This oral history interview is a project of the Historical Committee of the Outrigger Canoe Club. The legal rights of this material remain with the Outrigger Canoe Club. Anyone wishing to reproduce it or quote at length from it should contact the Historical Committee of the Outrigger Canoe Club. The reader should be aware that an oral history document portrays information as recalled by the interviewee. Because of the spontaneous nature of this kind of document, it may contain statements and impressions that are not factual.
An Interview by J. Ward Russell
January 24, 1989
It is Tuesday, January 24, 1989, a gorgeous, beautiful Hawaiian morning at 2711 Puuhonua Street in Manoa Valley at the home of Robert Wakefield Mist (RWM), a past President of the Outrigger Canoe Club. I am Ward Russell (JWR), also a past President of the Club and currently a member of the Historical Committee of the Club. This Committee has, for some time, been conducting oral interviews with prominent members of the Club. The purpose of my visit this morning is to conduct an oral interview with Wakey. We are in Wakey’s bedroom because, as many of you know, he is a quadriplegic, the result of an accident which he incurred some time ago, and I plan to cover this during our interview today. Why don’t we do this right now?
JWR: Wakey, tell us about your accident.
RWM: Well, it was a strange thing Ward, I was swimming laps in front of the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, actually to get in shape for the long distance so-called “rough water” swim which was coming up in a week or so and nobody knows what happened. I was just swimming laps out in the bay and the next thing anybody knows is they found me on the beach with a broken neck. They kept me alive with CPR and finally flew me to Honolulu. Eventually I had my neck fused. Unfortunately the accident damaged the spinal cord so I’ve been a quadriplegic ever since, and completely dependent on a respirator to breath. I can’t breathe on my own so if you hear a noise in the background, it’s my respirator pumping away; it keeps me going.
JWR: You know I am going to just make a little change in our prepared agenda here and ask you to list some of the accomplishments that you have achieved since you had your accident, which I think are truly remarkable – the books you have written, the way you get around; tell us a little bit about that, will you?
RWM: Well, Ward, when you are stuck in a spot like this you have to do with what you’ve got and I think of the greatest things that ever happened to me was when my son gave me an IBM PC computer for Christmas about six years ago. With a little ingenuity I had a pedestal built so I could prop the keyboard up on a flap so it is vertical instead of horizontal so I can punch the keyboard with a stick in my teeth. I’ve learned to do a little one-finger typing because I use my mouth for it, and as a result I am able to peck away and write on the computer. It’s been a great solace to me, and I’ve done a lot of writing in my lifetime, anyway, so I now occupy myself – well, every day, I spend a couple of hours peppering away on this thing.
I’ve written a number of children’s books for my grandchildren, and I’ve written a book of the history of my family and my own life, and I’ve just completed a short story of my World War II experience. This keeps me out of trouble and gives me something to do during the day. I’ve also kept active in local politics and so forth by writing letters to the paper and letters to our legislators and you know, trying to keep up with things I used to do before I got laid up. So I give a lot of credit to the IBM PC for keeping me from just vegetating.
JWR: Wakey, your accomplishments are absolutely miraculous, they are remarkable. Now, let’s get into some things concerning your background. What brought your family to Hawaii?
RWM: Well that’s an interesting story, Ward. My dad’s family came out here in 1855. His grandfather was a prominent physician in Belfast, Ireland, and for reasons that I have never fully understood, apparently on the basis of a letter he got from his brother-in-law, his wife’s brother who was Judge John Montgomery and had come to the Islands a couple of years earlier, wrote and said, you know this was a great place and why didn’t they come over here. So, believe it or not, he left a very lucrative medical practice and a beautiful, rather impressive home in Belfast, and chartered a small sailing ship and put his family – his wife, his three daughters and one son, and two of his wife’s sisters aboard with their family belongings and whatnot and they sailed to Hawaii straight from Liverpool. It took 203 days to get out here. They went around Cape Horn; the story is, thirteen times – got blown back twelve times and made it on the thirteenth try (Laugh), and they arrived here and he went into medical practice here and was soon physician to the Royal Family. My great-grandparents became very close friends of Kamehameha IV and Queen Emma. Their girls grew up here and all three of them married guys out here; one married a Dowsett, one married a Green, and my grandmother married a young British Naval officer, Henry Wentworth Mist, who came out here on his warship, the Havana. Apparently they fell in love and I guess got engaged and then he sailed away and didn’t come back for five years, but when he finally came back they were married and moved to England and raised part of their family there and then he was stationed in Esquimalt, Canada, on Vancouver Island and, (Laugh) there’s a funny story about that – he apparently was due for an advancement in rank and his papers didn’t come when he thought they should, and so he got miffed and wrote the Admiralty in London and resigned, and his letter of resignation went around the Horn; and his letter saying he had been promoted to Captain came around the Horn the other way – they passed each other. Well, by that time the fat was in the fire so he retired and they moved back to Honolulu. That was about 1875, I guess, and then my dad, who was the youngest member of the family, was born after they moved back here. So he was born down in Kakaako – as a matter of fact, he always used to say he was born in the back of Lewers & Cooke’s lumber yard – you know, where the Department of Transportation is now?
RWM: That was waterfront in those days – that was beach, and he was born in a home that his father had rented, I guess from the British government. It was prefabricated and shipped out here around the Horn to house a scientific expedition that came out here to study the transit of Venus. It was always known as the Transit of Venus house. Then they moved up to Union Street and then they ended up in lower Nuuanu, on Kuakini Street in the Nuuanu stream area.
My mother came out here originally as a young Stanford student. She was one of the first women to go to Stanford. I think, and she came out as a houseguest of Lily Hart Gay – her husband was Francis Gay – and she spent the summer on Kauai. My dad, who had to leave school and never went to college because his father died when he was seventeen years old, was on Kauai at that time. His first job was as a clerk in the Makeweli Plantation store and somehow he met my mother. Shortly after that they were married in California, came back here and lived most of their life here. So the family on my father’s side goes back to 1855. My mother came out here in about 1913, I think it was, met my dad, and that’s how we started out out here.
JWR: When were you born?
RWM: I was born in 1921, just two blocks down the road, between Manoa Road and Ferdinand Avenue. My dad built a home there – I was born in the upstairs of that house. I guess in those days people didn’t go to the hospital to have babies.
JWR: You had brothers and sisters?
RWM: Uh, just one sister, my sister Frances, who was four years older than I am. She is now living in California; she’s married and lives in Belvedere in the San Francisco area. There were just the two of us.
JWR: What did your Father do for a living?
RWM: Well, as a matter of fact, as I said, he went to work at the Makeweli Plantation store originally and then he came back to Honolulu. A&B had just started in those days and he went to work for Alexander & Baldwin as a dock clerk or a shipping clerk or something of the sort and he was with Alexander & Baldwin for the next thirty-five years. He was with them for all of his business life and ended up a corporate secretary. He finally retired around 1935.
JWR: What about your mother, was she just a housewife?
RWM: Yup, yup, she was very active in things that women were active in in those days – she was with the Red Cross during the War, and she was with the Outdoor Circle. She was active in the Punahou PTA, where my sister and I both went to school, and that sort of stuff. She was never really actually employed; she was also a director of the Children’s Hospital – that was one of her primary avocations when she wasn’t at home.
JWR: I don’t believe you have mentioned her maiden name.
RWM: She was Marion Phinney, and actually she was born in Lewiston, Maine, but moved when she was two or three years old out to California. She was brought up in Redlands, California where her father was a banker and a rancher and she had two brothers and a sister, all of whom lived in California
JWR: What about your schooling?
RWM: Well …..
JWR: …… you went to Punahou …..
RWM: ….. like everybody else, I started at Punahou in first grade. I didn’t go to Lanai School like so many of the other kids did – Miss Maxwell’s or whatever it was called in those days – I went right to Punahou School’s first grade and I was at Punahou until my ninth grade – I completed ninth grade – and then my family decided that they’d better get me out of there or I’d be nothing but a surf bum and never learn to speak English, so they sent me back to prep school in New England. I always laugh about that because they said I had a typical local accent and I’d never get rid of it and it would hamper me for the rest of my life, and one of the prime examples of somebody who never had grown out of pidgin English was Staff Austin who later turned out to be my father-in-law! (Laugh)
JWR: Speaking about your father-in-law, tell us a little about your wife; is she a kamaaina?
RWM: Oh, she’s very much a kamaaina. She was of missionary persuasion and the original members of her family came out here in 1826. Her great-grandfather was the Reverend Ephriam Clark who was one of the first pastors of Kawaiahao Church, and who came here originally, as I understand it, to translate the Bible into Hawaiian, and the story is that he translated it from the original Hebrew to Hawaiian rather than from English. He must have been quite a scholar. Then the family … she had a number of uncles and aunts who all grew up here so she goes back to 1826. She was a Punahou student. She grew up part of the time on Maui – her father was the plantation manager at Wailuku and then he was transferred back here to Aiea Sugar, Honolulu Plantation, so she moved back down here and was a boarding student at Punahou, then she went to Stanford and graduated from there.
JWR: And, when did you meet?
RWM: Well, (Laugh) that’s a great story. It was just after the War and I’d been in the Naval Air Transport Service and stated with Pan American World Airways after the War. I was stationed here and like many of the young bachelors in town we went down to check out one of the incoming Matson boats from the Mainland to see what came off, and who should come ashore but little Martha Austin whose family I had known for a long time. I’d actually met her before, but I didn’t know her that well, she was only twelve-thirteen years old when I first met her. I asked her for a date and guess where we went? To the Outrigger Canoe Club!… and had dinner there. Very shortly after that I was transferred back to San Francisco to the base up there, and after I’d been there for a while I decided to write her a letter and I got a letter back. It sounded a little encouraging, so after a couple more letters I decided to ask for a transfer back to Honolulu which they obligingly granted. I think I came back in June of 1947 and we were married in August of 1947. It didn’t take very long when we finally made up our minds.
JWR: I think we are a little ahead of ourselves here. I’d like to go back to your schooling – we got you through high school, and … where did you go to college?
RWM: I went to … well, after Punahou I went to Choate School in Wallingford, Connecticut, which is a prep school. I graduated from there in 1940 and went to Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts, which was probably one of the most fortunate things that ever happened to me. It was a very, very wonderful college and I made a lot of good friends. I got there, Ward, in 1940 and the first year after I was there, of course, the War hit. I was a sophomore so college life changed considerably, and I eventually finished up by going through in three years. So actually, I finished my college work in 1943 instead of ’44 which was when I should have graduated. Like everybody else, particularly from here, after Pearl Harbor, my brother-in-law was on the West Virginia which was sunk – he survived, fortunately – but I was pretty wrought up, so a lot of us tried to get into the military. I didn’t have much luck getting in the Navy because my eyes weren’t very good. I wanted to be a Naval aviator, and after several false starts I finally found that I could get into the Navy by joining Pan American World Airways. They had a contract with the Naval Air Transport System, so I got a job with Pan Am and went out to San Francisco with the understanding from the college that as soon as I got my commission they would send me my diploma. Well, when I went to get my commission they said, ‘You don’t get your commission until you get your diploma’. So I had a Catch 22 situation there. I finally ended by taking an enlisted rating as a Chief Specialist or something of the sort and I was inactive. Anyway, I was in a Pan Am uniform, so I spent the rest of the War in the South Pacific and was on the West Coast and in Hawaii as a Navy Operations Officer. When the War was over Pan Am cancelled the Navy contract and I stayed with them as an airport manager and control tower operator in several positions here until I met and married Martha. Shortly afterwards I was scheduled to go to Bangkok as a station manager but by that time she was hapai and I decided that was not a very good place to bring up kids so I resigned from Pan Am. That was when I went to work for C. Brewer & Company. My first job was with the Hilo Transportation & Terminal Company that had just started in Hilo – a subsidiary of C. Brewer.
JWR: Tell me about your business career.
RWM: Well, I got to Hilo at the end of 1947 – went to work on the docks there and I was superintendent of the sugar warehouse, counting sugar bags coming in and counting sugar bags going out to the ship. Then we built the bulk sugar plant. When we eliminated the sugar warehouse I had an offer to go to Brewer’s Hawaiian Agricultural Company in Pahala on the south side of the island, so in 1949 we moved over there and I started off as the Assistant Industrial Relations Superintendent and then became the Superintendent and eventually became the Industrial Engineer for both Hawaiian Ag and Hutchinson Plantation which was adjacent.
Then I came back into the main Brewer organization in Hilo as the Safety Engineer. I was Safety Engineer for about three years and then I took over a newly founded training department. They had decided that a lot of our supervisors had kind of grown up in the job and didn’t really understand what their function was, so we started a management-supervisory training program which I directed for a number of years. About 1962 I was asked to move down to Honolulu to take over the Public Relations Department, which I did, and after about a year there the original public relations guy, Jack Fox, who I am sure you know from Statehood days, retired. He had been the Public Relations Director previously. By that time we’d started a new subsidiary company, called Hawaiian Agronomics Company International which was developing agricultural projects in different parts of the world – a brand new organization. Actually, when we started, Wayne Richardson and a secretary and I were the total home office staff – everybody else was overseas. I was with them for the next fifteen years developing sugar and agricultural projects all over the world – Iran, Iraq, South America as well as out to Guadalcanal, Australia, Asia, and virtually all parts of the world. It was a fascinating period with Brewer & Company. Eventually that company was sold. I’d become Vice President of Administration by that time and I went back into the Brewer organization in the macadamia business – we’d bought Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Company by then, and I worked in that company for a year and then ended up in Brewer’s Land Development Department managing the resort area at Punaluu on the Big Island beyond the Volcano. That’s what I was doing when I was injured. I was headed for Punaluu – spent the weekend at Mauna Kea Beach Hotel because it was our anniversary, our wedding anniversary, and I was due to go to Punaluu the next day which I did about every week, and never quite made it. I ended up being flown back to Honolulu instead.
JWR: That’s a remarkable background.
RWM: I was forty years with Brewer & Company altogether.
JWR: Forty years, and then before that how long were you with Pan American?
RWM: Only from 1943 to 1947. Well, I was in the Navy and Pan Am, both.
JWR: That’s forty-four years of business and military experience.
RWM: Yeah, uh-ha.
JWR: That’s remarkable. Have you at any time since your accident thought of writing an autobiography?
RWM: Well, as a matter of fact I have, Ward, I’ve written a book starting with my family
and then my own life up until the time I got hurt. That’s completed, it’s over four hundred pages.
JWR: And you wrote this after your accident?
RWM: Yeah – all one-finger typing. (Laugh)
JWR: Well, now I think we ought to get to the Outrigger Canoe Club.
RWM: Yeah, this is what this is all about, isn’t it?
JWR: It is. When did you join the Club?
RWM: Well, I am not really one of the real old timers. I didn’t join until 1943. When I was a kid, Ward, my family had a beach home at Punaluu on this island and so I kind of grew up over there. We used to go over every weekend and as a result I never joined the Club when I was a kid. I used to go down there a lot. My friend Dick Ward, who lived across the street was a member and as a little kid in my sub-teen years, we used to spend quite a bit of time down there together. In fact, I think Malia and Eva (Pomroy) began to think I was a member because I was down there so much. But, I just went as a guest.
JWR: That’s interesting because many of the current members who joined in the forties
and fifties spent their childhood days at the Club as guests.
RWM: Yeah. Yeah. (Laughter)
JWR: You must have set foot in the Club when you were quite young.
RWM: Oh, I guess, when I was nine or ten years old.
JWR: What was your first recollection of the Club?
RWM: Well, you know, as I think back I remember there was a little stream that used to run right between the Club and the Moana Hotel. I guess it came down from the Ala Wai, or some place, but there was a fresh water stream that used to run right across the beach alongside the Club. They still had the old grass shack, although it wasn’t the Club itself, it was still there. In fact Elmer Lee used to hold forth in there, and I think I started taking steel guitar lessons from him in the old grass shack.
JWR: When did you first learn to surf?
RWM: Well, I surfed a little bit as a kid, but actually not at Waikiki. I built a surfboard out at Kam School one summer, and I used to surf over at Kahana Bay on that – a great big redwood plank – and I didn’t really surf Waikiki very much until I came back here during the War in 1943. That’s when I came into the Club as a military member. I think that was how I joined the Club originally. I’ve forgotten if it was military or they had a special deal with Pan American. In those days if you worked with Pan American you could join the Club. As I recall my initiation fee was twenty bucks or something like that and I think we paid a buck and-a-half a month for dues. On my Pan American salary of $150 a month, I could afford it, and that’s when I first started to use the Club a great deal.
JWR: Tell us a little about your recollections of your years in the Club.
RWM: One thing I remember well, Ward, was when we were little kids we used the same locker room as the big guys but boy, there was no horsing around like there is in our Club now. If you got out of line you got pinned up against the wall, or had a towel flicked at you, or something like that and the kids were really very well behaved as compared to what goes on now. I sometimes think if the members took a little more interest in disciplining the little guys now that – rather than suing the Club for malfeasance – we’d be better off. During the War, of course, the beach was covered with barbed wire and you had to kind of thread your way down through it in order to get to the water. We still had a wonderful dining room. Our old friend Maxie used to preside over the dining room, I remember.
JWR: Oh, boy, yes.
RWM: Gosh, I think you could get a mahimahi dinner for $ 2.10 or something of the sort. It was a wonderful place to eat. And we used to have dances down there periodically. You were very popular if you belonged to the Club because your friends in the Navy were very happy to be taken down there. I had a surfboard locker, and I remember my first surfboard, I was very proud of it. I bought it second hand – it was a light weight board, it only weighed 75 pounds. (Laughter). It was one of those balsa redwood strips, and I was very proud of the fact that I had one of the new light-weight boards… so that’s when I really started surfing. I kept that up until we moved to Hawaii and then I didn’t take it up again until my kid was about twelve years old. He had started surfing and I decided if I was going to see much of him I’d do the same, so I went back to surfing then.
Aside from that, the Club was a bachelor’s paradise – you know – there were all kinds of chicks running around in those days. We knew practically everybody in the Club, and used to play volleyball there. I remember at one point they decided to dig the volleyball courts out because they were getting kind of compacted, so they got a bunch of us down there and we spent the whole Saturday digging the courts, and boy, you’d be amazed at what came out of those courts – everything from horse shoes to gold rings to, gosh knows what-all. I remember Gay Harris gave us all a steak dinner for our efforts after the thing was all over.
JWR: Gay was manager.
RWM: I think Gay was manager about that time. There was another one that always amused me. There was a guy by the name of Kane who was manager, I’ve forgotten what his first name was…..
JWR: Oh, yeah.
RWM: …..was manager, and you remember the old entrance to the Club was a kind of a horseshoe and the desk was on the inside, and right behind it was the manager’s office, and so he had his name on the door and it just said “Kane” and all the local guys, of course, read it as ‘kane’ so, consequently opening the door and unzipping their fly as they walked in and poor old Kane was sitting at the desk behind the door….. (Laughter)
JWR: Kane hale li’ili’l.
RWM: Kane hale li’ili’l, yeah, and Kane was spelt the same way. I think he finally put, “Kane, Manager” on it or something like that… (Laughter).
JWR: He must have had some interesting experienced. (Laughter)
RWM: I remember when Malia and Eva (Pomroy) were there, gosh, they knew everybody in those days. It was good fun. It was real kind of relaxed – the way of life there… the Hau Terrace was a great gathering place.
JWR: Do you remember some of the beach boys?
RWM: Yeah, as a matter of fact, I remember well that, you know, they used to sit around underneath the Club. We had the canoe shed under the Club and, oh gosh, there was a whole bunch of them – I remember “Splash” Lyons used to sit there playing his ukulele, and oh, “Turkey” Love and “Panama” Dave Baptiste and old “Hawkshaw” Howell, and “Rabbit [Kekai], “Blue” Makua and “Steamboat” Mokuahi, and “Sally” [Louis Salisbury] Hale – I think he was sort of head of the beach patrol in those days, he seemed to kind of run things. Then over at the Royal, Jimmy Hakuole and “Chick” Daniels ran the operation over there – and oh, gosh Ward, I often wondered where they got all those names, you know, I don’t think there was a single guy on the beach who didn’t have some kind of a nickname. Maybe Harry Robello went by his own name, but the rest of them all had these weird names…..
JWR: That’s so true, “Blue” [Makua] for example …..
RWM: Gosh, I even remember way back before the War, Ward, when the Moana Hotel used to have a sort of a rental operation in the basement and you could go over there and rent those Moana Hotel bathing suits – those old hairy, itchy things. You’d see these guys and gals walking up and down the beach with those thick wool bathing suits that said “Moana” across the front of them.
JWR: Oh, I remember those. Any anecdotes that you can remember when you were a youngster and a member of the Club?
RWM: I guess the best thing that happened to me happened at the Outrigger Club. I told you my first date with my wife was at the Club, and it was on one of those beautiful moonlight nights and everything seemed to come together in great shape and I think I can go back to that great night as a beginning of a romance which has now lasted for some forty-five years.
JMR: Forty-five years! Can you tell me about your family?
RWM: Well, shortly after we were married, Ward, we moved to Hilo and it didn’t take us much time, we were married in August, 1947, and our son, our eldest child, Robbie, was born in Hilo in April, 1948, so things clicked very well. Then we had two more, daughters, both of them were born in Pahala after we moved over there – June, our eldest and D.C. (Dorothy Christine) is our youngest, they were only just over a year apart. They are scattered around now, Robbie lives here, Junie lives in San Francisco with a couple of kids, and our youngest, D.C., lives in Greenwich, Connecticut, where she operates a shop. As a matter of fact she’ll be out here at the end of next week so we look forward to seeing her again. They all grew up in Hilo. Robbie went to Hawaii Preparatory Academy when we moved down here and the two girls attended Punahou and graduated from Punahou. One of them went to Pine Manor for two years and graduated from the University of Colorado and the other one graduated from Colorado Women’s College, and Robbie went to the University of Denver and graduated from Denver. He was originally engaged in the meat business here. He was with Davidson Chudikoff selling wholesale meat to hotels and restaurants and so forth and then he went into commercial real estate, and now has his own commercial real estate business here. He has three little boys and er….
JWR: He has three boys?
JWR: For goodness sake, how time flies.
RWM: Yeah, yeah. In fact one of them is old enough so he is going to join the Club this year.
JWR: If he needs a sponsor, I’d be only too happy…..
RWM: Thank you, thank you, you may get a call on that.
JWR: Being an old politician I have to remind you that your son also dabbled a little bit in politics.
RWM: Yeah, as a matter of fact I guess he got bitten by the bug. Going back to my own background, my family was always sort of the opinion that politics was a dirty business, that you voted but you didn’t get mixed up in it. But after I got married my father-in-law, Staff, your buddy in the Legislature, got me interested in politics when I was in Hilo and I eventually went up through the ranks and became Chairman of the Republican County Committee here.
JWR: I couldn’t resist asking you about your political activity.
RWM: Well, I enjoyed that a great deal. One of my regrets is that because of my incapacity I am not able to keep up with it now. I’ve been a staunch Republican all my life and I guess some of that kind of wore off on my son. He has now run for the Legislature, unsuccessfully, I am sorry to say, two times and he is active in precinct politics and all that sort of stuff.
JWR: Well, from experience I can say sometimes unfortunately candidates get discouraged after two or three unsuccessful attempts. Looking back at some of the men who have run for office who have been elected, they too experienced early defeats but kept persevering. I hope Robbie does so because I think he’d make a good legislator.
RWM: Well, I think the classic case is the guy, Akana, in Hilo who ran nine times and much to his surprise, and everybody elses, made it this year. So I keep telling Robbie, “Well, you’ve still got seven tries to go”.
JWR: Well, I hope he does too, I think he’d be a good legislator, he’s very dedicated to Island affairs and a very intelligent guy. Getting back to the Club, how did you get into the management end of the Club, what led you to becoming President?
RWM: Well, Ward, when I went to Hawaii I retained my membership in the Club for several years. I was riding then on what was known as a nonresident membership because when I originally joined my base was in San Francisco. I was paying nonresident dues which were very charitable, and finally old Gay Harris caught up with me and wrote me a letter and said, “You are not a nonresident, you’re an Island resident’ because I was living in Hilo. He said, “You’ve got to start paying Island dues’, which was a little hefty for me since I belonged to the Hilo Yacht Club too. So I actually dropped my membership for a couple of years and when I moved back here in 1962 I couldn’t afford the initiation fee all over again so I finally joined the women’s Uluniu Swimming Club right next door. I kept my board there and I used to surf at Populars and that area. Then that was about the time the new clubhouse was to be started and you recall there was a kind of defection of membership because a lot of people didn’t want to move to Diamond Head because it was too damned far away, so they proselyted the old members and offered us the opportunity to rejoin the Club without paying the initiation fee. I think all we had to pay was the building assessment which, as I remember, was eighty-nine bucks or something like that. I saw the handwriting on the wall with the Uluniu Club and there was a chance to get back in the Outrigger so I rejoined it, I guess it was 1964.
Because of my interest in the Club I got active on different committees. I was on the Membership Committee for a number of years, and eventually was proposed for Board Membership and worked my way up through the Board – I guess I was there for two terms, six years, and my last year … well actually, I was supposed to become President a year before I did but because of my travelling with Hawaiian Agronomics Company I was around the world. Sometimes I was away as much as seven months and I didn’t feel I could do justice to being the President at that time, so I put it off for a year and Bob Anderson became President. Then the following year I arranged with my company to spend more time here, so I became President then.
After I got off the Board, I was active in committee work and whatnot. I had such Aloha for the Club and I think so highly of it, and the management and the guys we worked with, and it really became a big part of my life and one of the happiest memories I have is working for and with members of the Club down there on different committees and projects and so forth.
JWR: Are there any particular highlights of your activities in the Club?
RWM: Well, of course being President was a great honor and a great challenge. We accomplished several things then, I think. That was when the Long Range Planning first went into high gear and we started way back then to try to work something out with the Elks Club, which of course is still going on. It wasn’t successful then, but I think starting that project was one of the more important things that we undertook, and other than that it was just a case of trying to keep the Club on an even keel, keep the budget balanced, and …..
JWR: For the record, what year were you President?
RWM: I believe it was 1975.
PWR: Your term as President was sort of a maintenance to keep the Club on an even keel?
RWM: Yeah, that…You know there’s always factions in people going off in wild directions and so forth, I guess every President has the same problem with individual members. We used to get phone calls at ten o’clock at night from some irate and usually somewhat inebriated member complaining about what happened, or didn’t happen. I recall (Laugh) once getting a call from a member whose wife had attempted to become a member in her own name, and she was not universally liked by the Club membership so her application was turned down. At ten o’clock at night he calls and starts raising hell about how come his wife couldn’t get into the Club and so forth, and I finally listened to this about as long as I could stand it and I finally said, “You really want to know why she can’t get into the Club?” And I started recounting some of the peccadillos that she had pulled down there and the reasons that she wasn’t considered suitable as a member, and I think he was somewhat taken back. I don’t think he had realized what had happened and I think his main object was he didn’t want her around the house – he’d just as soon have her down at the Club. (Laugh). He was anxious to get her out of there; but there were a lot of humorous things that happened in the course of it. I guess that every President has the same problems of trying to placate irate members and keep people from circulating petitions when they are not supposed to, and that sort of thing. I don’t think of any one particular project, the Club was running very well at the time. I was very interested in the growth of membership that started back in those days which I’d be even more concerned about now. I think the membership has exceeded the capacity and the facilities of the Club at this point. It concerns me when I see 4,000 members in a Club that was made for approximately 2,000. This is something I wish our Board would take more heed of now. I realize the economic pressures make it a lot easier when we have more members. I still think that we’ve got to decide whether we want a Club or whether we want a mob scene down there. As you know during the summers we have guest members and reciprocal members and so forth. It does get pretty crowded sometimes.
JWR: I’ve been much concerned about it too and I did speak to the Board about a year ago. My position has been that we should keep the Club where it is, because if we start growing we begin to expand like Topsy – more members created the demand for more facilities and you have a white elephant on your hands.
RWM: Yeah, yeah.
JWR: And I concur with your point of view. I think we should keep the Club the way it is now.
RWM: Well, it seems that we establish limits periodically and you are only supposed to have a certain number of members in each category, then when the pressure gets too great well, they just raise the limit. It’s sort of like the federal budget, you know, when you run out of money you raise the lending or the borrowing limit again so you can pay your bills. Sooner or later I think we’ve got to face up to the fact that there can only be so many in that facility and be comfortable.
The other thing that I’d like to mention, Ward, is I’ve always felt ever since our new Club opened that one of our greatest assets was our chef, Bill Teruya. I don’t think there’s a place in town where you can get the quality of food, and certainly for the price that we pay, that you do at the Outrigger Club when you consider the ambiance, the view, the congeniality and the quality of the food and service. I think these are some of the best parts of our Club – things that make it so very special. I don’t know if anybody realizes what a contribution Bill Teruya makes to that whole operation. He’s an outstanding chef and I think we are awful lucky to have him.
JWR: I agree, I agree. It really is, it’s the best spot in town to eat. That brings up a question.
JWR: What was your reaction at the time when we had to move?
RWM: Well, actually I wasn’t a part of it at that time, Ward, because that was when I was still in Hilo and by the time I moved down here the fat was in the fire. I think I would have been very apprehensive about moving from the center of Waikiki. I always felt that the Outrigger belonged where it was, but the foresight and the intrepid work that you and Cline [Mann] and the group that were actually the prime movers behind the acquiring of the Elks Club property and seeing the need for the move is something that I never cease to admire. I think that it was an absolutely outstanding bit of foresight that this was done, and of course, in retrospect it was the greatest thing that ever happened. It would have been a terrible mess if we’d been able to retain our property down there in the middle of that maelstrom of tourism at Waikiki Beach. But, as I say, I think at the time I would have gone along with it all right, but I would have had to swallow hard to do it at that time.
JWR: Well, it was interesting. We had several offers which would have permitted us to stay, but they were always under terms and conditions that Club members could never afford. We would have been staying in a facility that would have been owned by somebody else. I think it has really worked out for the best because we have a family club that we would never have been able to have in Waikiki.
RWM: Absolutely. And it is not as crowded and you don’t have to contend with the thousands of people who don’t belong – the beach in front of you and the water is so crowded now that I think our surfing would have been restricted terribly, the surfing and canoe surfing is all commercialized now and I think we are much better off where we are.
JWR: Well, when you take a look at the long list of waiting applicants, that’s just a reminder of the fact that we have a wonderful club sought after by many, many people. Is there anything else you’d like to add to the record?
RWM: Well, just one thing, Ward, and that is that I think one of the high points in my life was when the Board and the members of the Outrigger Canoe Club granted me an honorary membership in view of my situation. To be honored in that way and be in the category of such giants as Duke Kahahamoku and Val Ossipoff and people like that is really….. it’s really the most touching and the biggest honor I think I have ever been given. I’ll never cease to be grateful to members of the Club for awarding me that honor. It enables me to use the Club now which I probably wouldn’t be able to do.
JWR: Well, you are certainly very deserving. I can say without any equivocation that you were one of the most popular Presidents we ever had.
RWM: Ha, well, as long as the place didn’t burn down while I was there I figure I was lucky. (Laughter)
JWR: Anything else you’d like to add?
RWM: I don’t think so, Ward. I am deeply honored to be asked to contribute to this oral history. I’ve listened to some of the other ones, including yours, and I think it is a wonderful thing that they are doing. It is going to be very valuable in years to come, I am sure when people go back through this record as I did when I listened to your tape and Bob Bush’s, and I listened to a couple of others previously, you learn so darned much about the Club and you realize the contribution that so many members have made to it. It makes you proud to be a part of the game.
JWR: Wakey, it has been an honor to me to have this opportunity to interview you. I want to thank you very much for giving a remarkable and enlightening little bit of history about the Club – thank you very much.
RWM: Thank you, too, Ward. I’ve enjoyed it very much.