visionary

CRAFT IN AMERICA
Visionaries

CRAFT IN AMERICA: Visionaries

 

VISIONARIES documents the ways in which artists and influencers inspire new generations to envision the limitless possibilities of craft. Featuring textile designer and founder of LongHouse Reserve Jack Lenor Larsen, curator Helen Molesworth and Black Mountain College, weaver Kay Sekimachi, collector Forrest L. Merrill, and book artist Felicia Rice.

 

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LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Community Builders

LONG STORY SHORT: Community Builders

 

Kukui and Gary Maunakea-Forth of O‘ahu, Stacy Sproat-Beck of Kaua‘i and Richard Ha of Hawai‘i Island have built ‘āina-based enterprises focused on building better communities. Hear how these visionaries behind MA‘O Organic Farms, Waipā Foundation and the former Hamakua Springs Country Farms have put their values to work for the greater good.

 

Program

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, Dec. 23, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

Community Builders Audio

 

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Transcript

 

Richard Ha

We always plan five, ten years out.  We’re always looking for where we need to be in the future.  And we already know that this is happening, it’s gonna get worse, so we’re already moving in that direction.

 

Stacy Sproat-Beck

I remember asking that question when I was in college.  You know; what about a nonprofit?  Because I knew it was there, and it was really an amazing opportunity, you know, to be able to grow this entity that is really for the community, and to take care of the land, and to teach people.

 

Kukui Maunakea-Forth

That’s what I love most about what we do, is that we’re providing this way for young people at an early age to build equity. You know, and it’s not just financial equity, but it’s also equity in terms of the relationships that we’re creating with other people in our community, and with the land.

 

Every entrepreneur seeks professional success.  An uncommon few also aim to build a better community.  Coming up on Long Story Short, our conversations with four individuals who are among a rare breed of business and community leaders.

 

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.  On this edition of Long Story Short, community builders.  It takes a remarkable type of person to look beyond their own family, business, and circumstances, maybe beyond their own lifetime, and work to make life better for the broader community over the long haul. To illustrate the impact these individuals can have, we revisit four entrepreneurs running distinctive businesses and nonprofits on three different islands.  We think it’s worth another look at what these innovators have accomplished, putting their vision and values to work, and how they empower people in their communities.

 

First up, Gary and Kukui Maunakea-Forth.  Though they come from different places—New Zealand and Nānākuli, this married couple came together through shared concerns about social conditions on the Wai‘anae Coast of O‘ahu.  And when it came time to start their enterprise in 2001, making money was far from the top priority.  Now the largest organic farm on O‘ahu, the nonprofit MA‘O Organic Farms is providing much more than food.  It’s creating a future for young people in West O‘ahu, and educating leaders for the next generation.

 

Gary Maunakea-Forth

I think the first place it came down to was the fact that we weren’t growing our own food.  We definitely worried about the kids in our community.  But I think because we saw all this land that was being wrongly used, we just kept asking ourselves: Why aren’t we feeding ourselves? And then, we dug a little bit deeper, and one of our friends who’s a soil scientist said it turns out that the soil in Lualualei Valley is one of the most unique and nutrient rich soils in the world.  And we didn’t know that, and kids in our community weren’t taught that.  The connection to the land had been severed. And we still to this day, those kids that come up to the farm, they’ve never been up in the valleys.  And so, I think that’s where it started.  And then, you know, definitely as our kids started to get a little bit older and go through the same problems that other kids were going through, our connection to what kids in Waianae, what kids in rural Hawai‘i are going through started to just, you know, really sort of slap us in the face; you know, the idea that a good public education is very difficult to get in Hawai‘i.

 

We didn’t want to just grow food and eat it ourselves.  We wanted it to be highly marketable.  Because, you know, when we analyzed our community, the state of poverty was multigenerational.  And we thought that if we sell our own food for a premium price, that money wouldn’t go back to our community.  And so, we looked at the kind of social service kinds of things that we had been doing ourselves and that others were doing, and we wanted to add this what at the time was called community-based economic development.  But we wanted to add this economic development layer that now has become social enterprise.  And so, that’s where it started.

 

Kukui Maunakea-Forth

I wanted it to be this great education program, and I wanted, you know, this element of culture and, you know, this element of vocational skills being taught, and this element of community work being done.  And it just didn’t happen like that at all.  It was whatever, you know, resources and people that were sort of there at the time. And it started off as a ten-month-long experience; you know, farm work experience.

 

So, who were you first enrollees?

 

 

 

Kukui Maunakea-Forth

Multi people that we had talked to their parents at Tamura’s.  Or we saw down at the beach park and said: Hey, you know, we’re starting a program; would you guys like to, you know, send your daughter?  Oh, yeah; my daughter’s graduating, and she doesn’t really have plans; sure, we’ll sign her up.

 

Those people that were meant to be there, ended up there.  And, you know, all of us, you know, growing up on the Coast, the fact that there’s only eleven percent that will go to college; that’s a small number.  So, what about the other eighty-eight, ninety percent that aren’t going to college; where are those guys?  And, you know, we thought long and hard about who we wanted to have this opportunity, and to have this experience.  And it was really those that were going to become the leaders. So, this eighteen to twenty-four-year-old Wai‘anae or Nānākuli graduate that had a desire to do something different, and to connect with not only the culture, but with a future in the community.

 

Gary Maunakea-Forth

Almost every young person that has been in touch with MA‘O—and this is pretty much the condition of the Wai‘anae Coast, you know, the federal government calls them at-risk.  And if you look deep at the statistics, you’ll find that Waianae has twice the teen pregnancy rate, twice the substance abuse rate.  All of these indicators are terrible, twice as bad as anywhere else.  And so, most of the kids that come have issues at home, or in their own lives that they’ve got to deal with.  On top of that, you know, we’re told in this society that if you go and get a college education, you can get ahead in life, you know, you can get your American Dream. Most of the kids coming out of the public schools in the State of Hawai‘i and in Wai‘anae are what’s termed remedial. And so, they have to be highly motivated.

 

When we started MA‘O, we wanted to start it with an associate degree program.  That took us three or four years to gain momentum, because when we went to Leeward Community College initially, they were like: Well, let’s do a noncredit program. And so, we started with this ten-month-long program.  And now, the various programs we have through MA‘O are sort of designed to be like a movement, to have this environment of entrepreneurship, of I want to get ahead, I want to work hard, I want to give to my community.

 

Kukui Maunakea-Forth

Over time, you know, we nurture trust, and respect, and love.

 

Gary Maunakea-Forth

And when kids first come to the farm, they generally come because we’re gonna help them pay for college and give them a stipend. The farming, they could live without some of them.

 

So, in 2003, I think, was our first real official ten-person youth leadership training of these young people just straight out of college.  And one of them went through the whole ten-months, and during that ten months he turned eighteen, and he was all over the place.

 

He was just growing up.  And anyway, he stuck it out, and now, he’s still with us, and he’s twenty-five years old.  And he’s now the assistant farm manager.  His name is Manny.  He represents what we believe is the untapped potential of young men in Waianae.  He can run the farm himself.  I’ve seen him talk story with Alan Wong about food, talk story with Ed Kenney about food.  At one of the fundraisers, he was talking about the farm to Pierre Omidyar, who’s a billionaire.  He represents, I believe, what a young farmer in the State of Hawai‘i should be.  Not just a person who’s able to toil in the fields, but he can talk about the vegetables, he can cook the vegetables.

 

You know, we’ve tried to take the farming part of it, and make it sexy, and make it interesting.  And the best and easiest way to do that is to allow the young people to do, firstly, a bit of everything.

 

M-hm.

 

So, they get typecast weeding a lot.

 

But they also get to do all the other jobs. You know, packing vegetables to go to Town Restaurant, or to go to Whole Foods is one of those things where they start to see the pride in doing it.

 

And the connection.

 

And get connection; yeah.  And so, if they’re at KCC Farmers Market selling vegetables, that’s the ultimate job.  You know, we’re hoping now that the next step for us is that especially some of the young people who really all of a sudden like farming will be farmers, and will either farm larger spaces with us, or go off by themselves.

 

Kukui Maunakea-Forth

I think that’s what I love most about what we do, is that we’re providing this way for young people at an early age to build equity. You know, and it’s not just financial equity, but it’s also equity in terms of the relationships that we’re creating with other people in our community, and with the land that feeds them.

 

Since 2009 when this interview first aired, MAO Organic Farms has continued to do well.  In 2018, a record twenty-one students graduated from the program with high school and college degrees, including from a new four-year program in sustainable community food systems at UH West Oahu.  While we enjoy the vegetables, MAO is really growing the leaders of tomorrow.

 

Now, we head over to Kauai’s North Shore, where Stacy Sproat-Beck is pursuing some similar goals at the WaipāFoundation.  The Waipāeducational mission includes connecting people to the land, using natural resources responsibly, strengthening family, cultural, and community ties, and preserving a way of life.  In 2014, Stacy Sproat-Beck told us why she was a world away from the work her business school professors expected her to pursue.

 

You went to USC, a very fine business school.  What was the experience of going to college at USC like?  I mean, there are a lot of wealthy scions, you know, sons and daughters of magnates.

 

It was kind of a culture shock.  You know, not so much being in a city that size, or in a school that size, because you know, I’d lived here for six years in Honolulu, and gone to Kamehameha.  And this is a big city, too.  But definitely, USC was kind of a culture shock for me, and I didn’t fit in that well. And you know, I’d raise my hand and go: What about family business?  And they go: Oh, no, no, no; don’t talk about that.  You know, family business is really hard.  And I go: Oh, what about nonprofits? And they go: Nonprofits?  You know, maybe we’ll bring somebody in to talk about nonprofits, but nonprofits aren’t really where the money is.  And so, it was kind of a different thing for me. But I still feel like I gained a lot of knowledge and important skills from going there, definitely.  It was an amazing education.

 

When you came home, I think you were aware of what was going on, but weren’t there for a lot of the fireworks.  There was a lot of militance about the way land was going on the North Shore, the push for resort development, and the move away from a rural lifestyle.

 

On Kaua‘i?

 

M-hm.

 

Yeah.  It seems like that was happening.  Yeah; that was happening throughout our childhood and youth, and my parents were really active, and my family was really active and fighting development, and wanting to manage it, really, and not just let it get out of hand.

 

And in fact, they were fighting Kamehameha Schools, where you’d attended, owner of Waipa.

 

Yeah; in the early 80s then, yes, Kamehameha became one of the entities that wanted to develop their landholdings there on the North Shore.  They were in development mode, and so, their plans for Waipāand Lumahai were golf courses, resort communities. Back then, it was all about developing the land so they could make money to support the school at Kapālama and the Estate.  Eventually, after four years of activism and negotiation, and the default of the potential developer, they were able to obtain a lease from Kamehameha for the sixteen-hundred-acre ahupua‘a of Waipā, which is an intact watershed.  It’s amazing.

 

I moved home in ’92, and I really started helping at Waipāin ’94.  And it was really just difficult.  There were a lot of different challenges and issues.

 

And you were doing this as a volunteer?

 

Yeah.  Well, farming with my husband on the side, helping manage Waipāon a volunteer basis.  And then also, I think I was doing promotions for a boat company to actually make money to pay my bills.  When Kamehameha went through strategic planning in 2000-2001, they changed their whole viewpoint on land management and revenue-generating lands, versus lands for culture and education.  And also, kind of right around that same time, all of these other difficulties that we had just sort of went away.

 

What do you do on the sixteen-hundred-acre property?

 

My dad guys envisioned that the original founders, it was to be a land base for the practice and perpetuation of Hawaiian culture. And so, that was their vision. And so, we continue to perpetuate that today by doing programs for kids that connect them with the land, and also, you know, we do enrichment programs and leadership, and cultural programs. And they’re in the garden and harvesting, and also just swimming in the streams and maybe doing a lot of the things that I did as a kid, that we all did.  And I feel like what that does today is, it connects us back to the earth, when a lot of us are just busy living somewhat urban lives.  It’s helping them to make the connection.  So, we do programs for kids.  We do resource management.  You know, we manage learning sites, and sites that we’re restoring. We have a fishpond that we’re restoring along the coast, and then we’ve got lo‘i, taro fields, and gardens, and a native plants nursery.  And then, up in the valley, we’re doing reforestation.  And then, sort of teaching and learning through all of that. And even another thing that’s really amazing to us is that we’ve planted a lot of fruit trees lately, orchards of fruit trees, everything from longan and lychee, to mango, and oranges, and avocado, and ulu, star fruit.  And really to be able to create abundance, lots of food, because you know, we know the importance of having lots of food there, both to feed ourselves and you know, to share with community, and then to market too.  But also being able to take the kids out.  Oh, and mountain apples, too; that’s a big one.  Being able to take the kids out and let them pick their own snacks off the trees.  I mean, we grew up with that, but kids nowadays—

 

They look for a box.

 

It blows their mind when they go out and are able to pick mountain apples and eat them.  It’s just the most amazing experience for them.  And for us, I think, that should be so basic, you know.

 

What’s the goal for WaipāFoundation now in the ahupua‘a?

 

So, our vision is a thriving an abundant ahupua‘a, and a healthy community that’s connected to their resources.  And so, it’s both … yeah, exactly that.  Just thriving and abundant, with land and resources being healthy, and feeding us in many ways, both physically, spiritually, and then also community that is connected to the place that helps to take care of it, and is nourished by it, and also actively manages and takes care of the land.  And I think that’s our vision specifically for Waipā, but also, it’s a larger vision.  You know, Waipācould be just a microcosm of the State or the island, or the world, where everybody is directly connected to the resources that feed them and take care of them.

 

Our next guest may not have started out with quite the same intentions as Stacy Sproat-Beck or the Maunakea-Forths.  Richard Ha went into the family farming business, and the founded his own farm on the Hāmākua Coast of Hawai‘i Island.  Along the way, Ha found that his business expertise and entrepreneurial vision prepared him to make progress on challenging issues like sustainability, food security, and renewable energy.  Ha always tries to stay ahead of curve, anticipating the next big need. It all started with the can-do attitude he learned from his dad.

 

When you saw your dad farming, and you were playing with tomatoes, did you think: I want to grow up and be a farmer?

 

No.  Actually, what happened was, I ended up wanting to go into business or into having some kind of organization to be in charge of.  And the reason that happened was because Dad used tell stories when I was about ten years old.  We had this kitchen table that was like a picnic table, with a bench and everything. And he would tell stories about impossible situations.  You know, a business situation, or he had all kinds of different situations.  And it would come down to he came up against a stonewall, there was no way to figure it out, and he’d pound the table, and the dishes would all fly.  He would say—boom; Not no can; can!  I remember that pretty clearly.

 

Not no can; can.

 

Yeah.

 

It’s about problem-solving and the will to overcome the problem.

 

Yeah.  It was just a given that you just don’t come up to a problem and look at and say: Oh, that’s it.  You know, there was always a way around it.

 

What were you gonna do with your accounting degree?

 

You know, actually, I didn’t really know.  I just knew that I had an accounting degree, and if anything came up, I was gonna do it.  But it just so happened Pop asked me to come back and run his chicken farm. I said: Okay, well, I don’t have anything planned; I’ll do that.  So, I came back, helped him run the poultry farm, and in the course of that, met the supermarket people, learned how marketing and that kinda stuff worked.

 

And you learned from the ground, up on that end; right?

 

Yeah; yeah.  I mean, we raised chickens when we were little, but the business end of it was different, you know.  And with an accounting degree, it helped me to analyze stuff.  And so, what happened was, we had forty acres, and twenty-five of it was in the chicken farm, so we had some extra land.  And so, we needed to find out what could we do with no more money.  ‘Cause I only had a three hundred dollar credit card.  Back then it was hard to get a three hundred dollar credit card. So, we started doing some research, and found out that there was about six million pounds of Chiquita Bananas being imported into Hawai‘i.  So, I said: Oh, man, if we could get into that, we should be able to do okay.  So, we started trading chicken manure for banana keiki, and started two acres.

 

At what point did you have your own farm?

 

Well, yeah; that was my dad’s farm, and we made it into a four-way corporation with my brothers.  And then, from there, I went to Kapoho to lease some land over there. And that’s when it started, maybe two years after we started the first banana farm.  And then, when the sugar plantations started closing down, we were able to move closer in to Hilo, at Kea‘au.  So, we moved the farm there.  At Kea‘au, we expanded to three hundred acres, and by then, we became the largest banana farm in the State.

 

Are you confident that local people will buy local produce, even if it’s more expensive?

 

Well, you know, it’s really what we need to do to support our local farmers, because to be food-secure, farmers gotta make money. And come the time when we feel like this is really a serious situation, it’ll happen.  And everybody’s talking about food security.  Now, how do we do that?  And the answer is, if the farmer can make money, the farmer will farm. So, it doesn’t get much more complex than that.  So, in an effort to figure out ways to help farmers make money, you know, with the help of the Department of Ag and the legislators, and a bunch of people, we pushed through legislation so that farmers could get cheap loans, low interest, long-term loans for renewable energy projects.  And how we look at it is how it affects our workers, our community, and the environment.  Every Thursday, our workers can come and just pick up all the different things we grow—bananas and tomatoes, and whatever, you know, as much as they need for their family.  And we have profit sharing, although it’s been tough the last few years.  We have profit sharing, and we want to look, you know, toward whatever we can do to help them with the food side of it. Because it’s hard for us to raise our workers’ salaries, because we can’t raise the price.  Everybody’s having hard time.  So, we have to figure out other ways to help our workers.

 

Keaukaha Elementary School, a Hawaiian Homelands community, and a school that was in the academic basement for twenty years; you adopted a class there.

 

Yeah.  What happened was, I volunteered to be on this thirty meter telescope subcommittee on the Hawaii Island Economic Development Board.  And so, when you talk about telescopes, you automatically talk about the culture.  Maua Kea, you need to talk about the culture.  If you talk about the culture, you end up at Keaukaha.  It’s a seventy-five-year-old Hawaiian Homes community.  And so, that’s where I ended up.  Yeah; so I went over there, talked to Kumu Lehua about telescopes, and had to learn a lot the culture.  I didn’t know as much as I do now.  I was mostly worried about farming.  But you know, the more I got into it, the more I needed to learn.  And then, what was ironic was, here I am on the thirty meter telescope subcommittee, and you’re standing in Keaukaha, you look at the mountain; there’s hundreds of millions of dollars of investment up there.  You look back at the school and the community. So, you know, there’s nothing here of tangible relationship to that.  But whatever the case, we decided this no can; we had to do something.

 

What do you see yourself doing in ten years?

 

You know, it’s hard to say what it’ll be, but I’m pretty sure it’ll be something that I can’t imagine now.  Because we always end up doing something that’s new and different.  Yeah; so I expect that it’ll be something new and different, but it’ll be something, for sure.

 

And it’ll be in farming?

 

I can’t even say that.  I don’t want to just say one particular thing.  But it really has to do with where our society is going, what our circumstance will be.

 

Since this interview first aired in 2008, we can now tell you what Richard Ha is doing.  In 2016, he closed Hāmākua Springs Country Farms and was awarded one of the first Hawaii licenses to grow and sell medical marijuana with a company called Lau Ola.  In the fall of 2018, he left Lau Ola after steering the company through its startup phase.  He said he’ll continue in the agriculture and energy industries.

 

Richard Ha, Stacy Sproat-Beck, and Gary and Kukui Maunakea-Forth all continue to grow their own enterprises, while building better communities across our state. We thank them for their vision and can-do attitude, and for sharing their stories with us.  We hope they’ve inspired you.  Mahalo for watching.  For Long Story Short and PBS Hawai‘i, I’m Leslie Wilcox.  Aloha nui.

 

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

 

Kukui Maunakea-Forth

There’s no one right way.  And we’ve all sort of figured out this thing that we bring everything to the table, you put it down, if your idea is better than ours, then hey, we’re gonna go with your idea.  And that’s how it even happened with that very first class.

 

Stacy Sproat-Beck

Things have really just grown like crazy since then, and gone in an amazing direction.  I feel like the lessons learned from those really hard times are kind of what maybe grounds me and the organization in sort of humility and remembering that things don’t always come easy.

 

Richard Ha

Pop taught us a lot of lessons, and it had to do with survival.  Just do what you gotta do, and plan for the future, and you know, make decisions. You gotta do it, do it now, kinda thing like that.

 

And not no can; can.

 

Yeah; absolutely.

 

 

 

Audubon

 

John James Audubon, a self-taught painter and ornithologist, left a legacy of art and science that made him famous in his lifetime and that endures to this day. Filmed in locations that Audubon explored, the film brings to life his timeless paintings with stunning footage of the living birds he immortalized.

 

 

NOVA
The Impossible Flight

 

Follow two intrepid pilots as they take on the greatest aviation adventure of our time, overcoming countless challenges as they construct and fly the first solar-powered airplane around the world.

 

 

THE CONTENDERS – 16 for 16
Hart / Jackson – The Visionaries

 

This eight-part series reveals the humanity, the twists of fate and the surprising mistakes behind 16 of the most compelling and tumultuous presidential campaigns in modern history. Revisit the past 50 years of presidential election history to see how previous campaigns are still influencing politics in unexpected ways.

 

Hart/Jackson – The Visionaries
Examine the stories of the charismatic Senator Gary Hart and Reverend Jesse Jackson, forward-leaning aspirants determined to tackle the biggest foreign policy and domestic issues of the day and ready to upend American politics.

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Henk Rogers

 

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

 

Henk Rogers Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

What was your name before that?

 

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

 

Did you learn English in New York City?

 

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

 

Which is a fabulous high school.

 

Fabulous high school.

 

Where you learned, what? What did you …

 

Computer science.

 

Oh …

 

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

 

So, you graduated from Stuyvesant High School.

 

I … dropped out of Stuyvesant High School.

 

Oh, you dropped out?

Didn’t like that one elective.

 

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

 

How old were you when you dropped out?

 

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

 

Why was it Hawaii?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

And you liked board games?

 

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

 

Now, were you a Hippie at UH as well?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Did you graduate from the University?

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

Wow.

 

And that makes me feel good.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Good argument.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

And your Blue Planet Foundation had a role in that.

 

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

 

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

 

Yes.

 

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

 

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

 

But whatever it is, it’s expensive.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

Yes.

 

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

 

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

 

Where did that come from?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

You’re still CEO, though.

 

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

 

I see.

 

I’m the chairman.

 

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

 

Um …

 

You have a different definition?

 

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

 

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

 

Yes.

 

They sacrificed that.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

You have how many siblings?

 

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

 

Wow!

 

So … yeah; I’m one of twenty-one.

 

[END]

 

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