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LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
John Morgan

 

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

 

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

 

John Morgan Podcast

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

But still, he was appointed the Mission Doctor?

 

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

 

All of the illness…

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Met a lot of the families through helping them…

 

Yeah, and…

 

…with their medical issues.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

I think it was thirteen hundred dollars.

 

For how many acres?

 

Six hundred and twenty-two.

 

Amazing.

 

Yeah, yeah.

 

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

 

Yeah.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

It’s three ahupuaʻa? Are they still intact?

 

Still intact and still contiguous, yeah.

 

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

 

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

 

Whatever reason, right..

 

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

 

Long term leases?

 

Long term leases.

 

Are they…is the land still leased?

 

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

 

Was that part of the ahupuaʻa?

 

That was part of the ahupuaʻa, yeah.

 

So, so a small section was sold off?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

And Kualoa, yeah.

 

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

 

All my life, yeah.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

And you did all that?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

So, everybody always had other jobs?

 

Everybody always had other jobs…

 

As they ran the ranch?

 

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

 

But you were okay about figuring it out?

 

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

 

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

 

[LAUGHS] Yeah, yeah.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Tourism.

 

…probably the answer and so…

 

But what would they look at?

 

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

 

And that was before the movie productions came in?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

And what kind of sustainability will that person look at?

 

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

 

Cacao too?

 

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

 

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

 

Nope.

 

You don’t?

 

Not yet, yeah.

 

Does any of your children want it?

 

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

 

Is it, as they say, complicated?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

[END]

 

 

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Showbiz Masterminds

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX: Showbiz Masterminds

 

The glamour of the entertainment industry can be alluring, but with its heavy business risks, there are no guarantees of success. Polynesian entertainment company co-owner Cha Thompson; the late radio DJ and concert promoter Tom Moffatt; and former nightclub owner Jack Cione are three “showbiz masterminds” who excelled at entertaining local audiences. Revisit these conversations about their journeys, lessons learned and passion for showbiz.

 

Program

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, Sept. 8, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

More from Showbiz Masterminds:

 

Cha Thompson – Authenticity in Entertaining

 

Tom Moffatt – Elvis’s Hat

 

Tom Moffatt – Elvis at Honolulu Stadium

 

Jack Cione – How to Hire a Naked Waiter

 

Showbiz Masterminds Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

And if you said you were from Hawaiʻi, that sold.  You almost didn’t have to do anything.  And so, we started traveling around the world.  And when we came home, people wanted shows.  We actually had to decide: We gotta get off the stage, you cannot be producer, director, business manager, choreographer, which is what we did. And oh, god; try do the books. Hello.

 

I just had them open their kimonos to add a little more to the show.

 

And what were the skaters wearing?

 

The skaters wore clothes, but the three girls that stood there on the ice—

 

Oh; I see.

 

They were the nudes on ice.  [CHUCKLE]  That was my hook.  Every show needs a hook, you know.

 

Yeah; because you’re a marketer, too.

 

Yes.  [CHUCKLE]

 

Was there a time you considered getting out, because maybe the risk was too high, or the cost was too high in some way?

 

No; I’ve never felt that way.  I always have been very optimistic about this business, that people want to be entertained, they want to see live concerts, they want to go out and be there, and experience that music firsthand.

 

The world of bright lights and big stages holds a certain allure.  But only a few carve out a successful business in the grueling entertainment world.  Meet three of Hawaiʻi’s showbiz masterminds, next, on Long Story Short.

 

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

 

Aloha mai kākou.  I’m Leslie Wicox.  Show business can be fun, exciting, and profitable.  But there are no guarantees.  Yet, Polynesian entertainment company co-owner Cha Thompson, nightclub owner Jack Cione, and the late radio deejay turned concert promoter Tom Moffatt excelled in this risky industry.   These three people are very different from each other.  In common, they all trusted their artistic tastes and business instincts to entertain Hawaiʻi for decades.

 

First, we turn to our 2008 conversation with Cha Thompson.  In the early 70s, she was a nineteen-year-old hula dancer traveling the world for performances, when she was suddenly put in charge of a popular Polynesian dance group.  Cha Thompson and her husband Jack soon founded Tihati Productions, now one of the largest and longest-running entertainment companies in Hawaiʻi.

 

I was with the original Puka Puka Otea group that Elaine Frisbie from Rarotonga ran.  And we were the only one in the State to do Polynesian everything.  And then, when she was leaving, I was her lead dancer, and she simply said: Here, take it and run.  And at nineteen, excuse me, I knew nothing about business.  And so, you know, when I married my husband, I was working in medical records at Queen’s Medical Center, and he was working in reservations at Hawaiian Airlines.  And people started calling us.  And I’m telling you, it was so successful, because tourism at the time was the thing, and everybody wanted a show.

 

What year was that?  What general decade?

 

1969, ’70.  And if you said you were from Hawaiʻi, that sold.  You almost didn’t have to do anything.  And so, we started traveling around the world.  And when we came home, people wanted shows.  We actually had to decide: We gotta get off the stage, you cannot be producer, director, business manager, choreographer, which is what we did. And oh, god; try do the books. Hello.

 

You danced.  What did your husband do?

 

He was the emcee.  And his very first thing to do was, he came to Canada when I was with the World’s Fair, and I was a dancer.  And he was one of the few Polynesians who could speak English.  So, when our emcee got sick, he said: Give it to Thompson.  And he said: I’m not an entertainer.  You know. And in fact, just before we left, he said: I’m part-Samoan, surely I can learn the knife dance.  I always thought he was too handsome to be a knife dancer. He didn’t look as wild and savage. But he learned it, and became a knife dancer.  Terrible knife dancer in the beginning; can’t hold a candle next to my son, who’s a world title holder.  But that’s how we started.  We had to get off stage, and get a good attorney, get a great CPA, and we gave up our careers to run the business.

 

You were singled out to be the one to take over the dancing troupe.

 

Yes.

 

Why?

 

You know, I wonder if because shucks, I was always vocal. I always had an opinion.  I wonder.  And many of the Polynesian girls were more reserved.  I always had the plan, I always had the plan.

 

And it was a good plan?

 

It was a good plan.  I think survival mode; always in a survival mode, you know.  And I think that’s what my children detect. Like: Mom, oh.  You know, always plan for tomorrow, save, you know, the rainy day is coming, and always dress well if you get into an accident and make sure you have clean underwear.  [CHUCKLE] And you know, the house must be clean. Visitors will come, they’ll judge us. I always felt like I was being judged; always.  People started taking us seriously when we would sit on business boards, or when we contributed in a business fashion.  But yeah, I mean, you’re Polynesian; surely you can’t be too smart. And entertainment; heavens, you must fool around you must do drugs.  Well, we did neither, and it paid off.  It paid off for us.

 

I sense you’re a good negotiator.  I’m trying to figure out what your style is.

 

[CHUCKLE]  It’s the Pake blood, Leslie; it’s the Chinese blood.  And the funny thing about it is, in entertainment, they will say: Oh, come and put on a show, or come and dance for us, and you can eat all you want, and you can drink.  I don’t drink.  I’m really thin; I don’t eat that much.  I need something else.  And money was the thing I needed.  But we had to earn it, we had to earn it.  They didn’t take us seriously, you know.

 

I know you brought in some major acts.

 

Yes.

 

And you developed major talent.

 

I think we’re known as a Polynesian revue.  And I don’t know that many people know that Tihati Productions has a vast department that brings in contemporary acts.  Like, we brought in Lionel Richie, and Cyndi Lauper. And we also do thematic parties. You know, we’ll prepare a whole Raiders of The Lost Ark, or Aloha in a volcano.  So, we do many things.  But I think they still think of me as the hula girl.  I mean, maybe, because then they’ll say: Oh, you know, you run that halau. And I say: No, I’m not a kumu, I don’t have a halau.  But Tihati Productions, they think of as a Polynesian revue.

 

You’ve had to really strike a balance between Polynesian authenticity and entertainment.  How have you worked that out?

 

I decided early on not to educate them, rather to entertain them, but to not sell myself and not give them what is real.  Any Tihati revue that you see will have real flowers, we’ll use real ti leaf skirts, we do authentic numbers and sing it in the native tongues.  You know, Tahitian, Samoan, Fijian, and all of my instructors are from those islands, Hawaiian.  So, I never felt that tourism was a threat to me.  In fact, when some people might have thought, Oh, that’s a sell-out, she’s worked in Waikīkīfor thirty-five years, you know, why isn’t she with us?, I would say, Well, tourism dollars sent all my kids to college, and I never felt that I wasn’t doing exactly what is me.  You know, I believe God gave me a gift in my roots and my heritage, and I share it. And lucky for me, tourism is Hawaiʻi’s number-one industry, and they’ll always need the hula girl, and the steel guitar, and the fire knife dancer.  And so, I think I’m here to stay.

 

With clear vision, quick reflexes, and a tenacious attitude, Cha Thompson and her husband Jack built a respected, long-running entertainment business.

 

Our next showbiz mastermind is also a longtime entrepreneur.  Jack Cione first gained notoriety in the 60s with live shows that were new to Honolulu at the time—nude entertainers and bottomless wait staff.  He was fired up to put on his own dance productions after seeing what he called a lousy show at the old Forbidden City Nightclub in Kakaʻako.  Here, from our conversation in 2014, Jack Cione remembers talking to the Forbidden City’s manager about organizing his first shows there.

 

I just told him how bad his show was, and he said: You want to do a show for me?  I said: Yeah, I’ll do a show for you, I have nothing to do.  He said,: How much is it gonna cost?  I said: I’ll do a show for you for nothing.  I just need something to do.  So, I did a show at the Forbidden City.  And I did two shows that made a lot of money.  And then, I did an ice show.  First time we had an ice show at the Forbidden City.  I called it Nudes on Ice.

 

So, you put in an ice skating rink?

 

Yeah; it was about twice the size of this table. Portable.  And two skater friends of mine from the mainland, I brought them over and said: Come and skate; a paid vacation, two weeks.  So, they came over.  And I had the Japanese girls, and I used them as showgirls.  And I talked three of the Japanese girls into going topless. I just had them open their kimonos to add a little more to the show.

 

And what were the skaters wearing?

 

The skaters wore clothes, but the three girls that stood there on the ice—

 

Oh; I see.

 

They were the nudes on ice.  [CHUCKLE]  That was my hook.  Every show needs a hook, you know.

 

Yeah; because you’re a marketer, too.

 

Yes.  [CHUCKLE]

 

So, now you’re really kinda dealing in a different kind of venue.

 

Right.  And there were no nightclubs having any nudity.  It was against the law.

 

Now, you already lied about your age, but now you’re talking about breaking the law.

 

Well, there were no laws.  Hawaiian dancers were topless.

 

Throughout history.  [CHUCKLE]

 

Right.  And so, what was the law?  What was the big deal?  So, the next show I did was complete nude show.  I brought burlesque in.  It wasn’t nude; it was just topless.  The girls then had to wear pasties and silk bras.  But it eventually evolved.  And every time we would do that, they would come and arrest me.

 

You’re saying this like this is, you know, just part of doing business.  And what was the charge?  Was it lewdness, open lewdness?

 

Lewd and lascivious conduct.

 

How did you feel about that?

 

Well, they’d arrest me, and I’d say: Excuse me, can I go to the restroom?  And I’d run in my office and I’d call the TV and the newspaper, and I’d stay there until they all got to the club.

 

So, you’re actually enjoying this.

 

Oh, loving it.  And the next morning, it was in the papers and it was on TV.

 

Was that part of being a showman?

 

Yes.  And business increased.  People would see that.  Oh, look, arrested, nude.  We gotta go see that [CHUCKLE] at Forbidden City.

 

And how did your new wife think about this?

 

Well, [CHUCKLE] she didn’t particularly like it. But it was making lots of money. And so, we opened that club, then we opened another one.  I ended up with twelve bars here.

 

And how many arrests?

 

Oh, gosh; I was arrested so many times, but not once conviction.

 

Because as you said, the laws hadn’t caught up with this business activity.

 

Right.  We went topless, then we went bottomless, and then we went totally nude.  We used to have a businessman’s lunch at The Dunes.

 

Back when three martinis were tax deductible; right?

 

Right.  And it was all businessmen.  And the show was a striptease show.  And these secretaries said: We’re so tired of coming with our boss; why don’t you put a naked man on stage for us?  And I just happened to say: Well, why don’t you get me a reservation for fifty ladies, and I’ll have a naked man for you.  That’s how it started.

 

And did you get a reservation for fifty?

 

Oh, gosh; they called about two weeks later.  They said: We have your fifty; you’re gonna have a naked man?  And I said: Yes.  Well, by the time the two weeks came, they had two hundred reservations.  That filled up my room.  [CHUCKLE]  They kept out my men customers.  The ladies took all the seats.

 

And did you have your naked waiter in line?

 

No.

 

No?

 

I didn’t have any.

 

How do you hire a naked waiter?

 

In those days, this was now 1973, and there were no such a thing as Chippendales and men strippers.  But I had a beach house in Haleiwa that I was renting to five surfers. And they were behind on their rent. So, I called them and said: You guys gotta pay the rent, or you’ve gotta come in and do me a favor.  They said: What is it?  I said: Well, you gotta come to The Dunes, Friday, and you’ve got to drop your pants on stage.  Oh, hell, yeah; we’ll do that.  Those women stayed all day.  We had the biggest bar business I ever did that afternoon.  They all drank, drank, and the surfers were enter—

 

Paraded.

 

Paraded, without their pants.  So, when I saw that, I thought: Oh, this is a goldmine. So, in a week’s time, I told the gals; I said: We’re gonna have waiters every day.

 

Instead of waitresses?

 

Instead of waitresses.

 

Because the women were the ones who were paying more money.

 

Yes.

 

As clients.

 

That’s how it happened.

 

And people keep coming back?

 

Oh; unreal.  Four hundred lunches, Monday through Friday.

 

I just sense that your guiding force is money and showbiz.  But you weren’t really into the flesh stuff of it all?

 

No.  Nightclub business is not an easy business.  But I stayed the straight line, and did it as a business.  I don’t drink; I never did drink.  [CHUCKLE]  And so, people would want to buy me a drink.  I said: You know, I’m in the business to sell this; I don’t drink it.

 

Jack Cione is a showbiz mastermind who went with his gut.  He knew what he liked, saw what worked, and gave people what they wanted.

 

So did our next guest.  Much has been said about the late Tom Moffatt’s career, first as a pioneering rock and roll radio deejay who introduced Hawaiʻi to Elvis Presley, then as a promoter of big name concerts, bringing everyone from The Eagles to Bruno Mars to the islands.  But let’s not forget Tom Moffatt’s work with local acts, especially during the Hawaiian music renaissance in the 1970s.  In our 2011 conversation, he recounts his work with Keola and Kapono Beamer on a recording that still strikes a chord here at home, and beyond.

 

I had just left radio.  I’d gone through a couple of owners at KPOI, and a third one was coming in, and I decided it was time to take a hiatus from radio.  So, I started my own record company.  And in the door walked Kapono Beamer one day, and said that they weren’t happy with wherever they were in recording.  And so, I got the two of them in, and talked to them about it.  And I said: Why don’t you guys go out and write, and let’s do a record together, an album.  So, I gave them some seed money to go out and write.  And Keola called me and said: I think I’ve got a song.  He was living up at Alewa Heights; I’ll never forget.  And I went up to Alewa Heights to hear the song. It was just when it was getting dusk, and that time of the evening when it was getting dark and the lights were coming on.  And he played for me Honolulu City Lights.  And I knew we had something.  So, that was my first recording endeavor, really on my own, and we came out with Honolulu City Lights.  Got Teddy Randazzo to help with the arrangements.

 

And for decades, I believe that was the highest-selling local album of all time. Is it still?

 

I don’t know, with Iz around.  [CHUCKLE]

 

And I think Kealii Reichel might have had a really big seller.

 

Oh, yes; yes.  But not that long ago, few years back, I think it was the Star Bulletin or the Advertiser, and Honolulu Magazine came out with a list of the best albums. Not best-selling, just the best albums, Hawaiʻi albums of all time.  And number one was Honolulu City Lights.  That was a thrill.  It’s still my favorite.  [CHUCKLE] I still love that song.

 

Me, too.  Actually, that came out when I was seeing a lot of friends off to college at the airport.

 

Yeah.

 

And it was always playing the airport then, and they were always crying. Those were the days where there was no security.

 

Yes.

 

You went to the gate to see people off.

 

You could go the gate with leis; yeah?

 

And local style, you didn’t bring just leis; you brought bentos, and food.

 

Yes; uh-huh.

 

And everybody had luaus, and that song was just playing—

 

Oh, yeah.

 

–almost continuously.  And if it wasn’t somebody was asking for it to be played.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

Yeah.  So, that’s such a cultural memory in Hawaiʻi.  That was your first, ever, recorded song.

 

Yes.  I’d done some singles and so forth.  Once, I put out an album, a trumpet album, but that was with other people involved. But this was the first one I did on my own, was Honolulu City Lights.  At the same time, I had a girl that worked for me just as I was leaving KPOI, and she said: You gotta go out and see this group in Aina Haina.

 

Randy Borden?

 

No.

 

No? Okay; who?

 

Country Comfort.

 

Country Comfort.

 

Yeah.

 

Playing at the old—

 

At The Sty.

 

–M’s Ranch House?

 

No, this was at The Sty.  It wasn’t Aina Haina; it was beyond Aina Haina at The Sty.

 

Niu; that’s right.

 

Yeah.  And I heard these guys.  I went out and saw what was happening with the audience, and what they had going for them. And so, I finished off an album that—this was just before Honolulu City Lights, that my partner Irv Peninsky had started.  And I finished off the album, and we put it out together.  Then after that, I left out on my own.  But Country Comfort was one of my favorite albums.  I also did an album by The Surfers at that time called Shells, which I still think is one of the best Hawaiian albums ever produced.

 

Who were the local artists that you most enjoyed working with, and had the most success with?

 

Well, The Royal Drifters were one of the first local groups.  Dick Jensen, Robin Luke, Ronnie Diamond; they were all big singers in the 50s and early 60s. And we used them as often as possible on The Show of Stars at the Civic Auditorium, and whenever we could at the new arena.  Remember the first time that the Rolling Stones came to town, I put Dick Jensen on as the opening—Lance Curtis as the opening group, opening performer.

 

Lance Curtis.

 

And he danced like Michael Jackson.  This was before Michael Jackson.  He could dance.

 

You know, all of these enterprises, these artistic enterprises, and creative enterprises, to really be stable and to make a go of them, you have to be good at money.  You have to be good at restraint, and you have to be good at planning.

 

Uh-huh.

 

Did you have that all along, or did you have to learn that the hard way?

 

I’m still learning.  [CHUCKLE]  Still learning.  But I got good accountants around me.  Yeah.

 

And you’re not by nature prone to take unreasonable risk.

 

No.  We put quite a bit of money into some of the recording projects, but I believed in them, and they turned out okay.  Opening the Outrigger main showroom was kind of gamble.  It was a room that was sitting there was a convention room that they never used.  And Tommy Sands had come to Hawaiʻi, and was looking for a place to work.  And so, we opened that showroom.  And it’s been going ever since, after Tommy and I kinda drifted off.  And another time when the Beamers got going with Honolulu City Lights, there was another room that was sitting empty which we opened as the Reef Showroom at the Reef Hotel.  The Ocean Showroom at the Reef Hotel; that’s what we called it.  I put the Beamers in there.  That was kind of a gamble at the time, but I felt, you know, this record was happening.  So, we opened the showroom with Keola and Kapono Beamer, and Andy Bumatai as the opening comedian.  It was very successful.

 

Was there a time you considered getting out, because maybe the risk was too high, or the cost was too high in some way?

 

No; I’ve never felt that way.  I always have been very optimistic about this business, that people want to be entertained, they want to see live concerts, they want to go out and be there, and experience that music firsthand.

 

The concert promoter, the nightclub entrepreneur, and the Polynesian entertainment company co-owner; three masterminds in showbiz who trusted their tastes and instincts to entertain the islands.  After months of declining health, Tom Moffatt left us in 2016. What an honor to revisit his tremendous career.  And we thank Jack Cione and Cha Thompson for their savvy business stories.  Mahalo to you for joining is.  For PBS Hawaiʻi and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha nui.

 

You learn that from Kalihi.  Somebody puts you down and, ah, you know, I could do something better than they could.  I knew I could.  I don’t know how this is gonna sound, but what was important is, you gotta know how to beef, quite frankly.

 

You can beef?

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

You can beef?

 

Yeah, man.

 

You’re so elegant.

 

Yeah, man.  [CHUCKLE]  Or at least, I used to a lot.  And you know, when you come from a large family, nobody wants to beef with you. ‘Cause in the housing, families fight families.  I mean, I know it sounds imbecilical, but we did.

 

Did you beef boys, too?

 

Yeah.  Yeah, yeah. Most of the boys didn’t want to take me on, though.  I had brother, big brothers.

 

I mean, you were just a kid.

 

Yeah.

 

Playing at nightclubs.

 

I did.

 

What time did you go to sleep?

 

Well, I changed my age.  I was twenty then.  ‘Cause I had a mustache at fourteen, I didn’t look like a high school student.  And I was making seventy-five dollars a week. That was good money.

 

And how did you keep up with school, when you were actually working in the city?

 

Yeah.  Well, I didn’t keep up with school.  That was the sad part.  I remember one day, a teacher said to me: Jackie Cioni, you’re gonna be a bum; you’re gonna be a bum if you don’t learn Algebra and English.  And I said: Get out of my face, honey; I make seventy-five bucks a week; what are you making?  Schoolteachers made thirty-five dollars a week.

 

Ouch!

 

I introduced Elvis Presley.  The place went crazy.  It was so exciting.

 

Really high decibels?

 

Yeah; yeah.

 

Shrieky.

 

Yeah.  And there he was, just a microphone, and a simple sound system.  But he held that audience.

 

And when had you met him before that?

 

Well, the day before, Ron Jacobs and I … Ron figured this one out.  Do something different.  And we’d me the Colonel, and we’d kinda hinted there might be something like this in the works.  And Don Tyler was one of our guys at KPOI, and we dressed him up to look like Elvis. Ron had his convertible, a Ford convertible, hardtop convertible, top went down.  And got a fellow who looked like Colonel Parker, and Ron driving. And we had it all planned.  I’m on the radio.  From the moment Elvis arrived, I’m on the radio playing nothing but Elvis records.  And I did this all morning, into the afternoon.  So, I kinda planted it; well, we understand that Elvis is heading for Kailua, for people to be out in the streets looking for Elvis, and drive down the streets, and people are screaming.  And we did this in different neighborhoods.

 

Did you get any fallout from it?

 

Well, we got back to the studio.  By then, I’d played Elvis for six straight hours, at least. It was mid-afternoon, and we were patting ourselves on the back.  And we get the message from our news guy that Colonel Parker wants to see you guys downstairs, immediately.

 

Dun-da-dun-da.

 

And we looked at each other.  We wanted to escape.  So, we went downstairs and there’s guards at the elevator.  We went down one floor.  And they took us into Colonel Parker’s suite.  We didn’t know what to expect.  Colonel said: Boys, that was a pretty good promotion you did.  Oh, my gosh!  Oh, and here’s Elvis.  In walked Elvis.  And that’s the first time I’d met Elvis.  [CHUCKLE]

 

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

 

[END]

 

 

 

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

 

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

 

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