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INSIGHTS ON PBS HAWAI‘I : Quality of Life on Maui

 

INSIGHTS ON PBS HAWAI‘I presents a series exploring the quality of life on each island, with residents from each island driving the conversations. What issues matter most to each island? These episodes are a precursor to our upcoming Election 2018 coverage. Our Quality of Life series continues with a focus on the community issues that are of most concern for Maui residents.

 

Join us during our live discussion by phoning in, or leaving us a comment on Facebook or Twitter. INSIGHTS is also live streamed on pbshawaii.org and Facebook Live.

 

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

 

Email:
insights@pbshawaii.org

 

Facebook:
Visit the PBS Hawai‘i Facebook page.

 

Twitter:
Join our live discussion using #pbsinsights

 

 


LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Fred Hemmings

 

Fred Hemmings has lived life as a waterman, an entrepreneur and a lawmaker – but he says he’s most proud of being a “local boy.” He shares his experience growing up in Honolulu in the ’50s and ’60s surfing alongside Duke Kahanamoku in Waikīkī, and how his time as an amateur surfer led him to a career that championed professional surfing.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, Apr. 1, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

Fred Hemmings Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

Have you ever had a spill, where you thought you were gonna die?

 

Yes; yeah.

 

Held underwater?

 

Yes; it’s the worst way to die.

 

Do you know which way is up when you’re down there?

 

No, because for a minute, you’re in sheer terror, thinking you’re gonna die. And one of the things you tell yourself on a big wave wipeout is, you don’t take your death breath. There’s a point where your body says you gotta take a breath, and it takes a breath, and you swallow water and you die. So, it is an absolutely terrifying feeling. Yeah. But you only feel it if you live.

 

Fred Hemmings has had many death-defying experiences that he lived to tell about. Waterman, entrepreneur, lawmaker; he’s done it all. And not for love of money; mostly for the sheer enjoyment of doing it. Fred Hemmings, 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. Ask anyone who Fred Hemmings is, and you’ll get a wide range of answers: legendary surfer, channel winning canoe paddler and steersman, professional surfing contest producer, marathon runner, national television sports commentator, State Representative and State Senator, and back in the day, a Punahou School football player on a renowned championship team. Retired now, Fred Hemmings has been all of these things during his lifetime. Yet, for all of his endeavors and accomplishments, there’s one description that he is most proud of: local boy. It speaks not only to his family roots, but to his pride in his island home. The third of six children, he grew up in Honolulu in the 1950s and 60s in a landscape that is unrecognizable today.

 

I count as one of my greatest fortunes, besides my family, being born and raised in Hawai‘i. My roots are very deep in Hawai‘i. My mother’s side of the family, which is Portuguese, got here in 1881 from Funchal, Madeira, Portugal of a Portuguese island. And my dad got here in 1925 from New York City, as a young boy. We were a home of modest means. We weren’t by any means wealthy. And you know, we lived rather frugally. It was an interesting time. Lived in Kaimukī; born and raised in Kaimukī. Kaimukī boy.

 

You also lived in Kāhala, though.

 

I lived in Kāhala uh, when it was pig farms, and farms.

 

And it was all muddy, it had dirt roads.

 

Oh, there were basically three paved roads: Aukai, Kāhala Avenue, and Kealaolu that goes along the edge of the golf course. I lived on the next road up from Aukai; it was called Farmers Road, and it was a dirt road.

 

And there was a reason it was called Farmers Road.

 

Exactly.

 

People don’t realize that now, perhaps.

 

Yes; yes. Between Farmers Road and Kaimukī, there was no houses, because there was no subdivision. And it was three-acre farm lots.   Bishop Estate, which owned it all, had three-acre farm lots. And my grandfather, Arthur Freitas, a gentleman of Portuguese ancestry, and a great bon vivant, what a character he was. He raised horses. So, we had three horses, and we lived on a three and a half acre farm lot along with mostly Japanese farmers who were growing lettuce, cabbage, and other things in Kāhala. But Farmers Road was a farmers’ road. I went to Star of the Sea, a Catholic school, you know, my early years, a kindergartner. I went to Star of the Sea when it was still across from the old Keokara Store. There was no Kāhala. Keokara was on the corner of what now would be Kilauea and Wai‘alae Avenue. And across the street was the old Hung Wai Gee that then turned into Star of the Sea School. And so, it was the old Hung Wai Gee. Classic; you know, the wood buildings and all of that. So, that’s where I started school.

 

Your mother was Portuguese.

 

Yes.

 

Your dad, English-Irish.

 

Right.

 

What was your family culture like?

 

You know, there’s really something funny. As rough and tough as my father was, hard-drinking, you know, a real rugged guy, the facts are that Portuguese women, they’re even tougher. But she was real quiet, you know, but ultimately, my mother would rule the day. And she instilled in us a lot of the values that I think have been an asset in my life. Most especially, I think values that come from what I call the holy trinity of humankind. You know, we’re physical beings, and we nourish that through exercise and good health and eating habits. We’re intellectual beings; we nourish it through education. But most importantly, I think is, we’re spiritual beings, and who we are, the goodness of who we are is our spiritual being. And my mother, in her own way, being a Catholic and being the way she was, she nourished honest, hardworking, spiritual values that I think endure throughout the betterment of humankind. So, she was something special.

 

What were you like as a kid? You said your dad was rough and ready; were you?

 

We all had nicknames; my dad named us. My sister was Big C; my brother Mark was Butchie. My nickname was Bully Beef.

 

Because?

 

I was a bully beef kinda kid. You know, I was a rough, tough, rolling around, rough ‘em up kid.

 

Does that mean you were a bully?

 

No; it just meant rough.

 

Bully.

 

Yeah, yeah.

 

I know what you mean.

 

Bully, bully, bully boy, you know.

 

Yeah.

 

Bully boy kind guy.

 

So, you’re always ready to wrestle, or whatever it was.

 

Yeah, yeah. Yeah. And being a hard-headed young boy of Portuguese ancestry, if anybody would give me any grief, you know, I wouldn’t back away. I got in my fair share of fights when I was kid.

 

When you say your fair share, what does that mean? In connection with Portuguese ancestry?

 

Well, you know how kids are. No, kids argue about all kinds of different thing. And you know, like if I got off the bus in Kaimukī from Punahou, I was all of a sudden a Haole getting off the bus from Punahou. You know. When I was at Punahou, I was Fred Hemmings the Portagee. But when I got off the Punahou bus in Kaimukī, because I was getting off a Punahou bus, I was a Haole. So, guys would make remarks. Eh, Haole; eh, Haole. You’re too young to remember this, but they’d say: Eh, you like beef?

 

Oh, I remember that.

 

You remember that? You like beef? Eh, punk, you like beef? And I’d say, yeah.

 

And it was because of your ethnicity?

 

Because they perceived me as a Punahou Haole. It was stereotyping of the worst sorts. You know.

 

And on the Punahou side, they said what?

 

I was a Portagee; Fred Hemmings the Portagee.

 

And what did that connote in those days?

 

I wasn’t one of them. You know, I’m a kid, and I’d say: Well, I’m really not one of these guys, I’m not a wealthy Caucasian; I’m a Portagee at Punahou. You know. And I was on financial aid, and I worked in the cafeteria. One of my claims to fame is, my Aunt Min Marciel introduced the malasadas to the Punahou carnival.

 

There you go. So, did that do the trick? Did you feel like one of the bunch?

 

Nah … I’ve always taken pride in my Portuguese heritage.

 

And you distinguished yourself at Punahou as an athlete.

 

M-hm.

 

In those days, football was everything.

 

Oh, gosh.

 

And you surfed as a recreational fun thing.

 

I grew up in a surfing family. My dad and Lex Brodie surfed together in Waikīkī as young boys. They both went to Roosevelt together. And so, my playground when I was kid wasn’t on a baseball field or anything; it was the surf at Waikīkī, where I learned to surf. And one of the greatest blessings in my life is growing up in the shadow of Duke Kahanamoku and the other beach boys. But my father wanted me to be a football player. ‘Cause he played football at Roosevelt, I was gonna play football. So, I got involved in Pop Warner Football, and I did pretty well at it.

 

What position did you play?

 

Funny story; let me tell you. I found out in my senior year at Punahou when I played with Charlie Wedemeyer, the ILH championship was a real big deal back then.

 

Absolutely.

 

‘Cause that was the only game in town. I found out I was pretty fast and could run well. ‘Cause I was linebacker and, you know, all these little, scrawny little running backs would come out of the backfield, and I’d nail ‘em like a heat-seeking missile. I should have been a running back, but I had polio. Four of the children that were alive in the early 50s, we all had polio. And so, my father decided in his mind that I was a plug, that I couldn’t fun fast ‘cause the polio was lumbar polio, and my legs were quite weak for a while. I had to do a lot of things at Shriners Hospital to rehab my legs. Didn’t cripple me, but it made me not be able to run fast. So, my father said: You’ve gotta play on the line. So, I ended up playing on offensive center in middle line, which is kinda fun. Not as fun as running with the ball and making a touchdown, you know, ‘cause linemen, they don’t get any credit. We just block and get our butts kicked. But it was great.

 

When did you get polio?

 

1952.

 

So, you were just a little kid.

 

Yeah. It was just weak legs for a while, and I eventually rebounded out of it. And within two or three years, you know, I was running and jumping around like any normal kid.

 

But your dad had a sense that you could use your legs, but not fast.

 

Exactly. In his mind, I was a plug. And he’d call me that, too.

 

Oh; what did that do? Did that make you feel bad, or did it make you want to …

 

Oh, I believed him. Yeah. That’s one thing parents should really learn is, be careful of what you say to your kids. ‘Cause they’re more than likely gonna believe you. And so, always plant seeds of confidence and goodness with your kids.

 

So now, you realize that you could run fast, and knock people down.

 

Yeah; by the time I was a senior at Punahou playing with Charlie Wedemeyer, I was playing on the line now. We used to play both ways; offensive line, and then defense. I was a linebacker, and I could run down the little backs, and you know, like I said, nail ‘em. And I said: Eh, I’m not that slow, I could have been a running back.

 

And that was a great team you were on.

 

Oh, it was unbelievable. I’ll never forget, Leslie, what a thrill. November, Turkey Day of 1964, we took a bus with a police escort to the old Honolulu Stadium. We warmed up on our field, not in the stadium, and they were all wondering where’s the Punahou team. And we took a bus. We ran off the bus through the portal, and right onto the field to play the game. And I was one of the captains. And we beat Kamehameha. We were tied; we’d gone through the whole season, Kamehameha had lost a game, we’d lost a game. So, Turkey Day was for the championship. And there were twenty-five thousand plus people in the old Termite Palace, which was the stadium. There were folding chairs along the edge of the field so they could maximize the crowd. And we ran onto the field, and at the end of the game, we won twenty to six. We beat Kamehameha for the championship. Which back then was a real big deal; ILH champions.

 

Fred Hemmings grew up surfing in Waikīkī. He competed in amateur surfing events around the globe, winning many of them. This was during the 1960s, when the surfing craze was taking over the nation, and Hemmings saw an economic opportunity.

 

I didn’t go to college. I went to college for one year at UH, and then I quit to start professional surfing and start the business of professional surfing. I went surfing, basically. But I’m telling all my grandkids, and as I told my children: You’ve gotta go to college if you want to be successful. But as fate would have it, not going to college was, in a curious way a blessing for me, because I didn’t have an occupation. I could go where my nose took me in life. I surfed with the greatest surfers of the 20th century and in the 60s. Joey Cabell, Paul Strauch, and then a guy who was the first Pipeline which history has forgotten, a guy named Butch Van Artsdalen, and myself were the Duke’s surf team.

 

You also mentioned that Duke Kahanamoku was perhaps one of the greatest citizens of Hawaii you’ve ever met.

 

When I was a little boy, back then, lot of local guys would call the younger boy: Eh, boy. You’d never say the name. He wouldn’t say Fred; Eh, boy. But then, I got to be a member when I got to be a fairly good surfer; I got put on the Duke’s surf team, and I traveled with Duke. I think I can honestly say the most beloved citizen of Hawai‘i, the person we loved the most because of the content of his spirit, not his accomplishments, was Duke. A handsome Hawaiian, a man who knew no malice or negative.

 

So, you were an amateur surfer. Surfing in competitions, you did well in competitions.

 

Yeah; I did pretty good. I never surfed professionally. I started professional surfing. Surfing had grown under the leadership of a guy named Eduardo Arena of Peru, and he developed a world surfing championship. They held the first one in Peru in ’65, and then they held one in San Diego, and finally went to Puerto Rico when I competed in it and did pretty good. It’s their fiftieth anniversary this year. I read a poem, probably the only thing I ever remember, poetry in school; it was by A.E. Housman. It said: Smart lad, to slip betimes away, From fields where glory does not stay, And early though the laurel grows, It withers quicker than the rose. It was about an athlete who died young, and they were carrying him through the town. And laurel would never wither, because he got buried as a champion. And what that said to me was that, leave the field when you’re a champion. You know, don’t become a has-been. And I didn’t want to become a has-been, but I also saw the economic opportunity of starting professional surfing. I got hired by the Smirnoff to put on their meet, which originally was California, and then it moved here. And the following year, in 1971, I started the Pipeline Masters, which believe it or not, is in its forty-eighth year. Gosh; I think I was eight years old when I started it.

 

And you’re not involved in it anymore?

 

No; I sold my proprietary—same thing with my life. In 1988, I was really proud Leslie. I had surfing events on all three television networks. This was before there was cable television.

 

While Fred Hemmings was busy with his amateur and professional surfing careers, there was another sport that was close to his heart. He was a champion outrigger canoe steersman.

 

I learned to steer a canoe in an old koa boat called the Ka Moi. It’s now hanging in the bar of the Outrigger.

 

That’s the other thing; you were a member of the Outrigger Canoe Club, even though, as you say, you’re a family of modest means.

 

Right.

 

How did that happen?

 

That happened very modestly. You know, we couldn’t charge in the snack bar or anything, but we were all members ‘cause my dad wanted us to paddle and surf, and he wanted us to be members of the Outrigger. And we were. And you know, the Outrigger is like Punahou; people can sometimes stereotype the Outrigger. But I’m so proud of the Outrigger. It has really contributed significantly to watersports in Hawai‘i. Outrigger paddlers and surfers have been amongst the world’s best. It’s won more Moloka‘i to Oahu canoe races than any other club.

 

So, it was your hangout when you were in school?

 

Paddled every summer. You know, we had regattas. Back when I started paddling, there were no fiberglass canoes, there was only koa canoes.

 

And they were heavy.

 

Oh, yeah.

 

What about the paddles?

 

The paddles were wood and very heavy. Yeah. But things have changed, progress. But to the credit of canoe paddling, they’ve done an excellent job of preserving the integrity of the sport.

 

And you’re a steersman. So, that’s a very key position on the boat. All of them are key positions, but you call the shots on the boat. What does a steersman do? Maybe you could explain all the things.

 

You’re very intuitive that way. I used to steer, and I was very much the boss of the boat. The steersman thinks about the course, the steersman thinks about working the ocean, working the wind, how to avoid currents. And there’s a thousand things a good steersman should learn about. When you’re in the Molokai race, is the tide coming in? If it is, you run a little more inshore, because it runs faster near the shore. The tide’s going out, you stay away ‘cause it’s pulling Makapu‘u from Moloka‘i. So, there’s all these little subtleties to being a good steersman, that the steersman should worry about. Of course, in the regatta season when they race around flags, it’s a little different.

 

Your family seems to have a steersman gene. Don’t you have generations of steersmen in your family?

 

Four.

 

Four?

 

My grandson Trevor, who’s sixteen now, just won the state varsity paddling championship, steering at Punahou. So, he’s a fourth generation canoe paddler steersman. Which is something; fourth generation. My dad, my son. My son’s won a couple Moloka‘is. He’s real good.

 

I saw a photo of you surfing this huge wave in a canoe.

 

Yeah.

 

Where was that?

 

A place called Castles. Ancient times, it was called Kalehuawehe. Those swells come from New Zealand. They come actually five thousand miles; it takes them ten days to get here. And by the time they get here, if it’s a really huge swell, it can get up to fifteen feet out at Castles. It’s where Duke got his legendary ride in 1917, from out at Castles.

 

Have you ever had a spill, where you thought you were gonna die?

 

Yes; yeah.

 

Held underwater?

 

Yes; it’s the worst way to die.

 

Do you know which way is up when you’re down there?

 

No, because for a minute, you’re in sheer terror, thinking you’re gonna die. And one of the things you tell yourself on a big wave wipeout is, you don’t take your death breath. There’s a point where your body says you gotta take a breath, and it takes a breath, and you swallow water and you die. So, it is an absolutely terrifying feeling. Yeah. But you only feel it if you live. So, I can remember a couple times. Yeah.

 

And how did you break out of it? How did you get free?

 

You finally break the surface and you take a breath. And you know, you live.

 

You were able to endure until you can get out, get up.

 

Well, once you get your air back in your lungs, you know, the next wave comes. What happens when you wipe out is, the water in the surf line is usually moving. ‘Cause once a wave breaks, it becomes moving. You get pushed in. That’s where rip currents come from. So, you get pushed in enough where you’re not in the lineup for the next wave, usually. So, the next wave hits, you know, it’s soda water. You just dive under it. You know. And when you wipe out on a big wave … this was before you could get towed in; you had to paddle in. So, you’re taking a lot of your energy; it’s like running, and then, you jump in a washing machine. And usually, when you wipe out, you get—pah! You know, you smack the water. So, you put all those combination things; you don’t get held under much longer than twenty seconds, but that’s plenty enough to drown. ‘Cause you don’t have any air. And you know, when you suck in a breath of air, that air goes to the muscles that are working. And so, you can try to release quick. But fortunately, you know, most of us made it successfully. There are some that haven’t, though.

 

When you’ve had a close call like that, how long does it take you to go back into the water, in big water?

 

As long as it takes to get your board, and go back out.

 

Fred Hemmings continued to take ocean risks that could have ended in disaster, and he took some hits on land, too. It wasn’t until he had a particularly harrowing tree-cutting accident that he started thinking differently.

 

I’ve had my share of accidents. I cut my toe off; three of my toes off with a lawnmower. The worst one was actually pretty serious, and this happened late in 2015. I was sawing down a tree along the side of the road, and it fell down and it kicked back, and it hit me in the chest and broke eight of my ribs, punctured my lung, and crushed my shoulder.

 

Were you alone?

 

By myself; yeah. I’ll never forget this. So, I flew through the air. You know how they say when you die, you relive your life. I said to myself: Oh, S, I killed myself. Then I blacked out, and then, I finally came to, and I couldn’t move the side of my body. It was a real funny feeling. And I reached into my pocket and grabbed cell phone, and I called some people, and they called the ambulance. But then, when I went to the hospital, they OD’d me on opioids, and my heart stopped, and they had to jolt me back. So, I’m very cautious now when I do yardwork.

 

But you still do yardwork?

 

Little bit.

 

Did your life change because of life-threatening incidents like that? Have you changed your life any?

 

I’ve had a lot of life-threatening incidences. But this one did change me. All the rest, like almost dying in the surf, and you know, having all these other perilous situations I’ve been in; you know, I’ve done a lot of things that are kind of on the edge. But that did change my life.

 

How so?

 

I was scared.

 

Of?

 

Death.

 

Mm. And so, you’re careful?

 

Yeah. You’re scared of losing not your life; you’re scared of losing your grandkids, and your family, and you know, things you love.

 

Yeah.

 

So, it’s a strange feeling.

 

Mortality.

 

Yes; mortality. Exactly. I used to, with reckless abandon, take the canoe out to Castles to ride big waves in a canoe. I’m a little gun shy now; I’m not gonna take a chance that’s gonna kill me. You know, when you’re younger, you know, that’s part of the DNA of humankind. There are some guys that got that alpha gene, that they’re gonna risk their life, and that’s what progressed humanity, is the guys that leave the safety of the status quo and venture. You know, it’s a star trek gene, I call it. It’s the genetics of star trek, to go where no one’s gone before. That’s what advances humanity.

 

Are you saying you had that before, but now, you’re reining that in?

 

I had it in spades. I mean, I had it triple-time. And now, well, I’m also seventy-two years old, so I don’t have to go. I’m done there. You know, I’ve done my star trek going places where no one’s gone before; big waves, politics, surfing, paddling. You know, I’ve pretty much done everything I’ve wanted to do.

 

What’s your goal now?

 

What’s my goal?

 

Yep.

 

My goal is to enjoy my family and loved ones with the remaining years I have, and to rekindle friendships with friends around the world and nourish, you know, relationships. I’m not a very materialistic guy. I drive a Honda; you know, I’m not a high-end guy. I don’t need to go to fancy restaurants.

 

You don’t hire a yardman. Or maybe you do now.

 

No, I don’t.

 

You don’t?

 

I still do a little bit of my own yardwork. You know, the family compound, we have some guys that come in and help out. But I’m a good supavisah.

 

I can ‘em where to go.

 

So, you’ve never regretted that you didn’t go for riches, you went for experience?

 

Exactly. That’s a good thing. I pay my bills, but I’m not a rich man. I have a beautiful family, and I pay my bills, and I’m able to put food on the table, and that’s rich enough for me. And what’s really nice now for me is, I’m at the age where I can travel to other places and have friends. I love going to Peru, and I have a lot of friends around the world that I can occasionally visit, and they visit here. So, it’s a rich life without a lot of money.

 

Besides being a legendary waterman, Fred Hemmings is probably best remembered as a rare Republican State Senator in Hawai‘i. And he brought the first surf shop to Ala Moana Center. In 2017, he wrote a book, Local Boy, a memoir. Mahalo to Fred Hemmings of Lanikai, Windward Oahu, for sharing your stories with us. And thank 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 would run at night. I wouldn’t go to bed; I’d meet a buddy at nine-thirty, ten o’clock at night, and run in the mountains. And so, I wrote about it in the book; it’s under Running. It says: One of the most beautiful moments ever was when Kent and I were running the Maunawili Trail to Waimanalo on a cool, full moon night. About halfway to Waimanalo, we rounded the Ko‘olau Ridge that was high promontory. It was very still and eerie, and quiet. The luminescent moon was bright, casting a blue hue over the Windward Coast. It was ethereal. We stopped running, and pulled plastic ponchos from out butt packs and lied next to the trail, and basked in the soft light of the eerie night. Surely, God was on the high altar on the Ko‘olau Ridge. He touched us. So, that’s a message, I think, that I learned, that you know, money can’t buy that, those moments. You know, we have such great gifts, if we take the time to appreciate ‘em. You don’t have to be a rich fat cat, or you don’t have to have a fancy car. You don’t need to go to, you know, wherever to be happy. You take it in your own spirit, what you appreciate in life.

 

 

PBS HAWAI‘I PRESENTS
Under a Jarvis Moon

 

This film tells the story of 130 young men from Hawaii who, from the late 1930s through the early years of World War II, were part of a clandestine mission by the U.S. federal government to occupy desert islands in the middle of the Pacific. The first wave of these colonists was a group of Hawaiian high school students, chosen because government officials assumed Pacific Islanders could best survive the harsh conditions present on the tiny, isolated islands. For the young men, who were unaware of the true purpose of their role as colonists, what ensued is a tale of intrigue, courage, and ultimately, tragedy.

 

 

PBS HAWAI‘I PRESENTS
Voyage of the Hōkūle‘a

 

Witness Hōkūle‘a’s inaugural 1976 journey from Hawai‘i to Tahiti, the preparations leading up to it, and the behind-the-scenes turmoil that threatened to derail the voyage. Rifts are seen among leadership, between leadership and the crew, and among crewmembers. The film by Dale Bell was co-produced by the National Geographic Society and WQED Pittsburgh.

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Henry Rice

 

A direct descen­dant of a missionary family, Henry Rice’s roots run deep in upcountry Maui. His grandfather purchased Ka­onoulu Ranch a century ago, and with roughly 10,000 acres of land stretching from the top of Haleakala to Maui’s south shore, it remains one of the few nearly intact ahupua‘a left in Hawai‘i. After a stint as a banking executive in Honolulu, he returned to Maui and his paniolo origins, and continues to honor the traditions passed down to him.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, Nov. 1, at 11:00 pm and Sunday, Nov. 5, at 4:00 pm.

 

Henry Rice Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

Does it irk you, though, to be a missionary descendant, and to hear comments about missionaries taking advantage and getting rich?

 

Getting rich off the Hawaiians. I think a lot of that … in some ways, I do. But I tend to get it corrected in what they did well, and why they did well at it.

 

His family arrived in Hawai‘i around 1840, after a long journey from New York around Cape Horn. He describes himself as a Caucasian with a Hawaiian cultural background. Growing up, he didn’t need toys; just his horses, Nellie and Kamehameha, and the slopes of upcountry Maui. Next, on Long Story Short, Henry Rice.

 

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

 

Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Henry Rice is a third generation rancher and former bank executive from Kula, Maui. His family’s century-old ranch named Kaonoulu, which means the good or plentiful breadfruit, is one of the few nearly intact ahupuaa left in Hawai‘i. The ranchlands span from the top of Haleakala down toward the shores of Kihei. Kaonoulu Ranch, now roughly ten thousand acres in size, has been in operation since the Hawaiian Monarchy. Henry Rice is a direct descendant from a missionary family.

 

Well, I think it goes back to they came here in about 1840, 1841.

 

What for?

 

On my father’s side, the Rice side, was William Harrison Rice. And he came here as a missionary. My grandmother’s side, which was the Baldwin side, they came here as a doctor. When they first got here, William Harrison was actually to go on down to the South Pacific; the Society Islands. He got ill here, and so, he and his wife stayed here, and consequently, never did get down permanently to the South Pacific.

 

And where were they from?

 

East Coast; New York.

 

And what generation are you on down the line?

 

Fifth, if I count correctly. Yeah. Because it would have been William Harrison Rice, then William Hyde Rice, then my grandfather Pop, then my father, and then myself. So, we’re fifth generation.

 

And the family business was not being a missionary; that ended with that generation?

 

Yeah.

 

How did ranching get into the family blood and property?

 

Well, I would say, really, Pop Rice.

 

Was he already a rancher?

 

No; he grew up on Kauai with his brothers and sisters, and moved to Maui in the sugar business, and also in the fruit growing business in Haiku. And it was there on Maui that he met his bride, Charlotte Baldwin, who was Henry P. Baldwin’s daughter. And they got married there on Maui, and lived on Maui. Our ranch is probably one of the last ahupua‘as on the island, running from the top of Haleākala Crater down to the beach. Going back further, it was under King Kamehameha IV. It was this huge tract of land from mountain to ocean was given to, or deeded to a Hawaiian. And then, that was about in mid-1800s.

 

Do you know what Hawaiian family?

 

It’s Kaoahokoloi. And then, the ranch itself, which is the Kaonoulu Ahupuaa, eventually ended up in farming with a Chinese person by the name of Young Hee. And Young Hee in turn, in the early 1900s, about 1902, sold it to Colonel William Cornwell, who at that time was a sugar grower on Waikapui. Then my grandfather, Pop Rice, purchased it from Colonel William Cornwell’s daughter, who was married to John Walker. And he purchased it in 1916 from them.

 

How much did it cost?

 

It’s always been a wonder. Everybody has wondered about that.

 

headed the ranch and the lands before you did?

 

He was a very large person, with a very large voice. Very heavily involved in politics, but ranching was his life and his love. But he was never afraid to try something new, and he was always experimenting with a farming operation, a large piggery.

 

Was he fair?

 

Very fair, and very well appreciated by our neighbors. I always admired; in different walks of life, people would come up and tell me of things that he did. But he was a very modest man, and he was very much below the radar in that aspect. Very above the radar in politics.

 

What kind of politics?

 

State Senate. He was a longtime Republican, but then, I think it was back in the late 30s, he switched to Democrat. He rode his own trail.

 

So, that’s a large legacy. You know, that’s your grandfather. What was your father like? Did he also live large?

 

He was very much under the radar; very much under the radar. And he did not like politics, per se. His integrity and character was something that I always admired. You know, at one time, he was head of the Maui Police Commission. At one time, he was head of the Maui Water Department, which was at that time autonomous to the county government. He was a very influential person in my life.

 

So, he didn’t run for office, but he was appointed to office.

 

Yes; right.

 

He was also in public roles, but in an appointed fashion.

 

That’s correct; yeah. But he was a wonderful person.

 

When you say his integrity always impressed you, do you remember as a little kid feeling like, Wow, my father is really a straight, fair guy?

 

Absolutely.

 

Do you remember anything?

 

Oh, there are just numerous incidents. And that’s the beauty of growing up on the ranch, was the ability to work side-by-side with your father every summer as a small child, growing up to when I went away to college. Then after college, we were weaned.

 

So, you rode alongside him, and worked alongside him in the office?

 

There was no office.

 

No office?

 

It was always horseback.

 

The office was out on a horse back.

 

The office was down in Wailuku, and we didn’t go there.

 

What did the paniolos you worked with teach you about life? Lots of Hawaiian families have grown up on your ranch.

 

Yeah; yeah. What’d they teach me about life?

 

Yep.

 

I think the first thing that comes to my mind is the importance of the ‘aina, the land. And that in Hawaii, it is very important to have good stewardship of your lands, that lands in Hawaii should never been taken for granted, and that you’re responsible for good stewardship. That, followed with a lot of good fun.

 

In addition to laborious duties on the family ranch, Henry Rice did make time for fun, and took advantage of the open country on Maui.

 

I grew up in our family home in Makawao, which is a home above Makawao. The ranch had a few hundred acres in Makawao there, so it was where the horses were all kept. And in our yard, I had two horses, Nellie and Kamehameha, that I rode all the time. It was mostly outdoors you made your own fun.

 

So, you raced; did you play polo?

 

I played a lot of polo. A hard, but a very fun sport. I was very, very lucky in that my years in polo, I got to play for the Maui Polo Team. Probably the last Maui polo team to play outdoor polo at Kapi‘olani Park.

 

Yeah; so you came before the days of people staying inside with their digital devices and watching Netflix on their Smart TVs.

 

Right.

 

Always outdoors; nighttime too, campfires?

 

I think our best camping trips were during the summers, where we would get on our horses with my mother and father, and family, and packhorses and ride a whole day around the Island of Maui to an area called Waipai, and spend about five days over there, hunting goats and fishing. That was a lot of fun. And then, ride all the way back.

 

As a teenager, Henry Rice traded in his daily life of horseback riding in open spaces for city life on Oahu.

 

Afterwards, then came down to Honolulu to go to school here.

 

Did you board?

 

At Punahou. Yes; we boarded. And then, on to Fort Collins, Colorado at Colorado State University.

 

Why did you go to Colorado State?

 

Well, number one, I had a very good scholarship to go there. Secondly, I knew some people from Hawai‘i that were already going to Colorado. And I knew they had a good ag school, and I was gonna major in animal husbandry. And so, the combination, ‘cause I had never been off to the mainland before, knowing that some people that were already going there was a big influence. There was a Hawaiian gal, and her name escapes me right now, that was going to Colorado State University. She came from the Big Island. And she was a friend of Sandy’s. She’s the one that said to me; she said, You ought to meet this lady, Sandy Goodfellow.

 

Did you know when you saw her, she would be your wife?

 

Very shortly after I met her, I knew. She was a very beautiful person, Sandy was, and still is.

 

It sounds like you intended to take over the family ranch after college.

 

No; no, no.

 

Even though you were majoring in animal husbandry? Which you already knew a lot about.

 

I think very early on, growing up on the ranch, and especially as we got into college and came back during the summers, it became very important in my father’s eyes, and I really thank him for this, that we get weaned and go out and find out own way, and gain some experience at other ranches. So, when you graduate, find a job.

 

M-hm.

 

But get it on another ranch.

 

But it was gonna be ranching?

 

It was gonna be ranching. And I started out at Moloka‘i Ranch. By then, I had gotten married to Sandy, the wife I have today. So, we moved in 1960 to Moloka‘i, where I was employed by Moloka‘i Ranch. And we were five years on Moloka‘i. They were wonderful years. God, this wonderful place. It still is a wonderful place. And I had always been interested in what made certain businesses successful, and what made the same type of business unsuccessful. When I made the change to go to Bank of Hawai‘i, a lot of that played a role in why would I leave ranching to go into banking. Primarily, at that time, Moloka‘i Ranch was negotiating with Louisiana Land Company to develop the west end of Moloka‘i. And so, the chairman of the board of the ranch was also the chairman of the board of Bank of Hawai‘i, and he thought it would be very good for me to go down and learn a little bit of land development and land financing, and get my feet wet there. So he, together with another person, Wilson Cannon, talked me into going down to the bank. So, Sandy and I picked up our two children who were born on Moloka‘i, and came down to Honolulu.

 

What did you start off as at the bank?

 

In the vault, counting currency, I think it was. Then I got moved up in the training session to a teller. But I could never balance.

 

So, they got me out of there fast.

 

So, you started kind of at the bottom?

 

At the bottom. It was fun. It was hard work in that I had to really grind myself into a lot of areas that I’d not touched before. Especially accounting and business financing, and credit. So, I did a lot of night schools.

 

You had connections, two generations, yourself and your daughter, with the family of Barack Obama.

 

My daughter uh, graduated with President Obama. They were in the same class together. My connection was, I worked for his grandmother, Madelyn Dunham, in part of going through the various parts of the Bank of Hawai‘i. In fact, I think I still have a couple of scars on my back from her.

 

She was known as a very strong woman.

 

She was an immense banker.

 

How did she leave those scars on your back?

 

Just because a of my stupidity of not doing things right.

 

But she was a marvelous person; marvelous person.

 

And then, you rose to become an executive in Honolulu.

 

I first became in charge of the corporate banking division, then did that for about five or six years. And then, moved over and became head of all retail banking units, domestically and internationally. And it was a lot of fun. What made it a lot of fun was, I was with good people all the time.

 

While ranching was profitable for Henry Rice’s grandfather in the early 20th century, by the 1950s, when Henry’s father Harold “Oskie” Rice and uncle Garfield King bought the ranch, it was a break even business. As time marched on, and as Henry Rice and the third generation came of age, the family was faced with tough decisions. They sold their coastal lands in Kihei to survive in the family business.

 

It was about ’81, ’82, early 80s, that we formed the family partnership. Then unfortunately, my father passed away in ’83, I think it was. And unexpectedly, my uncle passed away uh, in ’87. So, my cousin Charley King came on as a general partner, and my Aunt Mary came in as a general partner, and I was the managing general partner. But I was still at the bank, still enjoying my banking days there. But, I kid everyone. Finally, my Aunt Mary said that I’d been playing around long enough, and I had to come home and work.

 

I came home. The Pi‘ilani Highway down in South Kihei was being built, and it was gonna be cutting off a portion of our makai ranchlands. We got ourselves together, and said, You know, those lands are gonna become valuable. It was at that time that we made the decision, Okay, let’s entitle the lands below the Pi‘ilani Highway.

 

You sold the coastal lands.

 

Coastal lands; all the coastal lands. But we put it into other properties, which in turn then produce income. So that you would not wake up one day and say, Where’d all our assets go? We have three warehouses in Austin, three in Ontario, California, and a few others. Since then, the younger generation has brought on a commercial fence company that’s doing very well.

 

I presume your banking background, you were a banker for twenty-five years. That must have informed what happened to how you could support this wonderful land, where renting couldn’t do it.

 

Without it, I wouldn’t have been able to bring the ranch to its financial stability that it is now.

 

As the patriarch of the Rice family, Henry continues to honor the traditions of his family’s past, and values the importance of staying connected with his extended ‘ohana.

 

You work and live with lots of family. I think I read somewhere that at Thanksgiving, you have fifty-two people show up; they’re all family. I mean, you’re intermarried a lot in the Maui area, and then, you’re involved in business with family, which seems like a very hard thing to do, especially when it’s generational. How do you make that work? It can’t be all sweetness and light.

 

I tend to leave it to Sandy and Wendy.

 

My wife and my daughter. I try to stay out of the loop as much as possible. But, you know, we live in the ranch house, the old ranch house where my grandfather lived. And you know, in fact, this year it’s a hundred years old.

 

Congratulations. I hope you have new plumbing, though.

 

We do; we do. And Thanksgiving, even Easter, but not as big. But Christmas Day, families from all over come to the ranch. It’s an important aspect for me and Sandy that they enjoy that this is their land, this is their ‘aina, and the responsibility they have, but to be able to come together and enjoy a day together. Thanksgiving dinner; yes, gets up to forty-five, fifty sit-down dinner. We have to do a little rearranging in the living room, but they get it done.

 

You know, I’ve run into people who talk about having spent years on the ranch, and they always say the Rices take good care of their people. Meaning, their employees. How do you?

 

It’s a matter of how you’re brought up. You know, as the saying goes, you ride for the brand. Like in any business, whether you’re in very nice brick and mortar, it’s still the people that make the business a success or not. Our ranch foreman always said, Henry, you tighten your own girth, your own saddle girth, you’re responsible. But don’t forget, the guy next to you is gonna make you good or not good. And so, you just naturally take care, and they take care of you.

 

Over the last few years, Henry Rice has slowly handed over the reins of Kaonoulu Ranch to the fourth generation. Although he says he’s retired, he hasn’t quite ridden off into the sunset, and he serves as senior advisor to the ranch.

 

Even our own ranch, the transitioning of bringing in three general partners that are of the next generation, one being my daughter Wendy, and a new general manager Ken Miranda, who’s married to my niece, their ability to flow with new ideas, and take really careful calculated risks—not stupid risk, but calculated risk, is a lot better than in my time, where we tended to be more structured. I would say that’s biggest thing I’ve seen.

 

You don’t have trouble letting go of things; right? Your banking career. I mean, you seem like you’re ….

 

Always looking ahead. Never dwell on what you did in the past. I think it’s very important to look ahead all the time. For years, we had a foreman on our ranch, Ernest Morton, who was probably another one of my great mentors. He never looked backwards; he always looked at what was ahead. Never say whoa in a tight spot.

 

You can’t take the cowboy out of Henry Rice. Here he is, back in the saddle, helping with the cattle drive in July 2016. In April 2017, Henry was inducted into the Pani‘olo Hall of Fame in Waimea, Hawai‘i, taking his place among revered Hawaiian cowboys of past and present. Mahalo to Henry Rice of Kula, Maui for sharing your story with us. And thank you for joining us. For PBS Hawai‘i and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha, a hui hou.

 

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

 

You know, you’re very self-deprecating. You know, you say you leave the family stuff to Wendy and your daughter, and you know, the younger generation is smarter than you are. Were you always this modest, or at some point, was there—

 

I’m not very modest.

 

You’re pretty modest.

 

No.

 

I don’t think I’ve heard you really take credit for anything.

 

They do it better.

 

Was there ever a different kind of Henry Rice?

 

I don’t think so. I’m just who I am; myself. Maybe it’s the local style. You’re just never really that way.

 

[END]

 


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