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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]

 


PBS HAWAI‘I PRESENTS
Kū Kanaka/Stand Tall

 

In August 1969, 15-year-old Terry Kanalu Young became quadriplegic after a diving accident. Initially bitter about his circumstances, he eventually realized that his rage could destroy him – or he could learn a great lesson from it. This film explores Young’s life journey, from a Hawaiian history student to an activist and community leader, and how he used his insights about identity and trauma to offer hope to dispossessed Native Hawaiians.

 

To learn more about Terry Kanalu Young, be sure to see this interview.

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Laura Beeman

 

Head coach of the University of Hawai‘i’s Rainbow Wahine basketball team, Laura Beeman knows what it takes to win. She has revitalized the team drastically since her arrival in 2012, by pushing and inspiring her young women to reach their full potential, on and off the court.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, Oct. 11, at 11:00 pm and Sunday, Oct. 15, at 4:00 pm.

 

Laura Beeman Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

Heartbreak a year ago. Elation this season.

 

It was a thrill of a lifetime. You know, and I still talk about it, I can get a big lump in my throat. And remembering in the locker room just this lump of winning the tournament. The range of emotion of seeing their hard work pay off, and being so incredibly proud of them for being that first team, to the community support and feeling the aloha twenty-five hundred miles away, and then feeling the stress that I had been under of … We’re supposed to win this tournament and go the NCAA, and what if I don’t, what a failure is that? And being able to sit in a corner by myself and go, Oh, my gosh, we did this. And just tears; just tears. Tears of happiness, of joy. It was, right now, a little emotional. It was an amazing experience. I want to get back there, I want to have this feeling again.

 

University of Hawaii Women’s Basketball Coach Laura Beeman likes winning. Yet, her drive to make her players the best they can be isn’t limited to the basketball court. She’s teaching them life lessons that will continue to guide them long after they graduate. Laura Beeman, 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. Laura Lynne Beeman moved to Hawaii in 2012 to become the head coach of the University of Hawaii Rainbow Wahine Basketball Team. At that time, the team was losing more games than it was winning. It didn’t take Laura Beeman long to turn the team around. In 2016, only four years after she took over, the Rainbow Wahine won the Big West Conference Championship, securing a spot at the pinnacle event in college post-season basketball, March Madness. It was the program’s sixth appearance overall, but only the first in eighteen years. Laura Beeman has always been competitive; that’s the way she was raised.

 

Both my parents are very, very competitive. They’re self-made. And you know, my dad opened up a pharmacy with his brother right out of college, and it was an independent pharmacy. And basically, my mom supported him. You know, his parents told him, If you guys get married, you’re on your own. And they decided to get married, and my mom said, Well, I’ll put you through USC pharmacology. She did.

 

How did she do it?

 

She sacrificed her education, and she worked. So, I think that drive comes from them. You know, as a kid, I watched my father work seventeen, eighteen-hour days to support his family, so that his wife could raise children, and my mom doing everything she could to support her husband. So, I saw that hard work from a very, very young age, and was always told by my parents, If you’re gonna do it, you’re gonna do it right. You know, you’re gonna have a great attitude, you’re gonna give it all the effort you have, or don’t do it. And so, I think it was instilled at a very young age, even though I didn’t know that was going on. Youngest of four, and was immediately just thrust into sports. I have an older brother. And so, you know, growing up, we went to school with one another, we went to a Christian school, all the way up until middle school. And sports just became a huge foundation of mine and my brother’s life. You know, Sunday church, and then come home after church, go to a little grinder shop down the street, come back, open up the grinders, eat, and watch football. And so, that was kind of my life growing up.

 

When you went to college at California State University at San Bernardino, you earned a bachelor’s in business marketing.

 

Yeah.

 

And? [CHUCKLE]

 

I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. And someone said, you know, business is probably one of the areas that is most marketable. You can do anything from being a sports agent, to get into law, to go into sales. And so, I thought, I have no idea, you know, what I want to do. I had been told by a woman who worked for my father, You can sell, you know, ice cubes Eskimos. And so, we always laughed about that. And so, I thought, let me go into business. So, while I was playing sports, I got my business degree with a concentration in marketing, thinking I could do sales or maybe sports agent. And then, graduated and was like, What am I gonna do with my life?

 

Then, what happened?

 

Well, I got a phone call from an assistant coach at the University of Redlands. And they said, We heard you’re in town, we have a graduate assistant position open, would you like to get your master’s paid for and get into coaching? And I thought, I have no idea what I want to do with my life, so let me market myself, make myself a little bit more well-rounded. So, I went and received a master’s in educational counseling. And I loved the counseling aspect; had no idea I would, and had no idea how useful that would come in coaching. So, when I started coaching at the University of Redlands, the basketball coaching bug; it bit. You know, I loved playing, but I had no idea I would want to coach.

 

What would you have done if you hadn’t gotten that call? And then, you get a free master’s. I mean, that’s quite amazing.

 

It is. Again, right place, right time. I have no idea. You know, I was working for my dad at his pharmacy. I probably would have continued to work for him. Had no desire to become a pharmacist. I don’t know what I would have done, but I would have worked for him until I landed on my feet someplace.

 

Do you remember how and when that coaching bug bit you?

 

I think pretty immediately. You know, when I went to the University of Redlands, it was sitting back and watching with the coaches did, and what I liked and what I didn’t like, and how kids responded and how kids didn’t respond. And then, really figuring out, Okay, these kids respond to me with a little bit of a different approach. And all of a sudden, it was like, Okay, this is kinda cool. You know, I can kind of figure this out as I go. I was there for two years, and that’s when Mount SAC, Mount San Antonio Community College in Southern California, the job opened up. I was not hired as the head coach; I was hired as the assistant women’s basketball coach. And again, watched how coaches did things, and how players responded. Fortunate for me, and unfortunate for that coach, it didn’t work out for her, and they hired me the next year as the head coach.

 

You were twenty-five years old.

 

I was young; yeah. I had players that were older than me, so I had to establish some pretty strong boundaries. And again, that goes back to my parents; it goes back to watching them have very, very good boundaries in their life and their relationship, going back to coaches I’d played for and coaches that had really good boundaries, and coaches that maybe didn’t.

 

What kind of boundaries do you need when you’re younger than your players?

 

Well, you can’t go party with them. You know, you can’t go drink with them. If you’re a male coach, female coach, you can’t date players. So, there’s a lot of things you can’t do. And you see that all the time; you hear of both female and male coaches that get involved with players, and that’s just a boundary that’s not appropriate. Going to clubs with them. So, it’s just setting these boundaries of … I’m in a different category; in a position of power, I guess, a little bit. And I think that a lot of people abuse that. And that was something that I was always very cognizant of, is respecting the young ladies. You know, I would never walk into a locker room and just walk in unannounced. Hey, I’m coming in, put your clothes on, you know, get yourself appropriate, whether it’s a male assistant coach walking in with me or not. There was just a very strong, strict boundary that I was always … always made sure that I held, and I wanted my players to see that. Because that’s something that as they grew in their life, there has to be boundaries in their life as well with relationships and other things.

 

From the beginning, were you pretty good at reading players? I mean, you’ve been in sports all your life, so you knew a lot about dynamics. What about reading individuals?

 

You know, some people think I’m crazy for saying this on the show. I went through a lot of counseling, you know, later on in my life. And that is probably what helped me read people, and understand human behavior. And it also allowed me to develop a philosophy that if I wanted players to be their best, then I had to help them get to their best; if I wanted my players to be their best, I had to be at my best. And so, reading players and reading people, human behavior, I feel like that’s something that I’m pretty decent at.

 

Sometimes, the things that help you get to where you are aren’t the best thing for where you need to go.

 

No; sometimes they’re painful, sometimes they’re hard. You know, I’m not a believer that everything happens for a reason, although I guess it does. But I’m not a believer in that. I think things just are cruddy sometimes, and they happen. But it’s how you deal with that, and it’s the after effect that can take you to a really good, solid place in your life where you can continue to live in that yuck. And I just decided there was a point in my life where I didn’t want to live in that yuck.

 

You were already an authority figure when you went for counseling; right?

 

Yes.

 

Was that hard, to ask for help?

 

Yes. [CHUCKLE] Absolutely. It’s hard to go in and kinda put your heart on the table, and get very vulnerable with someone, particularly someone you don’t know, and let them kinda not pick you apart, but say, Okay, let’s go here, and you’re like, I don’t want to go there. Very, very difficult, particularly as a coach, ‘cause you’re always in control.

 

How do you deal with stress? I mean, there are so many things you can’t control in your life as a coach.

 

Yeah. I think one of them is—you just hit it on the head, is admitting and knowing what I can’t control. There are just certain things that I cannot control, because I don’t know what’s gonna happen with it. I have two huge dogs that walk me, and I love that. So, I get them out, go on hikes, try to just enjoy the beauty of Hawaii. The quality of life here is very different than the mainland. And so, for as busy and as stressed as I am, I have learned to enjoy that. And it’s a forced … take a deep breath. Again, going back to what I said earlier, being my best me. I know when I’m tired, I know when I’m overworked, I know when I’m cranky and people don’t want to be around me.   And it’s that moment I need to say, Okay, pause, and admit it.

 

For fifteen years, Laura Beeman was head coach of the women’s college basketball team at Mount San Antonio in a suburb of Los Angeles. She became a legend, leading the team to a record number of wins and state championships. Three years after she left, she accepted the position of head coach for Hawaii’s Rainbow Wahine Basketball Team. The program was in serious need of revitalization, but before Beeman could turn things around, she would first have to change the team culture.

 

The first year of recruiting, you did bring us out of a big stall. [CHUCKLE]

 

Well, you know, the cupboard wasn’t bare. You know, the coach prior did a great job of putting, you know, things there, pieces there for me. And so, we were able to take that group of young ladies and kind of regenerate and rejuvenate them and say, Let’s go. And they really bought into the philosophy of it’s not okay to be okay, we want to be better than okay, we want to be great, we want people to recognize us as great. And they bought into that.

 

So, was that kind of a culture of, we’re good enough, it’s good enough?

 

Very much so. When I met my team the first time, that was the running theme. I said, Okay, what’s gone on? And I remember Shawna Kuehu; love her, came into my office last week. She said, Coach, I’m tired of just being okay, and it’s okay to be okay here. And I said, I’ve never been okay. I’ve never been average, I’ve never been okay, and now I know what the problem is. So, give me your laundry list of things we need to change, I’ll let you know the things that I can try to change and the things I know I can change. And the one thing I can change is that culture. We’re not gonna be average here. But you’re gonna have to work.

 

Yeah; you can’t change the culture by saying, That’s not okay. How do you change a culture? I mean, this is not just one thing, this is a system of beliefs.

 

Yeah. One, I think you have to walk the walk as the coach. You know, you can’t walk in and be on your cell phone, and again, the things I spoke of earlier, you know, using foul language. You have to present yourself as a winner. You have to present yourself as a champion. Whether or not you feel you are, you have to present yourself as that. And I truly believed that if I could get this group of young ladies to buy into, I don’t lose, you guys, and I’m not trying to be arrogant. Not at all. I’ve been fortunate to have wonderful assistant coaches and resources, and have been able to get kids to come together and say, Hey, look at my record, this is what we’re gonna do here if you buy in. And here’s another thing; if you don’t want to buy in … what you’re doing isn’t working, so try something different. And they did. And so, it was a daily challenge to say, No, tuck your uniform in, tie your shoes this way, get in here, get to class, do what you’re supposed to do. Get on the end line, work hard, or please leave the gym, because you’re the one that said you didn’t want to be okay, not me. I have my degree, I’ve won. Let’s go. And so, when you talk that way to kids and you paint that picture of, I really think I can do this, and we have a leader that knows how to do it …

 

And you challenge them.

 

Big time; big time. I’m not gonna let a kid sit back and say they want something, and then not work for it. You have two choices; tell me what you want and we’re gonna go, or tell me what you want and not do it, and then I’m gonna ask you to go ahead and sit over there in the corner by yourself, and do your thing. Because you can do that without me. But if you want to win, and you want to be good, then let’s get together and let’s do this the right way. Don’t tell me what you want do; do what you’re gonna do. And that was a challenge, and that’s where we took that first group of young ladies is, let’s go, that’s enough of this, we have talent. And they bought into it.

 

So, you started with these young women.

 

M-hm.

 

And you made inroads. When you find somebody you really want to bring over, how do you get them here when they’re really looking askance at Hawaii?

 

We sell Hawaii on connection. We sell Hawaii on relationships. We sell Hawaii on the community. You know, we have been fortunate that four of our five years, we’ve done very well. And so, we can approach the, Okay, we’ve won.

 

How did your system of recruiting change as you went along, where you got to be the Big West Conference winner and coach of the year?

 

Yeah. That was fun. You know, as young ladies evolved as players, we all of a sudden said, Okay, this is the system we want to run, this is what we need to do to be successful in the Big West. And so, you go out and you kind of recruit pieces that fit your puzzle, and fit your system. And so, we were able to, after that first year—we were late in the recruiting process. You know, you recruit two and three years in advance.

 

And you came, I think, before the 2012-13 season.

 

April; yeah.

 

April.

 

And so, recruiting, though, for you know, 2012, 13, 14, coaches are already in the mix. They’ve already offered kids that were ‘14s, you know, graduating in ’14. So, we were behind the gun. We went after some key pieces. We found a couple JUCO kids.

 

What does JUCO mean?

 

JC.

 

Okay.

 

Community college, two-year. Found a couple, you know, JC kids, went and found a fifth year transfer; immediate fixes, immediate pieces. Good character kids, but they were gonna have to work. And they were able to get the group together. And then, we were able to play catch up a little bit in the recruiting process, and then bring in people that we wanted; high character, great work ethic. Pieces as far as whether it’s post player or guard, bring in those right pieces. And then, by the year that we finished second in conference and went to the NCAAs, we had put our puzzle together, and that was a really fun year.

 

When you were looking for those pieces, you were looking for specific athletic strengths; right?

 

Yes; absolutely.

 

And you said, high character.

 

M-hm; m-hm. That’s important. You know, if I look at a kid that’s high character and I can get the effort piece, then I know I’m not gonna have problems off the court. When I’m bringing in a young lady where I’m constantly, Go to class, don’t go to the club, what are you doing, it’s taking energy away from where we want to put our energy. So, you know, I say as a coach, the two things you should never have to coach as a coach are attitude and effort. I’ll coach your ability, I’ll motivate you, but I’m not gonna coach your effort, and I’m not gonna coach your attitude.

 

But you don’t know how a young person is gonna act when they get to this new exotic place away from their parental eyes and family.

 

You hope that you’ve developed enough of a relationship in the evaluation process of going out and watching them play, over the phone, through some text messages, talking to parents, that at least you’re not gonna completely get it wrong. Now, have I it got it wrong? Absolutely. And I’ll get wrong again. But you really try to develop a relationship. Recruiting is a relationship, it’s a fit. It’s not just a, I like the way you play, come play for me. There has to be more to it, so that you can keep kids here.

 

And I’m sure there’s always the temptation to say, This person has great raw talent.

 

M-hm.

 

I’m gonna take a big chance on somebody who doesn’t have a lot of the other elements.

 

M-hm.

 

Have you done that in your coaching career?

 

I have. I did that at Mount SAC a lot, because I’d already developed a culture, and I knew when I had a kid, say, that would come in with a bad attitude, I had fourteen young ladies in that locker room that were gonna help me manage them. And a couple really good captains that were gonna keep them in check. I couldn’t do that my first two years here, because we hadn’t developed the culture. When you get a good culture, you can take some risks, you can take some chances, because you have that base of great locker room talk. Where they come in and they’re like, Hey, let’s do this; and your captains go, No, that’s not what champions do, let’s not do that. So, when you get a little bit of a better culture and a foundation, you can take more risks.

 

How have local recruitments gone?

 

Tough; it’s tough. Th—the theme right now and the trend right now, they want to go to the mainland. They want a mainland experience. And some of them do well and stay, a lot of them come back home. Um, I would love to keep our local talent here, but it’s—it’s tough to fight the—the allure of the mainland. So, right now, we’re going after ‘em; we’re offering kids. I just have to keep them home.

 

And you don’t have a lot of people who are really tall awaiting—

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

–your call either in Hawaii.

 

Yeah, you know. But I have some tremendous athletes, and I have young ladies that understand the culture, and understand what it feels like to represent the State of Hawaii, and uh, play in front of their family and their aunties and their uncles, and that’s—that’s huge. So, um, I can find the guard or the forward, possibly, that wants to stay; yeah. Would I love there to be a six-four, six-five local kid that wants to stay home that can play basketball? Absolutely. Um, whether or not that happens, those are things I can’t control, I don’t worry about it. Right now, my challenge is to keep ‘em here.

 

 

Recruiting players and training them to perform during practice and games are only part of Coach Laura Beeman’s job. Teaching young people to become top athletes often requires coaching them off the court as well to learn the life skills they’ll need to achieve their athletic goals.

 

John Wooden, a great basketball coach, coined for this phrase of, Kids don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. And so, when you get people, business, team, whatever it is; when people really know you care about them, then you get a common goal, and people want to work hard for you. And that’s not just. Let me fake caring about these kids, and then they’re gonna work hard. My players know I genuinely care about them.

 

How do they know? Do they test you?

 

Of course they do. [CHUCKLE] What children don’t test; right?

 

How do they test you?

 

They’re gonna see how far they can take the discipline. You know, if they miss a class, is Coach really going to, you know, suspend me?

 

And that’s constant management for you.

 

Oh, yeah.

 

Isn’t it?

 

Yeah. And it’s constant discipline for me to stay consistent. Kids say they don’t want discipline. Kids love discipline, and they want consistency. So, it’s a test for me to say, We just talked about this last week, here we go again. That’s where I have to be very disciplined in what I do.

 

And the punishment is, they sit out?

 

Yeah. And you know, I don’t like a lot of rules. I want my players to manage themselves and discipline themselves, and know the right way to go. There is an area, though, that I don’t have any wiggle room; and that’s academics. A lot of coaches, when kids don’t go to class, they put ‘em on the track and they run ‘em. Well, my kids are already in shape, so running ‘em is very easy. I sit ‘em. And for my mainland kids, I sit ‘em when they go home. I let ‘em warm up, and don’t tell ‘em, and they go through all the warmups so people know they’re not hurt, and then they don’t play. And then, the parents come and say, Why did my kid not play? Go talk to your kid about her academics. Doesn’t happen again. And I tell my players that up front. I will put you in the position where you’re going to now get in trouble by your parents, not just me. So, we have a 3.1, 3.2 GPA. And that’s a pretty good GPA when we do as much traveling as we do. And I have a committed group of young ladies that understand that rule very, very clearly.

 

Through the time you’ve been coaching, have the issues that your players bring to you, personal issues, have they changed?

 

No. When I was at Mount SAC, I dealt with a population that—most of the population, single parent, first generation college, a lot of learning disabilities, and a lot of abuse. Whether it was substance, domestic, sexual; a lot of abuse. And so, basketball became the carrot that they wanted dangled in front of them, because that was their way out. That was their way into a better life. So, I would say that I didn’t deal with it as much. Not that it wasn’t there, but the kids didn’t have the need to come and talk to me as a coach. It was USC, different socioeconomic status. Coming back to Hawaii, the problems are the same, and it’s just do kids know that they’re there, do kids want to talk about ‘em. And my door is always open in case they do.

 

What about a difference in—you know, we’re seeing a change in generations and use of media. I mean, all kinds of changes in society. Is that reflected in the players you coach?

 

It is. You know, they’re very connected all the time to their devices. And I remember the first time I ever thought, Wow, there’s a separation with connection. A player texted me and said, Coach, you know, my grandmother died. And I’m like, Don’t text me that; come and see me. We need to give a hug here, we need to have a conversation, I need to check in with you. And all of a sudden, you get those types of conversation in text; there’s a disconnect. There’s an appropriate way of text messaging; Hey, meet me for coffee. Great. But don’t tell me a life issue through a text message, because I can’t see how you are and you can’t relay how you are, and it just allows kids to build this huge wall where they don’t get vulnerable, they don’t share emotion. And it doesn’t have to be with me. But I don’t think anyone can hide behind a wall their entire life and have healthy relationships. So, there’s a huge disconnect, more today than when I started at Mount SAC. And I’m dealing with the same age group; right? I get older, they stay the same.

 

And so, you’ve gotten a chance to see what happens to your eighteen, nineteen, twenty, twenty-one-year-old players. What have you seen as far as after their sports involvement? What happens?

 

Lot of them have gone on to coaching. Couple of them are in administration. You see them get married, have children, or great relationships, you know, get jobs where they’re successful. And a lot of them come back and say, Coach, you know, this is what I’m doing. Going to weddings, and you know, it’s been great to see them grow as young women, and see them apply some of the things that they fought you on [CHUCKLE] so many years ago.

 

And now, they enforce.

 

And now, they enforce. You know, I watch them coach, and I’m like, Okay, now they get it, they get how hard this is. And watching them have those boundaries and those rules, and it’s really fun; it’s really fun.

 

Did you have to go through a learning curve to be accepted here? Did you have to change anything about yourself?

 

That’s the weird thing for me, is I feel like I’m more myself here than I’ve ever been, because of how accepting people are. I got some great advice when I was hired. You know, don’t get political, stay out of it. You know, understand the culture, and some key things about the culture. And I listened to that. And also, saw that the people that were mentoring me, and on my interview committee, and women that came up and said, We want to be on your hui, we want to help you, were authentic. And they were just transparent in everything they did with me. And I saw that. And I thought, Okay, you need to be Laura Beeman, you can’t be anybody else, you have to be Laura Beeman. And if you’re honest and do things the way that you feel is right, even if you make a mistake, people are gonna be okay with that. I don’t know why I was embraced here so quickly. But I’m thankful for it.

 

You have a statewide constituency as coach, especially in the islands, because we don’t have professional sports. And so, you know, statewide audiences are watching, and proud, or willing to complain.

 

And when they see you embrace the culture, and they see you embrace—I’m just gonna say it, the aloha spirit, they love that. And so, when you have an off year—I’ve probably had more people come to me this off season and say, Coach, great job. And this is the worst year we’ve had. Because they see it in my face that this was a tough year, we struggled. This is not what I wanted. You know, this is not meeting my expectations. And so, pounding my head against the wall, what I did wrong, I’ve had more people come up to me and say, Keep doing what you’re doing. That doesn’t happen in a lot of other places. You walk through the airport, and instead of someone looking at you and giving you stink eye, they come up and they … Thank you, Coach. And you know, Can we take pictures with you and your team and, can you sign this and, my little girl wants to meet you. And that comes at wonderful, wonderful times when it’s tough. I feel that the community here sees these kids in the community, they see these kids going to class and graduating, they see the work that we’re putting in, and embracing what we have here. And I think that that’s something that when you live here, you understand it. If you don’t live here, you don’t.

 

You’ve been through a lot of victories in your life, though.

 

Uh, yeah.

 

Does it get old hat?

 

No, no, no, no, no. [CHUCKLE] Winning is fun.

 

When Laura Beeman first arrived at UH, the buzz was quite positive. Her hire was considered a good get for the University of Hawaii. And since then, there have been rumors about certain Pac-12 schools being very interested in hiring her away. At the time of our conversation in 2017, five years in, Coach Beeman said Hawaii has been good to her. She did mention that coaching at this level is tough on the body and the daily schedule, and there will be a time when she’d like to explore athletics administration. Mahalo to Laura Beeman of Honolulu, and thank you for watching Long Story Short on PBS Hawaii. 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 have to make a lot of real time, fast decisions when you’re in the middle of a game. How do you do that? And do you have trouble doing that at all?

 

At times, for sure. At times, you can get caught up in the emotion, you can get caught up in a certain play and miss what’s going on over here. That’s why I have incredible assistant coaches. They don’t miss a thing.

 

It’s teamwork. This is not the Laura Beeman Show; trust me.

 

[END]

 


PBS HAWAI‘I PRESENTS
Voyage of the Hōkūle‘a

 

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

 

Undefeated by Dark Times

 

CEO Message

 

Undefeated by Dark Times

Dr. Elliot Kalauawa and Ralph Aviles

Dr. Elliot Kalauawa, Waikiki Health’s Chief Medical Officer   |   Ralph Aviles, former professional boxer

 

Leslie Wilcox, PBS Hawai‘i President and CEOIt’s happened maybe a dozen times already.
Within a minute of running into someone I know or meeting someone new, I’m asked about a guest whom I interviewed recently on our weekly Long Story Short program.

 

“You know, the man from Waikīkī,” said Blake Johnson of Honolulu, shortly after we met at a PBS Hawai‘i film screening. “What a guy! I can’t think of his name.”

 

Mr. Johnson went on: “You ask yourself, ‘Can he be real?’”

 

He was referring to Dr. Elliot Kalauawa, Chief Medical Officer at nonprofit Waikiki Health, who matter-of-factly told about growing up in Pālolo public housing. An only child, he didn’t know his father, and at a young age, his single mother left him on his own much of the time, going off to drink and gamble.

 

There was not the slightest trace of self-pity or bitterness as he related how he would eat dinner alone most evenings and put himself to bed. In the light of morning, he would find his mother sleeping soundly in her bed. Taking care not to awaken her, he would kiss her goodbye before making his way to school.

 

The future Dr. Kalauawa blamed no one for his circumstances. He knew that his mother loved bars and card games. He also knew that she loved him.

 

“I’m really happy I came upon that program,” Mr. Johnson smiled. “He’s quite a person. Yes, he’s real.”

 

Viewer Judy Soares also was moved by Dr. Kalauawa’s story. And she found former professional boxer Ralph Aviles “spell-binding” as he described his tough early childhood and his volunteer work today with at-risk youth.

 

Ms. Soares wrote: “I am a retired teacher who worked at a school where children came from difficult family circumstances. I used to spend many hours worrying about their futures. After seeing your interviews, I was so happy to see the resilience both men displayed.”

 

“…Both now have a dedication to helping less fortunate people. But they don’t do the helping in a condescending way – they respect the people they are helping. It’s inspirational.”

 

These Long Story Short guests are not celebrities, but they shine. Their dark times didn’t defeat them. These men quietly illuminate their lives and those of others.

 

A hui hou (until next time),

 

Leslie signature

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Rita Palafox

 

Rita Palafox left her sheltered plantation upbringing on Maui to join the Army straight after high school, and serve her country in the Vietnam War. Her 20-year career took her places beyond Hawai‘i – to Guam to recruit, and to the Deep American South, in the heart of Klan country.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, Oct. 1, at 4:00 pm.

 

Rita Palafox Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

Today, you have women climbing telephone poles, repairing lines, jumping out of aircraft if they want to go airborne, and infantry. So, the doors are wide open now, because we’re integrated. But back when I first joined, jobs were limited, and to get promoted, you had to compete with the men.

 

Rita Palafox joined the Women’s Army Corps at a time when there were very few opportunities for women, whether it was in the Army, or on Maui, where she grew up. She left her plantation community to provide for herself, and became witness to one of the most transformative eras in modern American history. Rita Palafox, next, on Long Story Short.

 

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

 

Aloha mai kākou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Rita Margarita Palafox served in the Women’s Army Corps, or WAC, for twenty years, retiring at the rank of Master Sergeant in 1976. Her military career spanned a time of profound change in America, from her encounter with segregation in the 1950s to working as an Army recruiter at the height of protests against the Vietnam War. Growing up in a small plantation community on the north side of Maui in the 40s and 50s did not prepare her for the culture shock she would later experience, but it did teach her important survival skills.

 

I was born in Spreckelsville on Maui, 1937. Community living was wonderful. I had so many aunties and uncles, as everybody kinda was like one family. We shared problems, went to school together, some from grade school to high school. The thing that I did not appreciate as a youngster was the outside toilet facilities. Hated that. But we learned to cope and live with it. Everybody, I would consider, whether you were Japanese, Portuguese, Filipino, the living was hard. The women, some worked in the cane field to help to provide food for family. My father was fortunate to work in the plantation store, but he had a hard job. He had to go to each camp, and there was ten of ‘em, to take orders from the families, and then take it back to the store, and fill those orders, and deliver it again the next day. I was about four or five years old when I used to go with him. He was my babysitter, being the youngest in the family. So, I watched him do this and said: Whoa, what a hard job. But then, Mama-san and Papa-san, and my aunties and all my uncles used to see me in the car and bring things for me, so I kinda benefited from this wonderful trip. But I learned how hard living was. If people didn’t, you know, unite together to survive, it was hard living.

 

He was the plantation store manager, which I don’t think a lot of Filipino guys did in plantation days; right?

 

M-hm. He also loved music. He could go to the store and buy a Glenn Miller, let’s say, one of his favorite songs, and he could write notes for every instrument. And I told him: How did you learn all this? He said: It was a gift. And he started putting together a band. ‘Til this day, he never told us how he managed to get them all dressed in Navy uniform. They rented it, but I don’t think it was ever returned.

 

They used to call it the Old Filipino Glenn Miller Band. It bothered my mom, because she needed his help sometimes, but she knew he loved his music.

 

Your mother was a Vares.

 

Yes.

 

Portuguese stock.

 

Yes.

 

And then, your dad, a Palafox; Filipino.

 

Yes.

 

And tell me about how those ethnic groups affected your upbringing.

 

Well, to be honest with you, you know, our camps, we had Filipino Camps, Japanese Camps.

 

Portuguese Camps.

 

Portuguese Camp, Korean, Chinese, Hawaiian. And the camp we lived in, we always get picked by the other kids, because it’s supposed to be the worst; outside bathrooms, the facilities weren’t as good as the ones in the other camp. They had indoor toilet facilities, little things like that.

 

So, people teased you for having the junkest facilities.

 

Yeah; and you know, like with the low class and stuff like that.

 

Because which camp were you in?

 

I was in Camp 1; they used to call that the …

 

Filipino Camp?

 

Filipino Camp. But you know, later on, as they ran out of home facilities for the other race, like the Japanese, they kind of brought them into our camp, which was good. You know, so we had a mixed plate after a while. But anyway, it was hard. Being Filipino, I’m going be very honest with you, they used to call us book-books.

 

It’s usually the newer immigrant group that gets picked on; right? And Filipinos were newer.

 

Yes. I went to Maui High School, and I always used to tell my brother: We’re only going to school to eat lunch. We were that motivated in the sense that, you know, I love history and I love science. So, those are the two subjects I made sure I paid strict—I was not what you would consider a college-bound student at that time.

 

Just weren’t interested?

 

Just weren’t interested, and knowing my parents could not afford it, anyway. You know. But they did save a lot for the two oldest. They did very well in school. In fact, all three of them went to Catholic school. They pulled them out of the public school, because they were complaining that the teachers were not fair. You know, they favored certain groups.

 

Ethnic groups?

 

Yes.

 

Which ethnic groups?

 

Japanese.

 

In public schools.

 

In public schools. My brother would say: I raise my hand, I had the answer, they called the next person, you know, the other person. So, my mom and dad talked, and says: About time we sacrifice, and pull our kids out of public school and send them to Holy Rosary Catholic.

 

But not you.

 

I lucked out, because, I said I didn’t want to go to a Portuguese school. No; it was a joke in the family.

 

Because Catholic schools are—

 

Most of the Portuguese—

 

Many Catholics are Portuguese.

 

Right. And I said: I went to school with all my friends from the camp, and I want to stay with them. My father said: No, you’re going. I said: No, I’m not. So, I won. I said: Dad, save your money; I’m barely making it through grade school, I can save you a lot of money, Dad.

 

So interesting that you weren’t a motivated student.

 

You know, my friends used say, I’m gonna be a beautician, I’m gonna be this, I’m gonna work in the bank, I’m gonna be a nurse. The only thing that really got my interest was the military, because my father was in the National Guard. He spent twenty-six years there. He was a wonderful sharpshooter.

 

Expert rifleman?

 

Yeah; expert. And he had his own rifle team, and they used to compete with all the other island National Guardsmen and Reserve. And they did pretty good. When I became a sophomore, I start thinking: Hey, you know, you better start thinking what you’re gonna do, ‘cause time is going fast. So, I thought about the military.

 

And what was there for women at that time?

 

Very little; the jobs were scarce. But you know, what motivated me is that they had some technical fields that I had been interested in. And definitely, they had the GI Bill, which is a college degree. So, if I could progress myself and find myself, hopefully in the military as a starter, maybe there’s a possibility I can, you know, find myself.

 

After graduating from Maui High School, Rita Palafox went right into the service, volunteering for the Women’s Army Corps. She was sent to Alabama for basic training, and on the journey there, had her first encounter with segregation.

 

We knew there were some racial problems, but we didn’t know how severe it was until we went by train, and our first stop was Texas. And we had stopover there, and that’s the first time we were exposed by the word Whites Only Bathroom, Colored or Black Bathroom Only. So, you know, we figured with our group, we had eight of us. We had some Filipino gals, a Hawaiian gal, and looking at me, mixed plate, dark, my tan. Well, we were confused and scared. For me, I have to use the word culture shock. It took a while for me to look at that and say: My god, we just raised our right hand and swear under oath that we will support and defend this wonderful country of ours, and this is the best they can do for us?

 

What year was that?

 

This was 1955.

 

And you had to choose what bathroom to go to?

 

Yeah.

 

White, or non-White?

 

Right in Texas. And so, we decided to flip a coin.

 

And we ended up going into the Black side of the house. And they were just as shocked as we were, because, whoa, here’s a group of—some of ‘em thought we were White trash trying to make trouble. So, we told them we were from Hawaiʻi. The minute we said that, boy, the whole world stopped. This one gal held the door open and says: I’ll hold the door. Because you had to pay a dime to use the bathroom. It was not free. So, we apologized; it was sad. And later on, we just told them, I wonder why they don’t have one for beige.

 

Everybody had a laugh about that. What about riding the bus? Anything happen on that score?

 

Yes. Our first pass, which we worked so hard for to go downtown and shop, and hopefully go to a Chinese restaurant and have some hopefully good Chinese food. Well, I was the last to board the bus. And I know there was a little bit confusion, ‘cause I could sit on … our group that went on the bus. I mean, like …

 

Where were they sitting? The ones who already got on the bus; where were they sitting?

 

Well, I don’t know what the bus driver really told them until I thought I heard: Back of the bus. So, my five senses went twenty-four/seven like, bing-bing, the vision got sharper, the hearing. I said to myself: Oh, my god, not on the bus. So, by the time I got to my turn to pay, I looked at the bus driver and I said: Did you say the back of the bus? He said, Well, yeah. Kinda he was just as stunned seeing all this. So, I said: You know, sir, in Hawaiʻi, we fight for the back seat.

 

And that’s so true.

 

And over here, we can go and, we can go to—

 

Now it’s reserved for you.

 

And he said: Hawaiʻi? He served with some folks from Hawaiʻi, and he apologized in the sense he said: You tell them sit anywhere they want. But they were already sitting down by the time I got there. So, I went to the back, and asked this nice gal in the back; I said: Do you mind if I sit with you? She says: Oh, no. So, I sat down. She said: What happened? And I told her. She just touched my hand and said: Thank you.

 

She was a Black woman?

 

Yes. So, I asked permission to sit back there. And I think I did tell her: I wish they had one for beige. And I said this was our first pass, and what a way to go. So, there was a lot of bumps in the road.

 

What a disconnect, after swearing patriotically.

 

Yes; that’s what hurt the most. Right. And how proud my father was when he arrived here. You know. And to be greeted like this, I’m saying: My god, this can’t be America, the land of the free.

 

So, you volunteered for the Women’s Army Corps.

 

Correct.

 

Which many people now don’t really maybe recall that there was a separate division for women, and it was separate, and not equal, because pay, power, very different in the Women’s Army Corps.

 

And you had to compete. When promotions come in, you then have to compete with the guys.

 

Tell me; were there jobs that were earmarked for women, and others for men, or were you competing for the same slots?

 

Well, when I joined, I would say we were lucky as women if we had thirty jobs available.

 

For women?

 

For women. The rest was open for the men. I lucked out, because I got on-the-job training. I guess my typing skills was so good they said: Don’t spend money on her, just send her on to her next assignment as a clerk typist. I knew pretty much what I was getting into. We had a wonderful recruiter. I mean, she let us pretty much know what was going on. Not too much with the problems with segregation and all that good stuff. She touched off a little bit, but not enough. We only took the minimum two-year service to find ourself, for me. And if I could not, you know, in two years realize, you know, what I should do, then I was in trouble. I mean, it was an opportunity, you know.

 

So, in two years, did you find yourself?

 

I sure did. We had a bulletin go out in every WAC detachment, and I used to check that bulletin board like a hawk eye. And when I was stationed in Oakland, my first assignment army terminal, I saw on the board, Okinawa. I said: Oh, wow. But I knew I didn’t have enough service time. You needed a year, unless you waiver your time. So, I only came in for two; I had to have three years. So, I went right to the first sergeant and asked what paperwork I needed to waiver and take that extra year. And she said: Oh, I don’t know, you still, you know, should stay a little longer, Rita. You know. And I said: No, I want to go. So, I lucked out and got Okinawa. So, when I got there, my first sergeant was Charles Los Banos. And that name is for me, legendary. So, I said: Wow. He was very strict with me. He said: Don’t you make trouble or bring shame to us, you know. He just wanted me to make sure, you know, watch what I do. And he was very protective. I told him: Jesus Christ, I left Hawaiʻi to get away from my father, and look at you.

 

So, was he talking about dating?

 

Dating, and be careful because uh, you know, we were young. He used to take me home, and met the family, and pretty much felt very adopted by this wonderful family. What a wonderful soldier, professional. So, I consider him a mentor. So, through his wonderful guidance, he kinda instilled me. I think I pretty much found myself, and I thank him, because I believe in mentors. I think this is why I can honestly sit here and tell you if it wasn’t for all these wonderful people who cared, I wouldn’t be sitting in front of you today.

 

Did you have a significant other?

 

No. No; at the time when I joined the Women’s Army Corps, once you got married, you had to get out. So, you know, we are—

 

You were marrying the Army.

 

We were married to the Army until the law changed. And it didn’t change until we integrated.

 

Which was when?

 

I would say between ’75, ’76; maybe after that.

 

After her two-year assignment in Okinawa ended, Rita Palafox reenlisted in the Women’s Army Corps. She was next stationed at Fort Ord, California before heading to Fort Lawton, Washington, where she was one of twelve women picked to be a senior missile tracker. Her second three-year term of service was almost over, when yet a new opportunity opened up.

 

Doris Caldwell; she was a young captain at that time. She knew I was thinking about getting out of the service, you know, when I was there in Seattle. So, she kinda sneaky through or politely knew the director of the Women’s Army Corps was coming, and she said: Rita, if you had one job that you’d like, which job would you take in the Army? I said: Recruiting. Knowing the chances of me getting army recruiting in Hawaii was … forget it.

 

Why would you want to recruit? ‘Cause this was during the Vietnam era.

 

Yes.

 

And you know, it was a hard sell in Hawaiʻi, in many cases.

 

Reason; you know, like I said, as you progress through your journeys, you grow up a little bit, you start finding yourself, and you said: Wow, I wonder what I’d be like if, you know, I could share my journey with the people that I really have high respect for, you know, or local kids. I mean, for me, I mean, there’s quality here. I mean, the family, the tradition of the Nisei or the Japanese, the 442nd. I mean, history is here. And I’ll be darned if I didn’t get recruiting.

 

The Vietnam War, of course, became a very unpopular war. Was it unpopular at the time you were recruiting?

 

Pretty much. In fact, Patsy Mink and Abercrombie was doing their thing with the University of Hawaiʻi. I’m not against demonstrating; I think it’s honorable, I think that’s what we fight for, and to have our freedom of speech and stuff. But when they go cross the line, yeah, we have problems in Hawaiʻi, but not as bad as California. Burning of the flags, draft cards, walking around with packages over their head. The part that hurt me the most, our recruiting station was on Halekauwila Street next to the unemployment office. And President Johnson came to visit with Inouye to give a speech at ʻIolani Palace. I went with my commanding officer. And they were so loud and so … oh, I was so embarrassed that these folks, as the President was trying to talk, they were yelling and screaming, and doing whatever with packages over their head. I went up one of ‘em and I said: If you believe so strong against the Vietnam War, take the package off your head. I know they weren’t from Hawaiʻi. Then, you had these kids that, not to be drafted, come in and say: I want to volunteer. There’s the balance. I said: My god, here’s this one guy putting a package over his head, demonstrating against the war, probably will never serve, and here’s the kids still coming in the door saying: I want to go in the Army and volunteer.

 

How did you feel about the Vietnam War at that time?

 

Pretty much, I’m not one for wars. I did a lot of visits to cemeteries. I still have a hard time.

 

But you still volunteered, asked for the recruiting job.

 

Yes.

 

With unsettled feelings about war.

 

Wars. There’s a lot of us feel the same way, even the ones that went there. You know, and some went back for second tour, because in their heart, especially if they lose a comrade at arms, their friend, they felt: Gee, I lived, and he didn’t, I want to go back. And they knew at that time, it was not a fair situation. They did not know a lot of things that was going on, and it was troubling for them, but they went back because they lived, and their friend didn’t. One of the things when I was picked as the recruiter here in Hawaiʻi, I knew I was already in trouble. Because the recruiting station know for you to get in recruiting, you had to be a recruiter. Well, I was brand new, fresh. There were warning signs that if I don’t produce, you know, the door I came in would be open to go out, kinda thing. I saw this recruiter by the name of Joseph Hao, top recruiter in the nation. And I said to myself: Who best can train me than him? He said: You know what; lot of those schools have ROTC. The Cabral brothers was with Kamehameha School, so he knew them. He said: I’m gonna call them, and see what they can do for you. I said: I want to go to Kamehameha School. He said: Forget it; I don’t think the principal gonna let you in. I said: Well, we can try. But the Cabral brothers got me in. And I was greeted by the president; I think her name was Clark. She said: You can talk to them, but they’re all college-bound. I said: Okay, at least I have the opportunity; thank you very much. So, I wore my dress blues, I went up there. I gave my presentation. And I was shocked; after I was done, about five of ‘em came up to me, says: Can we talk to you privately? I said: I’d love to have you guys. So, they came down. The principal wasn’t too choked up. But they came down, and they went in the service. Just to make a long story short; these kids, I know they were good. If you live in a dorm, they had white glove inspection. You know, basic training would be a breeze for them. They went in there, and we got a letter from the director of the Women’s Army Corps. She got a letter from the commandant of the Women’s Army Corps in Alabama, and she said she was so proud that there was a group of young women that came in and broke every record at the training center. American Spirit Award was the top, outstanding training; every category our good old Kamehameha School did it.

 

And that didn’t keep the young women from going to college, either. In fact, they would have their college paid for if they stayed in.

 

In fact, I had feedback from one of ‘em; she thanked me. She said: You know, I saved my parents a lot of money; I got something they could not afford. She was a good student, and thanks to the Army, she got her degree.

 

Did the headmaster let you back in?

 

No problem.

 

After nine years of recruiting in Hawaiʻi, Rita Palafox was proud to be asked to establish a recruiting center on Guam. Three years later, the Guam Legislature acknowledged her for meritorious work. Rita Palafox left recruiting to become a drill sergeant back in Alabama, at the same basic training camp where she started her Army career fifteen years earlier. She had received many commendations by the time she retired in 1976. Moving home to Hawaiʻi, she spent the next twenty-one years working for the Department of Veterans Affairs. Mahalo to Maui girl Rita Palafox, retired and living in Windward Oʻahu at the time of this conversation in 2017, for your service to our county in active duty and civilian roles over a career that saw tremendous change in America. And thank you, for joining us. For PBS Hawaiʻi 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.

 

Don Ho was my best friend. ‘Cause every group that graduated, or day before they finished their basic training, the last song they play before bedtime was the Taps, and I used to do my walk and give them my farewell speech. And I said: I would like for you to meet my best friend. And I turn on my tape recorder, and Don Ho would come on and say: I’d like to dedicate this song to my family, or to the audience, and then he sings I Will Remember You. And as soon as he got through singing, I would say to them: Bring some aloha wherever you go, whatever you do. Show respect, love one another, and spread some aloha throughout this world; we need it.

 

[END]

 

 

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