Robert Midkiff, left, received the 2007 Fred Rogers Leadership Award in Philanthropy for Children, Youth and Families on Sept. 26 from Joanne Rogers, TV personality Fred Rogers' widow, in Atlanta.
Midkiff feted for tireless effort in isles
The philanthropist and businessman is lauded for efforts at helping children
Longtime isle businessman Robert Midkiff made a pitch for more spending on children in America as he accepted a national award for his philanthropic work in Hawaii.
"In truth, it is poverty, unequal access to high-quality early education, uneven access to health care and affordable housing, and a deteriorating environment which are the greater threats to Hawaii and America than extremist elements abroad," said Midkiff at the Carter Presidential Center in Atlanta last month.
"We're spending millions and billions on other things," but when it comes to children "everybody's broke. How unfortunate," he said.
Midkiff, 87, past president of the Atherton Family Foundation, was in Atlanta to accept the 2007 Fred Rogers Leadership Award in Philanthropy for Children, Youth and Families.
Named after the late host of the long-running PBS show "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood," the award is presented each year by the Grantmakers for Children, Youth and Families, an association based in Silver Spring, Md.
Colleagues said Midkiff's national recognition as an advocate for families is long overdue.
In the early 1970s, Midkiff knew his workers at American Trust Co. by name and worked to help solve their child care needs.
"He was always walking around (the building) and wanted to know about his employees as much as possible," recalled Lloyd Kaneshige, former American Trust chief financial officer. "He considered them part of a family and ran his company like a family of employees."
American Trust was the first company selected as a "family friendly company" by the YWCA in 1988.
"We employed about 150 people, with over 100 being mothers or fathers with children under 4 years of age," Midkiff recalled in a June 2005 letter to Hawaii Business Magazine. "Whenever a child was sick, or a caregiver was sick, our employee was tempted to take sick leave. Recognizing this problem, we offered flextime and in some cases two employees shared one job for up to a year."
For several key employees, the company offered a partial subsidy for toddler care and pre-tax child care for everyone.
"Turnover was practically zero," his letter said.
One of Midkiff's daughters, Mary Fiedler, said that in spite of being a busy executive and community volunteer, her father would always spend time helping his five children with homework or sports.
Midkiff's great-great-grandparents, Amos Starr Cooke (founder of Castle & Cooke) and Juliette Montague Cooke, were missionaries who founded the Hawaii Chiefs Children's School during the reign of Kamehameha III.
Midkiff was vice president of Amfac Inc., president of American Security Bank, and founder of American Trust. He helped create the Hawaii Community Foundation in 1988.
As director of the Hawaii Business Roundtable, his efforts led to 1997 legislation creating the nonprofit Good Beginnings Alliance, to which he donated the $5,000 Rogers' prize. He remains senior adviser and board president.
Midkiff said he wants to see that "every child has a chance -- the younger you start, the better chance he will have in this world."