kamaʻaina

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
John Morgan

 

Behind the scenes of the 4,000-acre Kualoa Ranch on Windward Oʻahu is John Morgan, its president and owner. He’s a sixth-generation member of the kamaʻāina Morgan family. There’s still some ranching at Kualoa, though the property is perhaps best known for its recreational activities and as a backdrop in blockbuster movies like Jurassic Park. Morgan traces the history behind the ranch, which dates to King Kamehameha III’s reign, and the property’s evolution under his leadership.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, Feb. 16, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

John Morgan Podcast

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

One of the key ingredients of being successful is you gotta like and care about people, so, and then, be passionate about whatever you’re doing and I’m totally passionate about Kualoa and preserving it and the mission.

 

He was midway through college when he asked his father if he could take over management of family-owned lands in Windward Oʻahu. They were the site of a ranch, just getting by, after their hey-day as a sugar plantation. What John Morgan did with those lands, next, on Long Story Short.

 

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

 

Aloha mai kākou, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Kualoa Ranch in Windward Oʻahu is an amazing property. It’s actually three, virtually intact ahupuaʻa, or Hawaiian mountain-to-sea districts. This precious property has been in the kama’āina Morgan family for a long time and at times, after the fall of sugar cultivation as Hawaiʻi’s dominant industry, the family struggled to hold onto the lands to make them financially productive. When sixth generation Hawaiʻi family member, Morgan, grew up, the four-thousand acres were a private nature reserve and cattle ranch. He had no plan when he asked his father, as a college student, if he could manage the place. Over the years of his leadership, the lands took on a diverse new life. There’s still some ranching, but the spread is best known as a destination for visitors and locals and filmmakers and TV shows. Parts of the blockbuster movie, Jurassic Park, were filmed here. But big-time media makers don’t come by every day. The way John Morgan explains it, Kualoa Ranch’s main business is offering environmentally sustainable and educational activities. His great-great-great grandfather bought the first parcel of land that started Kualoa Ranch from King Kamehameha the Third.

 

Our family got started here in 1828, Dr. Gerrit P. Judd and his wife, Laura, came on the third ship with the missionaries and uh, he was a doctor. He wanted to be a missionary but they didn’t accept him at the uh, American Board of Foreign Missions. From what I understood, I read the book—Dr. Judd—and I read it awhile ago, and uh, he, his theological, uh, theologic, uh, credentials weren’t good enough, according to the people who were evaluating him. Maybe got a C instead of a B, I don’t know.

 

But still, he was appointed the Mission Doctor?

 

Yeah, so they wanted doctors here, because as we all know, you know, the whole situation with the, with disease and all of that…

 

All of the illness…

 

…and was just terrible. So, there’s uh, a lot of epidemics, in fact, we created a timeline for early Hawaiian history and you know, we recorded all these different epidemics uh, that were, were, there was quite a few epidemics and so he, he dealt with it. He learned a little bit about the laʻau lapaʻau, you know, from the Hawaiians, and he actually wrote uh, the first uh, anatomy book in Hawaiian. And so they wanted doctors and so, kind of in the spirit of being a missionary, but you know, uh, basically helping people out, that’s why he decided to come here. He practiced medicine for about ten years before he, uh, went into service for the King, and so he got acquainted with the King and there was a mutual respect there and he wasn’t uh, uh, a missionary, and he wasn’t a merchant, and he was interested and he was a pretty, you know, smart and honest guy, so he ended up becoming a minister to King Kamehameha the Third. So when successive years he was Minister of Finance, and Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Minister of the Interior, not in that order, but…so he held-held pretty…uh, big positions in the government.

 

Do you think being a physician helped bring him to the King’s attention?

 

I, you know, honestly, I don’t know. Again, the population at the time, you had missionaries who weren’t really involved with secular affairs and you had merchants and whalers and others who had their own self-interest, and so here was a guy who um…

 

Met a lot of the families through helping them…

 

Yeah, and…

 

…with their medical issues.

 

…and didn’t have, you know, kind of a self-interest that…and so, he was kind of a neutral, yeah, neutral party, but again he was, reading the books about him and everything that I have and-and-and a lot of people would agree that, you know, he was definitely a solid guy who-who-who was devoted to the Kingdom and the King. The start of the ranch was uh, in 1850, it was part of the King’s personal land and uh, and so he sold the-the-that parcel of land to Dr. Judd in 1850.

 

Did Dr. Judd know what he was going to do with it?

 

What we understand is that he, you know, just liked farming, he just wanted his own farm and uh, so, I’m not sure, because there’s no records of it, how much that he was aware of, you know, the cultural and historical significance of Kualoa, but uh, but he-he-he did build a house out there and uh, actually shipped schooner loads of squash and melon back to Honolulu, so, he did actually run it as a farm.

 

How much did he pay for the land, do you know?

 

I think it was thirteen hundred dollars.

 

For how many acres?

 

Six hundred and twenty-two.

 

Amazing.

 

Yeah, yeah.

 

So, uh, then, so that’s your great-great-great grandfather?

 

Yeah.

 

I believe I’ve read that Dr. Judd chose to renounce his American citizenship to serve the King of Hawaiʻi, King Kamehameha the Third.

 

Yes, he did. Rick Cord, is the first one, so he was the second U.S. citizen to renounce his U.S. citizenship and that was a, it was a telling act on his part, yeah.

 

Does your family have an opinion of what happened during the Overthrow times?

 

Not really. Dr. Judd was gone already and Charles was there. Charles was in service to the King, he was a chamberlain to King Kalākaua and so, all of our ancestry, you know, up to the point of the Overthrow was definitely in favor of the monarchy.

 

Which of the generations was it who got involved heavily in sugar industry which was king in Hawaiʻi?

 

So, Dr. Judd’s had uh, nine kids, seven of which who lived at least to adulthood and one of those nine kids was Charles and so that was my great-great-grandfather, and he actually went into business with Samuel Wilder, who was his brother-in-law, he married one of Dr. Judd’s uh, daughters, and uh…

 

And as you’re saying these names, I think of streets in Hawaiʻi which bear these names…

 

Yeah, so Samuel Wilder and Charles Judd, uh, basically bought Kualoa from Dr. Judd, and started the sugar uh, mill, in 1863 and it went bankrupt, actually, and so, uh, Dr. Judd got the land back because they couldn’t pay it all off and uh, and so, so, that’s how Charles got involved and then, Charles actually ended up buying the neighboring two ahupuaʻa of Kaʻaʻawa and that was in 1860, and Hakipuʻu in 1880. So, by 1880, the ranch was intact three, you know, separate but continuous ahupuaʻa.

 

It’s three ahupuaʻa? Are they still intact?

 

Still intact and still contiguous, yeah.

 

So, for all this time, since the days of the monarchy, um, your family’s had these three contiguous ahupuaʻa and kept them. That’s very unusual, isn’t it? To not have to sell off land?

 

It is, I mean, when you look at a lot of kama’āina families, in order to preserve they, you know, or whatever, for whatever reason…

 

Whatever reason, right..

 

…and so, during the Depression, that was a very tough time, and uh, um, at that time, my great-aunt was kind of in-charge and things were-were-were-were again, very tough. Thatʻs when Ka’a’awa town was created and that was our way, that was our time when we sold land, we didn’t sell it at the time, we just created lots in Ka’a’awa town and leased them all out. Uh, but that was about the extent of that and luckily, we didn’t do more.

 

Long term leases?

 

Long term leases.

 

Are they…is the land still leased?

 

Uh, no, it’s all sold off through, you know, through uh, you know The Land Reform Act, you know, that occurred in the 1970s, so that all went to fee in uh, I think uh, ’84.

 

Was that part of the ahupuaʻa?

 

That was part of the ahupuaʻa, yeah.

 

So, so a small section was sold off?

 

Little small section uh, just kind of…it’s cut off from the main part of uh, Kaʻaʻawa Valley by a little ridge, and so, it, it, you know, didn’t disrupt uh, you know, other parts of the operation and so that’s why they chose to develop it over there.

 

Well, what is the cultural significance of the Kualoa lands?

 

It’s mentioned in the Kumulipo, uh, you know, the name—Kualoa, and then there’s a whole bunch of legendary reference to you know, Kualoa, whether it’s Luʻanuʻu who’s supposed to go and find a place for a sacrifice, or the legend of Mokoliʻi, or uh, you know, there’s a…there’s just a number of different legends. I wouldn’t call it a legend that it was a training ground of chiefs because when you go back to, you know, Kamakau, or you know, some of the other, the writers, who talk about uh, you know, back in the time of Kahahana and Kaʻa…Kahekili, there was a, a kahuna, Kaʻopulupulu, who-who-who was advocating that uh, you know, Kualoa was so sacred that Kahahana shouldn’t give it to Kahekili because Kahekili actually was demanding it in order to keep peace. So, I don’t consider those as much legends as more recorded history, even though that was back in the 1700s. So anyway, there’s a lot of different reference to uh, to how important Kualoa was in the ancient times and for us, it’s a, it’s really important to honor that, understand that, and keep that uh, as something that we still cherish.

 

Managing Kualoa Ranch had never been a full-time job for any of John Morgan’s ancestors, but with changing times, he felt driven to make the lands financially productive or risk losing the precious property.

 

Except for a short time in your life when you went to college, essentially you’ve lived at Kualoa, at least part-time, I think your family, when you were a kid, went back and forth…to Nuʻuanu and…

 

And Kualoa, yeah.

 

So, you’ve spent a lot of time as a resident, at least a part-time resident, of Kualoa all your life?

 

All my life, yeah.

 

You know, you must know every little nook and cranny over there?

 

I’d like to. [LAUGHS] You know, there’s all these little valleys and you know, I love…my wife and I love to go hiking out there…and the kids…and so, but, you know, it’s funny, it can be…it’s a big place but it’s also a small place and if you want to go to every single corner it’s gonna take a lifetime, so…haven’t been to every place yet.

 

Did you know you’d become the CEO of the family property, Kualoa Ranch?

 

No. [LAUGHS] It’sone of those things that when you’re young and there’s only five employees and you know, fixing fences, spraying herbicide in the pastures, and moving irrigation, you know, for the corn fields and everything…

 

And you did all that?

 

So we did all of that. And take uh, when we started horseback rides, took out the horseback rides with my wife and, and-and-and, you know, I asked my father if I could make a career at the ranch and so, you know, when he said yes, I came back from Oregon State University to the University of Hawaiʻi, but it’s really just one foot in front of the other, there was no grandiose plan and uh, you know, certainly couldn’t have envisioned Kualoa Ranch being what it is today, way back then.

 

Well when you said…when you asked your father, did you have a sense of—it would continue to be horseback rides and, and beef?

 

I definitely had a sense it would continue to be horseback rides and beef but there needed to be something else, because it was clear that it wasn’t sustainable. My grandmother, my great-aunt, my father, my aunt and my uncle, who were all the older generation, uh, you know, knew that it wasn’t a sustainable business anymore. It never paid a dividend. Um, and so…

 

So, everybody always had other jobs?

 

Everybody always had other jobs…

 

As they ran the ranch?

 

Yeah, that is one of the things that we can credit my ancestors is nobody looked at it as a cash cow, and so everybody wanted to preserve it. But, you know, if you’re losing money every year, it’s harder to do that and so, um, when I…you know, asked him if I could try to make a career there, I knew that it was…I had to figure something out.

 

But you were okay about figuring it out?

 

Yeah, you know, I guess I stepped up to the challenge.

 

When you came back from uh, a couple of years of college at Oregon State and decided to go to school in Hawaiʻi and work on the ranch, you took a lot of credits but they weren’t necessarily…I think you took enough classes to get credits to graduate but they weren’t in the right areas…

 

[LAUGHS] Yeah, yeah.

 

Because, you were just picking what you thought you would need. You knew what course you were going to take.

 

That’s right. So, I was an Economics major, I didn’t really take college as seriously as um, glad, all my kids took it more seriously than I did, and um, so I applied to three colleges, chose Oregon because I didn’t want to go to California or Colorado where I was accepted to both other colleges, and I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I first uh, went to college, so I thought Economics was, you know, gives you a good understanding of life, and so, so, I was a major in Economics in Oregon State, and when I transferred back to University of Hawaiʻi, I stayed in that. But you’re right, I took finance and I took accounting, and horticulture, and agronomy, and Hawaiian language, and all the different things that I thought might help me because, you know, I’d already made the decision and my father had supported it, that I’d make a career at the ranch. And I’m glad that I took all of those things because now when you read financial reports or, I love, you know, knowing…certainly not fluent in Hawaiian, but uh, you know, I know a little bit, so, all of those things help me tremendously.

 

Did you have an inkling of what you wanted to do?

 

I did. Uh, knew that you know, people coming to the ranch and tourism was…

 

Tourism.

 

…probably the answer and so…

 

But what would they look at?

 

Ah, at the time, you know, again, 1981 when I took over didn’t know, but by ’84, I met a whole bunch of people in Waikiki and realized that tourism was booming and especially the Japanese tourist part of the business was booming and so, when we opened what we called The Activity Club, at the time, 1985 on April…April 1st, 1985, uh, we had put together a variety of different activities: horses, ATVs, uh, jet skis, helicopters, a gun range, all these different activities and uh, we presented to the Japanese travel wholesalers. So, we had one type of client, which was the Japanese travel wholesaler. The consumer was the, you know, the Japanese customer, uh and then we had all of these activities and uh, and so we launched and it was a very, you know, started off slow but it really resonated with the marketplace, so by the end of the 80s, we’re doing gangbusters and you know, thought I was a genius.

 

And that was before the movie productions came in?

 

Yeah, we had a couple of small ones. I think the original Hawaii 5-0 had come out there and early 80s Magnum P.I. had come out there, but really before anything big had started, yeah, yeah.

 

For example, 50 First Dates, King Kong, Skull Island, and Jumangi: Welcome to the Jungle. Under John Morgan’s leadership, Kualoa Ranch was thriving as a visitor destination, but world events and economic changes during the 1990s and early 2000s made him re-think his business model.

 

And then everything changes, ah, you know, in the early 90s, I think the Gulf War’s in ’91 and there was a currency crisis in the East, and you know, just a bunch of different things happened and you know, lot of other businesses were saying, hey this Japanese business looks good and so, it started to really uh, struggle and so by the late 90s it was struggling and then, course, 2001, it was a terrible situation for everybody. So we had to kind of re-look at what we’re doing and-and-and-and, you know, wasn’t all in one fell swoop but we…introspected, looked, and tried to figure out really what was the strength of the ranch and what was our core competency, and, you know, whether it was from a cultural perspective or you know, market-driven, we realized that it was really the land and the history and the culture and uh, and the agriculture. So, we got rid of a lot of the stuff that didn’t really fit with uh, the brand that we wanted to build. So, we got rid of the gun range, got rid of the jet skis, got rid of the helicopters, got rid of a lot of the different things and focused on ways that people could just experience the land. We recognized that uh, in order to be able to sustain the land, you know, we have to have a viable business and so, tourism and local, local visitors as well, it’s not just tourists. So, how do we, how do we provide enriching experiences for people and get them close to the land? And you know, introduce them to agriculture, introduce them to the Hawaiian culture, and of course, the movie part doesn’t hurt, either. But um, so, as time goes on, we try to, try to, you know, enhance different parts of the land by you know, doing different things whether it’s cultural or agricultural or otherwise, and so, we’re kind of in a perpetual landscape improvement mode. So right now, we’re resurrecting taro patches in a bunch of different areas and uh, so that when people go through these areas, you go—wow, this is gorgeous…and you learn about it, and then not only that, we harvest the crops. So, and then we built a replica, it’s not a heiau because it’s new, but we built a replica of that. We’ve had several different areas that uh, yeah, we’re doing different things from a, from a cultural perspective. We’re doing things, you know, a lot of our agricultural developments occurring around the tour routes. We built a six thousand square foot piggery made out of a repurposed movie set. It’s right on one of the tour routes because people like that kind of stuff, so whether it’s the culture or the agriculture or you know, other things, we…we know that integrating tourism with what we do is uh, and the history of the place is-is-is what makes us successful.

 

You’re basically not near the city center, you’re not near the Legislature which could be making laws that would, you know, that would affect you…it’s kind of a really different life, isn’t it? I mean, the skills you need to do well on the land you own and also, you know, what it takes to keep that land in a modern American city. 

 

Yeah, you know, hate to use the analogy of the plantation era, but, you know, plantation era’s not all bad because people were taking care of the land and maybe monoculture, cropping, is…not everybody likes now, but, from a…from the standpoint of being there and not in Bishop Street, so to speak, and you know, being close to people and being close to the land, uh, you know, I really, I really appreciate that. I do get to town, you know, whenever you need to, but uh, but I’m fortunate and even our sales people are fortunate that we’re at a point now that instead of having to go drum up business, a lot of times people come to us and so, a measure of success is when-when-when, you know, you don’t have to go to town to go to-to-to do everything and uh, we can stay out there and do our work and attract the right kind of people, so…

 

What do you worry about? What keeps you up at night when it comes to running a ranch? And this uh, this uh robust visitor operation?

 

Yeah, obviously worry about the people, we have almost 400 employees and they’re a big responsibility and you know, we want to take care of them. We want to uh, you know, see if we can have more of a positive impact in our community. We’re a big company in a small community. Those things don’t really keep me up at night but they are parts of the responsibility that are important. Um, you know, again, from that perspective, we certainly hope that the visitor industry in Hawaiʻi remains robust because if it wasn’t, you know, it hurts everybody including our company. We know that as we evolve we need to, you know, put more effort into different areas. Five years ago we hired a…created a position for a Hawaiian Cultural Resources manager, so that person is just devoted to, you know, encouraging and all of the awareness and uh, learning about Hawaiian culture within employees as well as guests. Now the same thing is going to happen with sustainability just to push the envelope a little further, push the needle, you know, a little…

 

And what kind of sustainability will that person look at?

 

Ah, everything, um, but we’re not all that good on energy right now, uh, we want to do a better job in recycling but you know, it’s really how do we integrate all thoughts and-and-and of sustainability into all the different diverse things that we have going on, because we’re really diverse. So, so, so that’s kind of direction…you know, we don’t see major changes in the, in the short term. We just hired another, another agriculture manager at the same time, he’s going through training this week and-and, so we’re adopting a new kind of approach to our agriculture. We used to say, this is diversified ag, this is livestock, this is aquaculture and now we’re doing it more from a kind of a kuleana perspective of this 40 acres is your kuleana and it has taro, you know, shrimp, and you know, lettuce, and everything else, and you run this area and so we have three diversified ag “hubs” that we call them. One of them’s about 40 acres, one of them’s about 60 acres, and another one in lower Kaʻaʻawa, so, that’s where the piggery and the sheep and the chickens and cacao and all kinds of stuff.

 

Cacao too?

 

So, we have cacao and bananas and papayas and all kinds of, all kinds of things.

 

And it all adds up to sustainability. You have a succession plan for you?

 

Nope.

 

You don’t?

 

Not yet, yeah.

 

Does any of your children want it?

 

Everybody, uh, is definitely interested in-in being involved and so our whole family, we’re so lucky that…it’s my brother, my sister and I, and we have some cousins that are involved on the ownership side and everybody is uh, is passionate about the preservation of it and everybody is committed, but from a succession point of view, that’s still a work in progress.

 

Is it, as they say, complicated?

 

Ah, it’s-it’s-it’s complicated. I mean, you know, being involved is one thing, being a CEO is a whole nother thing. And so, we’re really grateful that everybody wants to be involved, but I think everybody realizes that from a succession point of view on a CEO, the best person should do it. It’s not whether it’s family or not, and so…so, we’re in that process of trying to figure out…I think I still have ten more years or something, so we’ll see.

 

Mahalo to John Morgan of Nuʻuanu in Honolulu for sharing your story with us, and thank you for joining us. For PBS Hawaiʻiand Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha nui.

 

What’s the biggest risk you’ve ever taken?

 

Hm, I don’t know, I’m kind of an adventure thrill-seeker, if you’re talking about the personal side. You know, some friends and I climbed the top of Mount Rainier, I didn’t think that was really a risk, it was very strenuous but, um, you know, surfed big waves, if you’re comfortable doing it, uh, you know, did the Molokai Crossing with a couple of friends in a relay on stand-up paddle boards, it’s a challenge, so…on the personal side, you know, I don’t…I don’t really think about things as monumental risks, maybe I’m forgetting things right now, and on the business side, I mean, every time you do anything it’s a risk.

 

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.

 

[END]

 

 

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Sam Cooke

 

Sam Cooke
Preserving Historical Hawaiʻi

 

A member of one of Hawaiʻi’s most prominent kamaʻaina families, Sam Cooke shares his passion for the restoration of Hawaiʻi’s cultural and historical treasures. A descendant of early missionaries who established a business empire with Castle and Cooke, Sam, along with his wife Mary, established the Manoa Heritage Center to promote the stewardship of ancient heiau located near their historic home in Manoa Valley.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, Mar. 10, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

Sam Cooke Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

And it was wonderful in the old days. And it’s changed, but… we’ve tried to keep a little of it here, what we’re doing with the Manoa Heritage Center. So we plan to be around for a while.

 

He bears the name of a kamaʻaina family and he’s related to other prominent families who came to Hawaiʻi when it was still a kingdom. Sam Cooke shares his passion for the preservation of historic and cultural treasures of the islands.

 

 

Next on LONG STORY SHORT.

 

Open billboard: Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawaiʻi’s first weekly television program produced and broadcast in High Definition.

 

Aloha Mai Kākou, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Anyone who’s lived in Hawaiʻi for any length of time has seen the name Cooke, with an E, in many contexts. In the islands’ missionary history, in the evolution of big business here, in the many philanthropic gifts supporting the arts, environment, education and human services. Samuel Alexander Cooke is a descendant of early missionaries who taught the children of the aliʻi. Over time, family members established a business empire with the company Castle and Cooke. In more recent years, Sam Cooke and his wife Mary have saved a heiau from development a stone’s throw from their historic home in Manoa. And they’ve created the Manoa Heritage Center to preserve the Kukaoo Heiau and an all-native garden they’ve grown around it. The Cooke family dynasty began with the arrival in the early 1800s of Sam’s great-great grandparents, Juliet Montague and Amos Starr Cooke.

 

He was a teacher, and he wanted to come out and be a missionary in the Hawaiian Islands, but he had to have a wife, and he didn’t have a wife. So the mission said, You can’t go unless you have a wife. So he posted the bonds in the church, and a few weeks later, Juliet Montague joined him as his wife. They were on the boat for a hundred and eighty-eight days, and they arrived in Hawaiʻi in April of 1837. He was asked by King Kamehameha V (sic) to start the Chief’s Children’s School, where he educated… she and he educated all the Hawaiian royalty, including Bernice Pauahi, who was married to Charles Reed Bishop in our house, which is still behind the Kawaiahaʻo Church.

 

With the evolution of Hawaiʻi, there’s new thinking about missionary contributions. You know that expression about missionaries came here to do good, and they did very well.

 

M-hm.

 

What are your thoughts about that?

 

Well, it all depends who you’re talking about. James Campbell wasn’t a missionary, and he did the best. But the missionaries did start the industry with sugar, which they started, and then it grew to be much bigger than the missionaries. And most of the people that ran those industries, sugar and pineapple, were not missionaries, they were brought in from the continental United States. And they’re the ones that really put those companies on the map. But now, they’re all gone. Except for Alexander and Baldwin and the Bank of Hawaii, there’s no large missionary engendered company left here in the State of Hawaiʻi.

 

When your original forebear came here, do think  Christianity or education was foremost in his mind?

 

 

Both; both, yeah. And then the mission went broke. And so they couldn’t afford to keep the missionaries out here, so they said, We’ll take you home back to the East Coast, or you can stay in Hawaiʻi. And that’s when Amos Starr Cooke and Samuel Northrup Castle started a ship chandler they called Castle and Cooke.

 

It did ag, it did shipping.

 

It did ag, it did…

 

Pineapple

 

-shipping, it did construction. And in its heyday, it just did about everything that had anything to do with land, and agriculture.

 

What are some of the other things your family got involved with?

 

My great-grandfather, Charles Montague Cooke, married Anna Charlotte Rice Cooke, or Anna Charlotte Rice. And she’s the one that started the Academy of Arts. And then so there’s where I get my Rice blood. And I get my Lyman and Wilcox blood from my mother, who was from Kauaʻi, and whose great-uncle, G.N. Wilcox, founded Grove Farm. My grandfather, who built this house, was a scientist. He was a malacologist; he studied Hawaiian land shells. He was a PhD at the Bishop Museum for forty years; became very famous. And then my Uncle George, who was his brother, was a rancher on Molokai. My family had the Molokai Ranch, and George Cooke was the head of it. It was a cattle ranch. It was big; it was about seventy-seven thousand acres. But the thing that made it click was the pineapple leases. We leased to Castle and Cooke, and we leased to California Packing Company, and McNeill and Libby. And pineapple, I think, was great, but in about 1985, we lost the pineapple, because they all went to the Philippines and to Taiwan. So our income just dried up. So in 1986, we sold the ranch to a New Zealander by the name of Birely, and we haven’t had anything to do with it since then. It’s been very controversial, but we’ve exited the ranch, and its been the Birely’s that have had all the trouble, because they’ve tried to run it absentee. That doesn’t work.

 

It must have been hard to give up the ranch, although-

 

It was.

 

it was a financial decision, right?

 

Well, it’s a financial disaster. M-hm.

 

But it did support, in good times, many people.

 

Oh, in good times the pineapple lease, it was a wonderful place. It had deer, it had fish, and it had everything, and we could go there and have fifty thousand acres to ourselves to go do what we wanted to do. I took all my buddies up there; Curtis Iaukea and Gilbert, all those guys. They loved the place. M-hm.

 

Sam Cooke spent many summers on Molokai, but he grew up on the same Manoa Valley land where he continues to live. After majoring in hotel management at Cornell University, he had every intention of pursuing a career in the hotel industry and took a job with Interisland Resorts on Kauaʻi. But with marriage to the woman he’d met when they were children and with the demands of a new family, he redirected his profession, becoming a stockbroker and senior executive with Morgan Stanley here. One of his clients was the late great Harry Weinberg, who was famously frugal and exacting. Sam Cooke had a long career in a competitive industry. Even back at Punahou School, he didn’t shy away from the fray.

 

Who’d you play football with?

 

Oh, with guys like Gilbert Ane, and Curtis Iaukea, and-

 

All the small guys.

 

-all the-

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

All the small guys. I wasn’t any good, but I made the team.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

What were they like – what was Curtis “The Bull” Laukea, the future wrestler, like in high school?

 

Good guy; really good. Still is a good guy. I mean, very successful wrestler. I could never believe that he would do what he did, but he did, and he became very good at it.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

He was always the bad guy-

 

The bad guy.

 

-on the air, but the-

 

Yeah.

 

-nice guy behind the scenes.

 

Right. And he lives up in Papakolea now. I’ve seen him occasionally. Gilbert Ane was a terror.

 

M-hm.

 

 

Boy, he was a hell of a football player. And Danny, his brother, and David, his brother, and Harry Pacarro, and A.K. Espinda, and Punahou was always thought of as a Haole team, but I think there was only one Haole on the team, and that was me.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

Well, tell me; I noticed your grandfather had a very vibrant scientific career, your father was in the finance business, trust, you worked for decades in hotel and for Dean Witter and Morgan Stanley.

 

M-hm.

 

Couldn’t you all have just said, I’ve got a trust fund, I have wealth, no need.

 

Never happened that way.

 

You could have, though.

 

Well, yeah. I’ve had cousins that did that, but not me. Mm-mm; mm-mm.

 

What got you up every morning to go to work?

 

Oh, I don’t know. I guess I wanted to prove myself. I’ve never been that way. Neither has my wife. So we’ve been very, very active.

 

So you made money, and now you spend your life giving money.

 

We do.

 

In your philanthropic-

 

We do.

 

-efforts.

 

We do here, but we do. We do a lot of philanthropic work. M-hm.

 

Did you always know you were gonna do that?

 

No; no. I thought I was gonna be a hotel manager.

 

Mm.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

Lots to eat, always have a bed.

 

As a businessman, when you look at people applying for grants, you probably have a different eye than many people do.

 

Well, we do. And then you really get to know who your friends are.

 

‘Cause you say no.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

You have to say no every once in a while. At Cooke Foundation, we hire the Hawaiʻi Community Foundation to research all the grants. And so we have a pretty good idea of who we want to give our money to. We do twice a year. You’re not taxed when you’re an eleemosynary foundation; you don’t pay taxes. So the IRS takes a very, very strong look at how you give your money away. And if you start giving it away to people that don’t really qualify, you could lose your tax status. And so we’re very careful about that.

 

Sam Cooke is an avid collector of Hawaiiana that includes paintings, rare books and artifacts. His ongoing philanthropic efforts reflect the Cooke family tradition of sponsoring arts and preserving the cultural heritage of the islands.

 

Well, principally, my great-grandmother started the Honolulu Academy of Arts. And I was the chairman of the Academy of Arts for sixteen years, and got to know most of the major art people in the United States. And I’ve been told by many of those people that the Honolulu Academy of Arts is probably the finest small museum in America. So it’s a real treasure.

 

It’s such a legacy, but I sense that for you, it wasn’t a family obligation. You love art.

 

Yeah, I love art. And it wasn’t an obligation, but it was a very necessary part of the soul of Honolulu, I think. That without it, we’d be wanting. It’s a beautiful museum.

 

Has it faced challenges that threatened it along the way?

 

Yes, mostly monetary. My great-grandmother founded it, endowed it, built it, and left her collection there. And then she moved up to where the Contemporary Art Museum is; that was her home. But the challenges that the Art Academy really faced were expansion and growth, and collecting.

 

I believe you helped to raise, what, fifteen million dollars-

 

Thirty.

 

-for a wing. Thirty?

 

M-hm.

 

And which people said at the time couldn’t be done.

 

Right; right. M-hm.

 

How’d you do it?

 

Mostly on the mainland, and tremendous support from the local people here in Hawaiʻi, especially the foundations and the corporations. But there’s just not that kind of money here in Hawaiʻi, so we went to the mainland and got support from the Henry Luce Foundation, and all sorts of foundations all over the country that had been here and seen the Academy, knew what we were talking about, and were very happy to help us out.

 

What kinds of art do you like the best?

 

Hawaiian.

 

I know – Hawaiʻi?

 

Yeah. Kind of things you see on my wall. M-hm.

 

I see lots of books about voyages-

 

Voyages.

 

-to the islands.

 

M-hm; m-hm. It’s a fascinating story. The books start with the collection of Cook, and go all the way through the end of the 20th century. After Cook discovered Hawaiʻi, all the European nations came here, and they all published voyages and did beautiful atlases with drawing. Of course, there was no photography in those days, so they all brought artists with them, and the artists did beautiful drawings.

 

And why are you fascinated with those voyages?

 

Well, that’s when we all got started, I guess. It really brought Hawaiʻi to the fore in the world. I mean at one particular time, Hawaiʻi was the most literate country in the world; everybody could read.

 

After the missionaries came.

 

After the missionaries came.

 

But Hawaiians were literate in their own language too.

 

Yes, they were; they were, very. They had a tremendous culture. And on the property here, we have a Hawaiian heiau, which we have rebuilt, and it’s a beautiful piece of work, gorgeous piece of work.

 

So you live in a nice suburban area of Honolulu, with a heiau in your back yard.

 

M-hm.

 

How did that happen?

 

Interesting. My grandfather moved here in about 1901. He built the house in 1911. There was a heiau out there, and the architects wanted to put the house where the heiau was, because that’s where the best scenery was. He said no; no. His life had been saved by a Hawaiian, so he was very, very true with the Hawaiian people. And he would not let them build a house on the heiau. So he built a fence around the heiau, and it stayed that way up until 1994 when Mary and I bought it from a developer, and saved it and then rebuilt it. So we brought a stonemason from the Big Island by the name of Billy Fields, who is an outstanding mason, and he built it and put it back in shape.

 

And that’s, I believe, an agricultural heiau.

 

It’s an agricultural heiau; right, m-hm.

 

What’s the story about it, and what’s its name?

 

Well, it’s name is Kukaoo. And there are all sorts of interpretations of Kukaoo, but the one we like the most is of a chief who stood on the mountain in back of us, and threw his oo stick, and it landed there. And that’s where they built the heiau.

 

Standing oo, step- 

 

Standing oo. And oo is a digging stick. And Kenneth Emory, who was the archaeologist at the Bishop Museum, did a radiocarbon test out there, and with some ashes, and determined that it was very, very old, perhaps back to the Norman conquest, which was 1088. So it’s been there for a long time. Billy found three different stages of rebuilding in the heiau, so it had been rebuilt. And then we dedicated it in1994 with Bill Kaina, who was the kahu at Kawaiahaʻo Church. And he came up here; he had a very difficult time, giving a little talk about the heiau, because the mana was coming from the heiau bothering him. But he got through it. [CHUCKLE] It’s a beautiful heiau. And it’s the only one on this side of the island, and it’s the only one I’ve seen that has been restored this way.

 

So you mentioned that a family member had been – his life had been saved by a Hawaiian woman, and he was very indebted to the Hawaiian people as a result, and the Hawaiian culture.

 

 

M-hm.

 

This was your grandfather.

 

It was my grandfather. He was born down at Kawaiahaʻo Church, and he was not expected to live. He was two and a half pounds, and Western medicine couldn-t take care of him. So my great-grandfather went to Hilo, and got a kahuna lapaau who was named Kaaina. Brought her to Honolulu, and she saved the baby; he lived. And she wrapped him in kukui leaves, and massaged him with lomi lomi, and did all the old things, and he lived. And so he took care of her for the rest of his life. And I have an obituary that talks about her when she died. She was a hundred and fourteen years old when she died. And she went on to say that she had been a kahuna lapaau and had saved many lives. And she never married, but she had a son, a Haole boy by the name of Montague Cooke. So lots of the old-timers around here still remember her. My mother was very perplexed by it, because she was very striking looking and had blue eyes, for a Hawaiian. And her whole name means, the last supper. Because she was born in Kona on the same day that Kamehameha died in 1819. And her parents were converted to Christianity, and when she was born, they named her this big, long Hawaiian name, that meant, the last supper. M- hm. He would take care of her. It was like a mother and a son relationship.

 

The name of your home is Kualii?

 

Kualii; right. Kualii was the chief who lived here, and that’s his heiau out there. And Kualii is a big name; it’s like Smith in the English name. There are Kualiis everywhere, I found out afterwards. [CHUCKLE] But he was a chief, and he was the chief of Oʻahu, a very powerful one. It’s is a great house. It was the first house of its kind in the valley. And there was a dairy up here. My grandfather’s hobby was dairy, so he got a tiny dairy. It went from Cooper Road there, all the way up to Waioli Tea Room. But after the war, people moved into the valley, and they objected to the smells and the sounds of the dairy, so we moved the dairy over to where Olomana Estates is now. And then we started selling off the property. But this has a great, great history, this house. And when Pearl Harbor was bombed in 1941, all the able-bodied people went to Pearl Harbor to help, but the women and children and the older people came here. There must have been between eighty and a hundred people in this house, and they were sleeping on the floor, and upstairs; there are four stories.

 

Here, because it’s stone.

 

It’s stone; it looks like it could handle itself. But a word went out from the authorities that the water had been poisoned, so we filled our bathtubs up. We have three big porcelain bathtubs upstairs. We filled them up with water, and we drank out of the bathtub for three days. So it has many, many fond memories. We had bomb shelters out here. And I think growing up here in the 50s, we all – and the neighborhood gang would come here and play football and baseball, and there was a lot more property in those days, so we had the room to do things like that.

 

How much more property did you have then?

 

Well, we had quite a bit more property. I think the place was about eight acres. Now, it;s three. And it was all the way down to the Manoa Road.

 

And the stones, which surround you, are neighborhood stones.

 

Yeah. They were quarried here, right where the circle is out in front of the house. And when Mary and I moved in here in 1970, we really had a feeling that we wanted to save the place. Because I think my father, who lived on Maui, would have knocked it down and subdivided, and sold the property off. So we had to bite the bullet, and I made a deal with him, and the house was in terrible shape, awful shape. But over the years, we’ve painted and used chewing gum and everything else I can

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

The home is now on the National Register of Historic Places. Sam and Mary Cooke established the non-profit Manoa Heritage Center and the Kualii Foundation to secure the future of the home and the nearby heiau site. As long as the couple lives here, the house is not open to the publicbut the heritage center offers guided tours of the heiau and native garden.

 

And I’ve opened the garden up, not the house, but the garden to tours; small tours. And we’ve done’we do about three thousand kids a year. And I think we can do a little bit more than that, but we’re growing, and we’ll get there soon. But we can’t do much more than that, because of our size.

 

You’ve restored the heiau, and youve replaced the original plantings with all native Hawaiian- Yes. –plants.

 

Right; m-hm.

 

What have you learned about the Hawaiian plants and-

 

Well, when we-

 

-in the process?

 

-first started doing it, we had to get special permits from the State to plant these plants, because they were endangered, and they were protected. And so Mary, my wife [CHUCKLE], had a lot of sessions with the State in bringing monroidendron trees in, and like all these other things that we put in the garden. Now, you can buy them at Home Depot. [CHUCKLE] But we have some very unique things out there that we got from Kauaʻi.

 

Like, for example?

 

Well, the monroidendron; it’s such a rare tree. It grows on Kauaʻi. It’s such a rare tree that we’ve forgotten the Hawaiian name; nobody knows the Hawaiian name for it.

 

I heard there’s one out there that – there’s nothing left in the natural to pollinate it.

 

Oh, yeah; that’s the brighamia. It looks like a cabbage on the end of a big stalk. And that was found on Kauaʻi and on Molokai, and there was a special insect that pollinated it. And that insect has become extinct, and it can’t pollinate itself by itself, so it has to be pollinated by man. There’s the native Hawaiian hibiscus, which is the State flower, the yellow one.

 

M-hm.

 

And then there’s Hawaiian cotton out there. And then there’s akia, the fish poison plant.

 

How does that work?

 

You take the leaves and you make it into a poultice, and then you throw it in the tidal pools. And it stuns the fish, and the fish come floating up. And then you grab them and put them in a bag. I’ve never tried it, but it’s something that does work. Well, there’s about sixty different plants out there, all sorts of exotic, rare Hawaiian plants that are kinda fun to see, because you don’t ever see them anywhere. And one of the things that has been so interesting is that when the native people come here to see the heiau, they’re much more interested in the plants than they are in the heiau.

 

What do you think happened in that heiau? I mean, did you know, right now, it’s an empty enclosure.

 

Right; right.

 

What was there? Was anything in there before?

 

We don’t really know. We speculate that there were some images in there. There was one person who came out to the University of Hawaiʻi who said it was built much like that big stone thing in England called Stonehenge, where it lined itself up to the solstice, the different seasons.

 

M-hm.

 

And that you could see the sun coming over this part of the heiau, and that’s where this particular plant was planted.

 

Oh; that would be so nice to know.

 

Yeah; it would be nice to know. But there’s nobody to tell us. We have a protocol committee, different local people who come and advise us about once every other year. And we decided that we weren’t going to let anybody walk in there, out of respect to the place. And if you know a chant, it’s very appropriate to chant. We’ve had many chanters out there. But it’s very refreshing to take these kids who are studying Hawaiian history, and all of them know chants, and so they come out there and they do their chant at the heiau. It’s just chicken skin. I mean, it really is. I was terrified that we’d have some sort of reaction from the Hawaiian community, but we have nothing but positive vibes from them. And we’ve tried to include them. Our board has several native Hawaiians on it, and Nathan Napoka has been very, very helpful to us. A wonderful guy. So I think we’re doing the right thing. I mean, I think my kids think I’m crazy, because they don’t get it.

[CHUCKLE]

 

They’re not into the Manoa Heritage Center?

 

Not really. Cathy is the one that lives here, but they’ll be okay; they’ll be okay. M-hm. They’re not setup such that they could take care of books like this, and paintings, and that type of thing. And we’re going to leave an endowment, hopefully, that will take care of it for the foreseeable future, but these places always need more, more, more, more, more.

 

Have you ever considered moving away?

 

No; I would never move away. I would never move away. We go on trips, and it’s always nice to come home.

 

And you’ve never moved away from the property? 

 

No.

 

-where your family has lived for generations.

 

Right; right. No; no, we’re gonna stay here.

 

Kukaoo was restored in 1993 and survives as the last intact Hawaiian temple in the greater ahupuaa of Waikiki.

 

That’s right, Waikiki. The Cookes- Manoa Heritage Center gives tours of the heiau and native garden by reservation only. Our guest Samuel Alexander Cooke could have let his family achievements support him, but instead, he enjoyed a long successful business career and created his own legacy of philanthropy in Hawaiʻi.

 

Mahalo, Sam Cooke for sharing your “Long Story Short,” and thank YOU for listening and supporting PBS Hawaiʻi. I’m Leslie Wilcox. A Hui Hou Kakou.

 

For audio and written transcripts of this program, and all episodes of

Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit pbshawaii.org.

 

We were very much involved with Molokai. We did a lot of fishing. My dad caught the world’s record oio, bonefish.

 

Bonefish.

 

And he also held the marlin record that he caught at Lanai. And Mother held the world’s record in the Allison tuna. And so when Dad died, he went in the Fishing Hall of Fame with Herbert Hoover; he was a very famous fisherman. So most of my time was fishing, when I was a kid. I didn’t-I don’t play golf; never been on a golf course. I miss the old ways; I do, I really do. I remember going to luaus at Laie, and seeing my father’s great friend, Haumana Kalili, in a tug-of- war, pulling six Filipinos. I mean, it was this incredible background. Going fishing with him, and going to the koa and praying in Hawaiian, and going out and catching akule by the boatload. And you don’t see that anymore. Mm-mm. We’d go to lobster holes, and out of maybe thirty lobsters in the hole, we’d take two, all we could eat. Now, you go out to the lobster hole, there’s nothing left.

 

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