Welcome To A Very Busy Retirement

How does retirement feel for visitor industry veteran Sandi Kato-Klutke?

“Yahoo!” she replies with a laugh.

The recently retired Aston Islander Beach general manager admits, however, that her first day of official absence from work was difficult.

“I got up the first morning and I was depressed,” she says.

Let’s just say she quickly recovered.

And last month a celebration at Grand Hyatt Kaua’i Resort & Spa recognized her work in the visitor industry and in the community throughout the decades.

Appropriately titled “Sandi’s Gone Fishing,” the roast was dedicated to Kato-Klutke with state Rep. Jimmy Tokioka and Kaua’i Chamber of Commerce’s Randy Francisco in attendance, among others.

“They say good things come in small packages, and that’s what she is,” Tokioka, Kato-Klutke’s cousin by marriage, joked during the event.

Approximately 200 people attended the roast, a fundraiser for the Visitor Industry Charity Walk, in which Kato-Klutke has played an important role since the 1980s.

“They did such a super job. I walked into the room and I thought I was in the wrong room,” recalls Kato-Klutke of the dinner.

Every chair was covered in white, blue runners were spread across the tables to represent the ocean and intricate centerpieces adorned them.

“Everybody knows how committed Sandi has been to the community, but I’m not sure everybody knows how committed Sandi has been to working for you at the County Council and the state Legislature,” Tokioka said at the dinner. “She works really, really hard and she is a presence in the Capitol.”

It is this volunteer work that has made her efforts on the island most profound. She not only sat on the Kaua’i Chamber of Commerce Government Affairs Committee, but also has served as president of Hawai’i Lodging and Tourism Association and has worked with the Kaua’i County Farm Bureau.

Kato-Klutke attributes her inspiration for community work, especially in agricultural matters, to her grandparents who emigrated from Japan to Hawai’i to farm.

“Had it not been for my grandparents, I would not be here today,” says Kato-Klutke, who spent some six years serving on the county’s planning commission.

She continues to invest her time working with the Farm Bureau and advocating for more agricultural use of Kaua’i land.

“There’s so much land out there that we have not planted on,” she says. “Can’t we just plant things that will produce enough fruits and vegetables to sustain us as an island?”

Kato-Klutke also advocates for an agricultural “hub” in Lihu’e at the former Big Save site.

“For the people who work in Lihu’e,” she explains.

A commercial kitchen, where Kaua’i-made and Kaua’i-grown products can be processed, along with a farmers market, are just some of the plans she would like to see there.

She also is helping develop this year’s Kaua’i County Farm Bureau Fair, assisting with the fruits and vegetables exhibition.

The Kapa’a High School graduate also was recently appointed by Gov. Neil Abercrombie to serve on the

Agribusiness Development Corporation.

“I’ll be busy,” she says regarding the position, which starts July 1. “That’s all I know.”

What really tickled KatoKlutke was how much money the Visitor Industry Charity Walk was able to raise. She had expected donations of at least $175,000, but did not fathom it would reach some $200,000.

“It’s just phenomenal,” she says about the money that will be distributed to local nonprofits.

Though the hospitality trade has been her primary focus for nearly 30 years, Kato-Klutke didn’t delve into it immediately when she graduated with a degree in banking, after attending Kapiolani Community College and the University of Hawaii.

She initially moved to San Francisco and worked at a canning company. Circumstances led her back home to Kaua’i, however, in 1980. Her first job here was working as a night auditor at a former Holiday Inn.

“I had to support my kids,” she says. “It was the highest-paying job I could find.”

By 1985, Kato-Klutke began moving her way up the corporate ladder and landed a job with Aston Resorts and Hotels, where she has worked ever since.

Throughout her three decades of working within the tourism industry, KatoKlutke says teamwork plays the most memorable role in her experience.

“If you work together with your team, it’s an extraordinary feeling,” she says.