Leslie Wilcox

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Mahealani Wendt

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX: Mahealani Wendt

 

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

 

Program

 

More from Mahealani Wendt:

 

“Righteous Cause”

 

Hawaiian Homeland

 

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

 

Mahealani Wendt Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Fort Street.

 

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

 

This was an old, beat-up building.

 

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

 

On that floor?

 

In the building.

 

In the whole building?

 

Everybody shared.

 

And how many people were in the building?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

So, it felt like a neighborhood to you.

 

It did; totally.

 

No creepy people hanging around.

 

I never remembered any creepy people.

 

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

 

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

 

Yes, we did; we felt very protected.

 

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

 

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

 

M-hm.

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

 

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

 

After the fact.

 

Yes.

 

Did you ever connect with your father again?

 

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

 

Royal School.

 

Yeah.

 

Okay; elementary.  And then?

 

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

 

And then?

 

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

 

How long were you in the tenements?

 

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

 

Another wooden building?

 

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

 

And watched it burn down.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Yeah; you thought they were nice people.

 

I thought everybody was nice.

 

But they were carrying all this pain, I suppose—

 

Yes.

 

–that they saw.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

That was good preparation.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Because there was more funding.

 

There was more funding.

 

More value placed on that.

 

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

 

Why did you leave law school after college?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

You did that for a long time.

 

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

 

What kinds of cases did your firm handle?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Ae!

 

Ae!

 

Ke Akua owns the water.

 

Ae!

 

For all of us.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

[END]

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Ciara Lacy

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX: Ciara Lacy

 

Documentary filmmaker Ciara Lacy was valedictorian of her graduating class at Kamehameha Schools and Yale University alumna is the daughter of a Native Hawaiian activist. Lacy’s love of storytelling and social justice causes began in Central Oʻahu with an electric typewriter, and led her to New York and Los Angeles and work on a succession of films and other media projects. A painful medical condition forced Lacy to reevaluate her life and return to Hawaiʻi. She underwent treatment and found a new source of inspiration in a story about Hawaiian men trying to reconnect with their native culture as inmates who’d been shipped to an Arizona prison. This drove Ciara (pronounced Kee-ah-rah) to create the documentary film Out of State, with colleague Beau Bassett, chronicling the journey of two released prisoners returning to Hawaiʻi to make a new start. This May, Lacy’s documentary will premiere nationally on PBS stations, including PBS Hawaiʻi, on the film series Independent Lens.

 

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

 

Program

 

Ciara Lacy Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

Your gender in doing this prison story …

 

Yeah.

 

How did that affect the dynamics?

 

I will say that the prison setting had more yin-yang, feminine and male energy than I would have expected.  So, it wasn’t an all alpha male situation.  There was a lot of spectrum of gender that presented at the prison setting.  So, as much as like, going into it I had thought of like, you know, whatever X, Y, Z bad movie I’d seen about a prison, that wasn’t the truth.  You know, when you make a movie, you want to show up and own the space, and say: This is how everything has to work.  Right?  This is my crew, this is my schedule, this is what it has to be.

 

Because producers are …

 

Because producers …

 

The synonym is, bossy people.

 

I’m so bossy.  I’m so bossy.  And you know, when it came to working in the prison, I call it Daoist filmmaking.  You know, you don’t have control, and you just give it all up.  And you say thank you for whatever you’re able to do.

 

She’s a filmmaker who went into an Arizona prison to document the stories of Native Hawaiian men who were incarcerated thousands of miles from home. Ciara Lacy, next, on Long Story Short.

 

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

 

Aloha mai kākou.  I’m Leslie Wilcox.  Ciara Lacy is a Native Hawaiian producer and director of the documentary, Out of State. The film follows two Native Hawaiian men from their confinement in a for-profit Arizona prison to their struggles reintegrating into society on Oahu.  While still locked up in Arizona, the men began to reconnect with their native culture, even though they were isolated thousands of miles away.

 

I never knew one ounce of Hawaiian before I even came jail.  I learned everything in jail.

 

[CHANTING]

 

I always took from people.  That’s how I knew how to get what I wanted in life.

 

Why couldn’t I have learned my culture while I was outside?

 

Ciara’s path to making this film was also filled with her own personal struggles. She spent her early years growing up in Central O‘ahu, where she loved to draw and write stories on her electric typewriter.

 

I was born early.  So, I was born like, six weeks early, and my mom and dad didn’t have a name.  My mother studied opera at UH, and she was singing an aria at the time, and Ciara was one of the words in the aria.  And they needed to give the baby a name, and she pulled that out.

 

What does it mean?

 

It means light, or clarity.  So, it’s like, kinda like chiaroscuro, like light and dark, the painting technique.

 

Oh, that sounds like you’re well-named.

 

What’s your earliest memory?  What was your home life like?

 

I had a great family.  You know, my father worked at Pearl Harbor for like, thirty-five, thirty-seven years.  And you know, I was lucky; I didn’t realize it at the time.  My mother was a housewife in the 80s and 90s.  And it was the four of us; you know, my mom, my dad, and my sister.

 

Did you have adversity along the way?

 

I mean, I was weird.  I didn’t necessarily fit in, but I was okay with that.  When I was very young, I don’t know, maybe five or six, my dad went to a garage sale.  My parents love garage sales.  And he went to a garage sale, and he bought an electric typewriter.  And I fell in love with the thing immediately, because I thought it was the coolest thing in the world.  And so, I would sit there, and I would just type at it.  And I’m sure some of my teachers from elementary school, like, they must have thought my mom was typing my homework.

 

Because I would turn in all my homework typed.

 

In elementary school?

 

Because I liked to type.  And I remember in fourth grade, I wrote a really weird story about like, a drug addict in Vegas.  And I’m like … what fourth-grader does that?  And I’m sure my teacher thought this was weird.  But it made sense, because that was the kind of thing I would do.

 

Future filmmaker Ciara Lacy went on to high school at the Kamehameha Schools Kapālama Campus.  She applied herself, and became valedictorian of her graduating class.  That opened up many possibilities for her future, although she wasn’t quite sure what that future was going to be.

 

When I was little, I knew we didn’t have money for me to go to college.  Which is not uncommon.  Right? I mean, college is super-expensive. So, I needed to make sure I could go. And that was what drove it.  So, it’s like, I mean, whatever college is, you know, like, I didn’t know; I just knew it was something that I needed to do.

 

And did you know what you wanted to do with this life-changing experience of college once you’d attained it?

 

No.  And I think that was the problem.  Like, I knew I needed to get there.  And then, when I showed up, I was like: Well, now what?

 

And when you showed up, you showed up at Yale.  You got a very good …

 

I was very lucky.

 

You got good scholarships, and you got a top college.

 

Yes; I was very lucky.

 

Did you find it intimidating at all, this idea that everyone at Yale could be the smartest one in your?

 

Oh, my gosh.  Everyone at Yale is super-smart.  Are you kidding me?  It’s like, two hundred percent imposter syndrome.  Like, okay, what am I doing here?  And it takes a second, and you realize everyone’s thinking the same thing. And you know, everyone’s coming from vastly different spaces.

 

And what did you end up majoring in?

 

I ended up majoring in psychology.  And I did crisis counseling in college.  And that, I really connected with.  But I wasn’t sure if that was gonna be my career.  And I thought that counseling and the crisis counseling would be good for business.  And that was about it.  But I didn’t think I wanted to go into therapy as my career.

 

But unlike many people, you didn’t stay on the mainland; you came back.

 

I came back.

 

And then, how was the job hunting when you came back?

 

Job hunting was hard.  I had a really hard time getting a job.  And I wanted to work in production.  I like, had a secret love of music videos.  I still have a love of music videos.  And that’s what I wanted to make.  But I didn’t have a degree in that, because who gets a film degree. It’s way too lofty.  And that’s not a real job.  These are things I’m telling myself.

 

M-hm.

 

Right?

 

A year after graduating from Yale University and returning home to Hawai‘i, Ciara Lacy decided to pursue her secret passion: to produce music videos. So, she packed up again and left for New York City to enter the world of video production.

 

And I went back, and I showed up in New York. And I had two thousand dollars in cash, and a credit card.  And I sold hotdogs at the Sheep’s Meadow in Central Park, and I taught the SATUs for Princeton Review.  And I temped, and I interned for free, and I did whatever I could to kinda just figure my way.

 

So, you’re out there selling hotdogs.

 

And somehow, you get hired in media production.

 

So, I had no idea where to get started.  And at the time, I was like: Okay, I don’t have any contacts, I don’t know anybody, I’ll just go on Craigslist.  You know, you can get a couch, and maybe I’ll a job.

 

And so, I was like, putting my resume out there, and sending it off into the ethos.  And I sent off for a music video, to work on a music video as a production assistant.  And with no credits, no experience whatever.  And I got an email back from this guy; his name is Terry Leonard.  And he said: Meet me tomorrow at the McDonald’s at Union Square.

 

And you didn’t say: Uh-oh, this guy could be a total crank or serial killer.

 

I was just like, well, It said the McDonald’s at Union Square, so I’m not gonna die.  And I said, okay.  So, I went and I met him, and we talked.  And he said: Okay, show up to work tomorrow; we’re working on this music video.  And I showed up the very next day, I had no idea what I was doing, and whatever he said, I was like: Okay, I’m down.  Like, he sent me to go pick up gear with a five-thousand-dollar deposit.  I’d never held that much money before in my life.  I had five thousand dollars on me, I’d just shown up in New York City.  And I was like: Well, you know what, nobody’s gonna rip you off because—

 

And he trusted you with five dollars.

 

He trusted me with five thousand dollars. ‘Cause he was like: Well, you went to Yale, you’re not gonna steal my five thousand dollars.  So, I guess that helped.  And I was like: Well, nobody’s gonna steal it from me, because nobody’s gonna look at me thinking I have five thousand dollars.  I went and I did that, and then he sent me off to the mayor’s office of film and television, and I went in and got the permits for the next day. Did I know how to get a permit for a shoot in New York?  Absolutely not.  And I think that sort of like, I don’t know anything, has been a big part of just like, how I’ve done my career.  Like, I don’t have to know everything; I just have to be able to ask somebody else who does, and be okay with—

 

Yeah; as long as you’re learning.

 

Yes.  I ask the question.  And I’m not afraid to ask the question.

 

Ciara Lacy spent about ten years between New York and Los Angeles, working in television production.  She climbed the ranks, moving up from an intern to a producer, and she was finally able to work on music videos and rock documentaries for artists, including the members of the Dave Matthews Band and Cindy Lauper.  However, in 2011, a medical condition sidelined Ciara.

 

Yeah; it was a mystery.  Like, when I first started getting sick, I thought it was carpal tunnel.  I had all this pain in my arms, and in my hands.  And it was absolutely frightening.

 

And then, it turned out to be worse than carpal tunnel.

 

Yeah.  And then, I was like, okay.  So then, I was like: Okay, this is carpal tunnel, I’ll go get like, acupuncture, and I’m starting to do yoga, and I’m doing all these things.  And like, that wasn’t actually what it was.  And I couldn’t lie down, and then I couldn’t stand up.  So then, I was like, constantly in pain.  I was living in New York at the time.  I couldn’t carry my laundry to go do my laundry at the laundromat down the road. Like, I just couldn’t do things. And I was young and super-functional; you can’t like, ooh, what are you doing?  Like this is not Ciara.  Ciara can do stuff.  It took a while for them to kind of figured out what was wrong.  And I was diagnosed with this neuromuscular disease called thoracic outlet syndrome.  And you know, it’s probably repetitive stress.  It’s bilateral; it’s probably from all of this that I’d been doing, and I’d been doing a lot of it.  And it was the world saying I needed to slow down.  I moved back home, and I was thirty-one, and I was told I might have to get a new career.  And it really affects your ability to think when you’re in a lot of pain.  It’s just like, super-foggy.  And like, you know, I was the kid that used to wake up before the alarm clock.  Right? And now, I was just sleeping all the time, because that was the only thing I could figure out, outside of taking the medication to take the pain away.  So, it’s just like a very different person.  And I gained a lot of weight, and you know, it was a pretty dark moment for me.  But again, like, when I look back at it now, right, I don’t begrudge any of it, because it’s helped what got me into the place where I think I really wanted to be. And it got me back home.  I never left home thinking I didn’t want to come back. I just didn’t know how. Right?  And you know, I found myself back at my parents’ place.  And you know, I left very young, and I’d always been independent.  And to have to return and not know what I was gonna do about work and money, you know, I didn’t want to be a burden.  I’d never thought of myself as that before.  And so, it was a lot of, like: Okay, what can you do?  And just rethinking a lot of things.

 

But you say this is all gonna turn out for better.  I know one thing that happened.  That’s when you came back here, and you were ill, you met your husband, your future husband.

 

I did.  I met Chris Kwock.  And like the night I met Chris, I hadn’t gone out in a very long time.  And you know, I went out with my very good friend, Kristen. And she’d been kind; she’d taken me out for my birthday the night before, and she was like: Will you come out with me the next night?  You know, I wasn’t going out, and my first response in my head was no.  And I was like: That’s not what you should say; you should go.  And I went with her, it was the end of the night, and we were about to go home because Kristen’s teaching Sunday school the next day.  And we bump into this party, and oh, it’s my birthday, and I was like: No, it’s my birthday.  And then, we have the same birthday, and it turns out I meet this guy’s friend.  And I had lost my grandfather.  I had lost him the year before, and he always had these like incredible shiny eyes.  And I met Chris, and … I saw those eyes again.  And I’d been so—I’m sorry.

 

I’d been so sick for so long.  And I was just so sad.  And … when I met him, I thought: You could be happy.  And I’d forgotten … I’d forgotten.  And like, I don’t do good if I’m not happy.  You know.  It’s just sort of how I am.  And so, it was so random.  In this moment, where like, I shouldn’t be here, and I don’t want to be at a bar, and I’m super-sick.  And like, this guy I’m talking to, this like idea clicked in my head.  It’s such a small thing.  You could be happy.  Like …

 

And it’s nothing he said.  It’s just who he was.

 

I was like, this guy with the shiny eyes.

 

And like, it was something I’d forgotten. And in the haze of everything, my friend turns to me and she goes: We have to go.  And I was like: Okay, we’ll go.  And I’m not thinking straight, and we walk out the door.  And I gave my number to his friend, and I said: Tell Chris to call me.  And we walked across the street for some reason, and I got a text message.  And it said: That’s not your real name.  And I was like, because whose name is Ciara, I guess. And I wrote back; I’m like: That’s my name, and where are you?  And I turned my head, and he came running to where we were.  And we ended up just hanging out with him, and dropping him off at his house.

 

And you’ve said something about him; that he taught you something you actually really didn’t know, that there was more to life than work.

 

Oh, yeah.  I didn’t know that.  My whole identity was like, my performance.  Right?  My whole identity was, okay, what are the outcomes I provide.  Right?  Like, how did I do in school, how am I doing at work, you know, those are the things that I knew I had control over.  Right? You don’t have control over people. I have control over the things that I can do.

 

Achievement.

 

Yeah.

 

M-hm.

 

Totally.  And you know, I never thought of my life as having somebody else in it.  I never did.  And I think that was just partially just because in was always off doing my own thing, I just never assumed anyone would be there to do that.  And you know, and my identity was so wrapped up in my work. And that’s why it was so crushing when I got sick, because it was like, if you take away my work, you’ve taken me away. What’s left?

 

Yeah.

 

And that’s a very sad thing to think.  It’s a very sad thing to think.  And yet, at the time for me, it was true.  And you know, as I spent more time with Chris, you know, he would say things that I think most people would be like: That’s terrible. He would say things like: You’re not that special.  And when he says that, it wasn’t that I’m not special, it’s that your work doesn’t prevent you from having the other obligations.  The work doesn’t come first.  Right?  The work is part of it.

 

Ciara Lacy and Dr. Chris Kwock got married two years after they met.  As Ciara was still adjusting to life with her medical condition in Honolulu, she found the inspiration to create her first original documentary film.  She would pack her bags again, heading this time to a prison in Arizona.

 

So, I was in physical therapy, and one of my mother’s friends who’s a physical therapist would throw out all these ideas. Oh, you should do a film about this.

 

Or you should do a film about that.

 

I’m sure that happened to you all the time; right?

 

No, it didn’t, actually.

 

No?

 

It didn’t.  And like, at first, it caught me off guard.  But in my mind, I was in such a dark space where it’s like, I can’t do anything.  Like, I could barely ride in a car at this point.  One day when I was in physical therapy with my aunt, she was like: You know, there are these guys dancing hula in Arizona.  And I took pause, because I was like, this doesn’t make any sense. You know, dancing hula at a prison in Arizona; why are they in Arizona?  And like, how does that feel to you, Ciara, knowing they’re dancing hula behind prison.  You know, behind prison bars.  And I packed it away in the back of my head, and I went off to go wallow in my own sadness. And two weeks later, I was at home … on a Friday night.

 

Doing nothing, ‘cause was lame and sick, and I Googled what she had said, and I saw a video online.  And I cried.  Because I was seeing people who, in the moment that I saw, were so far from our community, and were trying to find a point of reconnection, and were coming back from what was probably, you know, without having specific details, really tough stuff, man.  I mean, probably some of like, the toughest stuff one could think of to come back from. And yet, they were still trying. And I saw that, and I was like: You have no excuse; you have absolutely no excuse.

 

You related to them.

 

Yeah.  And in that moment, again, this like crazy click in the head.  I was like, maybe we can heal each other.  And I didn’t know what that really meant.  But I tucked it away, and I thought about it.  And I saw my cousin Beau.

 

Beau Bassett.

 

Beau Bassett.

 

Your co-producer or part of the producing team.

 

Yeah; my producer on Out of State.  And at the time, he was a public defender.  And I mentioned to him this idea, and he was like: You know, this is a big issue for Hawaiians right now.  And he’s like: We should do this.

 

Filmmaker Ciara Lacy, along with her cousin Beau Bassett, and her mentor Terry Leonard, set out to produce Out of State.  The documentary is Ciara’s directorial debut.  It chronicles the lives of two Native Hawaiian men leaving the Arizona prison where they’d been serving time, and returning to Oahu to make a fresh start.

 

You know, the goal was to be as honest about what we were seeing.  So, I almost even intentionally didn’t look up statistics and facts, because I didn’t want my mind, as we were making the film, to be clouded with, oh, this is how things are supposed to go, because this is where the numbers are at.

 

Mm …

 

So, let’s just stay true to what actually happens. Right?  And as small, and as like, humble as we can appear is more important, because the process was never about us.  Right?  This film is not about me.  This film is not about Beau.  This film is about the men who were willing to share their lives, and hopefully, we can do something positive with this.

 

And they were reconnecting with Hawaiian culture.

 

M-hm.

 

In an effort to be whole, and to go back and make a life for themselves.

 

Yeah.  And I mean, you know, that effort, I can get behind.  If you’re gonna try, like if you’re gonna try and nobody else is helping you—this is a very organic program that they have.  This is something that the men developed themselves.

 

There are many interesting themes in your film.  And one of them, I think David Kahalewai, one of the prisoners, talked about how it’s really hard to forgive yourself.  It’s hard to start on that journey where you can change.  And then, for the others too, how can somebody be ready for change when they have known nothing like what they really want to be.

 

Yeah.  No; and I think, you know, first thing to that is, what a humble and like, vulnerable position for someone to put themself in.  Right?  For someone like David to be willing to recognize that, and to share that with other people.  You know, we were very fortunate because the men that participated in the film wanted to make sure our community understood what they were trying to do.  Right?  Wanted them to understand how hard it could be, and wanted do this film to help each other. Like, maybe if I tell my story, or share my story, maybe if somebody knew how hard it was for me, that’s gonna help one of the other brothers who are in prison to figure it out and do better.

 

You forgive yourself for a lot of stuff that you did.  Yeah. I think I had to go to the ends of the Earth and hit bottom to really find out who I was.

 

I’ve been locked up fifteen years.  I’ve been waiting all this time; I want to come home. But where is home?

 

I don’t want to go back to jail, ‘cause I have too much to lose.

 

We don’t live in isolation.  No man is an island.  Right?  And so, it’s about knowing that it’s all about interactions.  Doing better, for them, is important for them to do the work and put it out there.  But it’s also gonna be hard, because the other people around them are gonna have to do the work too.  And as a Hawaiian, it’s like, we talk about hewa; right?

 

M-hm.

 

We talk about hewa, what is wrongdoing.  And how does hewa work?  It doesn’t go in one direction.  If I do something bad to you, I have to apologize, but I also need your forgiveness, and I also need you to be ready for that.  The solution is both of us.

 

Right.

 

So, the solution isn’t just me coming out, trying to do better.  The solution is, I need your forgiveness.

 

That reminds me of what you said about your own life as a filmmaker, which was, life tends to be incremental, one foot in front of the other.

 

I just show up, man.

 

I just show up.

 

And you keep going, and you hope to be in a forward step.

 

Yeah.  You hope everything you do is a little bit better.  Do you always get it right?  No. But do you hope to put yourself out there and try?  Yes. And for me, it’s like, I make a million mistakes every day.  Like a lot.

 

M-hm.

 

But I know that I’m at least putting myself out there, and I show up.  And if I do something wrong, I will apologize, and we’ll figure out a way to fix it.  And I’m not afraid of that.

 

In 2017, the documentary Out of State was released, and went on to win several awards on the film festival circuit, including Best Documentary at the Cayman International Film Festival and the San Diego Asian Film Festival.  Ciara Lacy’s health has improved, but her medical condition still requires management.  She continues to produce and direct with a slate of new film and television projects. Mahalo to Ciara Lacy of Honolulu. And thank you for joining us for this edition of Long Story Short on PBS Hawai‘i.  I’m Leslie Wilcox.  Aloha nui.

 

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

 

Yeah; I think for me, the provocation is important. It’s like, it’s about instigating that ripple.  Right? I push the ripple, and then we start asking more questions.  It’s not necessarily about always finding the solution.  Right?  Maybe the questions help us get to the solution, but part of it is, we need to start asking more questions.
 

 

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Nani Lim Yap

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX: Nani Lim Yap

 

Musician, singer and dancer Nani Lim Yap tells how her Lim family’s music grew from an entertaining pastime to a career that takes them around the world to perform. She also reminisces about her upbringing in Kohala, Hawai‘i Island, and the way she keeps the traditions and stories of her ancestors alive as a kumu hula.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, Jan. 27, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

Program

 

 

Nani Lim Yap Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

I can remember when we were trying to do chants and mele.  We would choose other places, and something would tell us: Why are you choosing to do an O‘ahu mele, when there’s so much right here?  Not somebody came to us and told us; it was this feeling that you got, like, there’s stories here that need to be told, so tell these stories first. And that’s how we began going in that direction, telling those Kohala stories, singing those Kohala mele.

 

Nani Lim Yap, descended from the ali‘i of Kohala, keeps the traditions and stories of her ancestors alive through mele, chant, and hula.  A member of the remarkable Lim musical family, Nani Lim Yap says she’ll always call Kohala home, no matter how far her travels take her. Nani Lim Yap, next, on Long Story Short.

 

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

 

Aloha mai kākou.  I’m Leslie Wilcox.  Nanette Lim Yap, better known as Nani, was one of six children growing up in Pu‘u Hue in Kohala, on the Big Island of Hawai‘i, where her father was a cowboy at Parker Ranch.  In their isolated mountain community, playing Hawaiian music was the family’s primary source of entertainment.  The musically gifted family was discovered by the rest of the world when Nani’s mother, the late Maryann Lim, was asked to play at the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel when it opened in 1965.  Performances soon became a family affair, and the music group known as The Lim Family became a well-known, much-respected, and popular Hawaiian music group. Learning the songs at a young age came easily to Nani, she says, because it was not only through her parents that she learned Hawaiian language.

 

My father worked for the Parker Ranch.  And they had these little stations, and little housing for the workers.  And some workers would have their families, whole families.  So, we were one of them, another family.  Just two other families, other than us.  And so, we were raised out there.

 

So, very remote.

 

Very remote.  So remote that when we did move into town, streetlights bothered us.

 

Well, when you say town, do you mean Kohala town?

 

I mean Kohala town.

 

Because it was so far.

 

And the streetlights bothered you?

 

Yes; all of us.  And we’d be up at night, like …

 

‘Cause starlight was all we knew, you know.  But we grew up at Pu‘u Hue.  And very close; all of us were very close, me and my brothers and sisters.

 

Your parents would take you on long rides, and you had a Rambler station wagon. They don’t even make Ramblers anymore.

 

No.

 

Not for many years. 

 

No.  So that story is all of us in that car.  Like when it was time to go holoholo, oh, my gosh, we’re gonna go someplace.  And it was my father; he just loved to drive. My father, my mother, one child in the front, and all the rest of us just filling up the back seat.  And we would go.  We would have one ‘ukulele.  We fought over the ‘ukulele like: Who’s going to play the next song?  So, if you make a mistake, you gotta pass that ‘ukulele on.

 

This was as you’re driving along.

 

As you’re driving; yeah.  So, goes like this, goes like this.  But if you were the longest, then you were the winner.

 

So, very competitive kids.

 

From when we were young.  And you know who won the ‘ukulele; right?

 

Who?

 

Me.

 

Always?

 

Yeah.  That’s why I’m the ‘ukulele player.

 

It’s so interesting, ‘cause none of you has had formal training in any of this.

 

Nope.  Nope. Not in music.

 

You picked it up, and figured it out, and listened, and learned.

 

Yeah; my father taught us how to play all the basic keys.  So, if you try to give me a sharp or a what, it’s like: show me it.

 

You show me it, and you tell me it, and I’ll get it.

 

And do you read music?

 

No; no.  Even my brother, when we were growing up, I would take him to his piano lessons.  So, he’d be playing along and playing along.  And then he’d finish, and she’d say: All right, Elmer, now read the notes. ‘Cause he’d be playing by ear, by what he heard.

 

Really?

 

Yeah.

 

And Elmer is Sonny?

 

Yeah.

 

Was music always a part of your life?

 

See, my father and his friends played, and my father and my mother sang to us.  That’s what they did.  Yeah. So, my mom sang, and my father played, and that’s how we knew that they had that.  And my mom had a hula background, and she was our first teacher.

 

Were they singing in Hawaiian?

 

In Hawaiian.

 

And did you understand Hawaiian?

 

This is how we understood Hawaiian, is my grandparents. My grandfather and my grandmother spoke fluently.  And they were our babysitters.  So, when we were little, it was so easy to understand what they were talking to us about.

 

That’s manaleo style, isn’t it?

 

Exactly.

 

It’s the real thing.

 

So, understanding them, even being around them and hearing them talk, we knew exactly what they were talking, ‘cause from babies, we knew that.  But however, my parents, my mom them didn’t follow through.  ‘Cause it was at that time when it wasn’t good to speak the language.

 

You were supposed to go Western.

 

Yeah.

 

And succeed in that world.

 

It’s so sad.  Just one generation away, you know.  And we’ve lost so much.  But however, if a song played, you knew exactly what the song was talking about. Because it was just automatic; you just knew Hawaiian already.

 

So, you didn’t just listen to the music; you could know what the songs were about.

 

Easily; easily.  Even my mother was surprised.  Like, we had this old radio, just this old radio, and you only could play it as certain times, ‘cause you didn’t want to break the radio, ‘cause that was like your communication to the world.  So, it was like, okay.  And then, the songs would play, and we’d be like, we know it.  And so, I’d tell my mom: I know exactly what this song is saying. She said: You do?  I said: Yeah.  And I’d tell her what it is.  She said: That’s amazing that you would know that. I said …

 

That’s what it says.

 

Yeah.  And then, I’d um, gesture things to her.  I said: Because I think this is what they’re saying.  She said: Oh … oh, so … you have that hula sense already.  Yeah?  So, just by knowing what that was, making interpretive movements, and then her being our first teacher, that gave me the—you know, it’s not that gave me the know-how, but it’s just automatic that everything came into play.

 

So, for you, it wasn’t choreography and the movements of hula that came first; it was the story behind the music.

 

Definitely, definitely; story behind the music.

 

You’ve had your fascination with non-Hawaiian.  You did Beatles, and Elvis, and Supremes; right?

 

Everything.  I love Supremes.  I love all that kinda music.  I loved it, and I would sing it, too.  We’d all sing it.  And then, we just realized that Hawaiian was where it’s at.  Because it was always around us, always around us, Hawaiian music.

 

But one day, there will be dancers who are saying: I’m from the Nani Lim Yap, that’s who gave birth to me.  Even though you’re saying: I didn’t really do anything except pass it through.

 

I’m hoping.  And they know; they know what my intention is for them, is that they continue. Any of the mele that I’ve taught them in their lifetime that they’ve been in hālau with me will remain the same.

 

Nani Lim Yap of Kohala, Hawai‘i Island, was twelve years old when she started performing with her family at the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel.  Dancing hula or singing with her family, whether it was on a formal stage or at a baby luau, became a regular part of her life.  Yet, she didn’t necessarily see herself growing up and becoming a professional musician, or a kumu hula.

 

After high school, you moved to O‘ahu.

 

Yeah.

 

To beauty school.

 

Yeah; I came to beauty school.  That’s what I wanted to be; I wanted to be a beautician, they said back then.

 

So, you didn’t see being a musician or performer as a career, then?

 

No.  No.

 

Even though you’d actually made money for it already in your teens.

 

Yes.  I don’t know; I wanted to do hair, I wanted to do hair from when I was younger.  If somebody was available during the afternoon on a Saturday or Sunday, they were sitting down in this chair, I was gonna give them some kinda up-do or something.  That was what I thought I knew, that’s what I wanted to do.  But then, when I came home and I had my first job at Mauna Kea, in the evening time my parents would say: Come over here and sing with us.  And the first time, my father said: What’s wrong with you?  I could not look at the crowd.  I would sing backwards like this, or sideways.  My father said: Is something wrong with you?  I said: I can’t look at them.  He said: Stop it; stop it, stop it.  Like, I would just try not to, I was afraid of the crowd.  Isn’t that crazy?

 

But you’d performed before.

 

No; I performed before as a dancer, but not as a singer.

 

I see; I see.

 

So, it’s like, okay.  Then I had to break that habit, break that habit.  And then, the next time, my father would say: You guys gotta smile; you have to smile, you have to smile.  And I was like: Okay, smile.  This was when I’m singing, and I’m trying to.  Because I don’t know; I didn’t think I was like, that great.  So, I’d be like, I don’t know if they like it, I’m not sure if they’re gonna like it.  And then after, you get your confidence up.  And then, the more I played, the more money I made standing up and playing than standing up all day to do hair, and my feet would be sore. So, it was like, okay, that’s just the easiest route to go, just play music.

 

I know you were a co-kumu hula with your elder sister Lei for many years. And now, all three of you; Lorna, Leialoha, and you have your own hālau.

 

Separate; yeah.  Which is fine.  I think we still all have the same mindset.  We were raised in that kind of environment, you know.

 

Same mindset, but different visions?

 

Yes.  I guess our missions have changed, I think.  You know, what is it that you really want to accomplish; yeah?  For us, lineage is important; yeah?  What are we passing on, what is the style that our kumu from Kohala taught us.  ‘Cause that’s it.  Somebody said: Is that your Kohala style?  And I would say: I think so.

 

What is Kohala style?

 

See?  Everybody would ask me that, and I said:  I’m not sure. But some others, if you were on the outside looking, they would say that’s distinctly different from Ka‘ū.  And I thought: Really?  I never saw dances from Ka‘ū.

 

So, you still can’t quantify it, but people from all over see it as being different.

 

That’s different, that’s a Kohala style.  And I was like, okay.

 

But you can’t point to any one thing about it?

 

Nope; nope.  Because it translates to us as being something that we’ve always done. And so, if you’re wanting to perpetuate, I think future wise now, I think that’s where hula is now, at the lineage state, at a place of lineage.  Like, what are you passing on; yeah?  So, my thought is: Do you mix both styles together, or do you carry this lineage through and make sure that your students now understand that you learned from this?  And this would be part of your koi or your—

 

Are you allowed to combine your own mana with that, with someone else’s?

 

See?  I think you have to honor them.

 

Ah …

 

If you took hula from them, I think you have to honor them and keep that as a separate entity that moves forward.  When I look at hula, yeah, I look at just being a vessel. That hula moves through me. Yeah.  Lineage comes from kūpuna. And then, the lineages that come from Kohala before that; it’s all of this that goes through this.  Yeah.  I cannot claim I own that.  I cannot claim that it’s actually from me.  It comes from a place, and it moves through me.  It has to.

 

And do you change it, by virtue of its having moved through you?

 

Oh; so a lot of the mele that we’ve learned from them, those mele still remain.  Mele that, like, from research and all those movements, all those things that we’ve shared with you, and what we’ve choreographed now; same style.  The style remains the same.  That’s how you continue that.

 

Nani Lim Yap of Kohala, Hawai‘i Island, has made a successful career as a member of The Lim Family, playing Hawaiian music with her brother Sonny and her sister Lorna at the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel and Mauna Lani Bay Hotel.  She also has been successful as a kumu hula, entering hālau into the Merrie Monarch Festival that have been perennial winners.  But even with all the success, surviving as a musician often means traveling outside the State.

 

The way to make money and to support your family the best, I take it, is if you fly away.

 

Yeah.  Now; now, yeah.  Because they want that music, they want to dance that hula.  Yeah.

 

What does that say that it’s not valued that much in Hawai‘i, in our commerce centers? Waikiki, which used to adore the entertainment.

 

Yeah.  Gotta bring that back.  I’m not sure how.

 

But Japan and who else?  Japan loves hula.

 

China, now.

 

China.

 

Yeah.  Sweden, Taiwan.

 

And you’ve been to all these places?

 

I’ve been to Taiwan to teach, I’ve been to Japan to teach.  People want me to come to China.  And I’m like: China?  Are you sure they’re ready for us?  I’d have to start, like, teaching them from the very beginning.  No; that’s what they want, they want it.  And yes, that is the place to make the money.

 

You know, I’m surprised you don’t have a fulltime family travel agent.  Because I know we’ve talked to your husband a lot in arranging appointments with you and your family, and he’s always booking flights, isn’t he?

 

He’s really good at it, that’s why.  There was a time when we … I’m not sure.  I think it was earlier in our hālau career, where we were booked by Hayden Holidays to go to the mainland, just like for about six years, we would do it. And he’d be the one; they’d book all the flights and everything for us, but he’d be the one.  Like, all right everyone, this is the last day, get everything together.  He gets everybody up, he gets everybody on the plane, he makes sure everybody is … so everybody knows him as Ed, the tour director.

 

Because he did that so well.

 

How does it work as a family?  I mean, I know there’s a family business, but there are several family members involved. And you all play in different combinations, in different cities, at different times.  I mean, so hard to keep track of you.

 

It is.

 

How does that work as a business?

 

Well … there was a time, I think, when we stopped doing the job at Mauna Lani, that we all decided to do other things.  So, my brother is a soloist.  He’s still there as a soloist, which was good for him. Yeah; it’s good for him, ‘cause then he can be expressive to his own type of thing.  And then, we’d have the Atrium job, which would be a combination of people.  So, Lorna would do that, and then my husband Ed would do that, and then my daughter Asia would help them do that.  And Asia learned how to play bass from her father, so that’s her instrument right now. So, all the different combinations. If she can’t go, then I would go down there and sing in that.

 

So, you can always find a family member who’s very versatile to jump in.

 

Best to do that.  Yeah; best to do that, is to keep your family together.  Keep your family together.  Then of course, my brother had his own Hawaiian group, too, with some of our local friends from Waimea and Kohala.  They were so good.  They played all the Eddie Kamae songs, ‘cause that was what their group loved to do that.  Yeah. And then, now he plays with a lot of other people.  Which is fine, as long as we’re not playing.  You know, The Lim Family together.

 

But it all seems to work out, no matter what.  You know, you’re hired to do all kinds of gigs, and it seems like you can kind of manage so many things at once, I guess because you have so many people who can jump in last minute.

 

Yes.  For our regular jobs, yes, people could take over for us.  Well, well, Mauna Lani just closed, yeah, so that job, we don’t have anymore.  For me, I’m kinda happy, because it was from the beginning of time, when they first opened.

 

And they’re doing renovations; right?

 

Yeah, renovations; yeah.  It’s gonna for a year and a half, I think, or almost two years. Something like that.  Yeah; so you know, we just have just the Mauna Kea show, and that’s all taken cared of.

 

Which means you can all travel more.

 

We can all travel more.  So, if Lorna goes away, then we have another emcee that we bring in from O‘ahu to do that.  And then, yeah.  And I’ve not gone back to that show for a while.  Yeah.  That is our show, though, but I’ve not gone there, ‘cause they’e good.

 

And what do you do instead?

 

I just hang out at home until somebody calls me to go to Japan.  No.

 

I just figure out when to go.  Like, at least every other month, I’m going to Japan. But if you met my students, they’re like Hawaiians.  They have so much aloha.  You know. And a lot of aloha for the culture. Yeah.

 

You’ve been with them a long time?

 

Long time.  Long time, they’ve been my students.

 

Why do you think Japan has embraced hula so closely?

 

Ooh; I think at first, it was, what they saw is what they liked.  Yeah? And then … gosh, I’m not sure.  I just think they just love everything about our hula.  The costumes, the flowers, the leis, the movements, you know, and some really want to graduate knowing, you know, hula as part of their lineage, you know.  So, I think they’re just moved by it.

 

And you know, Japan is very proud of its own lineage.  They’re very much into the past, as well.  So, to be so interested in another culture’s past, and to practice it.

 

Yeah.  And then, when we go over there, they want us to go to their temples.  Go to our temple, and could you do a blessing? What are you saying?  What is a blessing?  Maybe oli?  I said: Ooh, okay.  And then maybe do a dance.  Now, when you come to that kind of thought like in their temples, yeah, they’re wanting us to do their kind of culture, I had to stop and sit back, and think about. What is my purpose?  What am I going to leave or change in that space, that is going to make a difference?  Why are you wanting me to do this; yeah?  So, everything would have purpose and intention.

 

Have you ever thought of staying there for an extended period?

 

I thought about it.  I thought about living there.  And then, I thought: No, I wouldn’t like it.  And here’s the thing, is that if you live there, people will get your place, they’ll rent it, they’ll make sure it’s there, they’ll get you places to go and make a studio.  It’s amazing how much kōkua you can get from Japanese who want to …

 

They’ll take care of you because of what you do.

 

Who want to be able to learn hula.  Like, it’s almost amazing.  Then I said: No, I don’t think so.

 

They have so much hunger for it.

 

Yeah; it’s amazing.

 

I see in your career, you know, you’ve done very natural things.  I mean, you know, you’ve learned to research.  I mean, everything seems like, okay, that’s a good opportunity, I’ll take it, I’ll move into that.  But going to Japan doesn’t seem like a natural … you know. But it is, in terms of how the world has become.  Because Hawaii doesn’t put that kind of premium on the hula.

 

That’s true.  I was thirty-five years old, I think, was my first time to Japan.  And oh, my god, we loved it.  My mother went, too.  Was the first time in snow; fell on the ground.  My mother ran outside and she said: Oh, my god, it’s snow.  And we were like, so cold.  My mother was still out there, taking pictures of her in the snow. Well, we’re just not used to, to those kinds of things; yeah?  But that was our first time we ever went, was way up in Fukushima.  And we went for three weeks, four weeks.  That was hard.  Was hard, ‘cause we wanted to go back home so bad.

 

And yet you love the place, too.

 

And—yeah.

 

Yeah.

 

But that’s how long we’ve been going.  A long time.

 

That’s right.  So much travel.

 

Yeah; a long time.  And from that one event, our very first event, we had several people who wanted to be sensei who came to see us.  And now, they’re great sensei of hula in Japan.

 

Wow.

 

Yeah.  They have some of the biggest hālau.

 

What are your predictions for the future for hālau, and for The Lim Family?

 

Lim Family, we have another generation of musicians and dancers.

 

Who are they?  Who are your dancers and musicians?

 

Well, of course, Asia.

 

Your daughter.

 

Yeah.

 

Your son.

 

And Manaola, of course.

 

Nani Lim Yap’s son, Manaola Yap, is a widely known fashion designer.  He learned costuming from his mother, researching and designing fabrics to tell the stories of the dances and chants.

 

You know, he sings as well, he writes as well too. And of course, Asia plays the bass, she can sing as well, she sings with all of us.  Anuhea, my brother’s daughter, she plays slack key.  So, that’s another.  And then, of course, Lorna’s children are the two.  This past weekend was Keiki Merrie Monarch, and her youngest daughter won third place, and her hālau won third place.  And so, lots of hula.  The future is really wide open.

 

Mahalo to Nani Lim Yap of Hawai‘i Island, for sharing her Kohala style. And mahalo to you, for joining us. For PBS Hawai‘i and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox.  Aloha nui.

 

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

 

No Kohala Ka Makani ʻĀpaʻapaʻa

 

by Sarah Pule

No Kohala ka makani ʻĀpaʻapaʻa

Ua kaulana ʻoe a haʻaheo

Ka nuku aʻo nākānaka

Ua piha hoʻi me ke aloha

 

No Kohala ka makani ʻĀpaʻapaʻa

Ua kaulana ʻoe a haʻaheo

Ka nuku aʻo nākānaka

Ua piha hoʻi me ke aloha

 

Ke aloha ʻāina ua ʻike ʻia

Ke aloha poina ʻole a kākou

Hoʻomanaʻo aʻe e lāe nākūpuna

ʻO ke aloha ʻo ia mau lā

 

Huli aku nānāi ka ulu hala

E kau mai ana lāi luna

Me Kona nani uluwehiwehi …

 

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Eran Ganot

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX: Eran Ganot

 

Eran Ganot’s voice carries a tone of gratitude when he speaks of growing up in a blue-collar New Jersey community with his twin brother, two sisters, immigrant parents and the influence of grandparents who survived the Holocaust. Ganot would draw upon some of those childhood values when he accepted what he refers to as his “dream job” as a head coach – at a time in the spring of 2015 when the University of Hawai‘i Men’s Basketball program was mired in controversy and uncertainty.

 

Program

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, Jan. 13, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

More from Eran Ganot:

 

Gregg Popovich, Maya Angelou and Life Beyond Basketball

 

Leadership

 

What’s a Guy from Jersey Doing Coaching in Hawai‘i?

 

Eran Ganot Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

When the University of Hawaii named Eran Ganot as the new head coach for the men’s basketball team, many onlookers were surprised. The selection committee picked a thirty-four-year-old first-time head coach to lead the program through troubled times.  Eran Ganot, next, on Long Story Short.

 

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

 

Aloha mai kākou. I’m Leslie Wilcox.  When you sit down and talk with Eran Ganot, you don’t think investment banker.  But Ganot studied economics at one of the most highly-regarded liberal arts colleges in the country, and had offers he seriously considered.  But while he likes business and economics, when he talks about basketball and coaching, he uses words like passion, work ethic, perspective, and balance—values he stresses with his players, whom he refers to as his extended family, values he learned from his own strong family unit growing up in a blue collar northern New Jersey community.

 

Where did you grow up?  Where did your earliest formative experiences take place?

 

Well, I mean, when you’re really young.  I was born in Philly, grew up in Jersey.  So, Philly, really too young to remember a lot of the experience there. But moved to Bergenfield, I remember, and then to Tenafly, I think when I was six.  And basically, so those were my formative years growing up.

 

And what’s Tenafly like as a town to live in?

 

It’s a suburb about fifteen, twenty minutes from New York City.  Really kind of a low-key community, really good people. You know, one of those communities where everybody kinda knows each other and have been there for a long time. So, it was a great place to grow up. You know, an older sister, a younger sister, a twin brother, great family.  Friends I got to grow up with from elementary school, to junior high, to high school.  I kinda like that, and I think you can see that even in my coaching career, not really bouncing around too much.  So, it was a place with a really loving atmosphere, a blue collar town, with people who really cared about each other.

 

Both of your parents were immigrants; one from Romania, one from Israel.

 

So, my dad actually was born in Romania, and grew up in Brooklyn.  And my mom was born and raised in Israel.

 

And I believe I’ve heard that three of your grandparents were holocaust survivors.

 

Yeah. We were born in 1981, and one of my grandfathers on my mom’s side, her father, passed that year.  So, I never had much interaction with him, obviously. And then, our other three grandparents were alive—not now, but for most of our upbringing, and when we were in Tenafly. And just to hear some of those stories when you’re growing up, you remember those.

 

Any idea about why these three people in your family survived?

 

The grit and toughness you had to have to go through that, one, to survive, and two, you know, the constant fear of what was going on, seeing things happen to your friends and family.  I can’t imagine; it’s unfathomable, and the atrocities that were going on at that time. But you know, whether you’re hearing it from three family members, or reading about it, or studying it, it’s pretty powerful.

 

You’re growing up in this suburb.  But it’s not a placid place for you and your brother, because you are tough competitors, and you’re always doing sports.

 

Well, you hear stories all the time about siblings battling each other.  And think about what it’s like for twins. So, same year, same teams.  You know, we played every sport, and it added to the competitive spirit and handling, you know, you’re gonna win or lose every other day in every other sport.  And I think our parents did a great job.  And you know, when you’re going through just growing up and you’re competing in everything.  I talk about that with our team; achievers, you know, on the court, off the court, in the classroom.  You know.

 

You would lose to your brother, you would win over your brother.  But the relationship; was that paramount, or was it the competition?

 

Oh, no; when you’re younger it’s about the competition.

 

Winning or losing. 

 

Yeah. As you get older, the relationship becomes more important.  I mean, I think we pushed each other, obviously.  But we competed in everything; not just sports.  And our parents were really good about … you know, we were, I’d like to say coachable, but we wanted to play sports, and we couldn’t do that unless our grades were good.  So, guess what?  If you hear that and you want to go play sports, your grades are gonna be pretty good, and you’re gonna get your homework done.

 

You mean, you didn’t whine and try to get out of it?

 

Oh, early.

 

And have excuses?

 

But we weren’t gonna win that battle.

 

Your parents were not buying any of that.

 

No; and they were good on that.  And it created the habits of managing your time, having good priorities.  To be honest, I mean, smart wins.  Our parents were really good about understanding the big picture.

 

What sports did you and your twin brother play?

 

Everything; and then everything changed when we got to high school.  And we actually went to from—shoot, I’m thinking for five years, maybe between ages ten and fifteen, or nine and fourteen, we went every summer to a sports academy sleepaway camp.  So, we were sent packing, basically, and you play every sport there.  So, we played everything.  And then, you know, the good thing about growing up on the East Coast, you have the seasons.

 

It snows in New Jersey.  What did you do then?

 

Well, we played tackle basketball and tackle football in the snow.  And we shoveled a lot of snow, driveways to make some extra money.  Let’s see, now.  In the winter it was basketball, in the spring it was baseball, in the fall it was soccer.  But then when we got to high school, we started to, you know, target.  And I encourage that, by the way.  I think every kid should play every sport.  It tackles different parts of your body, it’s a different kinda team chemistry.  And then you gotta find what you gravitate towards.  And eventually it became clear when we got to high school, it was basketball.

 

What about your sisters?  Did they play, too?

 

They did.  And it’s funny; we have a pretty big gap.  I mean, my sister was born in 1974, we were born in ’81, and my younger sister was 1990.  So, there was some separation.  When we left the house for college at seventeen, my younger sister was just kinda jumping into sports.  So, they weren’t as sports-motivated.  They were just as competitive in different ways.

 

It sounds like it would be hard to be as motivated as you two were in sports.  But they were competitive in what ways?

 

Well, I just think people sometimes think if you play sports, you’re competitive. But I think if you’re aggressive in the classroom.  You know, those guys, they did a great job.  One went to Boston University and one went to American University, and now you know, one’s still on the East Coast, New York; Danielle.  My younger sister Betty is, you know, doing a great job raising her family of three kids in Calabasas.  So, I just think competitiveness is just the way they attack life.  It’s not just about basketball and baseball.

 

But you can overdo competitiveness, too; right? Or do you think you can?

 

No; I think you can.  That’s why I was talking about the balance.  I mean, you have to … you know, I said this about can you find the balance between—I do this a lot with our team—between working your tail off and and enjoying the journey.  Does that make sense?  And every year, you know, the great things we talk with our staff and people I’m close with, it’s you’re always working on your philosophy, and you can’t have one without the other.  Life’s too short.  You can’t be good at anything if you’re not happy, and you’re not gonna be happy if you’re not doing with you love, where you love, with people you love.

 

And finding what one loves is often a very difficult thing.  Lot of people don’t find it for many, many years.

 

Yeah; and you could see there’s stress involved with that.  You know, we have guys who come to us at, you know, eighteen to twenty-two, and then they leave for, you know, whatever it is next.  You know, our job is to prepare them for the next step.  But I think people rush into things.  Look, I was fortunate, I feel like, I knew what I wanted to do.  And you hear stories about people trying to find that similar passion.  But it’s gotta be natural, it’s gotta be genuine.  Like, my brother is in a different line of work than me.  He’s in fashion design; he’s got his own clothing company.  And he didn’t really find that ‘til maybe five or eight years, whatever, after I found I wanted to coach.

 

So, he went from being a jock to a fashion designer.

 

Yes. We’re on different spectrums. We’re a little different personalities. Equally competitive, and obviously, similar values.

 

And he says he’s better than you at sports; right?

 

Yeah. Well, he always says, too, you gotta respect the older brother.  He’s nine minutes older than me.

 

Right? That’s a little out of hand.

 

Even that’s competitive.

 

No question.  But I just think, you know, people shouldn’t rush into finding that passion.  Like, explore.  Like, if you have it, great; chase it, go through with it.  If you don’t, find it, and take your time.  But I think when people rush into doing something, that creates that unhappiness.  And you’re just not gonna be good anything if you don’t find a passion.  So, if I tell people anything, find your passion and attack it.

 

Eran Ganot played high school basketball for four years, and was recruited by Swarthmore, a college outside of Philadelphia. A nagging back injury suffered during his high school career continued to bother him in college.  Today, he speaks from experience when he warns players about playing through the pain.

 

I remember walking into the training room, and my college coach and our trainer were sitting there and going: We think something’s going on.  And that was the first time I failed a physical ‘cause of the back.  And he had told me that when we met after. and that was a hard time for me.  It was actually the only time I missed a practice, I think, coaching or playing, because it I couldn’t practice and it was too hard for me to go and practice.  I couldn’t practice.

 

Emotionally or physically?

 

Emotionally, I just didn’t know.  You know, I was kinda lost for a stretch there, because it was something you’re so passionate taken.

 

And you worked so hard, too.  And you loved it so much.

 

I loved it.  Not just the game; being around the team.  I mean, I can talk a lot about why I play the game and why I coach the game. But when it happened, it was a difficult time for me, but something that helped me grow as a person.  I remember sitting in his office, and he was talking to me as a junior.  As much as I love what I do now, but my coach was great, telling me: Hey, maybe we should think about a coaching career.  I’m like: Wait a minute, I got one more year.  So, I spent the whole off season just getting myself healthy enough to play in my senior year.  And to be honest, I’m sure our guys will tell you, I have not played basketball since the last game of my senior year.  I had to wear a back brace.  I’d wear it under, so no one could see that I had to wear a back brace.  Think about running around with a back brace.  And in my senior year, the last game, I threw that in the trash, and that’s been it for me.

 

And yet, when you went to college, you chose to major in economics.

 

Yep.

 

At Swarthmore.  That doesn’t sound like you’re planning on playing or coaching.

 

Yeah. No; I had a background in economics. I really like business, and I think you can see some of that as I approached running our program.  When Swarthmore had recruited me, and I had known a little bit about it, it wasn’t far from home, and it was a really good academic school, I thought in the one percent chance I chose not to chase a path in coaching, I thought I’d be set up in that field.  And there were some opportunities, you know, after I graduated and I always gravitated towards kind of an investment banking background.

 

And you got a job offer in investment banking.

 

Yeah; I had some opportunities after that.  But it didn’t register or resonate with me as much as what ended up being a volunteer position at St. Mary’s.  So, people thought I was crazy.

 

Yeah; I would imagine, because it wasn’t just quick stint of volunteering.  You volunteered for three years.

 

Three years.

 

You didn’t get paid, but did you get other perks, like meals or housing, a car?

 

Oh, I joke with people.  I was able to work camps every summer.  And I had saved money in the event I was gonna get an opportunity, it might be something where I’d have to really toughen up for a couple years to make it work. But really worked hard during that stretch, I made some money in camps.  Eventually, one year, I was able to teach a basketball class on the side. And the cafeteria folks who maybe they felt bad for me when we’d come in for some meals, just make it through.  Remember, back then, I didn’t have a family.  I was just, you know, very pleased and appreciative of the opportunity, I was gonna do everything I can to hang in, hang in, hang in.  And it became tougher each year, especially my third year, but some of the coaches there helped me kinda hang in there, and then eventually got a couple breaks.

Were you hoping every year they’d offer you a paying job?

 

You know, some places, you might have an opportunity there, some places you need some movement.  You know, there was a very fixed amount of opportunities or jobs.

 

And was that the case with St. Mary’s?

 

St. Mary’s.  So, it’s funny now, looking back.  ‘Cause after I left, eventually there was some movement.  But in the meantime, I looked at it as a great apprenticeship for me, learning from a great coach.  We worked with some great coaches.  I mean, couple of the coaches I worked with then are now Division 1 head coaches.  And those guys started off as volunteers, as well.  So, I don’t know if they did it for three years, but it’s just the way it played out.

 

And you were self-financing, too.  I mean, that’s gotta be hard.  Working extra so that you could work for free.

 

Yes. And as weird as it sound, looking back, I loved every bit of it.  You know, the amount I was learning, and what was going on with our program.  You know, I just think at the end of the day, it satisfies the passion.  One of my other passions is learning and growing, and I was doing that.  So, the Bay Area was great, and just looking forward to the next break, and then I got my next one with Hawai‘i.

 

How did it change?

 

Well, I got an opportunity with Riley Wallace.  And so, that was my first part-time paying job.  At the time, that position, which is now fulltime, was a casual hire.  I think it was maybe fifteen or twenty thousand.

 

So now, you’re living in expensive Hawaii.

 

Yeah.

 

And you’re getting paid, but not much.

 

No; but compared to what it was, I thought I was a millionaire.  So, I mean, I go from New Jersey, and Randy Bennett hires me over the phone.

 

St. Mary’s.

 

At St. Mary’s; so I just fly over to the Bay, he picks me up.  And what’s funny is, then three years later, I fly over to have a conversation with Coach Wallace, and he picks me up from the airport. So, that was 2006.  I didn’t know it would lead to what it would, but I was excited about the opportunity to work for Coach Wallace, who I had a lot of respect for from afar.  I knew there was potential for it to be his last year, and the guy was a huge mentor for me in my life.  It’s all about timing, but if it was a year later, it might not have happened with Hawai‘i, and certainly not with Coach Wallace.  So, I’m very appreciative.  I think people should make their decisions, you know, like I told you earlier about passion, which it was satisfying my passion, but also about people.  So, I got spoiled.  You could get a higher paying job in a better situation maybe, with the wrong people.  That’s why I said, you gotta do what you love, where you love, with people you love. I got all three.  Maybe it didn’t satisfy things from a financial standpoint, and I was just trying to hang in there with some rough days, but I couldn’t have asked for a better start, and the people I got to meet and know, and learn from.  It was awesome.

 

Eran Ganot spent four years on Hawaii’s staff under head coaches Riley Wallace and Bob Nash.  Then, he got the call from his mentor at St. Mary’s, Randy Bennett. Ganot would return to the Bay Area and spend the next four years as an assistant coach, before moving up to associate head coach for the St. Mary’s Gaels.  Twelve years of hard work, absorbing all he could learn about coaching Division 1 college basketball.  But was Eran Ganot ready to take on a challenge even the most experienced would avoid?  Was he willing to head up a troubled college basketball program that didn’t even know yet how much trouble it was in?

 

But even when you got a great opportunity, which was you were offered the head coaching job of the UH basketball team, I mean, it came with a lot of darkness around it.

 

Yeah.

 

The NCAA violations, you were the third head coach in two years.

 

Right.

 

And there were looming sanctions.  And I may be wrong about this, but I thought many of the players really liked the interim coach, because he’d been with them through a lot.

 

I called it like the perfect storm.  First, you want to get a crack at getting into coaching, and then seeing, can I do this.  And then, it became clear, and as I got better and better that, yeah.  And then it became clear that, you know, you’re in this to run your own program.  And people always ask me, and I said this at the press conference, your dream job. And I just said I’m not throwing out—and it goes back to the investment in the sense of family and relationships. I’m not gonna throw out random schools. Like, I think your dream job, to me, was a place I coached or played before.  And it became more clear that Hawai‘i resonated the most with me in my heart.  So, when it was going through a lot of stuff, that’s why I called it the perfect storm.  There was on-court, off-court, NCA, everything you could say, and there was a looming cloud of uncertainty.  And yeah, I’m in, because there was more of a pull for me because of what I was going through.  So, a place I have so much respect for and so much love for, let’s get us one, stabilize our program and get us through this and set us up for sustained success, Hawaii deserves better.  And so, I was really excited to get that opportunity.

 

And you built relationships with the team members.

 

I mean, the first thing I did, which goes back to relationships, was there’s so much work to do when you get a job, but we made sure we met with the players, traveled to meet with their families, their relationships, didn’t skip steps, and went from there.

 

Fans were thrilled that Ganot, his staff, and that 2015-16 team took the State of Hawaii on an unprecedented ride.  A Big West Conference championship earned the ‘Bows an appearance in the post-season tournament of the National Collegiate Athletic Association or NCAA.  And this fiercely determined group beat a talented Cal Berkeley squad, giving Hawaii men’s basketball the first March Madness victory in the history of the program, and the country’s president at the time a risky bracket win in the first round.  Eran Ganot was the third-youngest head coach among the sixty-eight head coaches at the tournament.  At the end of the season, he was acknowledged with three awards: Big West Conference Coach of the Year, the Red Auerbach College Coach of the Year, and the CollegeInsider.com Joe B. Hall Award for top first-year coach.

 

And then, year two comes around, and that’s a hard year because then, the sanctions take effect.  And didn’t you lose eight players because one of the sanctions was, no post-season?

 

Yeah. You that could be a movie.  I mean, I think going through it and looking back at it, I’m so appreciative of where we’re at now.  We could easily not be where we’re at now if we skipped some steps earlier, which we didn’t do.  And I’m proud of the players, the staff, the administration; everybody who was involved in this.  But you know, usually, I’m a guy who likes to read and study, and meet with people. And maybe there’s experience I have, or they have.  So, what we went through is very unique.  Usually, when someone gets a ban or NCA situation, it’s for that year.  Because of the timing of the decision, it was mid-December, it was for the following year.  So, who am I gonna talk to on that?  No one; no one’s been through it.  So, it became uh, a great challenge, an opportunity to see how our team sticks together.  But that second year, we returned one point per game, so you see a cloud of uncertainty which is tough to deal with. But the next couple years, we dealt with the reality of the situation.  So, I think a lot of people talk about that first year’s group.  I can’t say enough or sing enough praises for the people who’ve spent the last two years getting us to where we’re at today.

 

Well, that second year, you did lose people. How did you manage?

 

Either you hang your head and pout, or you look at it as an opportunity to talk about what you have or what you don’t, what you can do or what you can’t.  And that’s kind of been a great lesson for all of us.  Going through that experience reinforced some things, we learned some new things, but we chipped away.  We talked about stabilize; that became the big deal for our program.  When you get hired, I know I say this a lot, is you want to build, build, build.  When you get the information of what’s going on with our program, it became we gotta stabilize and build.  We can’t build if our program isn’t stable, and our program wasn’t, so it became chip away. Every year, make sure we’re improving, make sure by 2018, 19, no off-court issues, no NCA issues, academics in great shape, no NCA issues.  So, I’m really proud of the way those guys hung in there together to put us where we’re at now.  And so, how did we do it?  It’s all about people.

 

And on your side, you say that it was actually, you know, a pull, a plus.

 

Yeah.

 

There were problems here, and you wanted to get to them.  It didn’t faze you, and in fact, it actually drew you near.

 

Yeah. No; it was something that I wanted to see us through, and beyond.  And I hate to use the word I, because this was a team effort, starting with the administrators.  It’s always about the leadership in place, from the president to the athletic director, the staff we brought in, the people we brought in, you know, our support staff.  It was very much a team effort to get us where we’re at today.  But there was definitely a pull.  Like at the end of the day, let’s say basketball specifically, and team, and competing, but challenges.  You gotta love a challenge.  And I think a lot of people would look at that, and probably did and say, I don’t want to be part of this.  And we were the other way.

 

Well, does a team ever really get stable?  I mean, you know, you never know who you’re gonna have, for sure.  I mean, maybe there is no time when a college basketball team is really stable.

 

That’s what you’re trying to compete with, or trying to establish; a culture. I would say the culture can get established every year, and I think ours is firmly established.  Our program is in a rock-solid position now.  But there are certain things that happen; you’re dealing with human beings, the obstacles in our business.

 

You’re always managing around it, and navigating around it.

 

Well, we’re working off a rock-solid foundation now.

 

You know, I know you met your future wife at the UH.  And I heard her quoted as saying: You know what, he never even dated; he was just too busy, he was always busy.  How did that tradition break?

 

I mean, I think first of all, when we talked, I should have said this earlier. I have a great family.  Obviously with my immediate family where I grew up, my parents and my siblings.  But my wife and daughter are awesome.  And the support system there, and hopefully vice versa; I got it pretty good there. Barbea likes to tell the story about she just put it on the calendar.  Like, I usually follow a calendar, and she just said: Date with Barbea.

 

But we connected, and she’s got a huge heart, and we share the similar affinity for Hawaii.  We got a special young daughter in Zeza.  You know, what’s cool is that she gets to grow up in a place that we love, and people are watching her grow up right in front of their eyes.  And I just think everything’s about family, and I got a great one.

 

Zeza is an especially interesting story, because she didn’t grow up as either your wife’s daughter, or your daughter.

 

Yeah. It was a unique, obviously sad situation in September 2012.  You know, you remember things vividly.  I remember about to walk into a meeting with the team at St. Mary’s before workouts, and then I got a call from Barbea’s father, who shared the news with me about her daughter Chelsea, who was off-the-charts-awesome, who was killed in a car accident.  She was pushed into the other side of the road by someone with road rage.  And so, he shared that with me, and obviously, that’s devastating news.  But he also shared it with me so I can go home and see Barbea, and be there when she heard the news.  And Chelsea’s daughter, who was eighteen months at the time, was Zeza.

 

Eighteen months.

 

Yeah. And so, the only fortunate thing in such a tough situation, a really sad situation, is that Zeza wasn’t in the car. And so, we’ve raised her since.

 

Did you have to stop and think about that?

 

No. I mean, you know, Chelsea would visit here and there, and Zeza was in, you know, the baby carriage, and she obviously was not as active when you’re that young.  But you don’t expect certain things like that to happen.  First it was, let’s make sure Barbea and the family are okay, and what can we do.  And I remember Barbea bringing that up in that conversation, and it was: Hey, let’s go. And Zeza is very much our daughter. And you know, one of the unique things, looking back, is how whether at St. Mary’s or here, that people in the community stepped up.  She gained obviously, Barbea and myself, but you know, usually you got fifteen or sixteen players, she gained fifteen brothers, older brothers.  And if you come to watch our program now, or at a game or at a function, or whatever, and this is from my daughter, this is for our coaches’ kids, from our assistants, they’re immersed with the program.  So, we have intelligent young men on our team that are highly caring and very much understand the family aspect.  ‘Cause the Hawai‘i experience is very unique.  And this is the credit to how special Hawaii is.  If you can feel like you’re at home five thousand miles from where you grew up, it’s pretty special.  And when I come in here—you know, I think I the first time I came here in ’06, I was a twenty-four-year-old, lost and confused, and just trying to find his way.  What the great people in Hawaii usually do?  They lend a hand.  And so, it started from there, and that’s why I’m so happy to be here now.  That’s why I’m so happy to have our players here, and to have my daughter grow up here.  It’s special.

 

When we sat down for this conversation, it was the fall of 2018, and Eran Ganot was looking forward to his fourth season as head coach of UH men’s basketball.  After three seasons, his team posted fifty-nine wins and thirty-five losses, with two out of three winning seasons.  UH extended his contract through the 2023 season.  And that troubled program mired in controversy stabilized under the leadership if the young first-time head coach who told us one of the reasons he took the job was because the program was in trouble.  We thank Eran Ganot for his time.  You’ll find more of this conversation in our Long Story Short archives at PBSHawaii.org.  Mahalo nui for joining us.  I’m Leslie Wilcox for Long Story Short and PBS Hawaii. Aloha nui.

 

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

 

I was fortunate enough to be involved with Positive Coaches Alliance.  We spoke to the parents one day, and they ask me for advice, and I say this to the parents.  I’ll tell the player, with the parents there: Hey … we coach you, we don’t coach your parents.  There’s great communication with us and our parents, but not in terms of the playing time and things like that.  For the parents, I advised the group I was speaking to: Sit back, relax, and enjoy the game; we have enough coaches.  You know, and I think there’s a balance there, because I think they’re awesome parents, they want their kids to do so well. We do, too.  But what’s happening is, it’s a little bit more pressure on the kids, and we gotta remind them that we’re playing for the love of the game. And that’s a critical age, where let them struggle through some things, let them be accountable, let them fight through moments, fight through adversity, let them have fun.  And that doesn’t change, whether you’re at that age or for us, ‘cause that’s something you gotta remind yourself of.  You’ve gotta, like I said, work your tail off and enjoy the journey; have fun.  And I think we’ve gotta have that and better balance.

 

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Kalaupapa Memories

Program

 

In this special edition of Long Story Short, we recall our 2009 stay in the Kalaupapa community on Moloka‘i. Members of the dwindling population of former Hawai‘i Hansen’s Disease patients shared what it was like, many years ago, to leave their homes and families. Norbert Kaiama Palea, Elroy Makia Malo, Meli Watanuki and Clarence “Boogie” Kalihihiwa speak of isolation, loss, community, hope and renewal.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, Dec. 2, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

Previews

 

Clarence “Boogie” Kalihihiwa

 

Elroy Makia Malo

 

Norbert Kaiama Palea

 

Kalaupapa Memories Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

Meli Watanuki:

 

I pray a lot when I came here.  I pray so much, you know, for sad of me, and take away all that sad to me.  Yeah.

 

Because you had so much sadness, and you needed it to be gone.  And? Did the sadness go away?

 

Yes. Now, I’m happy right now.

 

Elroy Makia Malo:

 

This young boy asked me: Why you wearing dark glasses?  I said: What?  Why you wearing dark glasses?  I didn’t know what to say.  I said: Oh … you wouldn’t want to know.

 

Clarence “Boogie” Kahilihiwa:

 

I met some good people; good people.  I mean, they’re all gone, and you know, we have to carry on what their dreams.  That’s what I feel today.

 

Norbert Kaiama Palea:

 

Look around you; look what God gave.  Look around. You know, lots to appreciate for about. You know, I still have a good mind. Thank God for that.  You know what I mean?  It’s the way you think; the way you think, the way you perceive things.

 

These are four of the last individuals from the dwindling population of Hansen’s Disease patients in the Kalaupapa community on Moloka‘i.  We’ll hear more of their memories, and find out how each found a sense of peace after much sickness and sorrow, coming up next, on a special edition of Long Story Short.

 

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

 

Aloha mai kākou. I’m Leslie Wilcox.  On this edition of Long Story Short, we’re recalling our 2009 trip to the remote Kalaupapa Peninsula on the north shore of Moloka‘i, where we talked story with some of the last remaining patients there. Kalaupapa is a place of great natural beauty, and yet, it will always be linked to the once dreaded disease leprosy, also called Hansen’s Disease.  Starting in 1866, thousands of Hawai‘i residents diagnosed with this disease were ripped from their families, and quarantined in Kalaupapa.  When I spoke with these four residents in 2009, they were preparing to travel to Rome for the sainthood ceremony for Father Damien. He was their hero, who cared for patients in Kalaupapa, and ultimately died of leprosy.  First, we visit with Norbert Kaiama Palea, who was just a keiki when he was taken to the old Kalihi Hospital detention center.  His next stop was Kalaupapa, where his father had already been forced to go.

 

My name Kaiama.  When I was a child, maybe about a year old, my grandfolks told my mom I’m gonna be taken away from her.  Just like that.  So, they said: We going give you the name Kaiama; it means strong.

 

Like the ama in the ocean, of the canoe.

 

You’re not gonna fall to the side, and all that.  So, I believed that, you know, the name.

 

So, when you received the name Kaiama, and they knew you had to be strong, and they said you’d be taken away, what was that all about?

 

I know my name is Norbert, but all my brothers and sisters, my family, they don’t call me Norbert.  Only the family call me that name.  So, all my brothers and sisters began to call me that every time they come.  You know, so I become it.  I don’t know, but they start calling me that name.

 

Do you think it was destiny that you came here, fate, or was that just a lucky guess that somebody thought you were gonna be taken away?

 

It was destiny.  And I have no regrets about it; none whatsoever.  I feel this way: that, you know, when something sad happens to you, you know, you grow from that.  Sadness is a good thing, you know.  Lot of people say: Oh?  Sadness changes your whole outlook in life.  So, my mother said: Don’t turn around.  So, when we got on the plane—I remember that, just before coming—everybody was crying, you know, and I was singing.  Just like their wails, their crying was above my voice.  So, I remember, I just looked back.  And then, I still remember their faces, my mother and my … in fact, before, they was crying, my mother said: Remember now, Kaiama, don’t cry, now.  I said: Ma, how come they’re crying?  But nobody’s crying; I don’t see no tears, but I can feel it.  And she said: Oh, because they love you.  You know, my mother had all the answers for everything. She was a wizard.

 

Here’s a mom who lost her husband, and the eleventh child.

 

Yeah; my mother was a very strong lady.  She believed in God and everything, you know.  So, she instilled in me something that no professors of mine that I’ve had over the years can ever give you that kind of value.

 

Your mom, you say, was very strong.  And of course, she had other children; you were the eleventh.  But I can’t believe she would have been that strong for so long, not being with her little boy.

 

Every time when I used to go home for funerals—and I just went to two recently. Every year, I’m going down for funerals. There’s so many of us; there’s hundreds of us.  So, I go to the funeral, and then my grandnieces, my great-grandnieces, they always say to me: You know, Uncle, every time Grandma used say she’d cry every single day, even ‘til now.  You know.  My mother used to say: They cheat me of you; they robbed me.  You know, the relationship between us.  And my brothers and sisters, too.  And when I talk about this place, and I want to come back, my brothers and sisters would cry.  My mother said: You didn’t have the sick, you know; remember that, you did not have the sick. You know, you didn’t do anything wrong.

 

There’s such loneliness here, and yet, such a sense of community, too.

 

I don’t feel.  And you know something?

 

You never felt lonely?

 

Never, ever.  It’s like this; I’m home here in my house.  Now, I know a lot of people that’s here, I’m younger than them; right? So, I look up to them, I respect them. Not because I have a better education, that I’m better than them.  No, I’m not. I’m below them.  So, if I know they’re sick or something, I go and take something to them, or give up some time and go there.  We don’t have time to worry about getting sad.  To me, you know, when you help other people, you’re actually helping yourself.

 

You know, it sounds like you’ve made the very best of this, and you have appreciation of abundance, not scarcity. But what about some of the folks who were here at the same time?  I mean, that can’t be that common a reaction, just acceptance.  You must have seen a lot of defiance and—

 

Oh, I’ve seen a lot of—oh, it’s heartbreaking.  I’ve seen it.  But then, as the years go by, because we have all these great leaders here, you know, one word from them, they can calm everybody down.  A‘ole!, they would say.  Don’t think, and don’t feel that way.  This is just a new beginning.  That is a beginning.  And why we’re here, we are not to question God; why you’re here.  It’s not for or me to say: Oh, why did you give me this sick? You know, the thing is to accept it, and make the best out of it.  And then, appreciate everything that’s around you, and then one day, you’re gonna see the beauty.  You see? Even if he sent us here, but look around.  You know what I mean?  Look, he gave us the most beautiful woman in the world.  That’s the icing on the cake.

 

Thanks to the discovery of effective treatment in the late 1940s, Norbert Kaiama Palea was eventually able to leave Kalaupapa to attend college, and pursue a successful career in fashion design.  He traveled widely, and returned.  He told me several times during our conversation that he was kolohe, or a rascal; not a typical patient.  Not long after we spoke near the large breadfruit trees in his yard in Kalaupapa, he was arrested.  The Feds took him into custody on suspicion of possession of meth amphetamine, with intent to distribute it.  He pleaded guilty in August of 2010, and served almost five years before his release in 2015.

 

Next, we chat with Clarence Kahilihiwa, better known by his nickname, Boogie.  Just a bit older than Norbert, he was diagnosed two years later, and by then, many patients were being treated at the Hale Mohalu facility in Central O‘ahu. Still, that meant uprooting the eight-year-old boy from his home in Kalapana on the Big Island.  Boogie had already said goodbye to three siblings, and eventually, he would follow them to Kalaupapa.

 

Why do they call you Boogie?

 

The real story.

 

Long story short; long story short.  Okay.  World War II … I think I was about three years old.  You know, we come from Kalapana, and we had the old type gas masks. And going school, even kindergarten, we still had to carry our gas mask.  But my sister them used to, you know, scare me, and then they call me Boogieman, Boogieman.  That’s how I got the name.

 

Did you actually get diagnosed?

 

Yes, I did.  Yeah.

 

And how old were you?

 

I was about nine.  Yeah. Or maybe I was eight in ’49, you know.

 

Was there a lot of worry on your part, on your family’s part, that you were going away to be checked out for a blemish, and when your sister and brother went, they didn’t come back.

 

I think it was more on my mom’s side.  In fact, in a way, I was kinda happy that I was in Honolulu, because you know, Honolulu was a different island to me.  And it didn’t bother me, really, that I was separated at that time, until maybe about two, three days.  Then my mom them left me there, and then they came back a short while afterwards. Maybe about a month, they came back to Honolulu.  And that’s when I really … I saw my mother crying.

 

And you were the third child she had lost to isolation.

 

I was the fourth.

 

Fourth child.

 

Fourth; yeah.

 

So, at that point, you were living in Hale Mohalu in Pearl City.  Didn’t they have a fence around it?

 

Oh, shucks.   To me, looked like one prison.  You remember the picture, Stalag 17, I think it was.  You know, they got the fence up like this, and they got the barbed wire this way.

 

Were there other kids your age, nine years old?

 

Norbert came in not too long afterwards.  Then, another week, a few more came in.  In fact, when I went to Hale Mohalu, looked like they just moved into Mohalu not too long ago.  After a while, I came up here.

 

Did anybody tell you you’re going there, and it’s in effect a death sentence, there is no cure, people get terribly sick?

 

No, not when I was young.

 

And you’ll never come back.

 

No, no; not when I was young.  Because I knew I was coming here to see my sister and my brother.  And I knew I was going back.

 

How many people were here when you came?

 

When I came, well, the first time I came here, I would say about over five hundred.

 

Patients?

Patients.

 

And now, fewer than twenty, this day in 2009.

 

I would say over.  But those days, people was dying too, see?  You know.  When you hear the bell, you know who’s that.

 

What was it like living here?  When were you a kid, what was it like?

 

It’s all right.  You know. Nobody tells me what for do.  We go down the beach, no fences around.  Only thing, we have to be home at a certain time, you know.  There was a little control on the staying up late, we need our nap in the afternoon. You know.  Was good.  I liked it. I met a lot of good people.

 

Was there a lot of sickness?

 

Yeah; there were a lot of people.  I mean, a lot of them at that time had kidney problems, heart failure.  Yeah.  A lot of them was blind; we had a lot of blind people, blind patients.

 

Did that make you afraid of what was ahead for you?

 

No; I didn’t think that way.  In fact, some of them became very good friends, and you know, they began to tell us stories about their time.

 

You’ve been to a lot of funerals in your life.

 

Oh, yes.

 

More so than the average person who does not live in Kalaupapa.

 

I think so too.  You gotta go, because that’s the last time you going see him, whether he’s lying in the coffin or what.  People have this thing about they don’t want to see a dead man.  I know that, but it’s the same when you have a photo.  You wish you could have said something, or you know.

 

So, you go, even though it takes it out of you.

 

Yeah; yeah.  You have to go.

 

In the fall of 2018, Boogie Kahilihiwa remains active in the Kalaupapa community.  He still runs the bookstore, and is president of Ka ‘Ohana O Kalaupapa, a nonprofit organization advocating on a variety of issues, developing a new memorial for patients, and perpetuating Hawaiian culture in the community.

 

Next, we meet a man who arrived in Kalaupapa the same year as Norbert Palea in 1947, and lived there for almost twenty-five years before returning to Honolulu.  You may recognize Elroy Makia Malo as a noted Hawaiian storyteller.  And many of the stories he’s told relate to coming of age in Kalaupapa.  Makia lived with his large family on Hawaiian homestead land in Papakolea until the age of twelve, when symptoms of Hansen’s Disease appeared, and he followed two siblings to Kalaupapa.  Once there, his symptoms got worse.

 

Is going blind a common effect of Hansen’s Disease?

 

For many, yeah.  Yeah. Was one of the things.  Not everybody became blind, but many.

 

When you felt yourself going blind, and knowing that others at the settlement tended to be shut-ins once they were blind, did you tell anyone?

 

No; not even the doctor.

 

You were trying to keep it a secret, so that you could be out and about?

 

I didn’t know I was blind.  So, the doctor asked me how I was doing.  I said, okay. A whole week, I couldn’t see.  But like I say, my mind was, it was temporary. So, I’d find my way to the bathroom by just hanging onto the wall, and crossing the floor by counting the doors where another bathroom is.  So, that evening, I got up, and I’m looking around—listening, rather.  Nobody in the hallway.  I walk out down the hallway, come to the nurse’s station, and nobody in there.  Right across the nurse’s station, right alongside the continuing hallway down the outside is this pillar.  I can see the light inside the telephone booth.  I walk straight to the light.  I said: Oh, Mama, Mama, this is Makia.  Mama, can you and Daddy come down tomorrow?  Yeah, okay, son.  They came down, and Daddy ended up sitting at the end of the bed, Mama sits on my right. And Mama always did this; she sit by me, and she grab my arm, she rubs my arm, rubs my arm.  And then I say: Mama, Mama … I have something to say. And Mama says: Yes, son.  Mama … Mama, I’m blind.  Yes, son.  She keeps on rubbing.  Mama, you heard me?  She says: Yes, son.  She continues rubbing, and each time it’s getting harder, and harder.  Mama, Mama, I’m burning.  And I could hear her sobbing as she’s rubbing harder, and harder. And my dad, I can tell when he’s crying; he starts sniffling.  You know.

 

M-hm.

 

And that was how I told my parents I was blind.

 

Makia Malo did much more than survive.  In 1971, he moved back to Honolulu and earned a degree in Hawaiian studies from the University of Hawai‘i.  Makia’s talent for storytelling caught the attention of master storyteller Jeff Gere, who presented Makia to audiences.  And then, Makia met and married Ann Grant, who provided the vision to bring his stories to school children.

 

Suddenly, I see a face, an almost featureless face, a face whose eyes show the discoloration of one blind, a face whose nose has been ravaged, flattened, and the skin mottled with so many scars.

 

Who made the first move?

 

Oh, her.

 

She wanted to take me to her apartment.  And I was thinking: Oh, jeez, how I going get home?  It was from that day on, she comes see me.  You know, we just kept in touch.  I just couldn’t see what this Haole girl from the mainland coming after me.  I thought she’s crazy.

 

I’m blind, I’m all jammed up.  I have an embarrassing history.  Didn’t matter to her.  But I felt bad for her.  Wow.

 

Sounds like she didn’t complain, her whole long marriage with you.

 

No, she didn’t complain.  She got angry often, and now and then, I would get angry too.  But she was my angel, man.  Oh, god.  What a life she helped me into.

 

In the fall of 2018, Makia Malo was living in Honolulu receiving special care.  His engaging storytelling helped to share the Kalaupapa experience with young people, and preserve it for future generations.

 

At this time in 2018, Meli Watanuki works in the Kalaupapa General Store. Back in 1952, she was diagnosed with Hansen’s Disease in American Samoa, and left her home and family for treatment in Western Samoa.  Later, she came to Hawai‘i.

 

So, how did you get to Honolulu?

 

Okay. So, when I paroled, you know—

 

They called it a parole?

 

Yeah, parole, just like you’re discharged from the sickness.  Yeah; the Hansen’s Disease.  So, my stepsister was here, and my stepmother.  They know that I was discharged from October 19, 1958. So, you know, they told me to come here in Hawai‘i.  And I said: Well, I’m not too sure.  But they said: You come, come; you just come out from the hospital.  Yeah; so that’s why I came Hawai‘i.  And then, I married, and then I moved out.  So …

 

You thought all your troubles were behind you; you got married.

 

Yes.

 

Did you have a baby?

 

Yeah. I have one child; it’s a boy.  So, 1964, I just see, because I know when I come Samoa, you know, I don’t know where to go pick up my medicine.  So, I thought it’s finished already.  And you know, they said: You’re supposed to go take your medicine.  I said: No, I did not, because I don’t know the hospital.  So, I went go take test, and just few weeks, and then they called me and said: Yeah, you set up something with your baby and your husband, and then you gotta go Hale Mohalu.  I said: Oh, fine.  And I feel that I better not stay there, because with my baby, I don’t want my baby to get sick.  Because he’s too young, I think only three years old.  So, I set up things, and I talked to my husband.  And my husband think, you know, just like you go hospital, you know, and few days come back.  But end up that was not.  Then, he came visit me with my son, and they see all the fence around.  But get plenty other Filipino there too at Hale Mohalu, so they was talking.  And he said: They talk Filipino.  And then, end up that was the last day I see him and my son.  They never come back.

 

So, you didn’t see your son from the time he was three, to the time he was in college?

 

No.

 

You seem so matter-of-fact when you talk about it. How much does it still hurt?  I know you’ve talked about it, you’ve had time to deal with it, but how are you with it?

 

I feel hurt.  It’s hard for me, trying to go help him and tell him, you know, your mom love you.

 

And now, nothing?

 

Nothing.  They never come back, they never call, no write.  So, I just let it go.

 

Why did you come to Kalaupapa?  You weren’t banished, you didn’t have to live here.

 

I feel happy.  Because when I came here, they was really good.  You know, and they tell me: Anytime, you can go Honolulu, you can go Las Vegas, you can go anyplace, but this is your home.  So oh, okay.  And I’m really, really happy, you know, to stay here.

 

And how’s your health?

 

My health is okay.  Only, I have asthma.  So, it’s taken care, you know, every time I go see the doctor.  Yes.

 

So, the Hansen’s Disease is not a problem?

 

No, it’s finished already.  Yeah.

 

So, you’ve had so much loss in your life.  Is that how you see it?

 

I really feel, what’s happened with all this thing they went do, I pray a lot when I came here.  I pray so much, you know, for sad of me, and take away all that sad to me.

 

Because you had so much sadness, and you needed it to be gone.  And did the sadness go away?

 

Yes. Now, I’m happy right now.  Plus, my husband, they are so nice to me.

 

Meli Watanuki chose Kalaupapa as her home.  In 2018, she’s lived in Kalaupapa for almost fifty years with her second husband, who passed away, and later her third husband, Randall Watanuki.

 

About eight thousand patients came to Kalaupapa, and most never left.  In the fall of 2018, we’re told only about nine patients remain in Kalaupapa out of the dozen still living.  It was a pleasure and an honor for our PBS Hawai‘i team to spend time with the residents. For Long Story Short and PBS Hawai‘i, I’m Leslie Wilcox.  Aloha nui.

 

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

 

So, when did romance blossom?

 

Oh, Leslie.  That was, you know, ’82 to 1995.  Then, that’s why, you know.  And I told him: Okay, you know what?  Time for me. Either you marry me or not, and you stay; you go, you move out, and I stay my house.  So, 1995, the first week of April, I told him: Okay, today is the day; either you move out, or we marry.  If we not marry, you move out.  If we marry, then you stay.  That’s all. You know, I cannot do this, no communion, I only go church and pray.  And then, he said: I want to marry you.  No kidding; are you sure?

 

And he wasn’t kidding.

 

He was not kidding.

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Allen Hoe

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX: Allen Hoe

 

As one of more than two million draftees called upon to fight in the Vietnam War, 19-year-old Allen Hoe thought he would serve his time and then his life would return to normal. He couldn’t have imagined that his 10-month combat tour would make him what others describe as a soldier’s soldier. The longtime Hawai‘i attorney reflects on the wartime experiences that forever shaped his civilian life.

 

Read the November program guide cover story on Allen Hoe

 

Program

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, Nov. 18, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

More from Allen Hoe:

 

The Flag

 

Why Polo?

 

Allen Hoe Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

When U.S. Army General Robert Brown spoke of the 2018 recipient of the Mana O Ke Koa, Spirit of Warrior Award, he said: Awardees demonstrate unparalleled patronage for and civilian leadership toward our Army.  Allen Hoe embodies those qualities.  While each nominee for the award is deserving, we feel Allen’s dedication to the Army is truly outstanding.

 

Fifty years prior to General Brown’s statement, the Army sent a special invitation—a draft notice, to the same Allen Hoe, who admits he was a typical local boy of the late 60s, focused only on surfing, hotrods, and girls.  But a ten-month combat tour in a small country in Southeast Asia turned this local boy into a soldier’s soldier.  Vietnam veteran Allen Hoe, next, on Long Story Short.

 

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

 

Aloha mai kākou. I’m Leslie Wilcox.  Allen Hoe’s father was from Kalihi on O‘ahu, and his mother was raised in Moloa‘a on Kaua‘i.  He points out his ancestors were all subjects of monarchies—on his father’s side, Chinese and Japanese; his mother, Hawaiian, English, Scottish, German, and Spanish. His father was a World War II veteran, and there’s evidence of warriors serving their country throughout Hoe’s family tree from the Queen’s royal guard in India, to a war lieutenant for King Kamehameha.

 

Now, you were raised a regular local kid?

 

Typical local boy; right.  You know, in the 60s, focused on surfing, rock ‘n roll, and girls.  The 60s, I think, for me, our history in the 60s was probably the most traumatic decade that our country has experienced in the last century.

 

And were you part of that resist, oppose? You know, resist authority was the call of the day for young people.

 

Yeah. Me?  No; I was more interested in hotrods and surfing.

 

So, that kind of passed you by.

 

Yeah, yeah; that kinda passed us by.

 

Were you in ROTC as a student?

 

So, did the war in Vietnam touch your life as it started out in the 60s?

 

You know, not really.  I think in my junior, senior year, it was just really kinda like an extra subject for history lessons, history courses.  And it wasn’t until the summer after we graduated that it kinda came home very personally, because the older brother of one my dearest friends was one of the first casualties in Vietnam.  He was killed in Cu Chi.

 

Oh …

 

And then, later on that year, I had a cousin who was killed in Vietnam as well. And then, it’s like, wow, this is for real, what’s happening here.

 

What happened next?

 

And then, I was still pretty much living life like a local boy.

 

Hotrods.

 

Hotrods—

 

Girls and surfing.

 

Yeah, yeah, surfing.  And then, I got a special call.  I love to tell this story, because the young soldiers today, I said: You know what, we are so proud of the decisions you made to serve your country, but you know, my legacy is a little bit different.  I was very special; Uncle Sam came looking for me.

 

He said: Mr. Hoe, we need you.

 

Had you been dreading a draft call?

 

No; no. You know, in my generation, that was part of growing up.  At some point, you know, you would either volunteer to become part of the then, what was very fascinating all-Hawai‘i company, which on 4thof July every year, you know, a hundred or so young high school grads would become part of the all-Hawai‘i company.  So, for me, you know, service was just gonna be part of my growing up.

 

So, that service didn’t, in your mind, include combat.

 

No. But it included, you know, doing some time in the military.

 

Right.  And so, even when you got that call, you didn’t say: Oh, my god, I could get sent to Vietnam, I could get put in really difficult circumstances.

 

Yeah; reality … I was nineteen, and that was not, I think, part of my reality. You know, I was young, still making perhaps unwise decisions regarding activities in life, et cetera.  So, for me, yeah, I didn’t feel threatened by it, neither did I feel any kind of overwhelming sense of obligation, other than to serve your country.

 

I understand after being drafted, you could have stayed here, I think.  But you volunteered to go to Vietnam?

 

Yes. Having grown up and hearing the stories from my aunts and uncles, and cousins, regarding our, quote, warrior culture, after training to become a combat medic—

 

Why did you train to be a combat medic?

 

Well, Uncle Sam said that’s—

 

You were designated.

 

Designated.

 

Okay.

 

Yeah; for training.  And you know, they give you a battery of tests, et cetera, and you know, who knows, but you know, fortunately, and I feel I was very blessed to have been selected to become a combat medic.  And after I trained long and hard to do that, when we graduated, all of the new combat medic qualified soldiers would go to the bulletin board to see where their next duty station was.  And the bulk of my class went straight to Vietnam.  I was assigned to San Francisco.  And you know, I didn’t question it.  And then, when I got to San Francisco, I was assigned to Travis Air Force Base.  The unit I was assigned to had a lot of soldiers who had come back from Vietnam, and they maybe had three to six months left on their assignment before they got out of the Army.  And stories that they shared with me in terms of what it was like presented a challenge to me, and I said: You know, given my background and my family history, I don’t ever want to … look back and say, I wonder how I would have done in combat.

 

But it was a different kind of combat.  I mean, it was like no other war we’ve had.

 

Yeah, but you know, for a nineteen-year-old, there’s only one kind of combat.

 

Wasn’t there some Geneva Convention ruling that it’s a war crime to shoot a combat medic who’s clearly identified in combat. But in Vietnam …

 

There were no rules.

 

Forget it.

 

Forget it; right.  And life expectancies for combat medics were worse than first lieutenants.

 

So, you wore weapons.

 

I carried, I carried both sidearm and a rifle.  And you wore nothing that indicated that you were a medic, other than your bag was bigger than the rest.

 

And then, you went out right after people got hurt in combat.

 

My mission, I was with a long-range reconnaissance team.  And so, when someone got wounded, they were generally standing right next to you, so you knew what was going on.  Yeah.

 

So, you could have been hit too.

 

Yeah.

 

Did you fire your weapon?

 

Yes. You know, for me, part of that experience, being twenty by the time I got there, and being young and adventurous, part of my responsibility being on that team was, I had to learn all the duties or all the functions of everyone else.  And as the medic, I trained the members of my team to the best of my ability in terms of, you know, first responder life-saving methods.  So, while with the team, not only did I fire my weapons, but you know, I helped set ambushes, I learned how to call artillery, and learned how to set demolitions and blow charges.  And yeah, you gotta understand, for a twenty-year-old, this is like fun stuff.

 

You don’t feel that it’ll actually hurt you? Do you feel untouchable?

 

You feel immortal.

 

Immortal.

 

Yeah.

 

Yeah.

 

The most foolish kinds of things that one accepts in combat is that if it happens, it happens.  You know. And then, for me, it was, you know, as long as I can get through three of these life-threatening experiences, then I’ll be okay.  I very clearly distinctly remember the three times that I was supposed to have received something fatal, and survived.  And after the third time, it was like, oh, big relief.  I said: Nothing’s gonna happen.

 

I’ve got a force field around me.

 

I’ve got a force field around me.  And then, you just kinda learn how to operate just naturally and freely.  And yeah, you were still concerned, you were still frightened on occasion, but you knew that at the end of the day, nothing’s gonna happen. And you know … nothing happened.

 

But you can’t do that by skill alone; right?

 

It’s luck.

 

It is a matter of chance.

 

No, no, no.  Yeah; you survive combat purely on luck.

 

And meanwhile, you were seeing some scenes you can’t un-see.

 

Yeah.

 

Mutilated limbs and gory stuff.

 

Yeah.

 

Very sad, just grievous injuries.  How did you deal with that?

 

For me, it was just reactionary.  I trained; everyone trained.

 

You compartmentalized?

 

You compartmentalize.  When stuff happened, instinct kicks in.  And you know, I think one of the saving graces of our current force is that our young shooters, as I call them, the young infantry soldiers or the young combat soldiers that have to go to war for us, they are required to train twenty-four/seven.  And it becomes instinctive, it becomes reactionary.  So, when they’re on a patrol, they experience enemy action, they immediately shift into their combat mode.

 

Did you hear the talk that we understand was common at the time, where people were saying: What are we here for, why are here, this war doesn’t make sense.

 

Yeah. We would hear about that or read about that in letters or the newspapers that would occasionally come to us.  But you know, the reality is, at the end of the day in combat, you’re not thinking about fighting for your country, you’re not thinking about fighting to preserve, you know, family values or the constitution, et cetera.  You are simply thinking about saving the life of your buddy on your right and on your left. And you know, the reality is, at the end of the day, if you’ve done your job right and everybody survives, our country will be blessed by that.

 

Did you get really close to the guys you served with?

 

Oh; you know, to this day.  Fifty years ago, I met incredible bunch of young men, and probably spent twenty-four/seven with these men, maybe not more than four or five months with them, but to this day, when I hear their voice, I immediately know who I’m talking to. It’s that special bond that even kind of um, surpasses a familial bond.  You know, I have a relationship and memories of guys that I served with perhaps that run deeper than with my own two siblings.

 

Wow.  And you know, when you’re with somebody who’s terribly hurt, and possibly or inevitably dying, it’s a really intimate time you share.  How was that?

 

Yeah. For me, and the guys most closest to me, if one of our buddies was hit, we were—this is fascinating–we were doing our best to stabilize his condition, but it becomes not quiet and soft, but it becomes a loud, raucous kind of conversation to get their attention, to get them to focus, to get them to hang on and not to give up.  You know, so it’s yelling and screaming.  This is like—you know, I remember the first time that happened, my platoon sergeant, who obviously had been there longer than me, as I was treating one of my wounded buddies, he was shaking him to get him to respond, to wake up, and to fight on before we put him on the helicopter.  And I learned something that day, in terms of first, you know, you’re gonna … do your job to stop the bleeding, prevent the shock, but at the end of the day, you’ve got to get that young soldier’s attention, to get him to focus on things he needs to do.

 

Because that helps him—

 

Him, yeah.

 

–help himself.

 

Help himself.

 

You know, you have seen some things that most people never see, never have to know what it’s like.

 

Yeah.

 

How has that affected you?

 

You know … at times, it causes me to kinda go into a slump, but I’ve always been able to deal with that in terms of, that’s war.  And I kinda kick into this mode where long time ago, I read this passage where, you know, in war there’s only two rules; the first rule is that people die, and then the second rule is that you cannot change rule one.  So, you know, we were at war, people are gonna die, you know, and thank God if you survive, that you survive.

 

That 1968, when you were there, that was a particularly …

 

Yeah.

 

–fatal—

 

Yeah.

 

–grisly year.

 

Yeah.

 

I mean, lots of fatalities.

 

Yeah. I guess the high water mark was 1968; in May, 1968.  And yeah, May 1968 was a particularly bad month for me.

 

What happened?

 

I lost eighteen of my guys.  And but for the grace of God, I would not be here, because ten of ‘em are still missing in action.  The grace of God was that my unit was transitioning from Point A to Point B, and I was not with them that day.  I was back in the rear, getting ready to rejoin them.  Before I could rejoin them at the new location, they were overrun.

 

And some of them were never found, but were you treating your own men?

 

Yeah.

 

In the field.

 

Yeah.

 

May; was that Mother’s Day?

 

May, Mother’s Day.

 

Mother’s Day.

 

Mother’s Day, 1968.  Yeah. I mean … if you can imagine, I mean, you’re a mother, you know how important Mother’s Day is.  That day by itself, you know, to get the message or the knock on your door that your son was killed on Mother’s Day.  I mean …

 

And so now, when Mother’s Day comes around at your home, you think of another meaning for it.

 

Yeah. I am reflective on the mothers of my men who didn’t make it.  And you know, over the past fifty years … that bond I had with their sons, I’ve developed with them.  So, for me, it’s very special.  For me, it’s always been an obligation to assure their mothers whose sons never came home that their sons are superb young men.

 

You made an effort to go do that?

 

Absolutely.  The majority of the men who I lost on Mother’s Day 1968, their mothers and their fathers had absolutely no clue what happened to them.  And to live without any knowledge of what happened, I just couldn’t.  And that’s even worse, you know, to have your son taken from you in combat, and that’s all you know.  He’s not here.  Why? We can’t share that with you, we can’t tell you the circumstances, or what happened on that day.

 

Do you think you had PTSD after the war?

 

I had issues.  I don’t necessarily think it is or was PTSD.  Everybody who experiences combat has issues.  I remember when I first came back from Vietnam, the first month that I was home, it was just party time; right?  You know, I was riding motorcycles back then, and every night we’d go out and … go and enjoy life, tip a few Primos.  And I remember like after a month, one day, my dad came home.  We were passing, I think in the driveway; I was getting ready to go out, and he was coming home from work.  And said: Al.  He said: You have a moment?  I go: Yeah, absolutely.  He told me, he said: You know, son, I won’t even begin to understand what you experienced in Vietnam, and what you’re doing now, you know, I’m not supportive of your behavior and what your conduct is now.  So, you know, how much longer are you going to do this, ‘cause don’t you think you need to start thinking about your future?  I hope you’re not planning to do this the rest of your life.  And I said: No, Dad, I’m just having fun.  But you know, that kinda came home to roost really strong for me, my father saying: Okay, all right, it’s time to kinda like get on with your life.  And, you know, I did.

 

He did it in such a nice way, too.

 

Yeah; he was just an incredible guy.

 

Allen Hoe’s parents had always insisted he would attend college, so when he returned home, he took advantage of two new State institutions for learning.  He enrolled in the new Leeward Community College, later graduating from UH Mānoa, and he was among the first class of law students admitted to the William S. Richardson School of Law.

 

Okay; the style of the day was long hair.

 

Yeah.

 

So, did you go back from the war with your short haircut, to—

 

Long hair.

 

–long hair.

 

Yeah.

 

And did you see anti-war protests?

 

Oh, yeah; yeah.  You know …

 

How did you feel about them?

 

You know, this may sound strange, but to me, that was just part of our great democracy.  You know, I tell people: Yeah, I have no problems with the protests, the marchers, and the anti-war people, even when I was in Vietnam.  I said: Hey, that’s what we’re here for, to give them the right to exercise, you know, their freedom.  And it truly did not bother me.  One of the things, though, that did bother me was, a couple of the young Leeward students were egged on by this group to pull down the American flag. And four of us Vietnam veterans stood ‘em off, and we said: You touch that flag, and you’re gonna go down.  And … they left the flag alone.  I said: You can protest the war all you want, but you’re not gonna come and touch this flag.

 

And that was a spontaneous act by the four of you?

 

Yeah.

 

Did you ever get pegged the wrong way when you walked around campus with the long hair?  I mean, did people assume anything about you that wasn’t true?

 

The wife of a soldier who was in one of my classes, her husband was a career soldier, had not been in combat.  And she made this kind of strange comment to me.  She said: Why are you so angry?  And I said: What do you mean?  She said: There’s this hate that comes from your eyes.  And I said: Your husband’s a soldier, has he been in combat?  No.  I said: Well, you send him to combat, and this is the look that he will come home with. And she just couldn’t understand that.

 

That it’s not anger.

 

It’s not anger.  People these days, or even for many years, they call it the Thousand-Yard Stare.

 

Allen Hoe’s adjustment to civilian life was bolstered when he met his future wife, Adele.

 

We met actually, I think maybe the second month after I got out of the Army. And you know, when I first saw her, I said: Oh, my god, that is the girl of my dreams.

 

At first look?

 

That first day we spent together.  She was actually a coworker of the sister of one of my dear friends.  So, we just kinda like wound up on not a blind date, but time together.  And she was, or is just a special person.  Yeah; yeah.  Swept me off my feet, so to speak.

 

Adele and Allen Hoe married and shared in the joy of raising two sons: Nainoa and Nakoa.  Both young men chose to be warriors and serve their country.  The elder son, Army First Lieutenant Nainoa Hoe, was killed by a sniper’s bullet while he led a foot patrol in Northern Iraq in 2005.  He was just twenty-seven years old, and had been married for less than a year.

 

My wife and I, Adele, we still hear from the soldiers who served with Nainoa. And that is very comforting to us. He absolutely loved being a soldier. And the fortunate part, if there is anything fortunate about that horrible tragedy, was that his last day on this earth was documented by a writer who wrote an incredible story of how my son spent his last day with his men in combat.  Now, for me, as a father who had experienced combat, that was just an absolutely incredible story.  For me, it was very gratifying to hear how he performed in combat, and how his men just dearly loved him.

 

Yeah; I was so impressed by your son Nakoa.

 

Ah …

 

Seeing him at an event where Nainoa was being spoken of and honored, and all the attention was on the fallen son.  And Nakoa is a very honorable and brave, Army leader in his own right.  Right?

 

Correct.

 

But it was not about him; he was just happy to see Nainoa being celebrated.  I thought, he’s grown up in that shadow of his—

 

Big brother.

 

–his big brother being venerated as a hero.

 

Yeah.

 

And not feeling like: What about me?

 

Yeah. You know, in retrospect, my Hawaiian culture, that’s what led me to name him Nakoa; brave, courageous, strong, army, a soldier.

 

It does take courage to kinda—

 

Yeah; to stand in the shadow.

 

To stand in the shadow; right.

 

Yeah. And he has become just an incredible young man.

 

So much grace.

 

So much grace.

 

Did you teach him that grace?

 

His mother taught him that grace.

How our family and how this community responded when our son was killed, for me, it was very eye-opening.  You know, having survived combat, having witnessed death, it was totally different when that knock came on our door.

 

2005.

 

  1. And then, it’s like our whole world just came screeching to a halt. And then, you know, over the years, I’ve become very close to the Vietnam veterans’ efforts, the memorials, et cetera.  Jan Scruggs is a very dear friend.  And you know, Memorial Day 2005, I was invited to come and be a speaker at the Memorial Day ceremony at The Wall.  It was not the first time I had been there, but that was my first experience when I got there and I looked at the fifty-eight thousand plus names in the wall, including like a whole panel of my guys.  And I just kinda like … stopped, caught my breath, and I said: Oh, my god.  Looking at all these names, you would think that the world would have come to a complete stop.  Because I know my family—

 

For some, it did.

 

Yeah.

 

Many, it did.

 

For some, it did.  And for, you know, my—my experience and my family’s experience, the world did come to a stop.  You know, but there it is, fifty-eight thousand plus names, and we’re still at war.

 

Shortly before our conversation with Allen Hoe in the summer of 2018, he and nine other local Vietnam veterans were honored at what the Army referred to as a long overdue ceremony.  While only ten veterans were selected, the Pentagon report said they represented a large number of soldiers who served in the Southeast Asia conflict, but were never given a proper military ceremony to present awards and medals.  Allen Hoe received a Bronze Star and Purple Heart at the ceremony, and told news reporters it was well worth the wait to have the brigade you went to war with recognized years and years after that war was over.

 

We thank Vietnam Combat Medic Allen Hoe for his time with us, and the work he continues doing in the civilian and military communities.  And we thank you, for joining us.  For more of Allen Hoe’s conversation, including how a flag originally purchased as a souvenir in Vietnam has earned a military record of its own, and why it’s in Hoe’s DNA to be passionate about horses and the sport of polo, please go to PBSHawaii.org and our Long Story Short archives.  I’m Leslie Wilcox for Long Story Short and PBS Hawai‘i.  Aloha nui.

 

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

 

People say: You do so much for the Army.  And I said: You know what, when I have a quiet moment, sitting in my backyard at Maunawili, looking up at Mount Olomana, which was one of Nainoa’s favorite places, I just kinda look up there and I says: All right, son, you didn’t think Dad had enough to do?  So, my mission has been to try and make the lives, and the comfort, and the memory of soldiers who put on the uniform every day for us a little bit better.

 

 

Allen Hoe
A Soldier’s Soldier by Emilie Howlett

ALLEN HOE: A Soldier's Story by Emilie Howlett

 

Leslie Wilcox talks story with Allen HoeAs one of more than two million draftees called upon to fight in the Vietnam War, 19-year-old Allen Hoe thought he would serve his time and then his life would resume as normal. In his conversation on Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, Hoe reflects on the experiences that turned this local boy into a soldier’s soldier.

 

Trained as a combat medic with the Army, he witnessed some of life’s greatest horrors, and these intense circumstances helped forge a life-long bond with the men he served alongside. The politics and ethics of the controversial war and the reasoning behind what they were fighting to preserve came second to “simply thinking about saving the life of your buddy on your right and on your left” recalls Hoe.

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX, Tuesday, November 13, 7:30 pmOn Mother’s Day 1968, one of his greatest fears played out in front of him. While he hung back at headquarters waiting to rejoin the other men in his unit, they were overrun. Hoe lost 18 men from his unit, while several more were captured and held prisoner.

 

While many would seek to close the door on this tragic chapter of their lives, Hoe extended his kindness towards those who felt the loss most profoundly. “I am reflective on the mothers of my men who didn’t make it. And over the past fifty years … that bond I had with their sons, I’ve developed with [the mothers] … It’s always been an obligation to assure their mothers whose sons never came home that their sons are superb young men.”

 

“... my mission has been to try and make the lives and the comfort and the memory of soldiers who put on the uniform every day for us a little bit better.” – Allen Hoe

 

Allen Hoe and the courageous men he had served with.

 

Along with the atrocities he witnessed as a combat medic, the loss of the men he served alongside would follow him long after his tour ended. However, life went on. After returning to Hawai‘i, Hoe found success as an attorney, got married and had two sons.

 

But tragedy struck again. In 2005, his elder son, 27-year-old Army First Lieutenant Nainoa Hoe, was killed by a sniper’s bullet while leading a foot patrol in Northern Iraq. “How our family and how this community responded when our son was killed, it was very eye-opening. You know, having survived combat, having witnessed death, was totally different when that knock came on our door.”

 

While visiting the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. on Memorial Day of that same year, seeing the names etched on The Wall, including those of his own men, took on a new resonance. “Looking at all these names, you would think that the world would have come to a complete stop,” Hoe says.

 

Allen Hoe’s own losses inspired a lifelong commitment to healing the wounds of war by supporting those touched by its effects. In June 2018, he was presented with the Mana O Ke Koa award, which honors his unparalleled patronage and his dedication and service toward soldiers, civilians and the U.S. Army Pacific. Hoe has transformed the tragedy in his life into generosity, serving as a guiding light for so many. “So, my mission has been to try and make the lives and the comfort and the memory of soldiers who put on the uniform every day for us a little bit better.”

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Lanai Tabura

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX: Lanai Tabura

 

Named for the island where he was born, Lanai Tabura is well-known for his talents as a DJ, comedian, television host, actor and entrepreneur. Now he dedicates himself to one of his earliest passions – cooking – to share aloha across the globe through food.

 

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

 
Program

 

Lanai Tabura Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

I know so much about food, which is interesting. And it never came out of me until I started doing these pop-up dinners and these speaking engagements.  I did a Poke 101 class for Pinterest.  All these kids—you know, I say kids because these tech companies are all kids.  And all they know about poke is, it comes from a store.  So, I got to teach what poke really is, where it came from, how it became, and all this stuff.  And when I was done, my friends goes: How’d you know all this stuff?  I go: I don’t know.

 

So, you didn’t go look it up.

 

No.

 

You had it in your head.

 

Yeah.

 

And your heart.

 

Yes.  And your heart is the thing.  The intent; right?

 

M-hm.

 

So, I am realizing as I’m getting older, I can do anything I want, as long as there’s good intent.

 

Lanai Tabura has been doing just about anything and everything in broadcasting since his first television audition when he was six years old.  DJ, comedian, television host, actor, entrepreneur; his passion has turned to cooking, and he has dedicated himself to sharing aloha across the globe through food.  Lanai Tabura, next, on Long Story Short.

 

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

 

Aloha mai kākou.  I’m Leslie Wilcox.  Lanai Tabura, who was named for the island where he was born, knew from a young age that he wanted to be in front of the camera.  He became a familiar name early on in his life for being a disc jockey at a popular radio station, and then for his comedy.  It wasn’t until later that he became known for his cooking, and rose to national attention when his team won the Great Food Truck Race.  Yet, cooking was one of his earliest life lessons. Lanai had to grow up quickly when his father left, and his mother went back to work.  As the oldest child, home responsibilities fell to him.

 

I grew up on a plantation.  My father left when I was young.  Three brothers.  And my mother said one day: I gotta go to work, I can’t stay at home with you guys anymore; you’re gonna have to step up.  What does that mean, you know, at twelve years old.  Step up; what do you mean?  I’m not gonna be home ‘til nine, you gotta cook dinner.  Cook dinner?  I’m twelve years old.  For three kids.

 

And how old were your brothers?

 

Makani, who’s right under me, is two years younger than me.  And then, you had Adam, which was five years under him.  And then, Stevie, which is a year under him.  So, you know, the youngest were four, five years old.  And then, Makani was ten.  You know.   So, that’s tough, you know.  And you grow up on an island where there’s not a lot of … which I think was good.  There was no fast food.  The stores closed at six.  I think the life-saver about our grocery store; you could charge.  Remember those days where you go: Oh, put it on the Tabura’s tab.

 

Exactly.

 

My mom’s tab.  And at the end of the month, you get the bill; right?  And then, you can divvy up.  But my father left with every penny in the bank and the clothes on his back.  Left us in a two-bedroom house, plantation style.  And we had nothing.  Zero, you know.  I remember when we applied for welfare, I was so embarrassed.  ‘Cause it’s Lāna‘i; everybody knows your business.  I was like: Mom, I can’t take this book to the store; people are gonna know we’re on welfare.  Today, they have a credit card.  Back day, they were pages of books.

 

But they also knew your dad had left.

 

Yes.

 

They knew everything.

 

Everybody did; everybody did.  He went to the airport and left the car.  For two days, we didn’t know where he went.  Two days, you didn’t know where he went, and then we found the car at the airport.

 

Did you ever reconnect with him?

 

Never.

 

You ever want to?

 

No, but I forgave him.  There was a point in my life where I was so angry about it. There was a point where I would go in the bathroom in high school, and cry.  ‘Cause like: Why, why?  What’s wrong this guy?  You know. And all that anger, of course, built up to bitterness.

 

And bitterness really poisons you, too.

 

That’s the word; very bitter.  And then, I was on a cover of a magazine.

 

Why?

 

I think it was for a TV show I did.  I was in my early twenties.

 

Okay; early twenties.

 

Yeah.

 

Got it.

 

It was a TV show I did, and I was on this cover. And he saw the cover, and he was in the mainland, and he wrote to the editor and said: I think that’s my son, I need to get ahold of him.  The editor wrote me like five times before I finally wrote back and I said: Yeah, that is my dad, you can send me his info.  So, the only contact I’ve had with him was through two emails.  One was him apologizing to me for what he did, and mine was forgiving him for what he did.  And I said: That’s it; you’ve finished this chapter for me, ‘cause now I feel this pressure is off, and I feel that I can move on now, the bitterness is gone.  I said: If you want to contact my brothers, it’s up to you and it’s up to them, ‘cause we’re all adults now.  So, that was my last contact with him.

 

Did he try to reach your mother?

 

No; and you know, my mother is not the type to talk bad about anybody.  So, she always made it open.  You guys want to talk to him, you can call him; you want to see him, you can see him. ‘Cause he will always be your father. But to me, a father has a different meaning.  He’ll always be my dad.

 

Right; that’s a verb.  Right? It’s what you do.

 

Yeah.

 

So, really, these are really formative things that happened to you.  I mean, things that change you.

 

Big time.

 

So, you were twelve years old thinking … Where’s the food that I’m supposed to cook for dinner?

 

Yeah; yeah.  So, if it wasn’t for my grandparents, who taught us how to grow vegetables, I don’t think we would have survived.  And my grandfather really became the father figure, even though he was a very harsh man.  He was Mr. Miyagi; everybody called him Mr. Miyagi.  He would teach you through lessons; he wouldn’t tell you.  He wouldn’t tell you that the fire is hot. He’s gonna give you a lesson, you know, or he’s gonna somehow drum up something so you go through the experience, so you get the lesson.  And then, he’ll ask you after.  That kinda guy; very old school.

 

Did you learn well that way?

 

Lots.

 

Was that a good way for you?

 

Yeah; I think so.  Now that I think about it, yeah.  But at the time, I’m like: God, you—

 

Why doesn’t he just say what he means?

 

Yeah; yeah.  Why don’t you say, you know.  I remember when I was a junior in high school, I wanted to go to junior prom. And my mom said: You can’t; we don’t have any money.  Expensive, you know, a tuxedo and everything.  And my grandfather was listening to the conversation.  And he goes: Hey, come outside.  So, I go outside.  He goes: You see this cabbage; not growing good.  Help me.  I said: What do you need me to do?  We need to till the ground.  Start tilling the ground.  Next thing you know, it’s an hour in, I’m sweating.  I’m like: How did I end up tilling cabbage?

 

What’s going on here?  Next day he goes: Tomorrow, I going come back here one o’clock. You help me; we’re gonna plant new cabbage.  So, he shows me how to plant cabbage.  This goes on for, you know, three, four months.  Comes time for junior prom.  Boy, come outside.  He goes: I need you to help me pick the cabbage; too heavy, my back sore.  I get a big bag, fill up the bag with cabbage. Let’s go to the store.  We go to the store, we sell the cabbage.  Look at all the money; I go: Grandpa, look at all this money.  What are we gonna do with it?  He goes: You go to the prom.  Three-month lesson.

 

Yeah; that is a great formative lesson.

 

Yeah.  But he did a lot of stuff like that.

 

And then, how did you learn to cook it?

 

Trial and error; trial and error.  Salt and pepper, you know.  That’s all you had.  It’s not salty enough, put more salt.  You know.  Too much pepper, put less pepper.  And then, of course, you watch your grandparents cook, you watch your mom cook when there were those days.  You really paid attention, ‘cause you didn’t want to just eat Spam and rice every day. You got tired of Spam and rice every day.

 

Did you think it was drudgery, or did you enjoy this?

 

You know what?  I enjoyed it; I enjoyed it.  It became a competition amongst the brothers.  You know, my third brother Adam became an amazing chef.  He cooked for Steve Jobs.  He’s cooked for all these different celebrities.  You know, we won the Food Truck Race because of him.

 

So, this life event that could have really unnerved you and really put you on a bad trajectory, it actually turned out to be something that became embedded in your life and a springboard.

 

The biggest blessing in disguise.  Everything happens for a reason.  And I think things would be much different if my dad was in my life.  And it could be way better, it could have been worse.  It would have been a different path, for sure.

 

Lanai Tabura wanted to be on television from the time he was a little boy.  After graduating from high school on Lāna‘i, he headed to O‘ahu to attend Hawai‘i Pacific University.  He didn’t stay long, though, because he found a new passion.

 

I went to a floor wax audition.  And it was a thousand kids, and my cousin ended up getting it.  But I was so fascinated by the concept of it.  Like: Wait, do it again?  What do you mean do it again?  You know. I was like six or seven years old. And I was so fascinated about the concept of you can be in front of this thing, and then people can watch it later. And I was fascinated about television, and I was fascinated how people can act like somebody else.  And then, you started watching television, I started watching Checkers and Pogo, and I started watching Andy Bumatai, High School Daze, and I started watching Booga Booga.  And it fascinated me how they can make people laugh, and how they can act like somebody else and make people laugh.  That was the fascination, I think.  I never thought I’d do standup comedy.  I started doing standup comedy ‘cause of James Grant Benton, Augie, and Andy. That was just a hobby.  I wanted to do standup comedy because of the timing; the timing part of it.

 

Which is the hardest part.

 

Yes.  And I found out that if you can master the timing, you can say anything you want. You can act, you can host, you can do interviews.  You know, radio really helped me with the timing part on interviews as well.

 

How did you get to O‘ahu to do all of this?

 

I had a scholarship, believe it or not, for volleyball. Hawai‘i Pacific University, Nahaku Brown did a clinic on Lana‘i, and I was a pretty good volleyball player.

 

You were all-state.

 

Yeah.  Oh, thank you.  Nobody knows that.  But anyway, she was offering a management scholarship, ‘cause they were gonna start an NCAA team.  Turned into a club team.  I got into radio at the same time, and then kind of moved out of it.

 

What’s a management scholarship?

 

They offer a couple scholarships for people to help with volleyball teams, like the women’s volleyball team.

 

Oh, I see.

 

So, you know, the guy that sets up the court, and you know, gets the water, and you know, gets ready for game day, gets the uniforms ready.

 

She saw your business side.

 

Yeah.  Yeah. Thank you, Nahaku.  But yeah, she really is the one that got me to Oahu.  ‘Cause we couldn’t afford college at all.  My mom was pissed when I dropped out.

 

Why did you drop out?

 

Radio.  When I started, my first day of college was my first day of my radio gig.

 

Oh …

 

Yeah.

 

There was competition between the two.

 

And it took over.  It took over not a little bit; it took over a hundred percent.  I was so fascinated by radio.  Again, I can tell people what to do, and they don’t even see me.  This was pre-Facebook, My Space, social media.  So, you know that everyone’s listening to you.  We had a twenty-one share at night, which was like three out of every five teens listening to us at night.

 

That’s phenomenal, because there were so many radio stations.

 

Yes.

 

I think we have the highest per capita in the nation.

 

Yes.  We did; there was like thirty radio stations for a million people.  You know.  But I was so fascinated by radio, and that was it.  I was indulged in it, you know.

 

And it paid you, too.

 

It did.  And that was the other thing; it paid me.  Right?  College wasn’t gonna pay me.  Working part-time at San Francisco Rag Shop was paying me pennies.  And being in radio, my first year was minimum wage, but after I proved that I could do what I could do, ho, I was living it up.  You know.  I had a car, I had a house, a condo.  I had a tab everywhere I went, because everybody wanted you to talk about their bar or their restaurant.  You know.

 

And yet, did you foresee what would happen to radio?  I mean, it hasn’t died like many people predicted.

 

No.

 

But it’s not the same; it’s a lot of consolidation and recorded voices.

 

Yeah.  There was one thing that I really … I really saw clearly, that it was gonna come to an end for me.  I saw it ten years before.  I’m still in radio, by the way.  I do shows in Japan.  But the actual twenty-four/seven, nine-to-five, working in radio every day, I saw it ten years before it even came.

 

You knew you would be recording your voice, and it would be played on different channels.

 

Yes; yeah.  I seen it.  ‘Cause now, I can eliminate that person, I can eliminate this person.  So, unless you were at the top of the food chain, you weren’t gonna get paid, ‘cause you were gonna be one of the people eliminated. Right?  So, I started my TV career, ‘cause I knew that I needed to get out of something else. And then, I started my entrepreneurship.  Try everything, what do I like, what don’t I like.

 

I wonder if one of the reasons you did the entrepreneur—I don’t know if it was innately inside you, or did you see fewer opportunities that were already created for somebody like you?

 

It was my mom.  Such a great question.  It was my mom that told me: What do you want to be?  I don’t know; I want to be on TV.  How do you know; you never try ‘em.  Right? Well, what you want to do; you want to be a realtor?  How you know; you never tried it.  You gotta try it first.  You gotta go see what it is first.  What if you don’t like the format?  What if you don’t like how it works?  What if you don’t like the politics of it?  You know.  What you going do?  That’s why until today, I was like, if I get opportunity—I look at everything as opportunity, by the way.  If I see opportunity, I’m gonna go dig into it.  I’m gonna go dig, and hey, how does this work?  I want to try.

 

And you’re willing to give your time to try it out?

 

Yeah.  I could die tomorrow.  I could die tomorrow; and then what?  My best friend died when he was thirty-five, and it was another huge lesson to me to try things.  Don’t be afraid.  I’m always gonna pay taxes, I’m always gonna work, so why not try it.  You know.  I commend people who can do something for thirty years, forty years, you know.  But it’s kinda not for me.

 

So, if you had a choice between a good, steady job and this tantalizing opportunity that you didn’t know if it would pay off, what would you do?

 

Tantalizing, one hundred percent.

 

Yeah.

 

A good, steady job is boring to me.  And it’s for other people.  You know, I commend you again.  That’s good, if you could.  I wish I could, because it’s security; yeah?  But it’s so boring to me.  It’s so boring.  I have so many wealthy friends that have been doing the same job for a long time, and they’re miserable.  They ask: What are you doing now, how come you’re doing this?  It’s like they tell me: I live vicariously through your social media, or your Instagram or, you know.  And it’s not that I’m trying to brag about what I do or anything.  I just do stuff that I love to do.  I want it to be fun.  Everything has to be fun.

 

And you’ve made it pay off for you.

 

It’s going to pay off.

 

It’s going to pay off.  Six years ago, I went bankrupt.  I lost three houses.  I think I had four cars.  For what? It was nothing, cars were nothing, the houses were nothing.  But it was a huge lesson, and I’m still going through that lesson, you know.  So, now, I have a new guard.  How do I not go through the same mistake; right?

 

Well, maybe you were trying to control circumstances before, and now you try to control yourself. 

 

Yeah; that’s what it is.  It really is.  I never had money before, and when you hear these stories about people who won the lottery or have done good.  You know, Larry Price always used to tell me: You’re not going get rich yet.  And I go: Why you always tell me that?  He goes: ‘Cause you need to learn, still.

 

Oh …

 

It’s not your turn; it’s not your turn.

 

So, did you just go crazy because you had available money that you didn’t before?

 

Oh, yeah.  And I went crazy in a sense of not just for me; taking care of other people. Which I should have … you know, I didn’t have kids.  I wasn’t prepared for that.  Nobody teaches you that.  You know, no one teaches you about taxes.  In school, they don’t teach you that.  No one teaches you that it can run out.  No one teaches you that this job can end.  You know, that kinda stuff.  So, I’m going through it every day still, today.  I think I’m gonna be that guy that doesn’t retire; for sure.  I love to work.  So, I’m gonna be working.

 

But you are gonna save money; right?

 

I’m gonna; yeah.  I started.

 

Because that’s the thing, is when you’re always living hand-to-mouth, regular savings is not a …

 

Yeah.

 

It’s not something on your list, because you don’t have it to save.

 

Yeah.  And it’s not part of your ritual, it’s not part of your everyday thing.  Because you never had it.  You know, I never had it.

 

And then, you assume if you have it, life will be easy.

 

It’s not easier.  It doesn’t get easier.  I think it gets harder.  You know, more money, more problems.  You know. It’s funny, ‘cause when you get more money, you think: Okay, now I can get the things that I need.  You know.  Or I need to get that, or I’ve always wanted to get that, I need it. You really don’t need it.  You know.  You need toothpaste and you need toilet paper.  Okay, I’m paying my bills, my kids are okay, I’m paying their bills, I have enough to pay for them to go to college.  Do I want to be wealthy-wealthy?  That’s starting to turn.  Before, if you asked me ten years ago.  I want to be wealthy, I want to be one of the wealthiest guys in Hawai‘i. Now it’s, I want to be one of the most happiest guys, and I want to be doing what I love to do guys in Hawai‘i.

 

In 2013, Lanai Tabura and his team entered Food Network’s The Great Food Truck Race.  They traveled more than four thousand miles across the country in their Aloha Plate Food Truck in a competition to see who could make the most money.  Well, their team won, thanks to the support of thousands of former Hawai‘i residents who came out to support them.

 

You know what’s so interesting about that whole race was the word aloha.  I’m gonna keep coming back to it, but the word aloha.  This is what happened.  I’m not gonna tell you the whole story, but what really happened was, what clicked it, and what sparked it, that Coconut Wireless, was one text.  I text Brook Lee, Miss Universe, good friend of mine: I am going to Idaho, I don’t know anybody in Idaho; do you know anybody in Idaho? That one text created this phenomena of thousands of people showing up to a food truck to support people they don’t know.  Why?  Nobody knew what was going on, nobody knew.

 

That’s right; the show wasn’t on at that point, right?

 

No; it wasn’t on.  Those thousands of people that you didn’t see on the television, because they thought we were cheating, showed up because they wanted to eat. They wanted to eat Hawaiian food, in the middle of Idaho, that they haven’t had for a long time.  People from twenty years transplants that lived in Idaho, fifteen years or what have you, people going to school showed up.  And I’ll never forget; I was in Minnesota, it was twenty degrees, raining sideways.  We went to an ice cream shop, and there was a guy who comes out with a University of Hawai‘i hat.  And he looks up at me, and he goes: Lanai, what are you doing here?  And I go: We’re doing this food thing, and I’m looking for a place to park.  I couldn’t say anything.  He said: What do you mean, this food thing?  Oh, we have this food truck, and bla-bla-bla.  He goes: Come here tomorrow, this is Grand Avenue, everyone will be here shopping.  I said: Really?  I said: You from Hawai‘i?  He goes: No, the girl who owns this ice cream place is from Hawai‘i, my ex-girlfriend. What?  Yeah.  He goes: I love Hawai‘i, I going tell all my friends come tomorrow; park over here. We show up; about two hundred people waiting in line, tents, raining sideways, it’s twenty degrees.  Who are these people?  We take about forty-five minutes to prep.  I walk out.  And I did this in every city; I would go down the line and I would thank people for coming and let them know we’re gonna open soon.  There was a lady, she’s gotta be in her seventies, and I said: I want to thank you for coming.  She goes: No, no, no; I want to thank you.  And I said: Thank me for what?  She goes: I’ve been living here for twenty years, and I never knew this many people from Hawai‘i live in Minnesota.  You guys know what you did?  I go: What do you mean, know what we did?  She said: You brought all of us together, through food.  And I was like: Holy moly, I never thought of it like that; right?  Where were we?  We were in the capitol of Spam.  Spam is made in Minnesota.  Right?

 

Then it’s a genetic connection.

 

Yeah.  There was another connection; Spam is made in Minnesota.  I meet this guy Matt, who helps us with the parking and everything, and I said: What are you doing here?  He said: I came to school here and ended up working here; I created a group called The Frozen Ohana.  And I go: What’s The Frozen Ohana?  He goes: Twenty-five hundred of us that get together every three months and have a barbecue, because we homesick.  And I go: Homesick from where?  He goes: From Hawai‘i.  I go: There’s that many people here?  He goes: Yeah.  And that’s what happened in every city.  I have a story for every little city, but that one was halfway into the race, and that one when it clicked in.  This is why people came together, ‘cause of the food and the Aloha that they wanted to share with their friends and their neighbors.

 

Plus, they wanted to support somebody who was on a quest.

 

Yes.

 

A Hawaiian on a quest.

 

Yes; totally.

 

So, are you using what you learned from that to do your pop-ups now in different cities all over the place?

 

I’ve been on this new journey because of it, of teaching aloha.  I have this passion for aloha.  I have this passion for teaching people that if you have aloha and good intent with anything that you do, you can do anything that you want.  You know what I mean?  You can be the best at anything you want, because you enjoy it.  You know, find what your passion is, and do it with good intent and aloha.  And that’s what I’ve been on this journey through with the food.  I’ve been teaching it through food subliminally.

 

I can see how you do it.

 

Yeah.

 

So, what’s an example recently of aloha through food?

 

I’ve been doing these pop-up dinners with different chefs.  And I sit with them, and we create the menu.  And the menu is always gonna be the plantation days and the migration of immigrants that came to Hawai‘i.  From Hawaiian food is the first dish, to Chinese, to Japanese, to Korean, Portuguese, Filipino.  You know. So, I walk through the timeline of it, and I figure out, will this dish represent that community or immigrant that came to the plantation.  Yes, it does. All right; now we’re gonna create a story behind it.  So, when you come to my dinner, you’re not gonna just have dinner; you’re gonna get an experience.  And the experience is gonna be the story of when the Chinese came in the late 1700s to trade sandalwood with Kamehameha, and then they introduced us to noodles and rice.  And when the Japanese came and introduced us to teriyaki sauce, and the musubi, and that’s how the Spam musubi came about.  And the Portuguese gave us oil and batter.  And the oil and the batter, they saw the Japanese guy eating raw shrimp and they said: You cannot eat that raw.  And they grabbed the shrimp and dipped it in the batter and in the oil. That’s why when you look at an okazuya, it’s flat, our tempura.  The Japanese took it one step further and put panko.  These stories is the way that I’m gonna get to you and share what aloha means. At the end of the day, all these plantation workers got a kau kau tin.  They sat in a circle, hot rice in one hand, hot food and vegetables in the middle.  And the Japanese said: Yeah, try my musubi.  And the Chinese said: Yeah, that’s noodles, try my noodles.  What did it do?  It brought us together.  And the Hawaiians taught us how to share, which is aloha.

 

Since he and his team won The Great Food Truck Race, Lanai Tabura has developed a passion for teaching aloha through food.  Whether it’s through his cooking shows or his pop-up dinners, he says he’s on a mission to share aloha.  Mahalo to Lanai Tabura for sharing his life story with us.  And mahalo to you, for joining us.  For PBS Hawai‘i and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox.  Aloha nui.

 

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

 

I have kids.  I want my kids to live in a better world.  It’s a tough world right now, you know.  So, my whole thing is, how am I gonna use what I have built to help people.  My mom has done it her whole life; she still does it today.  My grandparents did it.  You know, my grandmother would make a big pot of chili and feed everybody. You know.   And then for years I’d go: Grandma, how come there’s all this Tupperware on the table?  How come you feeling everybody?  She goes: Never mind, you just bring this to Uncle’s house next door, you bring this to Auntie’s house.  That was how we lived on the ahupua‘a.  That’s how we shared, that was aloha.  Right? We have to bring that back.  We’ve made life too difficult.  So, I don’t want it to be difficult; I want it to be simple.  Ah, maybe I’m dreaming.  But I think I’ve made a pretty good start.

 

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Susan Ballard: Path to Top Cop

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX - Susan Ballard: Path to Top Cop

 

The conversation with Chief Susan Ballard continues with insights into her almost-33 years with the Honolulu Police Department. She reveals the ways she had to prove herself as a rare woman on the police force and how she is breaking the mold of her predecessors by just being herself.

 

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, Sept. 2, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

Susan Ballard: Path to Top Cop Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

You know, this lady, a nice Japanese lady, she let me come, she let me sleep on her floor.  For four months, I was there.  We had lunch maybe about a month ago.  And she reminded me, because I had started the process to go into the police department. And she said: Do you remember what you told me?  And this was not when I was living with her, but after I had moved out, but you know obviously, we stayed friends.  She said: You remember what you told me?  And I said: No.  And she says: I’ll never forget that I asked you, How long are you gonna stay in the police department?  ‘Cause she knew it wasn’t anything I really wanted to do.  And I said: Ah, I think I’m gonna stay until I make chief.   And I said: I really said that?  And she said: I will never forget that; and when you made chief, it was just like I was like, holy cow, that really happened.

 

Thirty-two years later.

 

Yup; thirty-two years later.  Exactly.

 

When Susan Ballard joined the police force in 1985, there were few women cops, let alone in high positions.  She didn’t necessarily plan to make a career of being a police officer, but she persevered, and overcame barriers. Honolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard, next, on Long Story Short.

 

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

 

Aloha mai kākou. I’m Leslie Wilcox.  Susan Marshall Ballard grew up in the South, raised to be a proper Southern lady.  She moved to Honolulu in the early 80s with no particular plans, other than to look for work at McDonald’s as a manager, a job she’d done before, until she figured out what to do next.  Ballard became friends with police officers at the Central YMCA, and they persuaded her to apply at the Police Department.  Now, there weren’t many women cops at the time, and there were many male officers who felt that women were not up for the job and could put them in harm’s way.

 

I guess I’ve always been a rebel, too.  I mean, you know, even growing up, I was kind of a tomboy, you know, just because you sorta had to, to take care of yourself because of the situation. But when I went into recruit school, we had like about four women.  We started out with like four women in our class, which was a large amount at the time. And unfortunately, I think we only ended up—I’m sorry, started with five, and we graduated with three that continued on, actually all the way through retirement.  Two of ‘em retired already; I’m the only one left.  But you really did have to prove yourself.  I mean, when you went to defensive tactics, it was like, you know, they would try their best to try and, you know, get you to quit, you know, to give up.  You know, I always tell the story that, you know, there was a bunch of men in the class who formed the I Hate Women Club.  You know, because they didn’t think that women should be in the police department.  Well, I didn’t care.  I would jump in the truck with them and say: Well, sorry, I’m going with you regardless. You know, and I think after you kinda push yourself on ‘em enough, and they see that you can, you know, take care of yourself and you weren’t gonna back down, then you know, things became easier. Is it right?  Well, no, it wasn’t, but you know, that’s the way it was going through recruit school.

 

But you didn’t take offense?

 

No; I really didn’t.  You know, it didn’t really faze me.  Maybe because I was just kind of oblivious, or maybe I was in my own world somewhere, but I didn’t pay that much attention to it.  I’ll never forget when I first went out on the road, the first case that I went to, you know, the guy who was supposed to be covering me off—and it was a domestic.  So, I went in and I said: Are you coming in?  And he’s standing outside the door of this, and he says: No.  And I was like: Okay.

 

No backup.

 

Yeah; yeah.  So, I went in, and you know, resolved the situation and stuff.  And then after that, he was okay.  But I had to prove that, you know, you could.  And you know, couple of the other stories, you know, that I tell is that when I was down in Waikīkī, we had a hostage situation, so we had to call out SSD. At that time, it was the SWAT team. And it was my beat, so it was like, whoo, I was all excited because, you know, I was gonna, you know, be there, you know, and you have this case.  And so, the SWAT team came, and the SWAT major was there.  And my lieutenant, you know, bless his heart, Wally Akeo, he was like the best lieutenant ever.  But you know … he came, and I says: Okay.  I said: You know, I’m gonna go ask, you know, what is it that I can do, because it’s my beat, I want to make sure that I do what I can.  So, I went up to the major of the SWAT team and I said: Excuse me, sir. I said: What is it that you want me to do?  He said: Be a good girl and go get us some coffee.  Well, me being the person I am, I was ready to rip—I didn’t care what his rank was, I was ready to rip into him.  God bless my lieutenant; he grabs me by the shirt and just pulls me out.

 

And he tells me: Calm down; go over there, just calm down.  But did you hear what he said to me?  And he says: Just take it easy.  But you know, those are the types of things, you know, that we had to deal with.  Even at the main station … I don’t know, way back when, our director said that women had to wear brassieres.  It was required.  And so, during our lineups, our lieutenants would come behind us like this, the women, and check like this to see if we had a brassiere on.  Yeah.

 

Wow!

 

Yeah.

 

It sounds like the Middle Ages.

 

Exactly.  Well, I mean, uh, even the weight room.  The weight room was behind the men’s locker room.  And so, for us to go workout in the weight room, we had to walk through the men’s locker room.  And so, we were only allowed to go down one side of the locker room, and as we approached the door, we had to yell: Woman coming through, woman coming through! Well, I mean, let’s face it; all that’s gonna do is egg ‘em on.  So, you can imagine.  Man, we got flashed, I mean, anything that you can imagine.  They always told us: You don’t look, you keep your eyes straight ahead.  It didn’t make any difference what they did.  It was: You look straight ahead.  But, yeah.  So, it was an interesting time.

 

And there was a time when an interview board asked you what rank you thought you thought you would want to be, and you said captain.

 

I did.

 

And they said?

 

They laughed.  They said: Oh, there’ll never be a woman captain.  Okay, well … good.  Okay; whatever.  You needed to ask me something, I answered.  I didn’t even know what a captain was at the time, actually.  So, you know, I figured, hey, that sounds high. I’ll just shoot for captain.

 

 

Along the way, I’m sure you made friends and got advice, too.  What kinds of advice helped you along the way as a, at the time, rare woman, and still a rare woman in the police department?

 

You know, I go back that, you know, I was very lucky as I came through, because I had a lot of really good supervisors.  And obviously, they were all men, because at the time, there weren’t that many women supervisors.  But Bill Clark was my major at the training division when I had become sergeant.  And you know, I guess one of the things I always remember about him is that he would just tell us, he says: You guys do whatever it is that you need to do; you go create programs, do whatever.  And that’s kind of what I got from—you know, take risks and stuff.  You know, try it.  If it doesn’t work, it’s okay.  Then I had Steven Watarai, Chief Watarai at the time.  And everybody was just in fear of him.  I mean, it was like when they told me I was gonna go and work for him, I was like: Oh, no.  I said: I’m in trouble now.  But you know what?  He sat me down and he says: You know what?  He says: I trust you, until you show me that you can’t trust you anymore.  And you know what?  And he always … he would support you, he would, you know, go to bat for you.  You know, and he was true to this word.  And as long as you didn’t do anything that caused him not to trust you, he was behind you one hundred percent.  So, I mean, like I say, I was very lucky.  And like Wally Akeo, when I was in Waikīkīwhen I first went down there, you know, because there were very few women, but he always encouraged me to like, take the sergeant’s test.  He would encourage me to go out and do things that, you know, I wouldn’t normally do. And you know, he would basically tell me: You can do whatever it is that you want to do.  And you know, and that was back, you know, in ’88, you know, back when it was unheard of.  So, like I said, I’ve always really been lucky for the most part, always working with some good supervisors who were very supportive.

 

And then, you dismissed the flack, pretty much. You just decided that you weren’t gonna deal with that.

 

Yeah. Yeah.  You know, I gave this talk to my managers.  And one of the things that I said is, you know, I learn a lot from my dogs.  And one of ‘em is, if you can’t play with it, you can’t eat it, pee on it and walk away.

 

And sometimes, you know what?  If something doesn’t serve you, if it’s not working for you, you know what, you just gotta walk away from it.  You can’t pay it any mind.  It’s like it’s not worth you spending time to worry about.  And I think that’s kind of been, you know, my philosophy all along. ‘Cause you can find yourself getting caught up in things and going: Oh, well, this person’s out to get me, and this person.  But you know what, then you’re letting them control your life.  You have to control your own life.  You can’t let people make you upset because they control you. You’ve gotta control the way that you feel.  And it’s a constant reminder.  I mean, even to this day.  But you know, I mean, that’s one of the things.  If you find yourself getting caught up in stuff, you know, it’s like: Okay, stop. You need to control your own destiny. Don’t let other people control what you think, or what you say.

 

And don’t spend one more moment on it; right?

 

Exactly; exactly.

 

Former Police Chief Louis Kealoha was running the Police Department when Susan Ballard turned in her retirement papers.  Morale in the Department was low, as the police force watched and waited for the Chief to be indicted in a Federal corruption case. A series of events during this time turned Susan Ballard in a new direction.

 

You’d been through years and years of police being unhappy with chiefs.

 

Kinda interesting.  When I was commander of District 4 out in Kāneohe and Kailua, I had said that, you know, when I hit, I think it was like twenty-eight years, I was gonna retire.  So, I was at twenty-seven, and Chief Kealoha and Deputy Chief McCauley were in power.  And they really started … and for whatever reason, you know, I don’t know what it is, and obviously when you have power like that, you have people who are gonna kowtow to you and do whatever it is that they want, so that they can get ahead. And you know, and I saw that.  And so, one person did that, and they made allegations, you know.  Oh, well, you know, she’s not being a team player, or whatever.  And it’s like without even asking me why I was doing what I was doing, it was like: Okay, well, you’re out of there.  You know, you’re going down to Central Receiving Desk, which was, you know, like the place where you buried people.  It was the bad place to work, you know.  We only send people down there who were you know, not doing well, and all this other stuff.  So that’s what happened.  And instead of retiring, I said: You know what?  I’m gonna stay around, and I’m just gonna be a needle in their side. So, I thanked them for transferring me out of District 4, because if they hadn’t, if they’d let me stay there one more year, I would have been gone.  But they didn’t.  Once again, as I said, everything happens for a reason.  So, I went down to the desk.  And I was quite unhappy when I went to the desk.  It was like, you know, I’m not gonna do anything.  You know, it’s like, you know what, the heck with these people.  But then, after about a week or two, you know, I started meeting the people who were working down there and says: You know what, these people don’t deserve it. And so, you know what?  I made up my mind at that point in time; I says: We are going to make Central Receiving Desk the best place to work in the Department. We are gonna take care of our little corner of the world.  We didn’t care what was happening on the outside.  They can do whatever it is that they were doing, but we were gonna take care of Central Receiving.  And that’s exactly what we did.  And I got a team together, the sergeants, the lieutenants, you know, the officers who were down there.  Awesome group of people.  I mean, all of a sudden, it went from a place where half of ‘em would transfer out. Every time that there was a transfer, the people were putting their names in to come and join us down at Central Receiving Desk.  So, I decided, you know what, it was great.  And I knew that they would never transfer me, because they weren’t gonna put me anywhere.  So, it was like, great; just leave me down here.  I was having a great time, you know, I had a great group of people to work with.  And so, lo and behold, you know, all this started happening.  Well, we kinda knew what was going on, I think, long before, you know, the public. And so, you know, when it came out, and then he finally retired … because the indictment was taking so long, I thought, you know what—I mean, ‘cause it was like, two years, three years, or whatever that it took.  And I thought: You know what, I’m just gonna retire.  I said: You know what, I’ve got thirty-two years in the department, um, you know, I’m not gonna, apply for the position.  But what had happened was that officers, not just the people who were working down at the desk, but the officers would coming in, and they would ask me: Are you putting in for Chief?  And I said: No, I think I’m just gonna retire.  So, it was actually the officers, they said: Please, we’re asking you, please put in to become Chief.  And I said: All right.  And I did. And so, I put in.  But honestly, I never thought that this would happen, because of what was going on, you know, with the Chief, that obviously the public, the commission, everybody thought, you know, we’re gonna go on the outside, we’re gonna pick somebody who’s not in the department, ‘cause everybody in the department is corrupt.

 

But it helped you to be sidelined.

 

It was.

 

You were on the outs.

 

Everything happens for a reason.  It was great. I mean, otherwise, you know what, I probably would have, you know, never been selected because, you know, I would have been tainted, you know, with that administration.

 

On October 25, 2017, the Honolulu Police Commission announced its appointment of Major Susan Ballard to become Honolulu’s eleventh Police Chief, and first woman at the top of the Department.

 

When you’re the police chief, you run on O‘ahu. I don’t know if it’s still true, but it was once the eleventh largest city in America, the whole island.  But essentially, you’re running a mini city.

 

Right.

 

What’s that like every day?  When do you start, what do you do?

 

Well, I mean, I do all my workout in the morning.  Because I know that once my day starts, I’ll lose control.

 

Are you a gym person, or do you do that at home?

 

Actually, I’ve got my weight room at home, and then I do my yoga at, you know, a couple of different yoga studios in town.  And then, you know, I’ll jog on my treadmill like three days a week, or whatever. And then, kinda like do a boot camp type workout.  But it’s all within my house.  I really don’t belong to a formal gym, other than the yoga studios.  Because I’m an early morning person, I mean like, really early.

 

Early; how early?

 

Like, I wake up like, midnight.  I mean, because I have a hard time sleeping.

 

When do you go to sleep?

 

That’s why the nighttime events are so hard sometimes, because I usually try and get to bed by about seven-thirty.  And so, yeah, my sleep … I mean, I had insomnia for quite a while, so now that if I can get four or five hours sleep, I’m like: Yes!

 

And then, you wake up around midnight?

 

Yeah. And so, I usually do my workout, and stretching and then, you know, getting ready, and then go do my workout and stuff.  And that usually takes me ‘til maybe about two o’clock in the morning, two-thirty. And then, that’s when I walk my dogs.

 

Wow …

 

So, everybody in Kailua knows, here’s the crazy chief, she’s walking around.

 

It’s funny, because the newspaper people delivering newspapers, they stop by and say good morning.  You know. And then after that, when I come home, then I usually have time to take like about an hour nap.  And then, I get up and then I go do yoga or whatever usually around five, five-thirty, six o’clock.

 

You’ve had a full day by the time you get to work.

 

I do. And that’s why tell people; I said: You know, your five o’clock in the afternoon is my like, midnight.  Okay?

 

Right, right.

 

Yeah. So, yeah.  And then, I usually get to work, and then you know, try and you know, clear up the email.  But like I said, a lot of times, I just have um, events and, you know, those types of things.  And then, we have what we call chief’s reviews, so I, you know, go out to the different districts and the divisions and, you know, talk to the officers.  And we do a little different.  Before, it was very formal.  Now, I like, you know, the officers just to sit down, and I want ‘em to ask questions.  And they can ask questions about anything.  And I told ‘em; I said: If I can answer ‘em, I’m gonna answer ‘em.  If I can’t, I’m gonna find the answer and get back to you.  And they know, I’m not gonna take offense to anything that you ask.  And I think the officers, you know, are realizing that. If I’m lucky enough to have a block of time free, I’ve been trying actually go out and jump in a car with one of the officers, and then, you know, go patrolling with ‘em.  Because you know, you learn a lot from ‘em, sitting in the car with them, you know, talking.  I was down in Chinatown couple days ago, you know, and I was talking to some of the homeless when we were getting ‘em to move off the sidewalk. So, you know, I try and do that, you know, because at the same time, you know, the officers want to know that you’re there for them as well.  So, I mean, it’s not just the community like I said before, but you know, it’s for the officers as well.

 

It’s true; you have a lot of constituents.

 

You know, one thing that people get upset about more than anything else is like parking, and being stopped.  You know, and and they’re all: Oh, you know, you’re just giving us a parking tag, or you’re just giving us a citation because you need the money.

 

Yeah; you should chase real crime.

 

Right; exactly.  You know. And we tell ‘em, we says: Okay, well, first let me clear up a misconception.  HPD doesn’t get any of the money from the citations.  It all goes to the State; nothing comes to us.  But you know, we tell ‘em.  You know, I mean, one of our biggest complaints—like I had one gentleman at one of the talks, and he was very outspoken, that he felt that it was highway robbery that we were stopping people, you know, for different types of traffic violations, and that we should be out there solving the real crimes. And I told him, I said: Do you know what the number one complaint is from the communities, from almost every single community, besides the homeless—we’ll just leave that out for now. But it’s parking problems, and speeding, and other types of traffic, you know, violations.  I said: So, we’re out there doing what the community is asking us to do.  And you know, I mean, it’s just like DUIs.  You know, you stop someone who’s drunk, and they go: Why you stopping me, I didn’t kill anybody.  Not yet.

 

That guy’s drunker than me.

 

Yeah.

 

Do you feel like people are really watching closely?

 

They do.  You know, and I think more so initially.  Like for example, you know, before, if I went out to dinner or, you know, or I’d meet my friends over at Whole Foods in Kailua, and we’d have, you know, a couple of beers or whatever.  I mean, I ride my bike everywhere, I don’t drive my car.  But now, as Chief, I you know, choose not to ever drink in public or have a drink, because people don’t know, they don’t know that I’m not driving. You know, they see me and they think: Oh, well, here she is, having a beer, and you’re talking about drinking and driving.  So you know, I’m very careful about that type of thing.  Um, so that, you know, on the weekends, after I come back from a hot yoga class, I like to have a beer.  So, you know, I’ll have that at home.  But, yeah. So, I mean, that’s something that you know, I force on myself not because, you know, anybody else had said: Oh, well, you can’t do this, or that anybody ever made a comment.  I guess I’m probably my worst enemy.

 

In the more recent past, police chiefs haven’t served all that long.  It hasn’t been a long tenure for them, maybe seven years, five years.  Before, there were long-serving police chiefs.

 

Right.

 

What do you think you’ll do?

 

You know, I’m older than most.  So, you know, like I tell people; I said: You know, we’re just taking it one year at a time. You know, I don’t know, in five years, you know.  And a lot of it is the tenure is shorter because there are just so many issues.  It’s not like before, where it was a more, hate to say, simpler time.  But it was. But now, I mean, I would not want to be an officer out on the road now.  There is so much stuff that they have to deal with and do that, you know, we didn’t have to do coming up.

 

Yeah; I was just thinking about men in the police department over the years, and you know, there is a certain amount of stoicism and, you know, a face that doesn’t show emotion, and sunglasses, and not talking too much.

 

Yes.

 

Did you ever feel like, hey, that’s kind of a model, strength; quiet strength model.

 

It is, and it’s still.  And I mean, even you go up to the chief level.  Because, I mean, you know, all the other chiefs have been pretty stoic, and you know, the model that you’re talking about.  And I think that might have been a big difference, big change for people, you know, the officers who are in the department, ‘cause now all of a sudden, you’ve got somebody who is, for lack of a better term, I’m very loquacious.

 

And you know, we laugh and we joke.  I mean, before, if you went up on the fourth floor, which is where the assistant chiefs and our offices are, you could hear a pin drop.  I mean, it was dead silence.  I mean, you know, it was like you went into this—it’s almost quiet as a cemetery.  Now, you go up there, and people laughing and joking, and you know.  I mean, it’s a big change.  And even the officers, it’s like all of a sudden now, they seem to have permission to smile.  It’s okay to smile, it’s okay to laugh, it’s okay to be happy.  You don’t have to always put up that face.  Unfortunately, we’re still trying to, you know, like with the public, you don’t have to be that robot, that perfect person.  I said: You know, you can come out of your shell. Because, I mean, most of ‘em are very personable people, you know, once you get to know ‘em.  But it seems like, you know, all these years, that is you know, the way that officers are portrayed.  So, we’re trying to break that mold, you know, and trying to move out of that realm.

 

Well, you heard what the Mayor’s representative—I think the Mayor was out of town, but it was Roy Amemiya saying, you know, that you’ve been chosen, and your job is to restore trust in the police.  And it is true that there’ve been a number of scandals and incidents such as domestic violence, and an unwillingness to address that.  And how do you plan to restore that trust?

 

You know, it’s kinda interesting that when I first became Chief, it was during Christmas season, parade season.  And so, I was, you know, walking in some of the parades, and you know, people were, you know, yelling and cheering, and stuff.  And I was just walking down.  It’s like, wow, they’re really excited about their parades.  And one of my deputy chiefs turned to me and said: Chief … you know, I think they’re cheering, they’re yelling because you’re going by. And I’m going: What?  And so, I started going over and shaking people’s hands and stuff, and you know, and basically saying: Thank you.  And it was just so humbling that everything that this department has gone through, you know, in the last several years, that the community—and this was everywhere, was willing to forgive and forget.  I mean, maybe not totally forget, because it’s always gonna be back there.  It wasn’t just the community’s trust that was broken; our department internally, the officers’ trust was completely obliterated.  I mean, to the point where you had retirees that were embarrassed to say that they retired from the Honolulu Police Department, and that they would not say anything.  But you know what?  It’s nice to hear now that, you know, they’re proud of saying that they are, you know, retired from the Honolulu Police Department, ‘cause they see that we are trying to change.  And just like I tell people when we go outside, I said: It’s not gonna happen overnight.  And I’m not gonna tell you that our officers aren’t gonna do anything wrong, because they absolutely will; it’s no different from your children.  They’re gonna make bad decisions, and they’re gonna make bad choices, but we are going to address it.  I tell people even now, the people who get promoted; I said: You know, the higher you go, the more humble you need to be.  Why do you need to flaunt your power?  I mean, yeah, you’ve got it, it’s there.  But why?  I mean, if you have to do that, then obviously, you’re doing something wrong. I said: You know, you should be the most humble person in the world, the higher up that you go.  Because you know, that way people feel comfortable around you, and you can get a lot more things done.

 

At the time of our conversation, Honolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard was eight months into her five-year term as Police Chief, and one month shy of her thirty-third year in the Department. Mahalo to Honolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard of Kailua, O‘ahu for sharing your stories with us.  And mahalo to you, for joining us.  For PBS Hawai‘i and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha nui.

 

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

 

You know, I always tell people; I said: You know, as long as you do the right thing, for the right reason, in the right way, then I feel fine.  I mean, you’re never gonna get everybody to agree.  There’s always gonna be somebody who disagrees with you. And that’s just the world that we live in.  But as long as you don’t do anything, you know, mean or retaliatory, but you do it for the betterment of the community, the betterment for the officers, then how can you go wrong.  You know. And if I’m wrong, I’ll be the first to admit, okay, well, we messed up.  Or if a law is passed and says: Oh, well, you can’t do this anymore.  Okay, well, you know, you’ve given me my direction, you know, and we’ll have to move in that direction.  But as long as long as you do it with a good heart, and you’re doing it for the right reason, you know, I can go home and I can sleep at night.

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Susan Ballard: Finding Strength in Childhood

 

Honolulu Police Department Chief Susan Ballard reflects on her formative years growing up in the South and the difficult experiences that drove her to develop strength and resiliency.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, Aug. 26, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

Susan Ballard: Finding Strength in Childhood Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

It was a very interesting upbringing with my mom.  She was really into the manners, and the whole Emily Post.  And believe me, it stuck with me.  When you were at the table, if you ever tried to, like, reach across the table, your hand would get smacked, you know.

 

You always made sure you passed things around the table.  You had to have conversation.  And you know, when you think back, to this day, I really think that that’s one of the things that’s missing from so many families.  That, you know, if you really sit down and have a meal with your entire family, and you force the kids to talk about their life or what happened, you know, during school or whatever, you know, I think, one, social skills.  You know, instead of always looking at the computer.  And two, I think that, you know, we would have a lot less problems than we would have today if we still had family dinners.

 

The young life of future Honolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard was a mixture of practicing good manners, while learning to stand up for herself.  Sometimes, the two did not mix, but the result was that she grew up with strength of character, and people skills that helped her to become Honolulu’s top police officer.  Police Chief Susan Ballard, next, on Long Story Short.

 

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

 

Aloha mai kākou. I’m Leslie Wilcox.  Susan Marshall Ballard became Honolulu’s first female Chief of Police in 2017, and hers was not a meteoric rise.  Barriers take time to overcome.  She had already served thirty-two years on the force.  Ballard was born and raised in the South, with Southern manners required at home.  But the kids at school were not genteel in their teasing.  She says they made fun of her for being tall and wide, with buck teeth. Her parents’ divorce forced her to grow up quickly, and as a young woman, she says she experienced domestic violence by a boyfriend.

 

I was born in Norfolk, Virginia.  But unfortunately, I was only there for about maybe five years before we moved away. And we moved to Jacksonville, North Carolina, and that’s where I started school.  And then, I was only there for about a year, and then, we moved to Fayetteville, North Carolina.  And no, my family was not in the military.  But my father was into the manufactured homes, so we always seemed to end up in large military cities.  So I went there.  I finished elementary school and junior high school, and high school in Fayetteville.

 

So, was he a salesman in mobile homes?

 

Yes, he was.  And then, he eventually became president of the company, and doing the manufactured homes. So, I lived in uh, mobile homes. I was the typical Southern type girl. You know, we started out in a single wide, and yeah, got to play out in the yard barefoot.

 

You know, run around in the South.  You know. And then we moved to double-wides, and then I think it was probably about junior high school, we had our first house.  We bought our first house in Fayetteville.

 

And your mother?

 

My mom was a homemaker up until my mother and father got a divorce.  And so, she took care of the house, and took care of us.  And then, she went back to work as a secretary at an insurance agency. Speaking of my mom, she used to always tell us when we were growing up that it’s not your kuleana.  And this was from the South.  And so, you know, we knew that it meant responsibility.  And this is like, North Carolina, and this is like, way back.  And so, when I came over here and I found out kuleana, and I was like … they said: Oh, that’s a Hawaiian word.  I says: No, it’s from the South.  And then, because, I mean, my mom—so I have no idea how she ended up getting that.

 

That’s so interesting.

 

Yeah; yeah, yeah.  Yeah. ‘Cause she used to always tell us: Don’t pay any attention, it’s not your kuleana, just let it go.

 

Did you have any idea how that came about?

 

I have no idea.  And she was not really—well, I would ask her things, like: What about this?  And ah, she never really—you know, she was—

 

So, old—

 

I couldn’t get information from her.

 

Old school.

 

Yes.

 

They don’t like to talk.

 

Yes.

 

Right?

 

Very much so.

 

Would you consider it a middleclass, non-dysfunctional childhood?

 

Yeah. Growing up, I would say that very much so is what, you know, would describe.  It was just like a normal upbringing.  You know, did school, did after school types of things.  And you know, one of the things when I was growing up is, I was … uh, quite large.  I was fat. I guess obese is more what the medical community was calling.  So, it was a interesting upbringing, because you know, when you’re in school, you know, you found out the kids were actually pretty mean when you’re overweight.  And my nickname was uh, Tub, Tub of Lard. So, all the way, even through high school until I left Fayetteville, even though I had lost weight in high school, I was still called Tubs.  Yeah.

 

How did you deal with that?

 

You know, I guess I was able to uh, carry my weight.  I did a lot of activities.  I was really good at football; they always wanted me to play the line in the neighborhood.

 

Were you tall as a child, too?

 

I was. I’ve always been taller than everybody else.  And so, I got to be the line in our neighborhood football team because, you know, I was so big, I could just knock people over.  I know, I know.  It sounds bad, but you know, I mean, you just kinda dealt with it.  But I mean, it was a name, you know, but we were still able to get along and, you know, do different things.  But it definitely does make a mark on you, you know.

 

And did it change your social life, do you think? I mean, do you wish you’d had a different social life?

 

Yeah, I think so.  You know, my mom was the typical Southern belle.  You know, we were raised with Emily Post.  So, you know, everything was manners and, you know, had the right way of sitting at the table.  We had to have dinner every night; Mom, Dad, you know, the kids.  My father traveled, so he was only at home on the weekends, most of the time.  But we were always required to have dinner, you know, as a family.  And then, she wanted us to go to learn to cotillion and go to the dance, and all like that.  So, like I said, I was large, so nobody wanted to take me to cotillion. So, I’ll never forget that my mom had to talk to the teacher, and had to ask one of the guys to please ask me to cotillion.  And that’s kinda something that sort of always stuck with me.  You know.

 

Was he good guy?

 

He was; he was.  He was very nice.  I mean, back in the South, doesn’t make any difference, ‘cause if you didn’t say, yes ma’am, yes sir, and treat people nice, you’d always get a whack one way or the other.

 

And you would actually do what your parents said, it sounds like.  Which often doesn’t happen nowadays.

 

Oh, yes.  And don’t ever bring a note home from the teacher.  Because if you got a note from the teacher, it didn’t make any difference; you were wrong.  The teacher was always right, so you shook in your boots if you had to bring a note home from your teacher.

 

And these things stay with you, as far as what seems right to you?

 

Yes; it really does.  And I think a lot of it is just, you know, how you treat people, you know, and just being able to talk to people, you know, and have a decent conversation. You know, ‘cause you were brought up to always appreciate, you know, everything that you have, and not take it for granted, ‘cause it can be gone the next day.  Which is what happened, like, when my parents got divorced.  It was like, we lived comfortably, and then when they got divorced, all of a sudden you had nothing.  So, you know, when you look back, you appreciate everything that you had, you know, when you were growing up.

 

Obviously, not everything was polite.  I mean, you were teased at school, and for a long time. How do you think that affected you, now that that weight is certainly not a problem?  I mean, how do you look at that experience, and how did it affect you?

 

Well, I think a lot of it, as far as affecting, you know, when I look at people, if they’re large, it’s like, you know, I can kinda empathize with them. And then, you know, a lot of times, you see people who are exercising who are large, and you know, human nature: Oh, look, that person’s fat, or whatever.  And I’m looking at ‘em going: At least they’re doing something.  You know, they’re out exercising, they’re out walking around.  So, you know, you give people more slack.  I mean, there’s no such thing as, you know, this whole perfect body thing, you know.  And especially for women; you know, we’re brought up that you’re supposed to, you know, look just so, and you’ve gotta be skinny.  ‘Cause my sister was completely opposite.  She’s probably about six inches shorter than me, she never had a problem with her weight.  The other thing I had, I had buck teeth, I had to wear braces.  But you know, she was always like … I don’t want to say perfect, but she never had to worry about, you know, her looks or anything. And she used to have guys always coming over to the house.  Where for me, it wasn’t until I lost weight that I actually really was able to, you know, really start dating.  And so, you do know that, you know, the whole body image, you know, is an issue.  And it does stay with you.  So that to this day, I mean, I make sure that I exercise and I eat right, because you know, I do know that even—is it right?  No.  But you know, I mean, if you see kind of an overweight man, you know, it’s like: Okay, well, you know, it’s okay.  But if you see an overweight woman, then it’s like: Oh, look, she’s not taking care of herself.  So, you know, especially in the position I’m in, you know, I always try and make sure that, you know, I exercise and eat right.  And I think that just always goes back to the childhood, that I never want to get to the point where I was overweight again, because I know how hard it was too, to lose weight and to keep it off.

 

Well, how did you do it, and when did you do it? You graduated still overweight?

 

No. I lost it when I was in high school. So, actually, I did it relatively quickly.  It was about four or five months.  It was like, from the end of my—I believe it was my sophomore year of high school, towards the end.

 

Was there something that made you do it?  I mean, was that some inspiration caused by an event?

 

There really wasn’t.  I think I just had gotten to the point where I was just tired of being made fun of, and it’s like, you know, it’s time.  I needed to lose weight, and you know, so I put my mind to it, and I did.  And of course, when you’re younger, it’s a lot easier to lose weight than when you’re older.

 

And you did it by a combination of dieting and exercise?

 

Diet and exercise; yeah.  Yeah. And from that point on, I have always exercised.  I mean, I was able to play on the softball team in high school, play on the basketball team in high school, because you know, I lost the weight and I was able to, you know, function in those type of sports.

 

No more linebacker stuff?

 

No more lineback.  I still played football, but you know, they let me be receiver now.

 

And so, then all of a sudden, guys came calling?

 

Well, I mean, yeah, more.  But I’m kind of selective too, so—

 

 

You know, we’d go out on dates and, you know, if I really didn’t like ‘em.  But I had a serious boyfriend in high school, and you know, we almost got married.  And then, I’m the one that’s kinda like: Um, this isn’t really what I want. And so, I usually get into long-term relationships, but I’m usually the one that—because I value my independence, and I think that came from when my mom and dad got divorced.  Because I saw my mom, who hadn’t worked, and all of a sudden, she had to get a job, and that you know, we basically lived from, you know, paycheck-to-paycheck, and you know, where was the next meal gonna come from. And so, I said to myself: I’m never gonna be like that, I refuse.  So, from that point on, I mean, I think I started working when I was like, fourteen years old. And actually, at that point, I really started saving for retirement.  Because I said: When I get older, I want to make sure.  I said: I can suffer when I’m young, but when I get older, I want to live like a queen.  And I said: I never want to be dependent on somebody, where I need them to the point where I can’t live my life.  And so, I think that’s really, you know, caused me to take a look at a lot of things.  And I think that’s why probably I’ve never gotten married, is because I like my independence, and I don’t like to really answer to anybody, you know, when I get home.  Other than my dogs.

 

What was life like when your dad left, and your mom was in reduced circumstances?

 

I mean, it was difficult.  I mean, one, because they didn’t get along.  You know, it was kind of an ugly divorce, and we had to leave our house and move into a two-bedroom apartment.  So you know, very small.  And my sister at the time, she and I didn’t get along at all, she didn’t get along with my mom.  So, it was just really—

 

Lots of conflict all around.

 

Yeah. It was just conflict everywhere. And then, so my sister ended up leaving, moving away, and so it was just, you know, me and Mom.  And you know, I mean, the fact that, like I said, you know, where was the next meal coming from.  And then, she had to go out, you know, and get a job.  And you know, all of the luxuries that I was used to no longer had.  And so, that’s why I went out and you know, got a job, and I figured I’d just, you know, take care of myself.

 

How old were you when you got the job?

 

The first job I had, I believe I was fourteen, close to fifteen years old.

 

So, this was all around the time that you lost the weight, as well.

 

Yeah; yeah.

 

All of it happened around the same time?

 

Yeah. Yeah, yeah.

 

Really kind of a pivotal period in your life.

 

Yeah. It really was.  Yeah.  And then, decided: Okay, well, I’ll go to college.  But there was no money for college, either.  So, my grandmother, when she was alive, every Christmas, I’ll never forget, my sister and I both, we would get savings bonds from her. We’d get hundred-dollar savings bonds from her.  And you know, when you’re kids, it’s like: Why are you giving us savings bonds; we want toys, we want material things.  Right?  But it was like she’d give us a savings bond every single year for Christmas and for our birthday.  And so, it had gone into the bank, and so because of that, I was able to pay for the first year of college.  And then, you know, while I was there, I was able to get, you know, a couple of jobs and was able to, you know, uh, earn enough money to pay for tuition and a place to live.

 

After graduating with her bachelor’s degree, Susan Ballard went on to graduate school in Tennessee, where she stayed and worked after receiving her master’s degree in athletic training, now called sports medicine.  She says she and her boyfriend decided to leave Tennessee and travel west.  They got all the way to Hawai‘i.  And it was here, she says, that her boyfriend smacked her. It was a turning point in her life.

 

When I left Tennessee, a friend went with me and we had stopped in California. And you know, obviously, looking back, you know, even when I was dating him in Tennessee, there were instances where he was very controlling, and you know, did things that he shouldn’t have.  But you know, you’re young, and it’s like, you know, you get into that: I’m sorry, but you know, you kinda made me mad, and—

 

And I’ll never do it again.

 

Right; never do it again.  That whole type of thing.  And so, you know, it didn’t happen like over, and over, and over again.  It was just occasionally.  And so, you know, you kind of put it out of your mind.  So, when we came over to California, and decided that you know, we weren’t gonna stay in California, and so we continued over here to Hawaii.

 

Now, why did you come to Hawai‘i?

 

Well, one, because there was no way I was driving back across the United States again.  ‘Cause we drove from Tennessee to California, to Los Angeles.  And I just was not gonna drive back.  And plane ticket is eighty-nine dollars one way.  So, jumped on a plane, came over, you know.

 

What were you thinking you would do?

 

Well, I figured if nothing else, I could go to McDonald’s and work as a manager at McDonald’s.  Because, you know, it was something that I had been doing working, so it was just kind of a stopgap and, you know, I figured I could get a job.  And that’s what I ended doing when I first came here.

 

And is what did he do?  What was his plan?

 

He really just kinda lived day-to-day.  And so, he got a job, you know, at one of the restaurants and stuff here. And then, we ended up getting an apartment, and then things just sort of kinda snowballed at that point.  I mean, he … you know, I caught him a couple times with other people.  He would come home drunk, you know, kinda force himself on me.  And then one time, when it got to the point where he hit me one time, I said: That’s it.  I said: You ever hit me again, I’ll kill you.  Because I knew at that point in time, I’m either gonna stay here, or I’m gonna get out. And obviously, it was hard, because I’m in a place where I really didn’t know anybody.

 

And cost of living was high.

 

Well, you know, I guess back then, I didn’t really notice it that much.  I mean, things weren’t that expensive.  And I guess, you know, I was doing okay, and I had money saved.  And money really never came into the equation as long as we were together, because we could split the rent, you know, and whatever that way.  But then, when I made that decision that I was gonna leave, it was like one of those, oh moments, and you’re like: Okay, now what.  So, I thought: You know what, if anything else, I’ll just get on a plane and I’ll just, you know, fly back to North Carolina. But you know, I had met some really nice people from Central YMCA, and they were officers, a lot of them were officers.  Funny thing about Central YMCA; you you had cops, and you had crumbs.  You know, so it was a really interesting combination. But the officers, I met this one guy, and I used to play racquetball a lot.  And so, I kinda told him what was going on.  And so, he came and he stood by.  He did what you call the standby, while I packed everything up to move out. Now, I’m standing there in the hallway and I’m thinking: Okay, so where do I go now?  So, he called a friend of his, who talked to another friend, and then I swear it was no more than maybe an hour later and he says: Okay, come with me, I’ve got a place for you to stay.  And so, this lady, her name’s Marsha, and she lives in Seattle now. But she had a studio apartment out in Makiki.  She actually allowed me to come to her studio and live on her floor, not even knowing me from Adam.  I mean, I could have been a serial killer, for all she knew.  But you know, this lady, a nice Japanese lady, she let me come, she let me sleep on her floor.  For four months, I was there, until another studio came open in the same building.  It was a little walkup in Makiki.  And you know, I mean, she taught me so much.  She taught me about taking your shoes off, going in.  You know.  The guys at the Central Y took me to the Korean bar for the first time, which was really an experience.

 

You know.

 

I mean, she was an awesome cook, too.  So, you know, I mean, I got to—

 

Local foods.

 

All the local foods.  I mean, you know, if it wasn’t for the folks at the Y, and then for Marsha, I’m sure that there was no way I would have stayed over here.

 

And what happened to the boyfriend?

 

You know, I don’t know.  I saw him one time, in town.  But I don’t know if he went back to the mainland, or if he’s even still over here.

 

So, you had to make a decision that enough is enough.

 

Yeah; enough is enough.  And you know, at that point, I said: You know, nobody’s gonna ever touch me again. You hit me, and literally, you’ll be dead.  Because you know, there’s no way that I would allow that to ever happen.  And you know, sometimes, you know, you just have to stand up for yourself.  And thank God that I learned to be independent, so the fear of going out on my own was not something that I was worried about.  You know, because, you know, especially if you’re young.  You know, if you’re young, it’s like you don’t worry about a lot of things, that you know, if they happen when you’re older that, you know, you can, you can just go forward and make it happen. Yeah.

 

When you came here, what did you think of the mix of races?

 

It was really a culture shock, because you know, you had all these people who didn’t look like you.  And so, you look around, and it’s like: Ooh, okay.  And then, you know, people would explain to me about all the customs and everything else.  And I was like: Wow, okay.

 

It’s a lot to take in.

 

It was; it’s a lot to take in.  And then obviously, you know, sometimes, you know, the discrimination against being Caucasian, Haole, whatever when I first got here.  And I think I took the bus for the first and got lost.  I ended up going around the island to get to Ala Moana Shopping Center ‘cause I didn’t know what I was doing.  I remember I was on the bus one time, and this guy looks at me and says: Eh, you F-ing Haole, get in the back of the bus.  And me, I’m just oblivious.  I’m like: Oh, who are you talking to?  I had no idea.  And it was the first time.  Because being from the South, I mean, basically you have Black and you have White. I mean, it’s pretty much that’s it. You come over here, and you know, all of a sudden you’re in a minority.  And it was something that I never really experienced before, you know, any type of racism, and it was sort of an eye-opening experience.  In the first six months, I was almost ready to pack up and leave.  But it was like all of a sudden at six months, you know, I looked around, and I was like … well, once again, people are just who they.  And it’s not like, you know, well, what is her nationality? I don’t know.  I mean, you know, Asian.  Are they Japanese, Chinese?  I don’t know; they’re just people.  What difference does it make?  You know. And so, it was, it was really a learning experience, and I absolutely love it because I love all the culture, the different cultures and stuff.  But you know, once again, you had to learn because you didn’t want to offend anybody.

 

Let’s see; you’re eight months into your five-year term as police chief.

 

Right.

 

You’ve gone through a lot of things.  Is there a common thread?  I mean, how do you decide?  ‘Cause you’ve always been in positions where you might be a one-of.

 

Yeah.

 

How do you know who you are?

 

You know, I’ve always tried to be myself.  I never tried to be someone I’m not.

 

You didn’t try to emulate anyone?

 

No; not really.  I mean, you know, as I was growing up, there really was nobody that I really wanted to emulate.  So, I sort of developed who I was along the way.  A good example is like, you know, on the weekends, I just wear my hamajang shorts and tee-shirts.  And people go: Oh, you’re the chief, you should dress up.  I’m going: No, that’s not who I am.  You know, and it’s the same thing about, you know, wearing makeup and things like that.  You know, ‘cause when I first became chief, they put all this makeup on me and made me take this picture.  And I saw it, and I said: No, take that down; I look like a hoochie-koochie mama.

 

You know.  But I just try to be true to who I am.  You know, I don’t want to be someone that I’m not.  Sometimes, I say things that you know, afterwards, they’re going: We can’t believe you said that.  But I mean, you know, that’s how I am.  You know, I try and be cognizant, and make sure that, you know, I don’t say anything inappropriate, you know, considering my position now.  But sometimes, it just comes out.  And honestly, you know what the best compliment I’ve gotten throughout my career with the police department, and even up to being chief, is people tell me: You have not changed one bit from the time that you became a police officer.  And that is probably one of the biggest compliments that they could have ever given me.

 

You’re at what, thirty-three years and counting in police work.

 

Yep; August 22nd, I’ll make thirty-three years.  Yeah.

 

We continue our conversation with Susan Ballard about her path to becoming Honolulu Police chief in the next Long Story Short.  Mahalo to Susan Ballard of Kailua, O‘ahu for sharing your story with us.  And mahalo to you, for joining us.  For PBS Hawai‘i and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha nui.

 

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

 

 

I know you always have loved pets.

 

Yes.

 

Is it since you were a little girl?

 

It was. I’ve always had either a dog or a cat, you know, in the family and stuff.  So, I’ve always been a consummate animal lover.  So, currently, I have three dogs.  I have Mango, who’s an English Setter; he’s the youngest.  And then, Kai; he’s a Golden Retriever.  And then, Kona, who’s the oldest, and she’s a Border Collie/Spaniel mix.  And she’s the boss of all three of ‘em.  And then, of course, I can’t forget Koa Kitty, who’s my cat who has no eyes.  He was born without any eyes.

 

How did you come to be his owner?

 

His mom.

 

Mom.

 

Yes; his cat mom.  Well, believe it or not, I actually happened to be on Craigslist, which you should never go on Craigslist.

 

Never, ever, ever, when it comes to animals, ‘cause there’s just a million of ‘em out there that need to get adopted.  I emailed, and so, this wonderful couple emailed back, and so we arranged to meet out in Waipahu.  Well, that’s all you need, of course.  Yeah. Okay; I got me a sucker, you know. So, I went down there, and I met them, and that’s how I ended up getting Koa Kitty.

 

And it worked out with the dogs?

 

It’s worked out well, and the cat walks around.  He’s learned how to go in and out the doggy doors.  I mean, the cat is absolutely amazing.  He’s been a wonderful addition to our family.

 

 


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