it’s gotta have stuff in it for them. So, I got the fax, and they couldn’t believe it; you know, it was a fair contract. If I didn’t pay on time, there was a penalty, for example, blah-blah-blah, and all this. And so, at the end of the day, they chose me. ‘Cause, you know, there were other people that were going after those same rights, and they chose me, and it wasn’t because I had the most money, or I had the most power; it was because I was the most honest. Yeah.

 

Did you know what you were onto then? Because even now, you’re hip-deep in Tetris. It’s still a big business for you.

 

Yeah. I did not know what I was onto. Well, I knew I was onto a little bit, because I’d already gone to Nintendo, Nintendo of America, and I’d already made a handshake deal with Mr. Arakawa. I said, Mr. Arakawa, this game is perfect for Gameboy. Now, Nintendo has a policy in Japan; they just sell the machine, and the software comes separate. But in the US, they had a policy always to include one game with the hardware. So, if you bought an NES, it started with a game, and if you bought a Gameboy, it started with a game. And so, he said, Why should I included Tetris? He said, I have Mario, I can just include Mario. I said, If you include Mario, then Gameboy will be for little boys, but if you include Tetris, Gameboy will be for everybody. That choice is yours. And so, he talked it over with his people, and obviously came up to the same conclusion.

 

Good argument.

 

Yeah. So, it was a good business. And so, I had a deal in my hand when I went to Moscow. And then, I basically fought for that end of it.

 

You know, it occurs to me as you speak that people your age, sixty-two at this time, many people. they’re not into the games and they don’t realize what a huge business this is.

 

The game business is bigger than the movie business. Sometimes, I see young people, and they go, I want to be a game designer, I want to get into the game business. And it really isn’t what it used to be, you know. I made that first game by myself, pretty much. I did all the programming, did all the graphics, and did all the planning and the thinking and everything. And today, you know, it takes teams of people to make a game. And how many of those teams are there? There are hundreds of thousands of those teams. So, to get into the game business today, you can’t just be good; you have to be brilliant.

 

Henk Rogers and his organization have continued to develop videogames, making multi-millions of dollars from new products, including for mobile devices and buying and selling copyright licenses. He moved his family back to Hawaii and was carrying out his businesses from here, when he started to think about what he wanted to do next with his life. The answer came to him in a most unexpected way.

 

I found myself in the back of an ambulance with a hundred percent blockage of the widow-maker. That is the artery, the biggest artery in your heart, and it will kill you if it’s blocked. And so, I was lucky, ‘cause I kind of felt it coming, and they called an ambulance for me, and so I was already on the way to Straub. And then, I realized … because they were gonna take me in for observation. They said, There’s nothing really wrong with you, we’ll just take you in for observation, we won’t even turn on the siren. The siren went on, the guy who was taking care of me was in the cockpit talking to the hospital. I didn’t hear, but I knew he was saying, This guy is not even gonna make it, get an operating room ready, blah-blah-blah. And I’m back there; first, I said, You gotta be kidding me, I haven’t spent any of the money yet. You know. I was going, Oh, is this some kind of a joke? I worked so hard all my life, and finally sell my company, get a bunch of money, and I’m on the way out? And then, the second thing I said is, No, I’m not going, I still have stuff to do. And it’s kind of like, I thought, you know, what are the things that I’d always talked to myself that I was gonna get done in life, and that I hadn’t even started? And that just made me say, No, I’m gonna do this. And so, I was in the hospital recovering, and the next couple weeks I didn’t go back to work. I had my chance to think about my bucket list, and I said, These are missions in life. And the first mission came to me in the back of the newspaper. It was like … in the back of the newspaper, a story about coral. Oh, by the way, we’re gonna kill all the coral in the world by the end of the century. And you know, I moved to Hawaii, and I fell in love with the ocean. I used to dive, surf on the North Shore, and I couldn’t believe that we would do something so callous as to kill all the coral in the world. Islands are made out of coral. And you know, you look a little bit further, and it’s like a third of the life in the ocean is dependent on the coral existing. So, I said, No, no, we’re not allowed to do that. What’s causing that? It’s ocean acidification. What’s causing that? Carbon dioxide going into the ocean is causing that. So then, my first mission is to end the use of carbon-based fuel. And so, I started the foundation, and recently, we had a big success in Hawaii, that Hawaii has made the mandate that we’re gonna be a hundred percent renewable by 2045 for electricity. And that is a huge step in the right direction.

 

And your Blue Planet Foundation had a role in that.

 

Oh, I would say we’re the ones who created that legislation and fought for it. You know, ‘cause when you create a piece of legislation, then you have to work with all the politicians, and you gotta get enough politicians to get behind it to get it passed. So, it’s not good enough to just come up with the words, ‘cause it’s all the pushing that goes on. I guess it’s called lobbying.

 

Yes, it is. You mentioned your ranch; it’s Puu Waawaa on the Kona side of the Big Island.

 

Yes.

 

And it is all renewable energy; it’s off the grid.

 

We’re off the grid. So, what we do at the ranch, I built an energy lab. And originally, I wanted to just study storage, ‘cause the thing that’s stopping renewables, meaning solar and wind, is that they’re intermittent. Which means that sometimes there’s wind, and sometimes there’s not. And in the daytime there’s light, and in the nighttime there’s not. So, you get a lot of energy, and then you have shift it to a time when you don’t have energy. That requires storage. And it can be pumped hydro, it can be batteries, it can be anything; flywheels.

 

But whatever it is, it’s expensive.

 

Not necessarily; not necessarily. I mean, you know, if you’re the first one, and you’re the only one, yes, it’s expensive. But if everybody’s doing it, then the price comes down. Like solar panels used to be expensive. But now, I mean, pretty much anybody can have solar panels. So, all these things which are expensive can be made cheaper if you make them in volume, and if there’s competition. So, the same thing goes with storage. So, in the beginning, it’s expensive. But I mean, it’s like, okay, so the rich guys get to have the plasma television that cost twenty thousand dollars, but now you can go to Costco and buy one for five hundred bucks. The same thing. It’s a little different technology, but it does the same thing. And so, storage is gonna be like that.

 

And you’re already off the grid at your home in Honolulu, and on the ranch.

 

Yes. So, we were studying storage, and we finally decided that we were gonna just get off the grid on the Big Island. And so, we tested the different storage technologies, and now we ended up with a battery technology that basically runs by itself, and it doesn’t get hot. Most batteries, you have to be very careful with them, because they can overheat and catch on fire, blah-blah-blah. This chemistry is nothing like that. What’s in your phone or in my Tesla is lithium cobalt. And what’s in the batteries that are sitting in my home is lithium iron phosphate. Lithium iron phosphate is a chemistry that doesn’t get hot. You could drive a nail through it, and it doesn’t go crazy. And if you do that with lithium cobalt, you’re asking for trouble. And so, doesn’t require any cooling system. And Sony makes them. So, Sony, you know, they’re a big company; they’ve been making batteries for thirty years.   They’ve been making this particular chemistry for like eight years, and they’ve tested, and tested, and tested them. I mean, their company reputation goes, you know, into their product, and so, they gave us a ten-year warranty, which is as good as anything in the industry.

 

 

And you think that it’ll be just a matter of a short time before battery power gets accepted and cheap enough to distribute.

 

Yes.

 

What are some of the things that prepared you to have the career you did, which was something you made up yourself? You didn’t follow a template for it. What were some of the formative things along the way?

 

I think one of the things is that I always had a deep-rooted feeling that whatever it is that I wanted to do, I could do it.

 

Where did that come from?

 

I think it came from New York. It’s it’s kind of an attitude that we had in high school. We stopped the war in Vietnam. Okay; we didn’t specifically, but we were part of it. And that kind of energy, the feeling that youth can change the world, and that is a very important feeling. And I need the young people in Hawaii to have that feeling; they need to take ownership of their future, and make Hawaii the example of sustainability.

 

You know, through all of the big ideas and the big pushes, and the big deals you’ve made, you’ve had a very stable family life.

 

I think my family has had the same ups and downs as any family. But now that I’ve sort of retired from the business—you know, I was a Japanese businessman. This nine-to-five wasn’t nine-to-five; it was nine-to … fifteen, or whatever. It’s like, crazy, hard work in the old days. Now, I have much more time to spend with my family.

 

You’re still CEO, though.

 

I’m CEO of several companies. But no, actually, the main business is the computer game business. My daughter is the CEO.

 

I see.

 

I’m the chairman.

 

So, what about the ones that you are CEO of?

 

Um …

 

You have a different definition?

 

No, no, no. No. So I try not to be CEO, as much as possible. I try to be the visionary, and so, I’m the chairman of a lot of companies, but I’m not necessarily the CEO. I don’t do day-to-day, and I don’t go to the office unless I have a meeting. So, it’s a new way of operating, and it gives me much more time to travel, and I do a lot of conferences and speaking at conferences, and connecting to people in other places.

 

So, for many years of your career, you were really not home with family.

 

Yes.

 

They sacrificed that.

 

Well, the worst time was when I was programming. Programming takes twenty hours a day. I would sleep for a couple of hours, and do programming the rest of the time. I never got to see my family. My wife was a computer widow, is what they call it. And many programmers still go through that. They start programming, and they can’t stop until the middle of the night sometime, and so they don’t have a life. And pretty soon, you figure out, Well, I can’t run a company this way, I can’t program and run a company well. And I can’t, like, do that and expect to be kind of a contribution to my family. It’s not just about bringing home money; it’s about, you know, being there when children are going through, I don’t know, teenager crises. And we’ve had our share of all of that.

 

Henk Rogers: husband, father, grandfather, computer programmer, entrepreneur, visionary, chairman, and perhaps one day, off the grid planet superhero. Mahalo to Henk Rogers of Honolulu and Kona for sharing his life story 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.

 

You have how many siblings?

 

Oh, my goodness. Okay. So, there’s my bio dad, and my mom who had only me. My mom was a single mom, and I never knew my bio daddy. So, he went off and I had no contact with him, because basically, they didn’t get married. Then, she married Mr. Rogers. Mr. Rogers and my mom had seven children. So, six boys and one girl … and they adopted one. So, there’s nine of the original family, and we grew up together. Then, Mr. Rogers, in his infinite wisdom, had a second family, as if nine wasn’t enough, and he had two more children, daughters. So, that makes it up to eleven. And then, he passed away. And so, I’d heard that my biological father was still alive, so I found a way to contact him when I was fifty years old, my bio dad, and I found out that I have four more siblings. So, I have two sisters and two brothers on that side, that are blood-related to me. And I found out one of them lives in Hawaii, in Hawi. And then he … again, I think men are very … they’re not the smartest about this kind of thing. He left his wife with four children, and married another woman who had already six children. So, that makes it twenty-one.

 

Wow!

 

So … yeah; I’m one of twenty-one.

 

[END]

 

A CAPITOL FOURTH

 

America’s Independence Day celebration is broadcast from the West Lawn of the United States Capitol. Scheduled to appear: Smokey Robinson, Kenny Loggins, Gavin DeGraw, Cassadee Pope, Amber Riley, Jackie Evancho, Sutton Foster and the Broadway cast of On Your Feet!, Christopher Jackson, along with the National Symphony Orchestra and a grand fireworks display.

 

Encore: Mon., July 4, 9:00 pm

 

INSIGHTS ON PBS HAWAI‘I
What Would It Take to Achieve Hawaiian Sovereignty?

 

In 1993, President Bill Clinton signed a law apologizing for the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom, fueling hopes that an independent Hawaiian nation would be recognized by the federal government. Twenty-two years later, sovereignty proponents continue to push for recognition in Congress, while new pathways toward nation-building emerge at home. What might an independent Hawaiian nation look like? Daryl Huff moderates the discussion.

 

You can watch the ‘After the Show’ discussion of this program here:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sGt8YjEZ8gw&feature=youtu.be

 

A CAPITOL FOURTH
On PBS Hawaii

A CAPITOL FOURTH

 

Don’t forget to watch A CAPITOL FOURTH this Independence Day!

 

Celebrating 35 years on air, the 2015 A Capitol Fourth features music legend Barry Manilow, country music superstars Alabama, singer/songwriter Nicole Scherzinger, CMA 2012 New Artist of the Year Hunter Hayes, Grammy Award-winning KC and the Sunshine Band, classical pianist Lang Lang, the National Symphony Orchestra and conductor Jack Everly.