Tuesday, September 3, 2013 — Similar to the return of the PCC/BYUH Alumni Brass Band, which marched for the first time since 1995 (see below), the Polynesian Cultural Center 50th Anniversary Golden Anniversary celebration also marches on.
One special Golden Anniversary program that only a few hundred people enjoyed was a special tribute to those who have volunteered their time at the PCC.
Mahalo, labor missionaries and service missionaries
The crowd skewed towards the more elderly, including a small number of original labor missionaries who worked on the Polynesian Cultural Center back when it was simply called the “Polynesian village,” plus a very good representation from current and former senior service missionaries at the Center.
John Muaina, PCC vice president of Human Resource, called several missionaries to share a few remarks on behalf of them — including Antone “Tony Haiku Jr and Sione Tuione Pulotu, labor missionaries; and Elder Jay Waite, a retired US Census Bureau executive who now helps with PCC quality control. Each of them said they didn’t particularly feel qualified to speak on behalf of their colleagues, but considered an honor to do so.
Tony Haiku [pictured at right], who’s originally from Kauai, recalled coming on his second labor mission and dividing his electrical conduit skills between the Church College of Hawaii, the Hawaii Temple Visitors Center — which the labor missionaries were also working on at the same time, and the Cultural Center. In fact, while the dedicatory program was taking place a few yards away on the PCC’s original stage on October 12, 1963, Elder Haiku was hurriedly installing equipment in the new snack bar kitchen.
In part because of his great work, Wendell B. Mendenhall and Edward L. Clissold asked Haiku to accept a fulltime position with the Center, which he eventually did, retiring first in 1998 (he later came back for another two years).
“I love this place. This place has helped me grow spiritually,” he said. “We had a lot of fun, it wasn’t all work; I mean, we were working with boys and young men, and we had time to play. But when it came down to the crunch, everybody dove in with dedication and did what we had to do. We did what the Lord called us to do, with all our hearts and minds.”
Haiku also paid special tribute to his wife. “My wife went through a lot when I was working here. I came early in the morning and worked late at night, while my wife was also working, plus she had the children and the home. I really don’t know how she put up with me. I had a good wife.”
Tuione Pulotu [pictured at left, below] is now recognized for his master carving skills that include many tiki and a large portion of BYU–Hawaii’s beautiful, traditional 57-foot twin-hulled Hawaiian sailing canoe, Iosepa, which is permanently berthed in the PCC’s Hawaiian Village when it’s not out on the ocean; but back in labor mission days he was the heavy equipment operator who, among other things, dug out the PCC lagoon.
After already serving a two-year labor mission in Tonga, he told of how his simple prayer led to his name being added to the list of those who were called from those South Pacific islands to help build the Cultural Center, even though the list had been closed.
“The missionaries have a bond of love for each other,” Pulotu said, “and what a blessing this has been. All of these things happened because of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
“The Polynesian Cultural Center made me what I am today: I have been blessed with a talent where each time that I’ve made something, I would step back and say, did I actually do that? Sometimes I can’t believe I did those things.”
Elder Jay Waite [pictured at right], who is currently serving, said he sometimes feels like he has two major responsibilities: “One is basically an office job…much like I used to work as a regular employee, but it’s a little bit different, too: Every morning there’s a devotional where we have a prayer and a spiritual thought… This office job is important. One of the great blessings is that I sit in the presence of giants, people whose shoulders I stand on to be able to serve at the PCC… These are men and women who love the Lord, who seek His hand and His blessings in all the things they do.”
Elder Waite added that the other aspect of his mission is working with BYU-Hawaii students. “What a blessing it is to associate with them. I also have an opportunity to serve with them in their wards and stakes, and to hear their stories of the sacrifices they and their families are making so they might come here to get an education, then go back and help their countries do better.”
“I’m also grateful for these brothers and sisters who serve with me. They’ve left homes, and if you talk to them, I bet there’s not one who doesn’t have pictures of grandchildren they would really like to see; but they left their grandchildren because they love the Lord. They’ve had the opportunity to come here to serve the Lord, and without exception, they would say, it’s one of the greatest blessings in their lives.”
“I’m not much of a doctrinarian, but I suspect in the sealed portion of the Book of Mormon they refer to the ‘fourth degree of glory,’ which is the Polynesian Cultural Center,” Elder Waite said, drawing laughter from the audience. “We feel very blessed that we’ve been given this opportunity.”
“The Polynesian Cultural Center is the place that God loves. His Spirit is here. Members of the Church, visitors, atheists, they all feel that Spirit when they come here. Some are not sure what it is, but they would like to put it in a bottle and take it home with them. It’s the Spirit of our Father in Heaven. He loves this place, and He loves those of you who have given of your lives for many years to make this place what it is.”
Others also spoke during the program, and the senior service missionaries also shared several musical selections.
A mixed group of labor, former and current PCC missionaries
In response, PCC President & CEO Alfred Grace said how much he appreciates all the missionaries, and added that the PCC still asks Pulotu for help, while Tony Haiku still walks all around the Center and helps us in many ways. “The well does not run dry, because you keep giving.”
For example, President Grace said a number of former service missionaries helped the PCC’s efforts to put a large float into the July 24, 2013 Days of ’47 Parade in Salt Lake City.
Referring to the scripture in Malachi 3:10, we know that “in the storehouse of our Heavenly Father, we place all that we can give — our backs, our minds, our energy and our strength. This is what all of us have done, but mostly all of you who have served faithfully as missionaries have done at the Polynesian Cultural Center.”
“I’m grateful to represent the current employees of the Polynesian Cultural Center to express our great aloha and undying debt of gratitude to each of you who have served in the past and today, and to all who will serve in the future… We love and appreciate each and every one of you.”
PCC/BYUH Alumni Brass Band marches again
Also, today, for the first time since 1995, the PCC/BYU-Hawaii Alumni Brass Band marched through the villages again, stopping to play old favorites such as Bula Laie. Many of the old-timers who remember when this was a daily occurrence recalled how great they sounded and how much they enjoyed this blast from the past. They’ve actually gotten together a few other times in the past, but even before the band was discontinued, they had stopped marching and would just play a concert by what was formerly known as the “whaling wall,” a Wyland mural.
“This is the first time we have marched again inside the PCC since then,” said band alumnus Mark Woolsey, who’s now a teacher at Kahuku High School. He described the experience playing together again as “awesome. Just seeing everybody again last night at our first rehearsal brought a flood of memories.”
The PCC golf tournament
And on a sports note, a team of PCC alumni with ties to New Zealand took first place in the 50th Anniversary golf tournament that took place at the Turtle Bay Resort Arnold Palmer course.
Following the tournament, the golfers returned to the Marquesan tohua for a banquet and the awarding of prizes. Father-and-son duo Alapati and Abraham Manutai won the longest drive competition, reaching out their with an impressive 340-yard drive. [Pictured above: John Katene, Joe Memea, John Elkington and Angus Christy]
Of course, there was much more going on — a special Matthew Cowley presentation in the Hawaiian Journey Theater, right after the missionary program, and alumni mini-reunions in each of these villages and some of the other departments in the evening.
All in all, the Polynesian Cultural Center 50th Anniversary celebration is, in one word, FANTASTIC.
— Story and photos by PCC alum Mike Foley