Friday, January 1, 1999

10 Who Made
A Difference

In Hawaii in 1998

10 who made a difference They were the ones who braved the storm, who did what was right no matter the cost. Some worked in broad, bold strokes, others with quiet consistency, yet all stood tall, and gave their all.

Today, the Star-Bulletin recognizes these individuals who were instrumental in bringing about change in Hawaii. The people come from many areas -- science, government, community activism, government and law.

Their actions may not have always been popular, but their devotion was without question.


Margery Bronster

The attorney general has taken a tough
stance against tough foes

By Rick Daysog


Tobacco companies. Big oil. The Bishop Estate.

Attorney General Margery Bronster hasn't been shy about taking on the big boys. In fact, the 41-year-old former commercial litigator has pursued her role as the state's top law enforcement officer like no previous state attorney general.

"She's got a lot of guts and a lot of self-confidence," said Walter Heen, former state appellate judge and co-author of the "Broken Trust" article, which prompted Gov. Ben Cayetano last year to order the state's investigation of the Bishop Estate.

"Another attorney general may have been assigned these tasks, but they may not have been as forceful in carrying them out."

In the past year, Bronster's name has dominated headlines as she directed that unprecedented investigation into the estate, Hawaii's largest private landowner and one of the nation's wealthiest charitable institutions.

The investigation resulted in a Sept. 10 petition in which Bronster asked the state courts to permanently remove estate trustees Richard "Dickie" Wong, Lokelani Lindsey and Henry Peters for allegedly engaging in a widespread pattern of self-dealing and mismanagement.

In November, an Oahu grand jury indicted Peters for theft, making him the first trustee in the estate's 114-year history to face a criminal charge.

But the Bishop Estate investigation is just one of several controversial cases initiated by Bronster's office.

In October, the state sued 13 local gasoline retailers -- including isle refiners Chevron Corp. and Tesoro Corp. -- for allegedly overcharging Hawaii consumers.

The federal court suit, which seeks $500 million in damages, echoed charges previously raised by Star-Bulletin investigations that local gasoline companies were making huge profits at a time when crude oil prices were tumbling and mainland gasoline prices were declining.

Bronster also negotiated the state's $1.1 billion share of a $206 billion settlement with the nation's tobacco industry.

The state along with 38 mainland states had alleged that the cigarette makers withheld information about the addictive effects of tobacco and caused the states to spend billions in Medicaid for tobacco-related illnesses.

Critics have charged that Bronster's investigations were politically motivated and were timed to boost Cayetano's re-election efforts. Cayetano defeated Maui Mayor Linda Lingle by a slim, 5,000-vote margin in November.

But Bronster and her supporters deny the charge, saying politics isn't a factor.

If anything, the investigations show that Bronster and the Cayetano administration are willing to take on tough cases and help the ordinary citizen, according to Heen, who also serves as chairman of the state Democratic Party.

"You have to give her a lot of credit for having the vision to take on these controversies," he said.

Brook Lee

Miss Universe's elegance and friendliness
make her a much-loved symbol of Hawaii

By Burl Burlingame


Organizers of this year's Hawaii International Film Festival noticed something interesting after the smoke cleared. While the festival did well, sales of festival-related keepsake items, such as posters, did fantastically well. Basically, if it had Brook Lee's picture on it, it sold out.

Lee, the Pearl City girl who became Miss Universe in 1997, has become something the islands have lacked for years, a personality that represents a geographic region. Lee's leggy charm crystallizes a romantic view of Hawaii at once nostalgic and hip. She may be Hawaii's most important marketing asset.

"Brook Lee has the potential to get there," to become a Hawaiian icon, notes local pop-culture historian DeSoto Brown. "There have been only three personalities that have broken through to the rest of the world to symbolize Hawaii -- Duke Kahanamoku, Hilo Hattie and Don Ho.

"Brook's not there yet, and I fear she may think that role is limiting. I have no idea what her plans are. But it would be a wonderful thing for Hawaii."

Hawaii does not lack for pretty girls, but Lee's talent lies in her combination of elegance, good humor and friendliness. Lee worked hard to have the Miss Universe event staged in Hawaii in 1998, and with the added punch of showbiz pros Al and April Masini, the inaugural event for the Hawaii Convention Center was a success (even though the actual event was at a University of Hawaii sports complex).

Queries to the Hawaii Visitors & Convention Bureau spiked sharply after the event. Even though a poll found that 54 percent of Hawaii citizens opposed the state spending $3.3 million on the event to promote tourism, the HVCB is satisfied that the Miss Universe Pageant gave the state unprecedented worldwide coverage. Millions of "hits" flooded the HVCB website for the month following.

Lee worried that in the post-Miss Universe days she'd be at loose ends. Instead, she is busy, busy, busy -- fielding film offers, hosting ESPN specials, having a regular slot on the Home Shopping Network, serving as a spokeswoman at swank affairs such as the A. Magazine Awards ceremony in New York.

One casualty of the past couple of whirlwind years, however, was her engagement to Sean Lee. They've decided to just be "friends."

Craig Thomas

The doctor was the catalyst in getting 90
portable defibrillators for police officers

By Jaymes K. Song


Dr. Craig Thomas is doing everything he can to save people -- inside the hospital and out.

Thomas was integral in getting funds for 90 portable defibrillators and advocating their use to the Honolulu Police Department.

"He has a great vision for the community," said Asst. Police Chief Boisse Correa, who is overseeing the project. "He is very caring and he has the ability to communicate well with other agencies and the heads of government and even the officers doing the hands-on work.

"The bottom line in all our professions is saving lives," Correa said. "And he really believes along with all of us, this is a way of saving lives."

Some patrol cars should be equipped with the machines by February 1999.

The city allocated $200,000 to buy the machines for the police department.

Thomas, an emergency room physician at Wahiawa and Castle hospitals, believes that portable defibrillators could save 200 lives on Oahu if 20 percent of cardiac-arrest victims are saved.

Oahu's cardiac-arrest survival rate is about 3 percent.

And people are being saved by these machines all over the place, according to the American Heart Association. The group is advocating the use of the machines nationwide, especially in high-density areas such as malls, sporting arenas, hotels and golf courses.

Thomas said while cardiopulmonary resuscitation doubles the chance of survival, still too many people are dying.

"I think he feels very strongly that we can make a difference and we can save lives," Correa said. "And I think that's why he's so energetic and so willing to give his time -- his private time -- and effort to foster this program."

Roy Yee

A 14-year effort helped bring the
USS Missouri to its new home in Hawaii

By Craig Gima


Standing with his son on the deck of the USS Missouri as it came into Pearl Harbor on June 22, Roy Yee saw a 14-year quest fulfilled.

"At that moment it brought an end to a chapter in my life," said Yee, past president of the USS Missouri Memorial Association. "Just seeing the number of people out there welcoming the ship, people walking out on the reef, people out on boats, having some of the old veterans walk up and say thank you for bringing the ship and thank you for getting it done is probably one of the greatest rewards."

While the battleship was still active, Yee was involved in the original effort to get it homeported at Pearl Harbor. After the Missouri was decommissioned, Yee became the second president of the group that brought the Missouri to Hawaii.

"When (former association president) Gerald Kremkow decided to step down, Roy stepped in and completed the work that needed to get done to get the ship here," said Ed Carter, chairman of the board of directors of the Missouri association.

"Roy certainly made a difference, but there were a lot of other people who helped make a difference, too," he added. "Roy provided the day-to-day leadership to get the ship here."

Carter cited the work of the other board members and the founders of the group that included himself, Harold Estes and retired Adm. Ron Hayes.

Yee left the association after the Missouri arrived at Pearl Harbor to devote more time to his family and marine electronics business, KEMS Kewalo.

He said last week that he has not yet returned to the ship that consumed much of his life for the past decade.

"When I finished my obligation at the end of September, I took a three-week vacation," he said. "I haven't had an opportunity to go back on the ship since that time. I know what they're doing, but I want to be surprised on Jan. 29," the ship's public grand opening.

The Missouri association continued to operate out of Yee's business until a few weeks ago when the group finally moved to a bigger office space.

"It's awfully quiet in the office," he said. "I do miss the people, everybody from the volunteers to others who were committed to a project that overwhelmed them."

Michael Shiroma

This city employee's questions stopped
government fraud and initiated reform

By Gordon Y.K. Pang


City employee Michael Shiroma is being honored for raising questions.

His queries over discrepancies in city relocation payments were the beginning of the Ewa Villages scandal, which has led to nine indictments and more than 20 arrests involving fraudulent use of the city's commercial relocation fund.

Some $6 million was paid from the fund from 1992 to 1997. Prosecutors and police white-collar detectives are still trying to piece together how much of that money was bilked.

Evidence was found linking payments to relocations either not made, or made at exorbitant costs. City housing employees Michael Kahapea and Norman Tam, among those arrested, were fired.

Shiroma, until July a supervisor in the Department of Housing and Community Development, said he first "noticed a pattern of extraordinary disbursements" when reviewing Ewa Villages invoices in 1995 and 1996 while doing the work for a superior on vacation.

In spring 1997, Shiroma learned that oversight of the property management functions would fall under his housing development branch. At that point, having learned more about the city's auditing procedures, "my questions increased," he said.

That June, he assembled pieces of data he and others had collected and went to see the city's internal control auditors in the Finance Department. Police detectives began investigating later that summer.

By November, and continuing throughout 1998, the scandal exploded with headlines about arrests and indictments involving relocations in Ewa Villages and elsewhere.

Trial for Kahapea and other key defendants is set to begin in July.

"Michael Shiroma stopped the largest government fraud in Honolulu's history and initiated reform in procuring, monitoring and disbursing payments to contractors," wrote the anonymous city employee who nominated Shiroma for this "10 Who Made a Difference" honor.

The employee said Shiroma approached authorities even as his superiors were approving the disbursements and as he was receiving peer pressure from those close to Kahapea.

Those comments were shared by Pat Tompkins, whom Shiroma supervised in the Housing Department and who is now a colleague in the Department of Community Services.

"If Michael hadn't been persistent, this problem wouldn't have been discovered and this probably would still have been going on," Tompkins said.

Shiroma is a reluctant hero. "I am privileged to be a civil servant and supervisor, but that honor carries a fidelity for the public trust," he said.

"This sense of duty compelled me to 'do the right thing' and was catalytic in helping me overcome severe personal aversions and workplace social impediments."

Lois-Ann Yamanaka

Her 'Blu's Hanging' made waves
in Hawaii as well as in literature

By Cynthia Oi


Last June, Lois-Ann Yamanaka won a fiction award from the Association for Asian American Studies for her novel, "Blu's Hanging." Then she didn't.

After an internal dispute, the association revoked the award, setting off a national debate about the role of literature in the Asian-American community.

Critics said that through the character Uncle Paulo in "Blu's Hanging," Yamanaka was furthering a stereotype of Filipino men as sexual predators.

The University of Hawaii Ethnic Studies Department was the force behind AAAS's revocation of the award. Its chairman, Ibrahim Aoude, said, "Writers have to ask themselves about their relationship to society. Do you break down stereotypes and contribute positively, or do you want to be divisive?"

Writer Wing Tek Lum, who organized a letter-writing campaign to support Yamanaka, said, "There are people who view literature as a means for furthering their own particular vision. Many times, it is a romantic or nostalgic vision ... Lois-Ann does not write that way. Her characters are more complex, more ambiguous. She is writing on the edge and going beyond conventional standards."

Six months after the uproar, Marie Hara, author and UH English instructor, said Yamanaka's reputation and status as a writer have grown considerably.

"Her talent has always been there, but her courage is growing in the public arena," Hara said last week.

"Just to watch this writer thrive nationally and internationally is a wonderful feeling," she said.

At the time of the conflict, the author rejected the argument that because of her literary prominence in Hawaii and the nation, she should be a spokeswoman for all ethnic groups. She said that those who complain about her characters should be convincing others to write their own stories as she did when she taught at Kalakaua Intermediate.

"People need to talk about the reasons and the other social phenomena that may be making them feel what they feel," said Yamanaka, who is still feeling the repercussions of the award fiasco.

"The impact on my life was profound. But I'm continuing to do my work. It took a while to gain perspective on this, but I have," she said.

Part of that perspective may have come in October, when she was given a $75,000 Lannan Literary Award, buttressing her position in the writing world.

Yamanaka has just completed her stint as a Distinguished Visiting Writer at UH. "I had a fantastic time with the students. They have so much excitement, ability and desire.

"Things look good for the next generation of writers. Many of them are at the door or have crossed the threshold."

The conflict, she said, "made me realize how important it is for all of us ... to continue to write, to have writing that's out of here, from here. Nobody needs to be working out of fear."

Ryuzo Yanagimachi

Mouse-scale experiments in his shabby lab
led to fertility breakthroughs and
international fame

By Helen Altonn


Cramped laboratory space, rusty pipes, mold and a failing air conditioner didn't deter University of Hawaii researcher Ryuzo Yanagimachi and his team.

Working quietly in awful conditions in a services building on the Manoa campus, the world authority on fertilization and his associates created live mice with dead sperm and successfully cloned generations of mice.

The modest researcher's achievements drew international attention to Hawaii, the university and the John A. Burns School of Medicine's Anatomy and Reproductive Biology Department.

Yanagimachi was happy to be back in his shabby laboratory after all the clamor in July over his group's cloning of mice -- dubbed "the Honolulu technique."

He was already tackling new animal reproduction problems, saying, "The next project, I must be first, not second."

Yanagimachi took more pride in producing live mice from freeze-dried sperm than he did of Cumulina, the first of three generations of mice cloned from an adult cell. After all, he pointed out, Dolly, the sheep cloned in Scotland, was first.

International notoriety has changed things a bit: The air conditioner in his old lab is being renovated, and he's getting additional space in the neighboring Biomedical Sciences Building, said Alan Teramura, interim senior vice president for research.

The university is giving Yanagimachi five new tenure-track positions, and private donors have expressed interest "in supporting Yama and his work in a very significant way," Teramura said.

ProBio America Ltd., a venture capital company that has licensing rights to the "Honolulu Technique," also is providing research money, Teramura said.

Commercial application of the science eventually could enrich the researchers and the university. "The potential for the type of work they're doing is in the hundreds of millions of dollars," Teramura said.

One of the biggest benefits of Yanagimachi's work to the university is that it "has put us on the international map forever," Teramura said. It also "has helped galvanize the spirit between the community and the university."

Despite short notice, more than 700 people attended a reception for the man who started by studying fish and who encourages students to ask "crazy questions."

"You could just feel the pride that people had at the university, as well as people in the community," Teramura said.

Lenny & Marcia Klompus

This team pulled off the historic Christmas Day
football double-header, the
Aloha-Oahu bowl

By Joe Edwards


In most sporting endeavors, teamwork is usually the most important factor in success.

The same can be said for the business of sport.

Perhaps nowhere else in Hawaii sports will you find a team that works as well together as the one at Bowl Games of Hawaii where Lenny and Marcia Klompus are the chief executive officer and the executive director, respectively.

What the two of them put together for the state in general and the islands of Oahu and Maui in particular the past year was, in short, amazing.

The Aloha-Oahu bowl Christmas Day double-header was a concept that had been six years in the making, an idea the two of them put together in 1992 that came together quickly in 1998 when the National Collegiate Athletic Association gave its approval to hold the games.

Never before had two national college football bowl games been played on the same day in the same stadium.

The idea sounds far-fetched but Marcia and Lenny -- and their staff, both are quick to point out -- pulled it off successfully.

They also took the Hula Bowl, a game with a 53-year tradition in Hawaii, and moved it to War Memorial Stadium on Maui, bringing a weeklong college football all-star extravaganza to that island.

"I want you to know I hired him. He needed a job, so I hired him to come to work here," Marcia joked, before striking a more serious tone. "What makes it so good is that we're good in different areas.

"I like taking whatever we're going to do and make sure everything is handled. Lenny's strong point is he's a creator."

Or, as Lenny puts it, "She's the glue that holds the thing together. If we come up with an idea, she can orchestrate it so that the staff can make it happen. Marcia likes to deal with insurance and permits, that type of stuff.

"Me, I don't want to see permits and paperwork, ever. I like to handle TV deals, the media, the marketing and promotions. We're both equal in making the deal happen, but clearly in two different areas."

And the ideas never seem to end. 'Twas the day before Christmas this year when Karl Benson, the commissioner of the Western Athletic Conference, confirmed to the Star-Bulletin that Bowl Games of Hawaii was negotiating to bring the WAC men's and women's basketball tournaments to the islands.

It's another of those concepts, but given the track record of the Klompuses in these matters, would you dare bet against them?

Wendall Omura

He's known for 'pushing the limits' to
help bring troubled Waianae families
back together

By Lori Tighe


Wendall Omura is described by his peers as "a breed apart."

He has a dirty, often thankless job of pulling away child victims of abuse, and then trying to put the family back together if it is willing and able.

Omura has been a maverick in Child Protective Services for over a decade, say community leaders and co-workers. He strives to do more to help families in peril.

"He's frequently in trouble for pushing the limits. He never gives up -- he keeps trying to make things better," said Johnny Papa, Child Protective Services intake supervisor.

Omura finally achieved moving his CPS unit into Waianae, the community he serves, after pushing for 1 1/2 years.

The community blessed the new center Dec. 28 with a Hawaiian ceremony and a mountain of food. In turn, Omura made an offering of taro and breadfruit wrapped in ti leaves to the ocean to ask for blessings from a higher power.

"He's not a son of the Leeward Coast, yet they embraced him," Papa said.

"We're adversarial in many ways because we take the children away," Papa explained. "Yet he doesn't provoke that hostility. They understand why he's there."

Omura teaches the theory of human services at Honolulu Community College, and frequently has his students volunteer at CPS. He incorporates cultural and familial aspects of Waianae into westernized philosophies.

"It is rude if you don't eat at these gatherings," he said. The gathering was an Ohana Conference, a program Omura has been instrumental in establishing. It sidesteps the courts by establishing a support network of family members and friends to surround the troubled family.

"The strength comes when the community takes over and the state steps out," Omura said. "That will determine the long-term success. If they don't have the skills and support once we release them, they'll fall back."

Of the many families he's touched, Omura made a critical difference in the lives of Bennett Villanueva and Rhonda DeCambra, a couple who had been addicted to crystal methamphetamine, or "ice." Their four children were removed from their home because of neglect.

Working nights and off-hours, Omura coached the family's Ohana conferences until the family was ready to be reunited.

"It is very heartwarming for me to see a family come to this point," Omura told the couple at their final Ohana Conference in June.

Jill Nunokawa

An attorney, she brings equal opportunity
to girls on the playing fields of schools in Hawaii

By Pat Bigold


Vince Goo remembers Jill Nunokawa as a point guard for the University of Hawaii Wahine basketball team.

"She was the toughest, most hard-nosed kid you could ever put on the court," said the Wahine head coach, who was an assistant back then. "She was never afraid of anything."

Goo emphasized the last word.

By all accounts, Nunokawa, now 35, hasn't changed much. She is an attorney working as a civil rights counselor at the university. She also is a basketball referee and president of the Gender Equity Sports Club.

Her stated mission in life is to even the playing fields for female athletes in Hawaii.

Nunokawa's bible is Title IX, the federal law that is slowly but surely redefining women's rights in high school and collegiate athletic departments.

So it was no surprise when parents of high school girls involved in soccer and wrestling came to Nunokawa for leadership in their gender equity disputes with the Hawaii High School Athletic Association.

In January, soccer parents discovered that the HHSAA had sold the rights to the girls' state tournament dates in February at Aloha Stadium. A local promoter gave the HHSAA $25,000 for the dates in order to stage a Mariah Carey concert. The plan was to move the girls' tournament to Maui's War Memorial Stadium.

Parents of Oahu players were enraged that, even though the decision was made the previous October, they had received notice only weeks before the state tournament. They wanted to know why the girls were being relocated and why none of the $25,000 was even earmarked to ease the cost of travel.

Enter Nunokawa.

"Parents were upset, but they weren't sure they could do anything," said Diane Wong, mother of a Kaiser soccer player. "Jill convinced them they could."

On Feb. 2, Nunokawa led a caravan of parents and students to the Kamehameha Schools campus in an effort to attend an HHSAA executive board meeting. They were stopped at the gate by security, and the police were called.

"That turned the tide," Wong said, "because it was so well covered by the media."

On Feb. 4, at the urging of Gov. Ben Cayetano, the HHSAA rescheduled the girls' soccer tournament for later dates at Aloha Stadium.

A mere two days later, wrestling parents found out that the pilot girls state wrestling tournament, scheduled to run concurrently with the boys tourney at the Stan Sheriff Center in February, had been quietly canceled.

Parents and coaches turned to Nunokawa for help.

Radford High coach Bob Frey said he sensed the HHSAA didn't want to have to lock horns again with Nunokawa.

"When Jill stepped in, then it became crystal clear what they had to do," Frey said. "They knew her from the soccer issue and they knew she was a serious lady, and would do essentially what she said she would do if they didn't resolve the issue. Then they made the right choice and held the state tournament."

The importance of holding the separate girls' wrestling tournament, which turned out to be a "first" in American prep sports, was summed up by Radford wrestler Heather Robertson.

"It was a turning point in all of our lives," she said.

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