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Tuesday, May 20, 2014

TRANSITIONS: Part 7--Return to Hawaii and Naalehu, the Southernmost Community in the USA

It was nice to be back in Hawaii.  I was not, though, prepared for the tough life awaiting me at the Hutchinson Sugar Company in Naalehu:


I was a trainee in the factory, and later embellished the experience by saying that I started my career in the biomass industry.

Naalehu is  66 miles south of Hilo and 214 air miles southeast of Honolulu.  Volcanoes block the signal, so there was no radio reception in the daytime, with highly static sounds at night.  No TV.  Even my Peace Corps colleagues had radio.  Here is a video of a Hydrogen Bomb explosion at night with Honolulu in the foreground.  The Cold War was at peak in 1962, and America wanted to show off.

But back to sugar.  I spent five years toiling in three factories at Hutchinson, Hawaiian Ag and Kilauea.  Typically, I worked 19 straight days, from 7AM to 5PM, then got calls at night that something had broken down.  Worse, I had to wear a starched khaki outfit.  Toughest job of my life by far.  Everything came easier after this.

The plantation manager was Bill Baldwin, who was the biggest boss, a marriage broker and savior.  First, he introduced me to Pearl Nakamichi, who was a nurse in the neighboring town of Pahala.  Three months after we met, we got married:


However, the Vietnam War was heating up, so I decided to join the Army Reserves to avoid getting drafted.  I spent 16-weeks training, was in the best shape of my life, and returned to the industry.  By then Pearl had adopted a puppy, who came with us to Kilauea Sugar Company in 1963.  Next to our cottage was where the Slippery Slide scene was filmed for the film, South Pacific:


Click on that, for France Nuyen looks exactly like Pearl.  What a coincidence that the pool scene was in our backyard.  Pepper, incidentally, grew to 140 pounds.

It was in Kilauea that a very old man named Mr. Yoshimoto came up to me one day and said he knew my grandfather.  Read the details about this encounter, for this link more than 40 years later led to my search for Kenjiro's Grandmother, a possible female samurai, who would have been my great-great-great grandmother.  In any case, my grandfather, Kenjiro, is buried up the hill from the sugar factory, and he was instrumental in building a 3 MW hydroelectric facility in 1906 that is known by old-timers as Takahashi's Powerhouse.  To the right is the son in law of Mr. Yoshimoto, Misa Tamura, standing next to Kenjiro's gravestone. That hydroelectric facility is still today, 108 years-old now, producing 3 MW.

We eventually made it back to Naalehu, where I worked for several years as the process engineer.  Sharing the same office with me was Dante Carpenter, who went on to become Mayor of the island and is now the Democratic Party Chairman.  Here with factory superintendent, Ed Lui:


In 1967 Bill Baldwin indicated to me that I didn't belong here in Naalehu, so he worked out with C. Brewer to send me to graduate school, where they paid my salary to continue my education, but it had to be Louisiana State University because it had the only sugar program in the world.  At my going away party with Bill:


Even with those long hours at work, the sense of the community was that everyone contributes to the well-being of the town.  I was an assistant explorer scout leader, served on the credit union board and was placed in charge of coming up with a new event for their annual July 4th fair.  Amazingly enough, in 1967, I organized the original battle of the bands.  According to Wikipedia, the first Battle of  the Bands was launched in 1980, so I beat the Brits by more than a decade.  Naalehu also one-upped Woodstock by two years.  We had youth rock groups from throughout the island competing for awards, and the most popular disc jockey from Hilo moderated.  This was a huge  hit.  Maybe I might have had a more successful career as an impresario.

I spent a year in Honolulu with the Hawaii Sugar Planters' Association research laboratory before heading on to LSU.  Next, on to Baton Rouge.

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