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WASHINGTON WEEK

WASHINGTON WEEK

 

For more than 45 years, Washington Week has been the most intelligent and up to date conversation about the the most important news stories of the week. Washington Week is the longest-running primetime news & public affairs program on television and features a group of journalists participating in roundtable discussions of major news events. Online at pbs.org/washingtonweek or on Twitter @washingtonweek.

 

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Dave Shoji

 

Hawaiʻi volleyball fans know him as one of the sport’s winningest coaches of all time. Dave Shoji, former University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa Wahine Volleyball Coach, looks back at his 42-year coaching career. He led his teams to win more than 1,200 matches, with a .855 percentage of wins. Now retired in Honolulu, Shoji is focused on his family – and his health. Diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2016, Shoji says he’s grateful for the medical care and support he received during his treatment. “You never know,” he says. “You just pray and you try to live healthy. I’m pretty good right at this moment.”

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, Apr. 5, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

More from Dave Shoji:

 

Geographic Expansion

 

Picking the Right Battles

 

Recruiting

 

Character

 

Grace

 

Off the Court

 

Former Hawaiʻi ESPN SportsCenter anchor Neil Everett lists the top 10 Dave Shoji wins

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

I don’t know where my life would’ve gone, had I not had volleyball. And I, I’m so grateful that I’ve been blessed with, with all of this. This is unbelievable, and so, again, I gotta give credit to the man upstairs, and, uh…I’m, I’m just really grateful for the life I’ve had.

 

He was the second women’s volleyball coach in the history of the National Collegiate Athletic Association to reach the 1,200-win milestone. Many believe the truly remarkable statistic is that his teams won more than 85% of the matches they played during his 42-year coaching career. But during most of his own years playing several different sports, volleyball was not one of them. Former University of Hawaiʻi Wahine volleyball coach, Dave Shoji, next, on Long Story Short.

 

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

 

Hanging high above the live action on the floor of the Stan Sheriff Center on the Mānoa campus of the University of Hawaiʻi, four banners are on display, proudly representing national championships. Linked to those team titles is another banner paying tribute to an individual and the stellar record amassed through four decades by the man who would build a women’s collegiate volleyball unlike any other.

 

Aloha māi kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Despite his coaching success and national recognition, Dave Shoji says he did not receive many offers to coach at other schools, and he simply was not interested in coaching anywhere else. Shoji spent time in the islands as a young boy, but he was really a west coast kid whose parents were from the farmlands of California. Kobe and Shizuko Shoji wouldn’t meet until 1942, when the families were forced by the U.S. government to relocate out of state.

 

One thing that I, I don’t know if people know about you is where your parents met. Where was that? Can you tell me their story?

 

My parents met…they actually lived about fifteen miles from each other. One lived in upland-my dad lived Upland, California. My mom’s family lives in Chino. They had heard about each other but never met. Once the war broke out and both families were sent to Arizona…

 

Internment Camp.

 

Internment Camp Poston Arizona. I guess they met there. And, um…actually got married before my dad volunteered for the 442, and he was sent off to war, so…

 

Did he ever talk about what it was like to have been in an internment camp, only to then enlist for the very people who imprisoned you?

 

You know, my dad, like a lot of the 442 people, never really wanted to talk about it. So, he didn’t talk about it with his family, with our, our siblings, and…so we knew very little about it. All we knew is that they met, and they got married, and he went off to war, and-

 

Did your mom talk about it?

 

My mom didn’t talk about it much either. Um, it’s funny. I don’t know if it was more private or something, but, uh, they didn’t really share a lot of that stuff with the kids. We would ask, but we’d get kind of one word answers all the time, like, “Yes.” “How was it?” “Oh, it wasn’t great.” “Uh, what did you eat?” “We had little to eat.” Stuff like that. It’s just, uh…not, not too much information.

 

But not resentment? Just-

 

No, I don’t think there was a lot of resentment. My mom was such a sweet person, she couldn’t resent anybody. Uh, and…my, my dad, you know, volunteering was, uh, his way of showing, you know, that he was an American.

 

Uh, and he was quite athletic, I’m told.

 

He was. Uh, he ended up going to Pomona College, but he was a tailback on a single-win, wing football team. He long jumped 24 feet-

 

24 feet?

 

24 feet. Plus, um…so, that kind of tells you what kind of athlete he was. A football player and a, a track star. So, um…and he could do anything. He was very, very coordinated, and that’s where, kind of, I was like, “Wow. I, I need to start doing some of this.”

 

In 1949, Kobe and Shizu Shoji moved to Hawaiʻi with their two sons, Dave and Tom. Dad Kobe Shoji would spend a decade teaching plant physiology at the University of Hawaiʻi. Dave’s younger brother, Kelvin, was born in the islands. The family would later move to Hilo, when Kobe accepted a position with Steve Breuer. Eventually the demands of extensive work-related travel forced the family to move. Dave and Tom Shoji would return to California to live with an aunt. Their parents and the youngest son lived in Iran and Puerto Rico for several years during the 1960’s.

 

Even your brothers were sports guys. And were they athletes as well?

 

My brothers were athletes. Um…at an earlier age…my, my-actually one of my brothers, Tom, played college football at UC Santa Barbara. So, he was quite an athlete as well.

 

And you were a, what, triple letter college athlete?

 

No, just two letters in college. Like, three in high school. I played football, basketball, and baseball in high school. Baseball was my best sport. Uh I played at a high level in high school, and the American legion ball, and then I got actually a scholarship to go to Santa Barbara to play baseball. But I realize that, at that time, that I wasn’t going to go anywhere in baseball, so…

 

Because?

 

Uh, I was too small. I…my arm wasn’t good enough. Um, I didn’t have any power. Um…it’s just a different game in college, and I, I was a good high school player, but I knew I wasn’t going anywhere in the sport.

 

And volleyball, how did that come to your attention?

 

Well almost by mistake. I was taking a volleyball class at Santa Barbara, and the instructor was the coach of the volleyball team. His name is Dennis Berg, still a really good friend of mine. He has an Olympian daughter, Lindsey Berg. But, uh…I was taking the class, and I was doing pretty good, and my buddy and I just loved it, and we’d go play wreck volleyball on, uh, on the weekends. And so, the coach, Dennis, said, “Hey, you guys need to come out for the team.” So, I said, “Ok, we’ll, we’ll go out.” So as juniors we, we went out for the team and made the team. I don’t know, I guess the team wasn’t very good or something.

 

You did become an All-American in volleyball.

 

Well back then it was…it wasn’t the same sport as it is today. It was pretty low-level, but, uh, we enjoyed it and we had a good time, and we actually won a national-

 

And you picked it right up. Oh, you won the national…

 

We won one national championship in 1969. That’s kind of my claim to fame as a player.

 

And, uh, were you thinking about, uh, coaching it as you were playing? Or, had uh, any thought since you’re, you know…the, the coach had plucked you out and showed you the sport?

 

Yeah, I had no idea about coaching. I knew I wanted to be involved in athletics somehow. I was trying to be maybe a high school basketball coach, or, not even volleyball…basketball, maybe, but, um…it wasn’t really in my vision yet.

 

Dave Shoji enrolled in ROTC while in college in Santa Barbara, and graduated with a two-year commitment for active duty in the army as an infantry officer. Once again, a volleyball opportunity presented itself. He was recruited to tour and play for the Army’s volleyball team, and then the All-Armed Forces Squad, which very possibly turned out to be a life-altering experience because this infantry officer most likely would’ve been deployed during the height of the Vietnam War. With his college degree and honorable discharge from the army, Dave Shoji returned to Hawaiʻi, where his parents were living again. It was the early 70’s, and after a brief stint as a dishwasher in a local restaurant, Shoji returned to school for a post-graduate study at UH. He found himself helping to set up a new volleyball program. It was the early years of Title 9, and the university had a new Senior Athletic Director for women, Dr. Donnis Thompson

 

She started the UH Athletic Department for Women, and she had two sports. And she chose…she was a track athlete, so she started track…track and field, and then she chose volleyball ‘cause she thought volleyball, uh, had kind of a natural interest in, in Hawaiʻi, and we had some really good athletes. So-

 

And yet volleyball was, uh…it, it wasn’t a…the kind of sport you think of first, first off if you’re looking for sports, right? At that time, it was something you wouldn’t think of right off the top.

 

Well, at that time it was a very regional sport. It was basically on west coast. The Midwest, the south, and east had no volleyball, basically no volleyball. They had teams, but they, they weren’t very good. So, the sport was based in west coast. And so she saw that, and she, she knew we would bring people over and we could go there more inex-you know, inexpensively, so that’s kind of where we focused and she focused. She was…she was quite a woman, and quite a pioneer the sport and women’s athletics in general.

 

Did you ever coach men’s volleyball?

 

Oh, I coached four or five years at UH. They asked me to take the program back. Uh…they dropped the program for a while, and then they wanted to start up again. So, I, I was coaching both men and women at the same time.

 

What’s the difference? What, what is it like coaching men and women?

 

Oh, it’s night and day. Yeah, it’s, uh…I always felt like the women were more receptive to my teaching. They, they were willing to learn about techniques and they would actually listen. You know, and do things. The guys just wanted to play. They wanted to play. They were more athletic, and so they didn’t want to do drills. They just wanted to play, which is ok…um, it, it just wasn’t my way of coaching. So, it wasn’t real enjoyable for me. We had great games. We had great teams, uh, even early on, but, um…I decided, like, I, I’d rather stay on the women’s side and let somebody else do the men. And, and the men have done fantastic over the years, too.

 

That must’ve been hard, doing both at the same time?

 

Well, it was. It was, uh, because the men’s season was in the spring, and the women’s in the fall. So, the, the recruiting part of, uh, the women’s game was in the spring, and I had a hard time juggling both-coaching the men and then trying to recruit for the women, and running the women’s spring season. So, it, it was difficult.

 

And were the men and women, at that time, playing at Klum gym?

 

Yeah.

 

Uh, and people don’t remember it. Many people don’t, or weren’t, weren’t alive then, but it was a…it was small, wooden gym.

 

It’s still there. Klum Gym is still there.

 

I didn’t even know it was still standing.

 

If you had seen games there and wanted to walk in there and, like, reminisce, you can still do that ‘cause it’s still up. My dad took me to basketball games at Klum, and, in, I think, I remember 1956 or something, it was built. And I thought, “Man, this is awesome place.”

 

For the audience it’s fabulous ‘cause you’re right near the athletes.

 

Yeah, it, it was…

 

It’s really hot in there, though.

 

It was really hot, but we had a big homecourt advantage. I mean, teams would come in there and it was just stifling hot, but our, our kids were used to it, so we usually won.

 

That, um…and so, you developed a fanbase that, I don’t know, may be second to none. Tell me about that, the relationship with fans.

 

Well, you know, back in the early days, we had people…I don’t know who they were. They would show up, and, and then…I don’t know. We had a lot of local kids on the team, so I think that was part of the attraction, and then I’m from Hawaiʻi, and so I think there was some kind of bond there. But they, they would come and then we’d start winning, and I think people jump on the bandwagon and they come, but then they’re hooked. They, they see the game. They see the girls and, and, uh, they just fall in love with not only the, the game, but the players and, and the coaches. So, we had a little, I call it a cult following, you know? It was like-

 

What, what about the aunties? What kind of cult is that?

 

Well it’s just…uh, at that time, they weren’t old. But they, they…but, um…you know, no one really knew about us outside, uh, you know, this tiny little circle. So, we had…first it was like 1200, and then 1500, and then 1800 packed, you know, the Klum gym, and then…and so we had a really loyal following, even back then. It was, as far as I knew, it was only 1800 people. Um…we weren’t on television yet.

 

The coaches of the other teams would sometimes say there was a real high level of volleyball knowledge and appreciation in Hawaiʻi.

 

Oh, absolutely. Uh, our fans, especially the ones that followed us from early on, they knew volleyball. And they knew good volleyball, and they appreciate good volleyball. And if it came from the other team, so be it. They would appreciate volleyball that was played, uh, at a high level by the other team. They wouldn’t ever be nasty to the other team. Uh, they’d cheer their plays as well as ours.

 

You know what really used to move me so much was, um, the aunties would give lei to your players, but they’d also give lei to the, many times to the other players as well.

 

It was interesting, the other night, at the Cal Poly game. So, we win. Our girls go and get the lei from the aunties. Um, the other team storms off…’cause they’re upset. They lost. But their coach made them come out of the locker room and go get their lei from the aunties, ‘cause she knew that they had brought lei for the other team, too. So, that’s an interesting phenomenon. I don’t think you’d see that anywhere else.

 

Although the Wahine volleyball program has been undeniably one of the most successful in the country, recruiting has always been a challenge. Shoji had to import height, as well as compete for many of those top-tier players as possible. Diane Sebastian was the first, followed by so many others, including Lily Kahumoku, Angelica Ljungqvist, T. Williams, and Kim Willoughby. These were the players who were often highly recruited by bigger, wealthier schools. Shoji sites Emily Hartong and Suzanne Eagye as examples of players who were not heavily recruited, but while playing at UH they worked hard and elevated their game. They were considered among the best players in the country. But Coach Shoji gives a great deal of credit to the local girls, Hawaiʻi’s own home-grown talent, as they key to the program’s success. These women will always share a special bond among themselves, with this community, and most definitely with their coach.

 

What were your experiences?

 

My experience with Dave, ok, first started…can I? Can I?

 

Ok, yeah.

 

[cheers]

 

You know I’m not a talker. Dave knows I’m not a talker, but…back in ’82, he got in touch with me. I had eligibility left. It was still AIAW. So, he asked me if, “Joyce, do you want to come play? You got two years eligibility, and they turned NC2A.” So, that was the best memories of Dave. Getting in touch with me…sorry, guys.

 

[cheers]

 

But, I, I met remarkable women. We won back to back. Yeah, Dave? And, um…I just want to thank him for bringing me back to school, sharing with my fellow, my fellow, my fellow…yep, 2, 2, 2. Um, so, Dave, thank you, mahalo, and love you. ‘Kay, that’s all.

 

[cheers]

 

It’s over! What a comeback! What a comeback! What a comeback! Down two games to none, they win three in a row! They do the impossible! They are the national champions.

 

We were always supplemented by a great local player. They had great volleyball IQ, they call it. “Tita” Ahuna was one of ‘em. Mahina Eleneki. Um, Kanani Danielson was another that just could play volleyball. I mean, they, they didn’t need to be big, tall, whatever. They could…so, you combine those, kind of…a great athlete, working hard, undersize with the, the good local player, and we were pretty successful. I don’t know if it’s, uh, a natural thing with Hawaiian players, but, uh, every center we had from here had wonderful hands, touch. And Robyn is one of ‘em, and go back to Nahaku Brown. But Hawaiian girls just seem to have some kind of amazing touch on the ball, where the mainland girls, they were just all…most of ‘em were so trained, you know. And they could, you know…they were so mechanical, where…I guess it’s from the park or something.

 

That’s so interesting. I…why-

 

Yeah, I, I don’t know. I couldn’t explain it, but if you…I mean, Robyn grew up down in the natatorium, and her dad would play. And Nahaku Brown, her, her, her dad ran Pahoa at the gym, and so she was always in the gym, and…but it was something…I didn’t reach then that touch. It’s just amazing that we’ve had probably six, eight local setters and they all just…I’m like, “That’s, that’s what we need. We need that touch. They’re just so natural and-

 

Dave Shoji met Mary Tennefos, an accomplished athlete in her own right, on the UH Campus. They married in 1986. Although she played basketball in college, Shoji says she became very knowledgeable about volleyball.

 

Mary, what can I say? I, you know, I think someone said it really well…yeah, if there’s, uh, a great person, or a great coach, there’s always a great woman pushing that coach along the way. So, thank you for 31 years, Mary.

 

How was that raising a family and, um, and conducting a life outside that consuming career?

 

Yeah, it was difficult with the family, ‘cause, um…and my wife reminds me all the time that we had our second boy, Erik, and I went from the hospital, uh, took her home, the baby home, and went to practice. So, she, she didn’t appreciate that. But the, the family kind of became intertwined in the, in the job, and to this day I think because the boys were always in the gym. From two years old, they would come to the gym and play with the ball…that’s how they became good at volleyball. They, they had a knack for it. They understood the game. They were around it. They went to all the games.

 

All that practice at the gym, waiting for dad, paid off. Kawika and Erik Shoji have been successful at the highest levels of men’s volleyball competition. Both were first team All-Americans while at Stanford. Kawika is a setter who was named 2010 player of the year, as he led Stanford to a national championship. They both played for the U.S. national team and won bronze medals at the 2016 Olympics.

 

We both want to say thanks, dad, for just really being an unbelievable dad. Um, making time for us outside of volleyball, too, and making all of our games, and supporting us, and, um…just really dedicating all of your time to not only the state and the program and the university, but also to our family. And so, thanks, Dad. We love you, and this is a well-deserved celebration.

 

Athletics continue to dominate the Shoji ‘ohana. Daughter Cobey Shoji Hutzler was a defensive specialist setter at University of Las Vegas, and the University of Michigan. She was Director of Volleyball Operations at Stanford, and has coached at various places, including a championship high school team in Florida. She’s married to Coleman Hutzler, a coach for University of South Carolina football. They have two children.

 

What do you look forward to most these days?

 

Got three grandchildren. Hopefully we’ll have four or five, um, but those three grandchildren are just kind of our light. Uh…you know, now we, we just look forward to seeing them. Two of ‘em are in South Carolina, and one’s in Poland, so we don’t…yeah, so, they’re far away. But, um…yeah, I mean, it’s, it’s, uh…watching-we watch a lot of volleyball still.

 

Hey Robyn, where are you? Come. Angelica, come, come up here. No, I’m not going to yell at you. I’m not gonna yell at you.

 

We can roast you some more.

 

No. I want to say this in front of everybody. But, uh, when I retired, and it was kind of a simultaneous hiring of Robyn Amo, I was so happy for her, and I was so happy for the program. And then she told me that she wanted to bring Angelica back. Um…I, I am just ecstatic that these two women are gonna head the program. And Kaleo’s here, too, somewhere, but, uh, the third coach in our program now.

 

Dave and Mary Shoji have been regulars at the Wahine matches since he retired as head coach. We sat down with Coach Shoji for this conversation late in 2019. He told us he’s grateful for the medical care and support he received while being treated for prostate cancer, and he wants people to know he’s feeling great. Dave Shoji is reluctant to talk about his individual accomplishments as a volleyball coach. So, before we finish up, here are just some of the highlights of Coach Shoji’s amazing record, for the record.

 

Coach Shoji never had a losing season. He led the Rainbow Wahine to four national championships, and 9 NCAA final Four appearances. His teams amassed 20+ win seasons 38 times, and 30 plus wins 19 times. He coached 86 All-Americans, 25 conference players of the year, and 175 All-Conference picks. Academically, he has also coached 107 conference All-Academic players.

 

You’ll find more of our conversation with Dave Shoji posted online at PBSHawaii.org. These extra clips also include the top ten Shoji wins from former Hawaiʻi sportscaster and ESPN anchor Neil Everett. And Coach Shoji talks about women’s college volleyball has expanded geographically, why there’s more parody among schools today, and the critical role club coaches play in recruiting young high school players years before they’re ready for college. Mahalo to Coach Shoji of Mānoa, Oahu, for sharing your stories with us. And thank you for joining us. For PBS Hawaiʻi and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha nui.

 

I’ve been reminded of this for a lot of years now, and the last few, you know. We got to the thousand wins and then 1100, and now, whatever the record is. So, I’ve had time to reflect on this over the course of the last few years. I never really thought about it back when we had 800 wins or 900. It just wasn’t important to me, and…but lately everyone seems to be on this theme of breaking record, and…well, I think the key word is we’ve achieved, not what I achieved. I haven’t really done anything myself. It’s, it’s all about the people around me and people that’ve helped me, and the players. That, that’s what, uh, how I’d like to be remembered. Not me, or how many games I won. I never served a ball, Jim, and never dug a ball. I never had a kill. So, you’ve gotta give credit where…really, the credit goes to the players and the, all the other people involved in the program.

 

Oh, wow, what a rally. Match point. Aloha ball. It’s over. Dave Shoji is the winningest coach in the history of Division 1 NCAA volleyball.

 

[cheers]

 

It’s really a humbling night for me because we would’ve never had anything like this, uh. The crowd in Hawaiʻi, the fans in Hawaiʻi are #1. Still love them. I still enjoy it. I love you guys. I love my team. I love the students over there, coming up to support us.

 

[cheers]

 

Again, I…I really don’t know what to say. I just want to reflect on, yeah…reflect everything on the team and everybody that’s been part of the program, as well as everybody in this building tonight. So, you know, I appreciate all of the accolades, but let’s think about this as yours and ours together, alright? Thank you very much.

 

[cheers]

 

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]

 

 

Dave Shoji

Cover story by Liberty Peralta, PBS Hawaiʻi

 

Hawaiʻi volleyball fans know him as one of the sport’s winningest coaches of all time. Dave Shoji, former University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa’s Wahine Volleyball Coach, is featured this month on a new episode of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox.

 

After defeating Santa Clara University on September 6, 2013, Dave Shoji became the winningest coach in NCAA Division-I women’s volleyball at the time.

After defeating Santa Clara University on September 6, 2013, Dave Shoji became the winningest coach in NCAA Division-I women’s volleyball at the time.

 

During his 42-year career, Shoji’s teams won more than 1,200 matches, more than 85 percent – one of only a handful of coaches in the National Collegiate Athletic Association to have done so.

 

Despite his success as a volleyball coach, Shoji pursued other sports as a student athlete. Growing up in Southern California, Shoji played high school football, basketball and baseball. Of the three, he says baseball was his best sport; it led to an athletic scholarship to the University of California – Santa Barbara.

 

Left: Shoji (center) in 1969 in Knoxville, Tennessee with the UC Santa Barbara volleyball team after winning the national title against UCLA. Right: Shoji in 1994 coaching the UH Wahine volleyball team

Shoji (center) in 1969 in Knoxville, Tennessee with the UC Santa Barbara volleyball team after winning the national title against UCLA. Photo Courtesy of the Shoji FamilyShoji in 1994 coaching the UH Wahine volleyball team Courtesy of University of Hawaiʻi Media Relations

 

His college baseball career, however, didn’t last long. “I realized at that time that I wasn’t going to go anywhere in baseball,” Shoji says. “I was too small and my arm wasn’t good enough; I didn’t have any power. It’s just a different game in college.”

 

UC Santa Barbara ended up being the place where Shoji discovered volleyball, a relatively new collegiate sport at that time in the 1960s. With Shoji on the team, UCSB won a national championship in 1969, and he became an All-American player in the sport. He later took his volleyball chops with him to the Army, where he served on active duty for two years.

 

After completing college and his military service, Shoji moved to Hawai‘i in the early 1970s and helped set up UH’s new volleyball program – setting the stage for long-term success in the sport. Among his career highlights, he’s led the Rainbow Wahine team to four national championships and nine NCAA Final Four appearances.

 

Dave Shoji on Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox Tuesday, March 31, 7:30 pm

 

Now retired in Honolulu, Shoji is focused on his family, with three grandchildren in South Carolina and Poland. He is also focused on his health. Diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2016, Shoji says he’s grateful for the medical care and support he received during his treatment. “You never know,” he says. “You just pray and you try to live healthy. I’m pretty good right at this moment.”

 

 

 

PBS National Leader Paula Kerger
says PBS Hawaiʻi “gets it right”

 

CEO Message

 

Leslie Wilcox, PBS Hawai‘i President and CEO

PBS National President and CEO Paula Kerger arrived from Washington DC on a windy, drizzly afternoon, and she departed days later, with word of the passing of retired PBS NewsHour anchor Jim Lehrer.

 

In between, the Hawaiian sun shone and so did Kerger’s smile, as she reached out to meet and listen to Islanders and to see firsthand the work at PBS Hawaiʻi.

 

She is that leader you want to see representing the Public Broadcasting Service – observant, intuitive, open. She does her homework. She’s friendly in an authentic way. And she is a smooth veteran at pushing back as warranted.

“This is truly, I would say, the most exceptional (public television) station in our country. It gets it right. It understands what it means to be part of the fabric of this community.” Paula Kerger, PBS National President and CEO

“This is truly, I would say,
the most exceptional (public
television) station in our
country. It gets it right.
It understands what it
means to be part of the
fabric of this community.”

Paula Kerger
PBS National President and CEO

It’s no wonder that Kerger is admired among the 330 public television stations across the country. Over the last 15 years, she has gamely navigated the system through waves of profound change – the largest being the revolutionary technology that has expanded PBS programming to online platforms. It’s a period that has seen a commercial explosion of programming on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, etc.

 

Oh, and we can’t forget that much of the public Kerger serves has become deeply polarized and can’t agree on what’s fact and what’s not.

 

Kerger with Honolulu event sponsor, Donna Tanoue and event co-host Dr. Mary Bitterman Getting together with Kalāheo High (Kailua, O‘ahu) students Hope Kanoa, Gabrielle Goodgame and Emily Casey; their HIKI NŌ teacher, Kathy Shimizu; and Wai‘anae High HIKI NŌ educator, John Allen

Kerger with Honolulu event sponsor
Donna Tanoue and event co-host
Dr. Mary Bitterman
Getting together with Kalāheo High (Kailua, Oʻahu)
students Hope Kanoa, Gabrielle Goodgame and
Emily Casey; their HIKI NŌ teacher, Kathy Shigemura;
and Waiʻanae High HIKI NŌ educator, John Allen

 

Kerger, once COO of the flagship New York public television station WNET, told our supporters she’d wanted for some time to visit PBS Hawaiʻi, especially as young HIKI NŌ students won more and more national awards, using PBS journalism standards. She waited, because we were working through our own transitions, including the need to relocate and build a new facility.

Proud of two HIKI NŌ storytellers from Kaua‘i High who’ve achieved national distinction: PBS Digital All-Star Leah Aiwohi and student alumna Tiffany Sagucio, a PBS Gwen Ifill Fellow

In a conversation with PBS Hawaiʻi supporters, Kerger said she has traveled widely throughout the nation. Then she stunned us with: “This is now my 50th state. This is truly, I would say, the most exceptional (public television) station in our country. It gets it right. It understands what it means to be part of the fabric of this community.”

 

Pictured right: Proud of two HIKI NŌ storytellers from Kauaʻi High who’ve achieved national distinction: PBS Digital All-Star Leah Aiwohi and student alumna Tiffany Sagucio, a PBS Gwen Ifill Fellow

 

If you’d like to find out more about this national public media leader, you’re invited to join us at the table, so to speak, on Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox on Tuesday, March 24, at 7:30 pm, broadcast and streaming.

 

Aloha nui,

Leslie signature

 

 

Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
Uncovering America

 

Courtney B. Vance hosts this celebration of the renowned, respected and popular historian, author and filmmaker. Features appearances by distinguished guests seen in Gates’ work including Jodie Foster, Ken Burns, Jelani Cobb and LL Cool J.

 

 

 

From The Streets to the Stage: The Journey of Fredrick Davis

From The Streets to the Stage: The Journey of Fredrick Davis

 

Follow ballet dancer Frederick Davis’ personal journey, which began with a broken family and homelessness. His exposure to dance at age 11 changed his life – he found inspiration and support from Ballet Tennessee, his church family and a caring community.

 

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Susan Scott

 

One of my favorite Hawaii newspaper columns is about the marvels of the sea – and who would guess its writer grew up in a land-locked state? As a kid, Wisconsin native Susan Scott would page through National Geographic magazines, imagining herself traveling to distant lands. When she moved to Hawaii, she was afraid of the ocean. Today she loves sailing her own sailboat to distant shores. On LONG STORY SHORT, I get to talk with Susan about her discoveries and delights in living on and near the ocean.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, Jan. 12, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

Susan Scott Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

My neighbors were two sisters; they called them the old maids in those days—it was in the 50s, and they subscribed to National Geographic, which was the enormous of my attraction to go over there to their house. And I would sit on the couch, I remember it vividly, and page through the National Geographics, which we did not have. My family were not readers. And they would explain things to me. And I remember Easter Island was a big one. I’m going there, and I’m going here, and I’m going here, I’m going here.

 

Susan Scott of Oahu has been to those places she dreamed about in her childhood, and then some. She’s a familiar name to those who followed her weekly Ocean Watch column in Honolulu’s major daily newspaper, which she’s been writing since 1987. Susan Scott, 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. In addition to her regular Ocean Watch column in the Honolulu Star Advertiser, Susan Scott has written seven books about Hawaii’s wildlife, including publications about plants and animals that live in the ocean as well as on land. Yet, having grown up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Susan Scott knew very little about Hawaii when she and her husband, Dr. Craig Thomas, decided to move here in 1983.

 

What was it like for you, your childhood? How would you characterize it?

 

My childhood was very loving and happy. We had a big extended family until my mom remarried. And she married a man who was not very enamored with children or really comfortable around children. And I was the oldest, so we didn’t get along that well. He was pretty strict with manners, and all kinds of things that I hadn’t really ever heard of before. [CHUCKLE] So, we had a hard time of it. They were heavy drinkers. Everybody in my family drank. All four grandparents, all my aunts and uncles; everybody. It was a drinking culture. It is a German-Scandinavian community, and drinking was an enormous part of the culture. I didn’t know people didn’t live like that until I left home. I just decided pretty much when I was fifteen that I was not gonna have children, and that I was gonna have a different life.

 

At fifteen?

 

At fifteen.

 

What did they encourage you to do with your life?

 

They encouraged me to be part of the extended family, and work in factories, and stay there. And I think the vision was that we would all stick together and do the same thing. But whatever it is, I don’t know what happens, but I think some kids just grow up with the travel bug, an adventure bug. And that was me, and I really, really wanted to do that a lot. And everyone thought I was crazy. They didn’t get it. They still don’t get it.

 

I left home when I was eighteen, and the first time in my life I heard a foreign language. I heard a migrant worker in Milwaukee who had been through our county to pick cherries, and he asked me a question in Spanish. I remember it vividly. I was dumbfounded. I could not believe how beautiful this language sounded. And so, he was lost, and in a little trouble, so I took him home where I lived, in a little commune kinda thing with some other hippie kids, and we found someone who spoke Spanish, and on the phone, and he said what he was looking for, a bus station and a place to sleep for the night. But it was this enormous thing. I’d never heard Spanish, I never heard any other language, really.

 

It was all Caucasian people in your small town, too.

 

Yeah; yeah. And I’d never seen Black people, or Asians, or anyone. And so, just leaving was just a really wonderful thing for me. And you know, I certainly had ups and downs as an adolescent and as a hippie, kinda wandering around, wondering what to do. ‘Cause I didn’t go to nursing school until after that. And then, that’s when I decided if I went to nursing and got an RN, I could go back to Europe and maybe live and work in Ireland. When I met Craig, uh, which was in 1980, it was the end of that whole hippie thing, and he was really instrumental in helping me stop doing drugs and alcohol, and smoking, and all of those things.

 

How did you meet?

 

I met Craig in the hospital. He was an intern, and it was his first week there, and it was my last week there.

 

And where was this?

 

In Denver. He had gotten a residency there, and I had gone to nursing school in Denver. And so, we had just met just barely as we were both off going to do different things. I was going back to school to do something else.

 

You had decided not to be a nurse.

 

Right; I decided not to be a nurse.

 

Why not?

 

I think it was too indoors for me. I think I really had an adventure outdoor travel bug.

 

And it’s kind of hard, isn’t it? I mean, devote years to this training and this education, and you did it for a good reason, then you decide it doesn’t work for you?

 

Well, it was only two years.

 

Still, two years.

 

It was an associate degree. Yeah, it was two years. I didn’t feel that I could do it. I’m not sure why, exactly. I worked in seven different departments in seven years. I was a nurse for seven years. And I finally thought, I don’t think moving around the departments is gonna do it for me.

 

And even though it helps with my travel bug, you decided, No, try something else.

 

Yeah. It just didn’t work for me. And I did my pre-med courses after that, at the University of Colorado. And then, Craig finished his residency and really, really wanted to come to Hawaii and rest, and have some time off before he started working. And so, we came to Hawaii in 1983 just for the summer. And that was it; we’ve never, never even considered living anywhere else. But we always said if there’s another place we find—‘cause he likes to travel, obviously, too. If we find a place better, we’ll go there. And we still say that, but you know, the places that we’re going now are wonderful, and I really enjoy the South Pacific and the other islands, and Mexico, and the places that I’ve been sailing these last few years., but I would never leave Hawaii.

 

What was it about Hawaii that made you know, We’re gonna stay here, we’re putting down roots?

 

Well, part of it is, I feel really at home here. I think the culture is American, and there’s a lot of wonderful things about America that I really like. But I also think that the multicultural part of Hawaii really spoke to me. Well, I went to Chinese New Year and had a fantastic time. We just loved it so much. You know, we watched the lion dances and the dragon dance, and we had Chicago hotdogs. And all this different ethnic mix is really, really fun, and I appreciate that all the time. I like the mix here. And I feel like I’m always kinda traveling while I’m here at home and meeting people from different places. So, it really works for me.

 

The multi-ethnic cultures and people may have been Susan Scott’s initial reasons for wanting to stay in Hawaii, but there was something else here that she hadn’t discovered yet, something she probably would never have guessed would become her life’s passion.

 

When you came here, you enrolled at UH Manoa.

 

I enrolled at UH Manoa because I was so afraid of the ocean. And Craig and I both really liked Hawaii and the cultural part of Hawaii, and we loved Oahu.

 

You were afraid of the ocean?

 

I was afraid of the ocean. Well, I grew up in Wisconsin and went to school in Denver. I had barely seen the ocean. So, I didn’t know what a tide was. And when people said the surf was up on the North Shore, I didn’t know. I remember thinking, Up where?

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

What does that mean? [CHUCKLE] So, it was interesting to go to school, and thinking I would just take a couple of courses. And I had just come off the really hard pre-med schedule, which I’d finished, and so, it was really fun. And I had all these different people from all over the world at school. My lab partner was from Singapore, and I met a lot of local people who made fun of some of the things I said, and about the ocean, and they thought that it was just crazy that I thought, wana, for instance, was really a cool interesting thing. ‘Cause I had thought that sea urchins were plants.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

I had no idea. So, the more I learned, the more interested in got, and I finally ended up with a degree in biology and a certificate in marine journalism from the Marine Option Program. So, I’m a very proud graduate of MOP.

 

Well, what is your job?

 

I’m a freelance writer. And so, I’ve contracted with the Star Advertiser, the Star Bulletin for many years, to do a weekly column. And one of the things the editors were interested in the beginning was that I would have the science point of view from the animals. So, I could write about the marine animals and marine science in a way that reporters probably wouldn’t. And so, those were sort of my sample columns, and the editor who hired me said, Well, let’s just try this for a while and see how it goes. And that’s the only contract I ever had.

 

And as the Star Bulletin dissolved, here you are with the Star Advertiser.

 

Star Advertiser; right.

 

You continued along with them.

 

Well, I was lucky. I made the cut.

 

You did.

 

Yeah; I was very lucky.

 

From being afraid of the ocean to essentially spending your life around it.

 

Right; exactly.

 

In it, on it, around it.

 

Yeah. I think part of the feedback I get for my column and my books is that the sense of wonder is still in the writing. And I feel that; that’s very genuine.

 

And the curiosity is the case there too.

 

To me, I feel like I’m in a movie sometimes; just even walking on the beach, I don’t have to get in the water. And I feel so lucky that I not only got to study and learn the science part of marine biology, but that I get to live it. You know.

 

Well, I love your column. And you know, I think so many people read it and say, Ah, I always wondered about that. In fact, I was gonna tell you that there was this period, I think it was a month; it was one June, I can’t remember which June, but I remember thinking, Everything you’re writing about this month, every week I open it up, and it’s something I really, really wanted to know.

 

Oh, that’s great. Oh, I’m glad to hear that. Yeah; I get really good feedback from the column, and it really keeps me going, keeps me interested. I think I’ll be a little old lady going into the newspaper, still writing about my experience with the ocean. But it is a lot of fun.

 

A lot of it is based on observation. You see something, and you wonder about it.

 

Right.

 

You do the research, and then you talk with people.

 

Well, and I have lots and lots of really interested readers, like you, who write me notes and say—

 

Yeah; what is this?

 

I found this, can I send you a picture? Or, Have you ever heard of this? And uh, I just feel really lucky that I have so many readers now. And I have readers in Australia, now that it’s online, the newspaper’s online. I got an email from Switzerland last week, and another from Malta.

 

And there are infinite things to learn about the ocean. It covers, what, three-quarters of the Earth’s surface. You’ve got a lot of material forever.

 

I’ll never run out of material. Yeah.

 

Tell me about some of the columns that have resonated most with your readers.

 

Well, I think that sailing columns resonate the most. And it’s interesting, ‘cause I worry the most about those being boring to people. Probably because I feel like the column should be about discovering marine animals, and I think the thing I like writing best about is, what you said, finding something and wondering how it works, and then discovering, like, Oh, my gosh, this nudibranch has its own little garden on its back. Which we have right off on the North Shore, we have a bunch of these. And so, if I’m writing about sailing, it feels more like a little bit of a travel log. Like, I did this, and then I did this, and then I did this. And I think, I’m probably driving people crazy. It’s like, Oh, big deal.

 

What’s the latest new thing you’ve learned?

 

Chitons; I’ve never seen a Hawaii chiton. And so, when my friends emailed me that from California and I looked it up, I looked it up in the Hawaii books I have and said, We have those. They wear a girdle. [CHUCKLE] This is called a girdle that goes around. I found a website by Sam Gon, who’s the Nature Conservancy biologist here, and who I’ve meet several times, and so, he had something about chitons, and trilobites. He calls the chitons trilobite imposters. [CHUCKLE] Pretenders, or something. ‘Cause he gets emails from people that say they found a trilobite.

 

Chiton; so that’s C-H-I-T-O-N.

 

Right. That was all new for me. I spent two days doing it. So, I don’t earn very good money, because I spend so much time writing each column. But I have really a lot of fun doing it. And then, I think if I quit the column, would I still work so hard at getting all the little details and getting it right? And I don’t know.

 

Gives you a reason to give structure to your positive wonder about the world.

 

Well, it does. It does.

 

Makes you more alert, too, I would think.

 

It does. ‘Cause I’m always thinking, Oh, I’ve gotta write about that.

 

Right.

 

Well, then I have to remember what kinda day this was, or what beach it was, or was it rocky beach, or sandy. A lot of my observations are not actually in the water. Which is one of the things a lot of my readers write and say, I’ve never been in the ocean, I don’t swim. I love your columns, because I can relate to it through your eyes, but I don’t feel like I have to actually get in the ocean to know about these things. ‘Cause I don’t always get in the water, either.

 

And meanwhile, you’ve been writing books as well. I’m fascinated by All Stings Considered. And I know everyone has asked you, I’ve asked you, when you get stung by a Portuguese Man ‘O War, which is very common, there’s always someone willing to give you their home remedy.

 

That’s right.

 

But do any of the remedies work, or is it just time that works?

 

Well, I had a doctor friend that used to say, tincture of time was the best remedy. And what we say for almost all jellyfish stings.

 

Almost all.

 

The reason so many things work, and everyone has so many different remedies is because it’s a self-limiting injury that goes away by itself anyway. Craig and I did some studies with the City and County lifeguards, and we had a really good time. We had unmarked bottles, so it was a blinded study, so no one knew what they were putting on. And then, we had victims of jellyfish stings fill out a questionnaire; spray this on and tell us on a pain scale how it was. And so, we had a statistician from City and County running the numbers, ‘cause we wanted to make sure we weren’t making something worse. And we had meat tenderizer mixed in a concentrated form in water, and we had Sting Aid which they were selling at the time in all the stores, and fresh water and sea water. Sea water was our control. And the statistician called us, I remember the day, and said, I think you might as well stop the study, ‘cause the sea water is so far ahead of all the others. So, that told us that it was statistically significant. So, don’t do anything. Rinse it off with sea water and go home.

 

Sea water seems to be an answer to so many things.

 

Yeah; it really is.

 

I always remember a prominent coach who had a progressive disorder, and I asked him what he was doing for it. And he goes, The ocean is my therapy, and it’s made me happier than anything could have.

 

Well, I could say the same thing. Yeah. There is something about sea water. And even walking next to it works for me. [CHUCKLE]

 

Yeah.

 

I don’t have to actually get in it.

 

Discovering new wonders about the ocean and wildlife and writing about them has never stopped being exciting and fulfilling for Susan Scott. Yet, after doing this for eighteen years, she came to a point in her life where she needed to do something different.

 

You know every type of animal you could ever find in a tide pool.

 

Yeah; exactly. Well, I’m still learning. That’s the fun of it. So, I still really find the thrill of it and the joy of it.

 

As your life has gone along, you’ve actually gotten more and more, well, immersed in the ocean.

 

Right. Yeah; I started sailing. I didn’t know how to sail before I met Craig, but uh, in 2005, I sailed to Palmyra. I learned how to sail.

 

Wait a minute; that’s a big jump.

 

Oh.

 

First, you’re afraid of the ocean.

 

Yeah.

 

And then you’re sailing with Craig, and all of a sudden you’re sailing to Palmyra?

 

Well, I had a big midlife crisis. I had a really, really hard menopause shift in hormones, I think. I don’t know; I felt crazy. And I think a lot of women have these hormone times in their late forties and fifties, and people do think they’re crazy. People thought I was crazy. I felt like I did lose myself. I thought, I don’t know who I am or where I’m going, or what’s happening. I had been trying to write a novel, and like most novel writers in the world, it was rejected, rejected, rejected. And that’s normal, but I took that so hard. I took to my bed and didn’t get up for days. And I’m not like that at all. And so, I had a really miserable time with it, and that Women’s Health Initiative study came out that said hormones are bad for women, so I was not on hormones. And finally, I said, [CHUCKLE] I’m going somewhere. My life feels like it’s over anyway, so whatever happens, it’s gotta be better, it doesn’t matter what I do. So, I learned how to sail a boat by myself, without Craig, which was the first time. And a lot of people said, Well, he taught you how to sail, or you learned how to sail with him. Taking it myself was an entire different universe, and making all the decisions was really different.

 

Were you a solo sailor going across the ocean that way?

 

I got a job with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as a volunteer in Palmyra. They really needed some help doing a study there, and it would take four months. But they didn’t have any way for me to get there, or a place for me to live when I did get there. ‘Cause Palmyra is a pretty remote camp. And so, I thought, Well, I have a sailboat. I’ll just go there. I’ll sail there, and I’ll live on the boat, and then I’ll see what happens after that.

 

How long did it take you to sail there?

 

It took me a week to sail there, with some big catastrophic boat failures, actually. And I sailed with a biologist friend, a young man who’s still a very dear friend. And he had never been on a sailboat before or never sailed. So, the two of us were really novices. And we made it to Palmyra. We managed to patch the boat together enough to sail there, and Craig sent down the parts to fix it.

 

What was that failure? What happened?

 

The forestay broke. Which for sailors, if you know boats, is what holds up the mast and the sails. And so, we managed to save the mast.

 

It broke in bad weather?

 

It broke because it was put together wrong.

 

Oh!

 

Here in Honolulu. It was new. That’s a very big deal. It’s about as bad as it gets without getting a hole in the bottom of the boat where it’s sinking. But we did fine. We didn’t know much then. I know a lot more now. I think I’d be a lot more calm now.

 

All the elements are bigger than yourself, and can combine against you.

 

Yes. And I learned too, that you’re really dependent on the boat for your life, but you’re also dependent on your wits to fix the boat, because things break all the time. The most common conversation among sailors is what big thing broke, and what did you do. And I wrote a book about it called, Call Me Captain, which is a really big part of my life. I’ve been writing that for a long time. And University of Hawaii Press is publishing it.

 

It’s so hard to write about yourself, I would think.

 

It was very hard. I actually had a wonderful editor from San Francisco, a really good editor who’s a professional editor, and she helped me. And I think the big part of her, besides being a good editor is, she didn’t know me personally. And so, she could say, I can’t picture this; I don’t know what were you feeling. And so, I rewrote with her over years.   And the UH Press does not usually publish memoirs.

 

Oh, congratulations.

 

So, I feel very lucky. So, I sailed to Tahiti from Palmyra, and then to Australia. I really got the bug.

 

That’s amazing.

 

I had different friends help me. I never sailed alone until I got to Mexico. And in the Sea of Cortez there’s only seventy-five miles across, and so I started sailing alone there. ‘Cause I thought, Oh, I’m never gonna be that far offshore. My big problem with going offshore alone is, if something breaks that’s beyond my strength, I don’t feel very strong, and as I age, I feel less strong. I lift weights, but it doesn’t make me feel capable. And on the way to Palmyra, when we had the big boat failure, I really needed Alex’s strength.

 

You’ve seen some amazing visuals at sea. I know you’ve described spinning dolphins.

 

Right.

 

What else at sea have you seen that’s amazing?

 

Well, one thing that I saw that was amazing, but I didn’t really realize it until later when I looked it up and read, it was pilot whales. And pilot whales are among the very few—I think there’s only two species, maybe three, in the world of animals that have menopause, and females live long after they stop reproducing. And pilot whales are one of them; Hawaii’s pilot whales. So, when they swam up to the boat, on my trip to Palmyra, they were the only whales that came to the boat. And then later, when I read about them, I thought, Well, there you go.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

They were coming over to see me, and that was a really good sign.

 

How’s that going for you? [CHUCKLE]

 

That was good.

 

Do you sleep well on the boat in the middle of the sea?

 

No. I don’t sleep hardly at all. I sleep; I feel like I’m not totally exhausted, but when I get somewhere, I sleep a lot. But I’m always on call.

 

And yet, you love being on a boat where you don’t sleep much?

 

Well, I’m not offshore that much. So, the trip from Mexico to the Marquesas that I did this year was a twenty-eight-day crossing. And that’s really a long, long crossing. And then, the rest of the year was just little trips, so you know, a day or two. And then when you get where you’re going, it’s a wonderful, peaceful anchorage usually, and you can sleep just fine.

 

How big is your boat? Tell me about your boat.

 

Oh, the boat’s thirty-seven feet. It’s French ketch, and it’s easy to single hand. It’s set up so you can single handed maintain the sails and do what you need to do by yourself. But it’s also roomy enough to sleep comfortably six people. So, there’s three separate cabins. It’s a center cockpit boat with an aft master cabin, and a center and a forward.

 

So, you could conceivably go alone, although that’s not advisable.

 

I could go alone. And people do go alone. I think part of it, too, it’s a social event. You know, it’s been really a good social thing for me to have, to be able to skipper the boat, and have friends come along. And as a biologist in Hawaii, I have a lot of friends who are really good on the water and they’ve been on research vessels, and they know the water, and they’re not afraid of big waves. And so, they may not necessarily know a lot about sailing, but they do what I tell them, and we’ve had a really good time.

 

You like being the skipper?

 

I do like being the skipper. I do. Sometimes, there’s times when I think it’d be really fun to just be on somebody else’s boat and let them worry about what’s going wrong, or where we’re going, or should we go all night, or should we pull in. But mostly, I like it. I enjoy it.

 

And you’re telling me menopause is what triggered all of this?

 

It is. I think, Leslie, I would have never gone on that sailboat by myself, unless I was really desperate and miserable.

 

I’m wondering if those people who you said thought you were crazy; did they think you were even crazier when you started taking the sailboat out virtually on your own?

 

That I was crazy when I got home?

 

Well, no; you know, once they heard you were—

 

When I got home, I was fine. [CHUCKLE] It cured me. [CHUCKLE] I think getting outside of my own self, and I think if there’s a lesson there, and I would never presume to tell anyone else what to do with their own. Menopause or misery, or midlife or early life crisis; I felt as confused and mixed up as I had when I was a teenager, with all those hormone storms and things, and trying to figure out what I was gonna be, where I was gonna go. And I came from a place where I really wanted to do something different, but didn’t know what. And this was the same kinda thing. And I thought, whatever happens, I’m losing it here, so it’s gotta be, it’s gotta be good. And if I never come back, or Craig and I don’t stay together, well, that’s just life.

 

Susan Scott has made it through many challenges. She continues to sail and explore with the same passion and wonder that she’s always had, and through her writing, we all get to tag along. Mahalo to Susan Scott of Oahu for sharing her stories with us. And mahalo to you for joining us. For PBS Hawaii and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. 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.

 

Where are the places you’d still like to go?

 

Well, I’ve never seen the pyramids of Egypt, and that one of the pages of the National Geographics of the Imer [PHONETIC] sisters. And we talked about the pyramids. I remember that, and Easter Island, which I did get to see the moai. So that was good. So, I would like to go to Egypt, but there never seems to be a very good time, politically. I’m never sure.

 

Because think the open ocean is safer than Egypt.

 

Oh, I do; I do. I think it is.

 

[END]

AMERICAN MASTERS
Eva Hesse

AMERICAN MASTERS: Eva Hesse

 

In May 1970, Eva Hesse, a 34 year old German-born American artist cresting the wave of a swiftly rising career had her life cut short by a brain tumor. Interviews, high quality footage of Hesse’s artwork and archival imagery trace Hesse’s life and artistic path.

 

Preview

 

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Patrick Sullivan: Professional Problem Solver

 

With partners and clients from around the nation and the world, Oceanit employs out-of-the-box thinking, finding solutions to some of the world’s most difficult problems by combining science, technology, engineering and creative thinking. Oceanit founder, CEO and President Patrick Sullivan speaks about his approach in bringing together curious minds with very different skillsets and why he feels Hawai‘i’s diversity and isolation help cultivate a culture of innovation.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, Jan. 5, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

Patrick Sullivan: Professional Problem Solver Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

We’re working on a project to help with elderly. What’s needed is a very inexpensive but effective robotic assistant that can just be there to help them out, and if they fall, if they’re in trouble, if they’re in pain, if they just need help. Just something as simple as recognizing an object is critical.

 

This fearless innovator finds solutions to some of the world’s most difficult problems by combining science, technology, engineering, and innovative thinking.  Nothing new for him; he’s been problem-solving since he was a teenager, when he concocted enterprising ways to pay for college.  Patrick Sullivan, next, on Long Story Short.

 

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

 

Aloha mai kākou.  I’m Leslie Wilcox.  Patrick Kevin Sullivan is president and CEO of Oceanit, an internationally recognized company he founded in Downtown Honolulu in 1985.  He calls is a mind-to-market company that turns scientific principles into real world applications for real world problems. His company says he’s raised more than $475 million to develop cutting edge solutions.  Oceanit’s clients come from around the nation and the world.  The company is also entrepreneurial, sending products it developed to the marketplace through spinout companies, partnerships, or direct manufacturing.  Patrick Sullivan employs an intensive process, bringing together curious minds with different skillsets and encouraging what he calls intellectual anarchy.

 

Would you give us some examples of what products have come about as a result of this very dynamic process?

 

Well, there’s a couple.  One of our spinouts, Ibis, which is doing energy management in commercial buildings.  So, we just had a board call on the way in, and I was on the call.  And that started out with a … it’s a healable wireless mesh network, which was a legacy of a technology we built for a military group to look behind walls of concrete and steel, and to communicate in really weird places.  And so, we built that technology.  Then we thought: Okay, how do we do something that’s gonna make a difference?  And so, inside the organization, we have people that are really concerned about energy, greenhouse carbon.  We thought: What if we could use this as a way to mitigate and inform people on energy?  And commercial buildings turns out to be the market we focused on.  We didn’t know what the market was in the beginning. So, we kinda pivoted from this thing. We built all these tiny antennas and all this kind of electronics, and all this stuff, and this software, and a wireless mesh network.  And it’s become a technology that is—like, California’s using it in a lot of their schools, universities, commercial buildings—there are some commercial buildings here, where it’ll save fifteen, twenty percent of the energy in a commercial building.  It starts with the interesting question, and it cascades into these things.  And as we gain insights, it opens up these vistas of things that were not thinkable.  When you map that process, which I’ve mapped and call the intellectual anarchy process, it will bring you to some really interesting points, and create lots of opportunity.  But they’re things that don’t exist.  So, people have asked me, like in … we had this meeting with like, thirty, thirty-five of these science advisers to Office of Naval Research, and we kinda walked through how we do this.  Because I try to show people what we do; it’s not a secret.  And they said: Well, how do you do this?  Because they always start with a requirement.  We start left of requirement.  We don’t start with a requirement.  And I told them, I said: You should try this.  I said: If you actually ask yourself what’s important and what’s interesting, you will find the thing that you should be doing.  And I said: We do this fourth quarter of every year.  We have these broad conversations in the company, and we ask ourselves: What should we do with our time on the planet that’s gonna make a difference?  Because we’re here to impact humans and society. How do we make the world better? What should we be doing?  So, we pick a few things, and every year we do this, and those things cascade and it creates all the stuff.  That’s what intellectual anarchy is.

 

Wow. And it seems like all these problems that have resisted answers for time immemorial—common cold too.  I mean, there are so many.  You’ll never stop with thinking big kind of projects, because there are a lot of big things that are unanswered.

 

Yes.  And so then, it comes down to: What should we do?  What might be possible?  And so, we spend time exploring these things, and then we try to pick a few.  And it takes time as these roll out, but what it does over a period of time, it literally creates a pipeline; a pipeline in all these different subjects.  So, it’s not limited by subject; it’s limited by what’s important and what’s interesting. This process, again, of intellectual anarchy, there’s a exploration and discovery phase where you have to be pretty open-minded to where it’s gonna lead you.  It moves into the product phase, you’re building real products. And then, those have economic value, where you can sell, license, you know, do all kinds of things with it.

 

A project you might have thought was silly at the time, and you’ve also talked about weird ideas.

 

Right.

 

But they have to be respected, right, because they can go somewhere.

 

Exactly.  And the insights from this silly early stuff turned into … you know.  I mean, it’s funny; we just had this group here this week from Korea because they want a license for the Country of Korea.  We’re gonna do, I think, a pipeline in Turkmenistan this quarter.  We’re actually gonna do heat exchangers in Abu Dhabi.  I mean, this stuff is all just kinda cranking.  And … it was all invented here, and developed in the lab, but the market is the rest of the world.  And that’s how we view it.

 

So, it’s interesting, ‘cause it’s a fascinating blend of, you know, just sky’s the limit, whatever you can do, run with it.  And then, there has to be some some balance in it.

 

Right.

 

What an art that must be.

 

It is.  And it’s funny, because my wife is the COO, Jan is.  So, she was an attorney for about fifteen years, and then we started doing some spinouts and I asked her if she could help.  And she’s really good at it.  And there’s a whole operating team that manages stuff.  But it is an art, because you’re dealing with things that are messy.  Innovation is messy.  Right? But it’s trying to understand people.

 

And people are very invested in what they’ve done, too.

 

Right.  But she does a really good job of that.  And I tell people; it’s like businesses are either built to manage, or built to innovate. But if it’s built to manage, innovation is love.  If it’s built to innovate, management is hard.  If it’s built to innovate, the way you manage is really important.

 

I can see how it’d be hard to find the right fit at your company, because so many people who are very bright and educated are into control.  You know, they want to control their world, and they’ve developed a lot of tools with which to do so.  So, those are the bright, educated people that you don’t want.

 

Well, it depends if they’re gonna become agile and flexible.  If they’re inflexible, that’s a real problem.  But if they’re flexible, they may learn a tool set today, but there may be a better tool set tomorrow.  And if they say, Well, I can’t do that, that’s real problem.

 

Patrick Sullivan, resident of Kailua, Windward O‘ahu, works with partners and clients throughout the global community, including universities, governments, nongovernmental organizations, and businesses. His staff of more than a hundred sixty scientists and engineers hails from around the world.  He says that living and working in isolated Hawai‘i, with our Hawaiian culture and multiculturism, is a plus, inspiring his team to think outside the box.

 

For manufacturing and certain things, you can build facilities in different places.  For the magic, this is the place.  See, innovation comes from differences, not sameness.  So, getting different people with different perspectives. And we live in this environment here, where all kinds of different people live together.  That’s our strength.  So, our big strength in Hawaii is the people.  Okay?

 

Because you don’t think you’d be able to get this assortment of people in another place feeling comfortable about living here?

 

It’s the culture.  So, the business culture is Native Hawaiian.  It’s real Hawaiian by culture as a business, the way we work together.  It’s organically built here from scratch.  So, it’s a unique culture that is collaborative.  We respect each other, but there’s lots of debates on the science, on the facts, on the details, on those kinda things.  But the culture wouldn’t work in other places.  It works here.  The DNA of the culture is Hawaiian.  It doesn’t exist in Silicon Valley, it doesn’t exist in the Beltway. It’s just kinda different.  I think in the culture of Hawai‘i, is innovation. And I think we forget that sometimes. But the Native Hawaiians that came to Hawai‘i, they innovated to get here, they innovated when they got here. They were the first in the country with electricity, they did all these innovations.  They were not afraid of electronics, or I should say, afraid of technology, afraid of change.  They embraced it.  And to this day, culturally, they embrace people from everywhere.  It’s just part of our culture.

 

I know you do have to bring in a lot of people.  I don’t know how hard it is for you recruit locally, but I bet you do have some limitations there.  What if you did have a whole bunch of PhDs of this mindset you could hire; would that affect your diversity in innovation?

 

The people that grow up here, who get the good education, have a skillset to work with people from all over, because they grew up here.  It’s kind of an experiment, but we found it really, really works, and so, it seems kinda crazy.  To bring a technology to market, you’ve got technology risk, execution risk, and market risk.  We focus on technology and execution.  Execution risk, we’ve discovered that if we take sort of local kids or people that grew up here with a good education, we can put them anywhere in the world.  And like, we did this scale-up in Pennsylvania to put steel casing in the Marcellus Shale, which of course, we’ve never done. But we did.  And we did this in three months.  But to build something like this, you need the welder, the forklift guy, the truckers, the roughnecks, the roustabouts, everybody who maybe never went to college; right?  Here, we’ve got all these really educated people that work as part of the company. But I told the guys; I said: Look, bring aloha, get to know these people like they are your relatives at Christmas or whatever.  Don’t be afraid, they don’t see guys like you ‘cause, you know, it’s Pennsylvania.

 

And respect their skills.

 

Right.  But we work with them, they work with us.  And if you do that, it’ll be successful.  They crushed it, because they brought that human element.  And so, with the education, which is essential, they were able to bring the cultural piece to work with people that are totally different, and be very successful.

 

Who are the rock and rollers?  How do you find them?

 

Oh.  They can go between cultures.  Right? So, the culture of deep science and the culture—

 

Oh, they’re the translators.

 

Right.  Technology Sherpas.  So, he’s gotta go from dealing with the deep science guys and translate that to how it impacts humans and society as a product or a device.

 

And they are different languages?

 

Absolutely.  Each industry has its own culture.  So, they’ve got to learn the culture and the language of an industry, and then translate that back.  ‘Cause usually, the scientists and the engineers working on the problem, they may think they know what it should do.  They’re almost always wrong.  Because when you start talking to real customers, it’s like: Oh, that’s what you do. And until you get in front of them, until you spend time with them, you just don’t understand it.  You’ve gotta have those people that are out talking to humans, and people in the industries, and all that kinda stuff all the time. So, we do.  Those are those people.  The human element and the culture of Hawaii, I think, enables a lot of that to happen, too.

 

Running a business that’s based on innovation and fearlessness can be daunting.  Patrick Sullivan knows that not all brilliant hardworking scientists and engineers who are interested will be a fit for Oceanit.

 

When your colleagues describe you, I notice things tend to end in less. Fearless, limitless, endless.

 

And relentless.

 

Those are nice things to hear.  See, especially the older I get, the more I see things are connected; the fields are connected.  People are taught for the convenience of teaching, but in the real world, there’s much more things that are connected.  And methods and materials change.  So, think about like, the Wright Brothers were kinda bicycle guys, and they had canvas and sticks, and they eventually built a thing to fly.  And then, people thought: Well, what if we use aluminum.  Right? Or what if we use carbon.  And over time, what was impossible became possible. And so, what I’ve learned is that, you know, the fields are really connected, and as methods and materials change, what was once impossible becomes possible.  And so, we do a bunch of that kinda stuff now at Oceanit.  And it’s a lot of fun; sometimes it’s a little crazy.  But it unlocks the … you know, what I find is that we hire really bright people, but what drives things is what’s in here.  So, we try to connect what’s in here with what’s in here. And so, it’s not just the education; it’s that connection to doing something that really matters, that makes the magic happen.

 

How do you teach that?

 

Well, that’s a really, really good question. Because a lot of the time … we’ve got this way to work with uh, PhD recent grads, and I will usually have a talk once a year with the new ones.  And I say: Look, you know, we’re proud of you, and your mom’s proud of you, and you did an amazing thing; but now, nobody cares, so what are you gonna do? Because now, it’s all about the rest of your life, and it’s not limited to that field; it could be anything.  So, we purposely put them in a field or a problem where they may not have any expertise.  And a lot of the time, they go through like, of course, fear. They’re worried because here, they’re the smartest guy; now, they know nothing.  But we’re trying to get them to get comfortable in the fundamentals.  So, we kinda drive them through this process, so they go back to the basics, and they can look at any problem and start understanding how to think about the problem.  And we do that with a lot of these young PhDs.  Usually, it’s easier if they’re right out of school, then we kinda unscrew a couple things, and then we teach them how to do this.  And when they learn to do this, they’re a force. And we started with a couple young PhDs in aerospace who really learned to get the moves.  Right?  But they have to get comfortable in going into something that is way out of their field, or whatever, without being afraid, with the fundamentals and, you know, full grasp of the fundamentals so that they can actually go forward and figure out: Okay, I can think about it this way or that way.  We can look up research information on pretty much anything.

 

So, once somebody gets their PhD, then you send them through boot camp.

 

Right.  And if they like it, they love it; and if they don’t, they hate it and they’re terrified.

 

And you usually can tell pretty quickly.

 

And we try to find out sooner, than later. Because there’s no right answer. We’re looking for an answer that works for us, and we want the ones that are just excited.  It’s kinda like surfing or anything; right?  You learn to love it because, yeah, you get hammered sometimes, but when you get the right wave, it’s a blast.

 

And I notice when you talked about your background and having to go through things, you know, I think what you were saying is, you sometimes made a mistake or messed up in business or in some area, but you don’t say that.  You say: I learned a lot.

 

Right.  Yeah. And the way I look at it, as long as you’re learning, you’re making progress.  Because especially when things are really, really hard, it’s not gonna be straightforward.  The reason they’re hard is because it’s just not that easy.  So, you’re gonna get some hits.  Like, when we’ve done some of these startups and we’re interviewing people, I say: Look, I just need to know, when you get hit, are you gonna get up?

 

Right.

 

Because that’s the question.  Was it Rocky Balboa or somebody; it’s not how hard you can hit, it’s how hard you can get hit, and then get back up.  And getting back up is a really big deal.  Because when we’re in this kind of … especially the stuff that we do, people are gonna take hits.  Nobody wants to, and it’s always painful.  So, anybody that says, oh, failure, whatever.  No; it always smarts.  But you gotta get up.

 

You’ve been described as an eternal optimist.

 

Are you?

 

Yeah; I think so.  I think you gotta be, to do this.  But I feel blessed in so many ways.  Yeah.  I think I have a very good sense about our future in Hawai‘i, and for Hawai‘i, and for the country and other things.  You know, there’s issues, always gonna be problems.  But problems are maybe opportunities in disguise.  So, I think in general, things move in the right direction, but to get there, sometimes we take a bunch of turns and tacks in directions which seem kinda crazy.  But yeah, I’m an optimist.

 

Your entire business is devoted to problem-solving.  So, other people may come home and say: I have a lot of problems today.  Whereas, that’s what you went to work expecting as what’s on your plate; right? I mean, it’s a different way to look at problems.

 

Yeah; yeah.  But we found that … for example, if we did what everybody does, why would anybody care about what we do in Hawai‘i, in the middle of the Pacific.  And we do things that nobody thinks are possible. And we have a way to do it, it’s a interesting, challenging, and disruptive.  So, we break up the world into these three buckets.  The disruptive stuff, we’re just really, really good at. But that’s what draws the attention from a lot of big companies that we work with, because we’re thinking way outside of the box.  You know, the groupthink that they’re all stuck in, and the functional fixedness that, you know, they can’t see it any other way, we’re able to kinda get way beyond that and come up with different ways to do things.

 

Patrick Sullivan was always good in math, which started him on the path to becoming an engineer.  Growing up, he took whatever job he could find, often convincing prospective employers that he could build anything they needed.  After graduating from the University of Colorado Boulder with a Bachelor of Science degree, he attended the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, where he earned a doctorate in engineering.

 

What did you do in your childhood that helped you become who you are today?

 

In my childhood …

 

I mean, did you learn good habits early?  Did you develop some specialty that helped you along the way later?

 

One thing I learned maybe older than growing up, and what I tell young people, that especially as we’re doing tech things here is, I tell people they have to be comfortable in their own skin.  By that, I don’t mean the color of their skin, but who they are.  So, from Hawai‘i, there’s a sense of saying in trying to hide the fact that we’re from Hawai‘i.  People go out, try to raise money, try to do things, and they want to say: Well, you know, we’re here in Palo Alto, we’re doing all this stuff.  And I tell them: Look, own it, and you’re gonna find out right away, the people that it doesn’t matter to are gonna work with you, and the people that it does aren’t gonna help you anyway.  So, you might as well be comfortable in your own skin, because when you are, the authenticity of what you’re doing will come through, and you’re gonna find those people that are gonna work with you.  And the irony is in building the business over the years, I’ve found that there’s this kind of Hawaiian network in the world.  So, whenever you come from Hawai‘i, pretty much no matter where you go, there’s people who used to live in Hawai‘i, or grew up in Hawai‘i, and they’ll always try to help.  It’s the craziest thing.  But they always come out to help.  And they’re everywhere.  So, it’s a special thing to be from here.  And for what we do, it works great.

 

You do so much with automation and artificial intelligence.  What do you think Hawaii’s gonna look like in 2025 when it comes to AI?

 

Well, there’s gonna be change.  Not all of it, people are gonna like.  I think the biggest issue is in jobs.  For example, drivers.  Autonomous cars are, I think, gonna make it.  And so, people that earn a living with driving, that’s something we should be thinking about as a community.  The things that we do here that are unique and special to Hawaii are still gonna be unique and special here.  And the human contributions in creativity, imagination, are still gonna be really important.  But in the future, we see ag tech, for example.  Agriculture in Hawai‘i could be very successful, but instead of low-cost labor, it’s gonna be technology.  You know, we have terrific sunshine, water, and soil.

 

Then, what are the low-cost laborers going to do?

 

People need to get educated.  Education becomes a big deal.  So, making education more available, more affordable, is really important.

 

He was named Hawai‘i Business Magazine’s 2016 CEO of the year for outstanding contributions to Hawai‘i’s economy. Mahalo to Patrick Sullivan, president and CEO of Oceanit in Downtown Honolulu, and a resident of Kailua, O‘ahu, for sharing your story with us, and giving us a back-of-the-house tour of your offices.  For PBS Hawai‘i and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox.  Aloha nui.

 

How do you relax?  Or can you relax?

 

Well, no, of course, it’s really important, and there are so many things to do here.  But obviously, one of the big one is surfing.  So, surfing is a way to reconnect to the world.  And it’s a totally different environment.  Everybody is the same; right?  And we started this when the kids were small, but my mother-in-law would cook dinner, and everybody would show up, and we’d go surfing.  And so, the Monday Night Surf Club, we’d call it. And so, we did that for years, and years.  And it’s a great way for everybody in the family to get together, but to go out and do something and have some fun.  But yeah, the ocean is still a great teacher, and I get in the water, gosh, four or five times a week.  Right? So, I still enjoy a lot of that.

 

[END]

 

 

 

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