Thursday, February 19, 2004


Big Isle family rancher
introduced ‘designer’ beef

Beef was a love and a life for James Greenwell.

The Big Island rancher headed Oahu's Hawaii Meat Co. for 25 years, expanding the business significantly and establishing the state's first mechanized cattle-feeding operation.

Later, as president of his family's Palani Ranch Co., Greenwell brought "designer beef" -- meat untreated with hormones and made from young cows fed on alfalfa and molasses -- to grocery stores across the state.

"Dad was passionate about what he did, and he didn't get into many things that he wasn't really passionate about," Greenwell's son, James, said yesterday. "I don't think he could have done something in a halfhearted way."

Greenwell, who got his start at age 18 as a manager at the Big Island's Parker Ranch, died Tuesday at his North Kona home. He was 88.

"He grew up in a ranch situation," Greenwell's son said. "The cattle ranch business was his first love and what led him into opportunity."

Greenwell was born in Honokohau into a Kona ranching dynasty that traces its roots in the islands to around 1850.

Palani Ranch, which has a breeding herd of 1,600 cows, and Lanihau Corp., a real-estate company with a number of holdings in the Kailua-Kona area, are both family-owned businesses that Greenwell headed after a decades-long stint at Hawaii Meat.

Greenwell became president of the Oahu slaughterhouse and meat processing plant in 1938, when he was 23 years old.

Two years later, Greenwell married Martha Lowrey, a member of Honolulu's high society. The two, with her creativity and his business know-how, would start a long-running line of Christmas ornaments in the 1960s under the trade name Emgee.

Greenwell resigned from Hawaii Meat in 1964, when the corporation authorized its board of directors to form a cooperative and limit operations to that of a holding company.

From the mid-'60s into the early '90s, Greenwell held key positions at Palani Ranch, Lanihau Corp. and Lanihau Management Corp.

While president of Palani, Greenwell became the first Hawaii rancher to join a group of mainland cattle raisers offering "designer beef," which was advertised as lean and healthy during a time when Americans were choosing fish and chicken because of health concerns with red meat.

"He had a good business mind," said Greenwell's son, who is now president of Palani Ranch. "He was two things to me. ... He was a leader and he was a friend."

During the 1980s and '90s, Greenwell served on a number of boards, including those of Hawaii Preparatory Academy, Hawaiian Telephone Co. and Hawaiian Airlines.

Greenwell is survived by wife Martha, daughter Wendy, son James, brother L. Radcliffe, sister Barbara Fitzgibbon, five grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

Services are private. In lieu of flowers, the family asks donations be sent to Christ Church, Hawaii Preparatory Academy or the Kona Historical Society.


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