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LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Kristi Yamaguchi

 

Kristi Yamaguchi’s work ethic and drive from an early age propelled her to win the Olympic gold medal in figure skating for the U.S.A. in 1992. She went on to become a professional ice skater, author and now, philanthropist. She reached into the lessons of her childhood to create the Always Dream Foundation.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, Sept. 29, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

Kristi Yamaguchi Audio

 

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Transcript

 

So one thing my parents always told my brother and sister and I…I mean, I just remember this, even when we were little, it was like, you can’t rest on your laurels, you know, you always have to continue to you know, earn your keep in a way, and uh, like even as kids, you know, that was something they instilled in us. So, I think it’s great, you’re pushing yourself, you’re trying to accomplish something, and uh, and then you move on and you continue to grow and evolve and see what’s next.

 

Not resting on her laurels pushed this young athlete to keep entering figure skating contests until she knew she’d become good enough to compete at the Olympic level. Kristi Yamaguchi 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, Kristine Tsuya Yamaguchi, better known as Kristi Yamaguchi, won an Olympic gold medal in figure skating for the United States in 1992. Since then, she’s been a professional ice skater, and author, wife, mother, the 2008 winner of Dancing with the Stars, and a philanthropist. A resident of Alamo, California, she stopped by to talk with us here, on Long Story Short, during one of her frequent trips to Hawaiʻion behalf of her Always Dream foundation. Kristi Yamaguchi always set goals for herself, something she learned to do at a young age after overcoming a birth defect in her legs. Her parents encouraged and supported her along the way, believing in dreams, despite their own experiences as children, forced to live in internment camps.

 

So, I was born in Hayward, California, so that’s a suburb of uh, in the San Francisco Bay area, in the East Bay, and uh, actually, my parents were living in Fremont at the time, but I was born in Hayward. So I grew up in Fremont which was sleepy town back then, and uh, you know, I can’t complain, it was a great, diverse, and um, you know, pretty easy place to grow up in.

 

Your dad was a dentist?

 

He was a dentist.

 

And your mom?

 

Ah, she was a homemaker, she was full-time mom, although she did work part-time as we were getting older in high school. Both my parents did spend time in the Japanese internment camps, my dad’s family was in, Poston, Arizona, and he was about five years old when the family was sent there, um, course his brothers and sisters were more teenagers, so they remember it and you know, probably affected a little more by it, but I think my dad being five, he just kinda like going with the flow and making the best of it that he could…and then, my mom uh, Carol, was actually born in the Amache Colorado internment camp. So she was born, one of the New Year’s baby, they called her, in Amache. So, uh, you know, the families went through that and they did have to start over, you know, once, uh, they were released, and find their way, but I think, you know, it was a huge lesson, obviously, in perseverance, and just, um, you know, a lot of pride in who they were and being American and wanting to assimilate and prove their loyalty, and so, um, so it was interesting time and it’s…funny, not funny, but that generation never really talked about it, and…

 

Have your, have your parents talked about it?

 

Not much, I mean…my mom doesn’t remember, obviously, because she was just an infant, but my dad has opened up a little bit more about it because um, like my sister and I and brother and also now his grandkids are doing school papers, or school presentations on the family and have been interviewing him on different occasions and it’s given him a chance, I think, to reflect a little bit on what he remembers.

 

At the time your mother was born, her father was fighting in the war, with the 100ths.

 

100thInfantry Battalion, so different from like the 442ndand the 100ththat you hear about, but he was in one of the first non-segregated units in Europe, and um, well, basically because he was the only person of color in his unit, and uh, he, yes, he had gone through two rounds of boot camp because while he was in boot camp, the war broke out and they didn’t know what to do with him, and eventually they sent him um, you know, with the 100thInfantry Battalion to um, Europe. We really don’t know much about what that experience was like for him, and I think growing up, uh, the one thing that we do remember, like my brother and sister and I was like, he did have a lot of nightmares at night and there…you know, was, I think still was living with post traumatic stress. I think as we got older we started to realize, you know, through his life experience what he’s been through. But I think one of the proud moments is that we know…he was awarded a battle field commission and was promoted and uh, he was, his uh, commanding officer was actually quoted that he was undeniably one of the best soldiers in their unit and that’s why he received that battlefield commission, so, I think reading that and seeing it in the New York Times was just like, wow, you know, takes a lot of character, a lot of strength, and uh, you know, to really fight for what you believe in and you know, against maybe some, you know, obstacles that are there.

 

That’s amazing, that’s absolutely true. What did he do after the War?

 

So after the War, he was a mechanic. He settled in Gardena, California, and that’s where I know where my mom and her brother and sister grew up and went to school, and uh, he was, I think, also a part-time fisherman, and to this day, my parents won’t eat fish, or my mom won’t eat fish, because she had enough of it growing up, but yeah, I mean, he was just a great dad. I know he provided for his family and uh, husband, and a great grandfather, I just remember having so much fun visiting them and um, you know, enjoying the time we spent together.

 

You were born with a birth defect, malformed feet?

 

Yeah.

 

And here you are later, winning Olympic gold on these feet?

 

On these feet, yes. My mom always described it like this is how my legs were when I was born, they were like uh, just crossed and twisted. I didn’t have, I think, the severe where I had to have surgery, but I did have casts, um, for the first 18 months of my life and then was put into corrective braces, um, and I remember wearing those until probably past the age of like, two or three, because I remember trying to walk with this bar in between my feet, and sliding on the wood floor, so I just discovered that Army crawling was the quickest and easiest way to get from point A to point B, um, but yeah, you know, I think I was just really lucky my parents were proactive at correcting it, you know, so early on and allowing me to have the opportunity to you know, pursue skating.

 

And after the braces came off, you weren’t daunted, you were ready to skate.

 

Ready to go, yeah, I mean, I did ballet, and that was, you know, one area of dance that I really loved and then that led into skating and I think um, you know, when I showed the interest, my mom did ask the pediatrician, is this ok? You know, with her condition? Even though much of the corrections were done at that point, and I think the advice was yeah, I think this is great because it helps with strengthening and coordination, and um, it will be good for her.

 

That’s a great inspiration for those who, who have that corrective work done.

 

Yes, absolutely, and you know, to this day I know, I am still bow-legged, it’s just how, the shape of my legs, and uh, you know, a lot of skaters out there, successful skaters, who are good jumpers who are also bow-legged, so, it’s like, oh in some ways it maybe was even an advantage for the sport I chose.

 

Kristi Yamaguchi started ice-skating as soon as her mother felt she was old enough. Her passion for the sport grew immediately, and soon the rest of her life, and her parents’ lives, started to revolve around her ice-skating schedule.

 

At what point did skating cross your eyes and your heart?

 

I was six years old when I really first started skating and my older sister, Lori, skated for, you know, a couple months and it wasn’t really her thing so she moved on, but I was kind of like, wait, that seemed kinda neat, I wanna try it, and then, I kept asking about it and my mom took us to see the local ice show, and at that point it was like—that’s it. That’s what I want to do. So, she said, ok, when you’re six and old enough, I’ll take you to go skate. And, so I had to wait till I was six and went to try it for the first time and loved it and I think, every day asked when we were going back. And I remember my very first competition, I was about eight years old and um, you know, just kinda not really knowing what’s going on and I went competed in skating and I thought I skated fine, whatever, and um, my mom always reminds me, you were 11thout of 12th. And, it was just like…it was kind of a wake-up call and I didn’t understand, like, how come those girls have these shiny medals and they’re running around wearing these medals, how come I didn’t get one of those? And she’s like, well you have to be top three in order to get those medals, and I think that’s when the competitiveness and the like, hey, I want one of those, what do I have to do to get one of those? Ah, kicked in, and that’s where it started.

 

That requires an incredible commitment from your parents, as well.

 

It’s a huge commitment, but luckily, they didn’t know what they were getting into, they just thought, oh, ice skating, and you know, they saw an activity that I took to, because I did try everything else—gymnastics, soccer…

 

Were you good at all those things, too?

 

No, terrible. And I just, my heart wasn’t in it, but I think when they saw how much I loved skating and how I was improving and really taking to it, um, they said, you know what, let’s go with this and see what happens. So, you know, yeah, I mean, right away they just kind of rolled with it and I was going you know, several times a week and by the time I was in junior high, it was every day, before school, sometimes after school, and competitions on the weekends, at least once a month, probably.

 

How much did you have to give up in social life to pursue skating?

 

There was…yeah, I mean, skaters do not have the normal social life because um, I think I maybe went to one football game in high school, and you know, and I, couple school dances or whatever, but it’s…you know, I was in bed by 7:30 every night because I was up at four and on the ice from 5 to 10 or 5 to 11, every day, so um, training schedule was, you know, early in the morning and then I would rush off to school, and then, um…

 

At eleven o’clock?

 

At eleven, yeah, I did have special schedule through high school where half of my classes were on campus and half of them I did through independent study, so yeah, so in that case, too, it was just not the normal high school schedule.

 

Not really…you’d have to give up…you had to give things up because that’s everything…that’s all, all in.

 

That was all in. It was all in at that point, but for me, it was a choice. I didn’t see it as giving it up, it was like, well this is what I want to do, so…

 

Well, what did you want to do? With…I mean, obviously, you wanted to skate, but what did you want to do with it?

Um, at that point, you know, once I was 15, 16, it was the Olympic goal was there. You know when I first started skating, I just loved to skate and perform, and be in the shows and wear the pretty costumes, but as I got older, and particularly in the high school age, um, competing at the world level was my goal. And um, in 1989, uh, when I was a senior, was my first world appearance and then, at that point, um, I think the prospect of making the Olympic team was getting closer and close.

 

You know, I think for most of us, we’ve had experience competing in, maybe, junior high or high school sports or perhaps, college, but I can’t imagine the level of competition at the Olympic level. Just what kind of focus you need to have and the skill level.

 

Well, you know, it’s practice every day, and like I said, several hours a day at that point, um, and it’s a lifestyle for sure.

 

And what do you fill your mind with?

 

You know, I mean, I was just a competitive person, by nature, and you know, every day in practice I was competitive, even with my training mates, and um, you know, it was just, I knew I had a task at hand and I worked really closely and really well with my coach of uh, from the time I was nine years old through the Olympics, I was with the same coach, Christy Ness, and she was um, probably had one of the biggest influences on my life as a mentor and um, teacher, so learning you know, work ethic and setting goals, and the mindset was always, ok, what is my goal today? What is my goal in the next hour on this session? And there was always something to work towards and um, you know, she made it clear, if you’re working and putting that time in, it’s gonna, you’re gonna get, you’re gonna make strides forward. And so that was always my motivation was like always trying to push myself. She would always tell us, her students, there’s no secret to success, it’s plain and simple hard work. There’s no question, you know, the effort that you need to put in. And there were times that we were training and you know, she would yell out to someone, one of her pupils—don’t be afraid to work hard. You know? Because, you know, maybe one of us was slacking or you know, not putting 100 percent in and it was just like, ok, ok, you know, get the work, and it was true, you know, I think it’s just, you can’t expect results if you don’t put the work in, and as a youngster and a teenager, having that engrained in you, I think, was so valuable because even beyond, you know, after the Olympics, it stayed with me and it was just, you know, not satisfied with just getting through it, but putting the work in. And it could be as simple as, I’m gonna practice this jump ten times this session. And hopefully there’s an improvement and I’m not falling all ten times, but, you know, putting the effort in and or it’s like I’m running through my long program routine twice this session and hopefully without mistakes. So, you know, yeah, it’s, it’s always having a purpose every time you’re going out there.

 

And it’s very um, self-directed, it has to be, right? You’re preparing yourself for this gargantuan competition and challenge so it’s necessarily, solo and self?

 

Pretty much. You know, I think when I was older and um, you know, especially becoming a mom, you…looking back, just like, wow, it really was a pretty self-centered life that I lived. You know, it was an individual sport, I had my individual goals, and it was up to me to just focus in and make that happen and of course, I had a team of people around me…

 

Helping you, and you didn’t have to make room for anybody else, they made room for you.

 

Right, right, exactly, and they were, you know, the common goal was for my success, right? So, um, yeah, there’s a very, very narrow focus through that whole thing.

 

Have you always been able to keep your head in it?

 

No, no, and I think that’s the humbling thing about being an athlete in, in skating, that you’re gonna have some great performances that you’re like, wow, that was it, and that is what you live for, but there are many where you skate off the ice just really disappointed and really wanting to go back out there and do it again, because it’s like, wow, there were just way too many mistakes in there that I know I shouldn’t have made.

 

But you can’t look back, right? You gotta keep moving.

 

Yes, and you take that and you learn from it and hopefully in the next competition, uh, you learn and don’t make those same mistakes.

 

There are many talented skaters, and uh, as you get older and you get ready to uh, to participate in the qualifying, you know, you really don’t know whether you’re that caliber yet, do you?

 

Not really, yeah, I mean, I think it’s just…you’re taking small steps along the way. I mean, you know, people ask, oh, when did you know you were going to become an Olympian? And I’m just like, like, a year before, maybe? And they’re like, really? Like you, you know, up to that point you didn’t believe it or know it? And I’m like, no, you’re just trying to compete in your region and then in the West coast and then nationally and…

 

Could you feel the competition get tighter and tighter as you…

 

Oh yeah.

 

..went up?

 

Yes, definitely, and the pressure and the expectations and um, you know, figure skating being a judged sport, you know, that adds a whole other layer of subjectivity and just like, how am I fitting in, am I doing what the judges like, and things like that, but yeah, I mean, the competition was always close and the U.S. has always been traditionally competitive world, at the world level. So um, the talent pool was just…it was tough to even be noticed in your own country.

 

What was it like approaching that fateful day in 1992 when you won gold at the Olympics?

 

I feel like from ’91 and ’92, it was like walking on eggshells, the whole time, you know, it was just, ok, you have a goal, you have a plan, and it’s just trying to make every step go just how you want it to go. Um, you know, trying to stay healthy, injury free, getting the rest, and eating properly and just, you know, not leaving anything on the table to be an excuse for uh, it not to work out, right? So, um, yeah, it’s like living that…just eat, drink, breathe, sleep, you know, skating. And, you know, you’ll hear that from Olympic athletes all the time, and it’s kind of true, you know, Olympics isn’t every four years for us, it’s every day, and uh, it’s Groundhog Day.

 

So it’s a short game and it’s a very long game, too?

 

Yes.

 

Commentator Scott Hamilton said, you know, you do all these jumps in your routines but people don’t so much notice how hard those jumps are because you, you know, it’s part of a story you’re telling, visually.

 

Mm, mm hm, yeah, so I mean, I think I…was also proud to be a part of the generation that really pushed the sport technically, as well. You know, my biggest competitor in those 90s, early 90s, was Midori Ito from Japan, and she was the first to land, successfully land a triple axel in international competition and so, you know, she pushed the boundaries as um, you know, a figure skater doing the amount of triples that she incorporated and then incorporated the triple axel, Tonya Harding was also doing the triple axel, that ’92 year at the Olympics, so uh, technically, the women that year were really, really pushing beyond what we’ve seen in the past in women’s competition. And so, I had to up my game too and incorporated the triple lutz, triple toe combination, to be…

 

But not the triple axel.

 

Not the triple axel and I tried to master it and it wasn’t mastered at the level where I was comfortable to incorporate it into the competition, so I knew the triple lutz, triple toe combination had to be perfect, and had to be my um, answer to their triple axel, and it put a lot of pressure on me for that particular move, but um, yeah, I knew I had to have it, and it hadn’t been done at the Olympics before um, by anyone, so it was fun to be able to kind of push the envelope that way.

 

And you did, and you won.

 

After winning Olympic gold in 1992 in France, Kristi Yamaguchi went on to become a professional skater, and she married another athlete, former Olympic and professional ice hockey player, Bret Hedican, and they now have two teenage daughters. She also found a way to give back to the community.

 

Every Olympian, after their Olympic career ends, must look at what life looks like then, after spending almost every waking moment consumed with uh, competition and their art, um, did you know what you were going to do after you ended your time with skating professionally?

 

I didn’t. You know, I think um, yeah, so much was spent on skating itself and the career path of a skater, uh, that I wasn’t really, I never really had a plan after that, but I think, you know, I had the natural segue of, you know, I found someone I wanted to spend the rest of my life with and start a family with, so really, as soon as I got off the road from touring as a skater, we started a family. And that really took over, um, for the next uh, you know, four or five years, just being a mom. But all through that, you know, after, immediately after the Olympics, even while I was touring, there was always a sense of continuing to have a purpose in life and to make an impact um, beyond just being an athlete and you know, my parents had always been very involved in the community, you know, volunteers at school, and at church, and in the community, so, you know, they were like, you know, you’ve been so lucky, what are you going to do now? How are you going to give back? And um, that really uh, inspired me and spurned me to look at, hey what am I passionate about beyond, you know, skating and myself. And it was children. And uh, in 1996, shortly after the Olympics, I established the Always Dream foundation, who was all about um, you know, inspiring the hopes and dreams of underserved children, and I knew that that was uh, going to become my next passion and my next step in life, beyond the Olympics. We’ve been going strong for 23 years and the last eight years, we’ve been focused on early childhood literacy and have uh, a reading program in Kindergarten classroom aged kids, and you know, we’re all about leveling the playing field, because not everyone is given the resources and opportunities or have that at their fingertips growing up, not even books in the home, so how do you develop a foundation for learning if you don’t have books in the home? We are providing the tools for the families and the kids to be able to develop those literacy rich environments at the home, and hopefully give them, you know, the edge they need to have success in school and in life.

 

Kristi Yamaguchi found time during her busy life with family and foundation to compete on Dancing With the Stars in 2008. Reluctant at first, she says that once her competitive spirit kicked in, she was in it to win it, which she did. Mahalo to Kristi Yamaguchi of Alamo, California, a frequent Hawaiʻivisitor for sharing her life story with us. And thank you for joining us. For PBS Hawaiʻiand Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha nui.

 

When we looked to expand our foundation outside of California, this was a natural um, place to desire and um, you know, we know the need is great here and it was the perfect fit for the foundation to come out and um, do it’s work. So, yeah, it’s, Hawai‘i definitely has a special place in my heart and my family’s heart, my older daughter, Keara, is a hula dancer and she’s um, earned her uh, her Hawaiian name and you know, has big dreams and aspirations to someday be at Merrie Monarch.

 

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]

 

 

 

A Tribute to Toussaint

A Tribute to Toussaint

 

The late performer and songwriter Allen Toussaint worked with Dr. John, B.J. Thomas, Boz Scaggs, Paul McCartney, Patti LaBelle, Fats Domino and many others. As a philanthropist, he helped raise more than $1 million for the hungry and homeless in his native New Orleans. To show their deep appreciation for his music and charitable acts, New Orleans Artists Against Hunger & Homelessness honored Toussaint on his 75th birthday with this concert, recorded in 2013.

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Henk Rogers

 

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

 

Henk Rogers Audio

 

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Transcript

 

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

 

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

 

Wearing jeans didn’t stop Hawaii Business Magazine from naming Henk Rogers CEO of the Year for 2015. Henk Rogers has made a fortune in the video gaming industry, most notably for bringing Tetris, one of the world’s top-selling videogames, from Russia to the rest of the world. More recently, this visionary entrepreneur and philanthropist has turned his talents to no less than saving the planet. He wants salvation to come through renewable energy, starting with Hawaii becoming a global model for energy independence. Henk Rogers, next, on Long Story Short.

 

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

 

Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Henk Brouwer Rogers may be best known in Hawaii for starting the Blue Planet Foundation, which is dedicated to ending the use of carbon-based fuels. This nonprofit organization was instrumental in convincing the Hawaii State Legislature to commit to a goal of making Hawaii 100 percent energy self-sufficient by 2045. Rogers didn’t always have a passion for energy sustainability; rather, he was driven by his love of board games and computers to launch his highly successful career in video gaming.

 

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

 

What was your name before that?

 

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

 

Did you learn English in New York City?

 

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

 

Which is a fabulous high school.

 

Fabulous high school.

 

Where you learned, what? What did you …

 

Computer science.

 

Oh …

 

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

 

So, you graduated from Stuyvesant High School.

 

I … dropped out of Stuyvesant High School.

 

Oh, you dropped out?

Didn’t like that one elective.

 

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

 

How old were you when you dropped out?

 

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

 

Why was it Hawaii?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

And you liked board games?

 

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

 

Now, were you a Hippie at UH as well?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Did you graduate from the University?

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

Wow.

 

And that makes me feel good.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Good argument.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

And your Blue Planet Foundation had a role in that.

 

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

 

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

 

Yes.

 

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

 

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

 

But whatever it is, it’s expensive.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

Yes.

 

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

 

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

 

Where did that come from?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

You’re still CEO, though.

 

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

 

I see.

 

I’m the chairman.

 

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

 

Um …

 

You have a different definition?

 

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

 

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

 

Yes.

 

They sacrificed that.

 

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

 

Henk Rogers: husband, father, grandfather, computer programmer, entrepreneur, visionary, chairman, and perhaps one day, off the grid planet superhero. Mahalo to Henk Rogers of Honolulu and Kona for sharing his life story with us. And thank you, for joining us. For PBS Hawaii and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha, hui hou.

 

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

 

You have how many siblings?

 

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

 

Wow!

 

So … yeah; I’m one of twenty-one.

 

[END]