‘Ike Kupuna: Dods, Kai, Barahal, Keaulana

Kupuna Life

Welcome to ‘Ike Kupuna. The insights, experiences and knowledge of five kupuna who’ve helped shape our communities.

Here, we share their stories, hear their back stories, what drives them. We honor them, and we learn from them tonight. 

He’s a local boy who grew up here in Kuliouou in East Honolulu. There is not a chance, he says, that he would have ever imagined becoming president and CEO of First Hawaiian Bank.

“I started as a mailboy, and I started from the bottom and worked at the Aina Haina Service Station. My goal in life was to be the manager of Aina Haina Service Station and so I far surpassed anything I ever dreamed that I thought I could do,” said Walter Dods, Retired CEO First Hawaiian Bank.

Walter Dods, Saint Louis and UH grad, at 77, kicking back and enjoying retirement.

“One of the best things, I don’t set an alarm in the morning anymore. That’s a big deal, a really big deal so I get up when I feel like,” said Dods.

And “when” he does, guess where he goes, often five days a week the building he loves, he helped build, the First Hawaiian Bank tower in downtown Honolulu, only this time he’s renting an office there.

“I’m getting pretty old now and I should be slowing down on the business side and I am in that I’m not running anything but I’m flunking retirement for sure,” said Dods.

Case in point…The year after retiring in 2004, he joined the board of Hawaiian Telcom, chaired it though the company’s reorganization. At one time he served on more than 15 boards. These days, he’s active on only 7 or 8.

“It’s not tiring if it’s stimulating and I’ve made a decision that if I’m on a board where I don’t feel stimulated on a board then I’ll just get off now,” said Dods.

You’re in our special ‘Ike Kupuna but do you feel like kupuna?

“Generally no, I still think I’m young and I know I’m not when I look in the mirror. But I still think I’m young but when it comes to mentoring people in business, I do honestly feel like a kupuna because I take great pride in helping and I have a deal around town, and I don’t like to advertise it because I don’t want to get too busy but I have a very high fee to mentor somebody–it’s coffee at Starbucks.”

And while he says he too learns from those he mentors, his coffee talk includes wisdom we could all stand to learn.

“I come from the school that you derive your income from the community. So you should give time and money and effort back to the community.  I’m a very strong believer in community involvement,” said Dods, “Kids nowadays they want to understand the balance which I respect them for, but they also need to understand as I mentor them that sometimes you have to give somewhere .”

He and his family, his wife,  three sons and a daughter knew those sacrifices well.

“My wife diane did a wonderful job. We have four great kids,” said Dods, “I did travel a lot and was quite busy but I have an exceptional relationship with my four kids and I’m so grateful for that because it could easily go another way.”

When he wanted to run for governor, and had considerable community support, he and his wife had a family meeting and he told his children.  

“The very first kid said dad, I don’t want you to run. You run you’re gonna die. And the next one said, you go in there you’re gonna try to make a difference and you can’t move it you’re gonna get frustrated you gonna get sick. And my wife just sat there looking like this, not saying a word and by the end of the meeting I had no votes. Not one. That was my entire career so the next day I announced I wasn’t running.”

And no more getting involved in “other” political campaigns, his wife Diane helped convince him of that. She’s here in the center, she also helped influence his love of art,  co-wrote a book on modern day artists in Hawai’i.  Dods says Diane was very private, so not many knew she fell ill about two years ago. They moved into an apartment in Houston, Texas for a year while she received care at MD Anderson Cancer Center, and Dods became a full-time caregiver.

“As somebody who was always involved in business, I was totally unprepared other than the fact that I knew I was gonna do it and make it work. I never cooked in my whole life–I cook, I burn water making a cup of coffee, really, literally, and I learned to cook ,” said Dods, “Clean the bathrooms and toilets and vacuuming and all the things. Bathing, all the things that come with it. It’s hard work but it’s also rewarding and it brings the whole family even closer because everybody does it without having to be asked but it’s hard.”

In April of last year, doctors said there wasn’t anything left they could do.  

“We brought her home and I wanted her home in Hawaii. We got her home on a Thursday night and she passed on Monday morning,” said Dods.

They had 47 years together.

How do you get through the grief?

“Well  I’m still going through it. So it’s hard to say how you get through it. But it’s a day by day kind of thing.” 

Weekends are the hardest he says. So that’s when he walks, often with a friend. A more than seven mile route that takes him through Waikiki.  It clears his mind he says, it’s time to think. He’d also like to continue spending more time with his 3 grandchildren and his children.

“More recently my four children and I have formed a charitable foundation. So we’re giving now and all the four kids and I are researching the projects,” said Dods.

And now he sees, the tables are turning.

“And now they’re looking after me. They’re very worried, my daughter, I put her on a plane last night to go back to L.A. and she said dad you have a little red mark on your face. I want you to go and check it out. The wheels have finally turned and they’re caregivers. 

But it’s kind of nice huh.

“It’s nice, very, very nice.”

She is a Hawaii icon. Carole Kai has done it all – from entertainer to philanthropist and co-founder of the Great Aloha Run. She continues to be a ray of sunshine – with those big eyes, big personality and bigger dreams of making a difference.

“I always knew my part because I worked the hardest,” says Carole Kai.

She loves to laugh and tell stories of her childhood.

“I used to have boxing matches and get all the little kids and have them come to our garage and have them box and charge 5 cents.”

So, you were hustling them?

“Yeah. And I made some money until my mother found out and I got lickens,” says Kai.

Carole Kai grew up nearly McKinley High School – and was raised by her mom – a single mother who worked long hours as a barber for 50 years.      

“She worked really, really hard and all I remember was that she never complained. And she always told me that whatever you want to do, you can do it. Don’t let anybody tell you that a woman is incapable of doing things.”

Carole did amazing things – she started her career at the Pagoda Hotel playing the piano – and became a singer, dancer, entertainer in Las Vegas and all over the world.

“What was the greatest lesson learned?

“Clean up That women should follow their path and not get sucked up by the allure of money and fame because you can end up compromising yourself.”

The starlet moved back to the islands – and entertained us all with Hawaii Stars – and – the Local Divas.

“That was a wonderful experience because I got to work with one of the greatest women in Hawaii, Loyal Garner, and she taught me about love. She was so talented and had a great ear and everything.”
 And while Carole had a gift to entertain, she also had a drive to give.

The Great Aloha Run – from Aloha Tower – to Aloha Stadium – a race that she co-founded – recently celebrated its 35th anniversary.

The run has attracted hundreds of thousands of runners over the years – raising more than 14 million dollars for more than 150 non-profit organizations throughout Hawaii.

“I don’t think I’m anything special. I think the people that work here and put this together, they’re special.”

Her name has become synonymous with charitable giving – and it’s a constant motivation in her life – to make a difference for mom.

“She grew up in Kahaluu and the Hawaiian people there were very nice to her. They were so nice and generous to them without asking for anything. And so she wanted to do that too but when you’re a working mother and have no money and you have to work and feed three kids, she would be very sad so I wanted to honor her by doing something for other people.”

She must be very proud of you.

“No I’m proud of her. No, she doesn’t have to be proud of me. I’m just doing what she wanted me to do.”

 Another person who’s made a difference in her life–her husband Eddie Onouye.

“Eddie was my first boyfriend when I was in the 11th grade and he dumped me on our graduation night because he said he wanted to see the world and he thought I was limiting his horizon.”

But 25-years later – they reconnected and got married. The couple enjoys traveling and trying new places to eat – and she also offered this piece of advice.

“When he gets mad at me I don’t say anything. After a while he can’t get mad at me because I don’t answer him.”

She continues to laugh and brings humor to everything she does – even if it means making fun of herself.

“I love that, you know why? Because it gives me a chance to just have fun. And if you take yourself seriously, and you want to be tantaran, and have everyone go ‘you’re so cool,’ it doesn’t mean anything, it only means something to you. But if you can make yourself relatable to other people that’s the most important thing.” 

When all is said and done how do you want people to remember Carole Kai?

Somebody who cared about them, that’s the most important thing to me, that people know that I cared about them.”

For 32 years – Jim Barahal has been the president of the Honolulu Marathon – but it’s easy to forget that he’s also a doctor – who started his own practice here in Hawaii.  Along the way – he’s performed as a stand-up comedian, a sports radio personality and is even a member of the Hawaii Sports Hall of Fame.

“It’s the big sporting event in Hawaii. We don’t have professional sports teams,” says Jim Barahal, Honolulu Marathon President.

Since Jim Barahal became president of the Honolulu Marathon in 1987, it’s tripled in size — now the 4th largest marathon in the united states – with over 30-thousand participants – and a big impact on Hawaii’s economy.

“The economic impact is so big that it almost seems unreal. And because in large part due to these tremendous numbers from Japan, our economic impact direct spending is about a 140 million dollars, huge, huge number.”

Barahal was a huge sports fan growing up in Detroit, Michigan – and he used to watch his dad run – so he decided to give it a try.

“It was about a mile and I realized that about halfway through it I had to stop and walk. I was astounded that as an 18-year-old who always played sports that I was that out of shape.”

 But Barahal persevered and continued to challenge himself.

“I loved what running gave to me in terms of discipline, motivation and getting up every morning with a purpose. And was fortunate enough to run Boston 3 times and lot of other races. And it was through my involvement as a runner, that I met the people who put on the Honolulu Marathon and graciously invited me to be a part of their organization.”

But that’s not his day job. He founded Doctors on Call – in a partnership with Straub – and got the idea while doing his residency in Waikiki.

“Saw all these tourists coming into the emergency room and realized that there were a lot of tourists seeking medical care so that gave me the idea to start a medical business called Doctors on Call. It’s very successful and very fun and rewarding to me and my family.”

Doctor Barahal was also known as the sports doctor on radio and covered UH sporting events – and even did some standup comedy.

“Well in my own home I still consider myself a comedian but the audience is a little smaller. It was a fun part of my life especially the radio and doctor sports.”

And that’s what Doctor Barahal encourages everyone to do – find your passion and live your life.

“Just continue to stay positive and do what you can. No one expects you to run a marathon necessarily. Do what you can, stay positive and understand that success can come in many different ways and many different shapes and many different forms. It’s not one thing and certainly don’t let anyone define it for you.”

So how much longer does Barahal see himself leading the marathon? 

So, in a weird kind of way, I think I’m even more engaged. I mean I’ve always been focused on it but I think I appreciate it even more because as I start realizing that it’s not going to go on forever.”

But he’ll live on forever – in the Hawaii Sports Hall of Fame.

“I’m not kidding myself. I understand and I used to joke that I’m in the Hawaii Sports Hall of Fame for writing checks but on the other hand, I know I’ve been a part of a great sporting event. To be recognized as someone who’s been involved in sports and has contributed to the sporting life here in Hawaii, that’s a very meaningful thing to me.”

Here on the sands of Waikiki beach, a young Richard Keaulana tried very hard to grab the attention of Leimomi. She didn’t make it easy. But their dynamic worked and now for nearly 60 years. What they’ve done individually and as a couple, no one can deny, has been trailblazing far beyond this shore, but always rooted in family and community and always wrapped up in love.

“She was hard to get huh?”

Ooh yah. I look at her from afar and I close in after that,” says Buffalo Keaulana.

“I’d rent him surfboards at Hale Auau and he’d come over there, ‘I going take a board surf.’ I said only couple hours and bring it back, he’d stay all day and at the end of the day I’d be ‘Buffalo bring in the board, Buffalo,’” says Momi Keaulana.

“So finally, he comes up to me and he goes “a,” I said ‘a is for apples.’”

“She was the hardest, took me long time,” says Buffalo.

But 6 months later Buffalo popped the question.

“He says uh, ‘eh you like get married?’ And I look at him and I went oh boy.”

Momi also told Buff he had to get a “permanent” job, and he did. Park Caretaker at Makaha Beach. They married November 18, 1960, two weeks later moved into the caretaker’s beach house and two weeks after that, arriving home from the store, Momi found 30 boys who hung out at the beach, in their studio home.

“And I went what? And I said 30 boys? I married you not the whole beach.”

And so it was, life at Makaha Beach. And soon their family expanded again. Eventually raising five children and a grandchild.

In 1968 Buffalo was named Makaha’s first lifeguard. In 1976, he was on the first crew of Hawai’i’s first voyaging canoe in 600 years, Hokule’a, on her maiden voyage to Tahiti. This pure Hawaiian, sailing the pathway of his ancestors. He controlled the steering sweep.

“So now the thing is you gotta try taking it out by pushing it down. But me I jump out and I sit down and wump the thing go waaauu. Uh, that’s what Billy said, he wouldn’t let anybody steer. Oh yah, I had fun.”

Buff and crew received a hero’s welcome in Tahiti.

In 1977, Buff, with the support of Momi, started the Buffalo Big Board Surfing Classic, with categories like 250 pounds or heavier, the dead cockroach.

Buff has received many accolades over the years, including the Hawaii Sorts Hall of Fame. But about that time, a health scare, he fainted and was rushed to the hospital.

“And his heart rate went down to ten. And he was going ‘hah,’ very hard labored breathing and I said oh my god please don’t take him away from me. Lord please don’t take him away. Please I started crying and no sooner I had said that prayer, heartbeat started to beat again, excuse me. And then I turned around, I looked at him, grabbed his hand, I said ‘don’t you dare leave me.’”

They never found what was wrong. Then in 2016, Buff’s stomach hurt so badly he was hospitalized for weeks, diagnosed with cancer.

“I was just praying and praying and watching my wife get panicky.”

“I said you’re telling me my husband’s gonna die? Kathy, I said words that weren’t very nice. I was beside myself.”

They credit Abigail Kawananakoa, for getting buff the proper care, and installing a lift at their home.

“When I came out of the hospital, I started getting mad with myself.”

“Just mad cause you got sick?”

“Yah, just makes you feel like wow, I’m more bettah die if I going do nothing.”

That’s when the man whose church has always been the ocean, found another.

“Yah, I’m so proud of myself because I go church you know. I mean I feel great when I go church, because uh,”

“Oh God is good every day. He had lymphoma all over his stomach and all over too. We went to check recently and (knock on wood) cancer free.”

And now, at home in Nanakuli, soon to celebrate 59 years of marriage this year.

“Now it’s only her, I, a t.v. and the telephone “hello.”

Their experiences and wisdom provide guidance and inspiration for all of us, and we are forever grateful for their contributions past, present and yet to come.

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