Celebrating 50 Years Of Culture
Hawaii’s famous visitor attraction, Polynesian Cultural Center in La’ie, is getting ready to celebrate its milestone 50th anniversary next year. Few, however, really know its remarkable history. In 1921, only a couple of years after the dedication of the LDS Temple in La’ie, Elder Matthew Cowley returned from his missionary service in New Zealand and made an interesting prediction. He said that he hoped “to see the day when my Maori people down there in New Zealand will have a little village there at La’ie with a beautiful carved house … the Tongans will have a village too, and the Tahitians and Samoans and all those islanders of the sea.”
That wonderful idea took hold and grew over time. In the late ’40s, church members in La’ie started a hukilau – a fishing festival with a lu’au feast and Polynesian entertainment – as a fundraising event. By the mid ’50s, busloads of visitors were flocking to La’ie to see Polynesian students at the old Church College of Hawaii (today’s Brigham Young University-Hawaii) put on “Polynesian Panorama” – a production of authentic South Pacific island songs and dances. In 1962, president David O’McKay of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints authorized construction of Polynesian Cultural Center, and the world-class visitor attraction we know today was launched. Today, PCC offers 42 acres of authentic cultural experiences from all the Polynesian islands.
I remember accompanying my mom and dad along with my siblings to witness the grand opening. I was so excited because this was the first time that I was going to such an extravaganza. My parents participated in a special program of song and dance, and my uncle, David Hannemann, was hired as PCC’s very first employee and served as assistant manager of operations. It was a fabulous day as dignitaries and special guests came from all over the United States and the Pacific to be a part of this historic day on the North Shore. That gathering of our Polynesian cousins with Hawaii as a focal point left an indelible impression on me as a 9-year-old kid.
Before it was built and for the first few years, there were a number of skeptics who doubted whether visitors would make the hour-plus ride from Waikiki. Back then, no one was predicting emphatically “if you build it, they will come” right away. Thanks, however, to a lot of hard work, perseverance, creativity, marketing, support from the La’ie community and its partners in the visitor industry, coupled with a few prayers along the way, PCC has not only survived, it has thrived. It has become very much a part of Hawaii’s visitor industry success stories.
Besides its nightly Polynesian revues, some of my other favorite secular PCC memories include Elvis filming Paradise Hawaiian Style there, Gov. George Ariyoshi being honored in traditional Polynesian attire, the authentic pomp and circumstance that is always a part of a head of government’s visit, the breathtaking fire-knife dance competition, and my latest favorite, the Haunted Lagoon experience during Halloween.
PCC also has always been about much more than entertaining tourists. It employs about a 1,000 people, 70 percent of whom are BYU-Hawaii students. Nearly 17,000 BYU-Hawaii students have financed their college education while working at the center since it opened in 1963. The students do what comes naturally to them by sharing their knowledge and pride of their unique cultural backgrounds with visitors from all over the world.
And as they return home, they more than likely become ambassadors of goodwill for us because of their productive years at PCC.
As we near the 50th anniversary of Polynesian Cultural Center, we should reflect on what it has contributed to Hawaii and to the Pacific region. I tip my hat to those visionaries, who against great odds had the foresight and courage to bring to pass one of the most dynamic and exhilarating cultural attractions in the world to beautiful La’ie.
MUFI’S VISITOR HEROES
Position: General Maintenance
Location: Sheraton Kaua’i Resort
General maintenance engineer Herb Fune has been described as a “passionate, dedicated and tirelessly devoted member of the Sheraton Kaua’i Resort team” for nearly 25 years.
It’s a testament to Herb’s mastery of many disciplines, whether it’s an electrical project, a plumbing repair or keeping the resort’s three kitchen refrigerators humming.
He quietly goes about his business, operating so efficiently and skillfully that he makes even the most difficult tasks seem routine. His professionalism in his everyday interactions with guests and co-workers has earned him many glowing comments, which he humbly attributes to the support and excellence of the Sheraton Kaua’i’s engineering team.
Engineering director Matt Taeza says of Herb, “His attention to detail, dedication to delivering on a promise, and his aloha spirit are critical factors that help ensure our hotel’s physical plant operates efficiently, while providing our associates with a safe working environment and our guests with the comforts they deserve.”