Tag Archives: Frank Kamahele

There is a Pipeline for Hawaiian Astronomers

Sunday’s Hawaii Tribune-Herald had an article about Hawaiian astronomers testifying in the Thirty Meter Telescope contested case hearing last week.

From the article Astronomers Make Their Case:

Native Hawaiian astronomer Paul Coleman says the Thirty Meter Telescope would not just help unlock the mysteries of the universe, but also provide him a link to his ancestors.

Coleman, along with fellow astronomer Heather Kaluna, were the last of TIO International Observatory’s witnesses called in its ongoing contested case hearing this past week.

Read the rest

I first met Heather Kaluna back in 2006 or 2007 when I was a Keaholoa STEM advisor at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo. The Keaholoa STEM program aims to “increase enrollment, support, and graduation rates of Native Hawaiian students at UH-Hilo in science & mathematics disciplines, and increase familiarity and the use of related technology.”

When I spoke to the college students back then, I told them about starting the Adopt-a-Class program at Keaukaha Elementary School. That program raised money to send students on field trips to places like ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to take.

Heather was in the Keaholoa program. After I spoke, she came up and asked me how she could donate money to help the kids at Keaukaha. She was a “starving college student” herself. I knew she should be spending her money on putting herself through school, not worrying about the kids at Keaukaha. It stuck with me.

She studied astronomy at UH-Hilo and then UH-Manoa. Now she’s a postdoctoral fellow at the Hawaii Institute of Geophysics and Paleontology. I saw her recently when she and I, along with Barry Taniguchi, ended up on the selection committee for the new Institute for Astronomy (IfA) director.

There is a pipeline of Hawaiians coming up in astronomy. Paul Coleman was the first native Hawaiian astronomer. Then came Heather, and behind her is Mailani Neal.

Students that want to be Hawaiian astronomers

I attended the 2015 Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) hearing when OHA voted to rescind its support of the TMT. Mailani, then a high school student at Hawaii Preparatory Academy, told trustees, in tears, that she wanted to go into astronomy. Now she is on the mainland getting her degree and she will be an astronomer.

And I know of at least one more person who may be in the Hawaiian astronomer pipeline. On one of my last tours of the banana farm, there was a girl from Kamehameha Schools. It was a couple years ago and I think she may have been in eighth grade. She hung close to me and I thought maybe she wanted to go into farming.

But afterward she came up and told me, in a soft voice, that she wanted to be an astronomer.

I really regret that I didn’t follow up and connect her with Heather and Mailani. That I didn’t tell them, “Look, here’s another girl coming up the pipeline.” After the fact, I tried to find out who that young girl was but I wasn’t successful.

I’m so conscious of young people in elementary school, middle school, high school. They have aspirations you don’t know about, and they need help when they need help.

It’s like the story I just told here about my cousin Frank Kamahele. He was 11 years old when he knew he was going to be an airplane pilot. He didn’t know how, but he knew he would be. And he was.

It still bothers me that I didn’t connect that young girl with the others already on the path, and I’d still like to. That was maybe two years ago. If anyone knows who she is, please let me know.

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KAMAHELE FAMILY, Part 2 – Frank Kamahele

I’ve been talking with my extended Kamahele family over on my Facebook page. We’ve also started a private Facebook group for Kamahele descendents, where we are discussing our genealogy and sharing memories. Let me know if you’re related and would like to join.

It’s all got me thinking about our Kamahele family of Maku‘u and how it was back then. On Mondays right now, I’m reposting five posts I wrote back in 2009 about life in Maku‘u and my family there. Here’s #2.

My cousin Frank Kamahele

It was because he stayed at Maku‘u when he was a small kid that my Pop’s cousin Frank Kamahele became a jet pilot and also the manager of the Hilo and Kona airports.

About a mile down the coast from Tutu’s house in Maku‘u, toward Hawaiian Beaches, was an island called Moku ‘Opihi. During World War II, Hell Fire and other planes flew from Hilo and used that island for target practice.

The pilots knew there was a small kid at the house who jumped up and down waving at the planes. Some would fly low and turn sideways, then smile and wave at the small kid. Others would wiggle their wings and buzz the house.

The small kid knew that he would become a pilot one day. He did not know how; just that he would.

Later, when that kid Frank Kamahele was at Pahoa High School, a new teacher came from Texas and became the basketball coach. Frank loved basketball, and the new coach helped him to go to the University of Hawai‘i on a scholarship to play basketball. It so happened that the University of Hawai‘i had an Air Force ROTC program, which Frank joined.

Upon graduating, Frank applied to go to flight school. They told him to go home and wait for an opening, and one came a few months later. Next thing he knew, he was in Arizona at flight school.

‘Luckiest person in the world’

Frank told me recently that he feels like the luckiest person in the world. He came from a very poor family, and no one in the family had gone to college. If it hadn’t been for the planes flying overhead and a kind, dedicated teacher from Texas, his career might have been “cut cane man.” He was pretty good at that and earned $200 a month for contract cane cutting. At that time, it was a lot of money.

Frank was cool-headed. He told me about the worse thing that happened to him during his flying career. It happened at Honolulu International Airport once when he was taking off: when he was around 150 feet in the air, an engine fell off. He was piloting a KC135 refueling tanker –- a flying bomb the size of a Boeing 707.

He said the Control Tower called and asked: “Do you realize you lost engine number four?”

“Roger,” Frank replied.

“I repeat – do you realize that you lost engine number four?”

“Roger.” That was the extent of his conversation with the Tower. In the meantime, Frank shut off the engine, the fuel, etc. He did not want a fire to start.

It happened that he was on his routine annual check ride, so an Air Force inspector was along for the ride and sitting in the jump seat. Except for the engine falling off, everything was going well. The plane flew on three engines, no problem.

Frank Kamahele gets back on the horse

Once they stabilized at altitude, Frank requested permission to land and get another plane to finish his mission. He knew things were going smoothly and that he needed to get his crew back up in the air again to keep up everyone’s confidence. When they landed uneventfully, he asked the flight inspector if he wanted to go back up with them.

The inspector told him: “I’m sure you all will do just fine.” He could not wait to get off that plane and on the ground.

After his career in the Air Force, Frank returned to the Big Island and flew a 6-passenger tourist tour plane. He told me he could not keep on doing that because it was too boring and uneventful.

So he went to O‘ahu to work at the airport as an administrator, and the Hilo/Kona airports manager job came up.  He flew back to Hilo and applied for the job, which he kept for 17 years.

This is an example of how you just never know what has an influence on a young kid and might change his or her entire life for the better. It convinces me that the $1 million annual TMT contribution toward the Big Island’s K-12 education will be so valuable to our children.

See also:
Maku‘u Stories, Part 1: My Kamahele Family in Maku’u

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My Speech at the Council of Native Hawaiian Advancement Conference

Noe Kalipi, Ramsay Taum and I – all board members from Ku‘oko‘a – each spoke for five minutes at the Council of Native Hawaiian Advancement conference.

Speech pix2

Noe and Ramsay were just awesome. It’s clear that Ku‘oko‘a is a native Hawaiian company with native Hawaiian sensibilities. The good wishes and warm requests for information were very humbling.

Senator Akaka spoke right before us.

Speech pix1

Here is the speech I gave.

Aloha Everyone,

I am Richard Ha, chairman of the board of Ku‘oko‘a. Ku‘oko‘a is trying to align the needs of the people with the needs of the utility.

I want to start by telling you who I am and what my values are. Mom is Okinawan, Higa from Moloka‘i; Pop’s father was Korean, Ha. My pop’s mom was Leihulu Kamahele. And her mom was Meleana Kamoe Kamahele and her dad was Frank Kamahele. Our family land was down the beach at Maku‘u in Puna. We were very poor but didn’t know it.

Pop would tell stories at the dinner table. He would talk about impossible situations, impossible odds. Then he would pound the table and point in the air. “Not, no can. CAN!”

And he would say, “There are a thousand reasons why no can. I only looking for the one reason why ‘Can.’”

He told us to find three solutions for every problem, and then find one more just in case. He only finished sixth grade, but he was a wise man.

I was a kolohe kid growing up. I went to UH Manoa, where I flunked out. Too many places to go, people to see and beers to drink. I was drafted, and applied to go to Officers Candidate School, and then I volunteered to go to Vietnam. Ended up walking in the jungle with a hundred other soldiers. If we got into trouble there was no one close enough to help us. The unwritten rule was that we all come back, or no one comes back. I liked that and kept that attitude ever since.

I went back to UH and majored in accounting so I could keep score when I went into business. Pop asked if I would come back and help run the family chicken farm. I came back and saw an opportunity to grow bananas, but I had no money.

“Not, no can, CAN!” so we traded chicken manure for banana pulapula. By questioning everything, looking into the future and forcing change we have been able to survive in farming for more than 30 years.

We farm 600 fee simple acres with 60 workers.  Five years ago, we noticed supply costs had been steadily rising, and we found it was all due to oil. I was the only person from Hawai‘i to attend three Peak Oil conferences. I went to learn about oil so that we could position our business.

There I found out that the world had been using twice as much oil as it had been finding for the last 30 years. This is a very serious situation. I am stuck with this knowledge and that knowledge has become my kuleana. I know what is likely to happen and so try to find solutions that are good for all of us.

There are truly Native Hawaiian sensitivities embedded in our Ku‘oko‘a team and organization. The board and the team we have put together are the best we could find. Ramsay Taum and Noe Kalipi are members of our board and we will each say a few words. Board members went to Hilo to participate in the festivities for the seven vaka that came up from the south. We felt that it was important.

Right now there are no guidelines to choose the low-cost, proven technology solution that eases the pressure on the rubbah slippah folks. We can do this. You folks all know the consequence of rising cost of energy, water, school lunches, etc. It is the folks on the lowest rungs of the economic ladder who will get their lights turned off first. Too often they are Hawaiians.

Iceland has managed to make themselves energy secure and food secure. Their electricity costs are less than half of ours. Can we find the solution to our energy problems while taking care of the rubbah slippah folks too? Leaving them behind is not an option. If we search for the solution, if we ask the question, we can find the answer.

In modern Hawaiian history, the economy has taken taken taken and the culture has given, given, given. We have a unique opportunity now where the economy can give and the culture can receive. If we can stabilize energy costs at a low level, as oil prices rise we will become more competitive to the rest of the world and our people’s standard of living will rise. We can address the energy problem and take care of the rubbah slippah folks too.

As Pop used to say: “Not ‘no can;’ ‘CAN!’”

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