HAWAII AT WORK
CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Paul "Kalei" Santos III is director of grounds operations at Diamond Head Memorial Park, which features about 32,000 burial plots spread across 24 acres. Above, Santos last week posed for a photograph next to some headstones on the property.
Cemetery worker upbeat about life
Paul "Kalei" Santos III helps keep the park in tiptop shape
Paul "Kalei" Santos III
Title: Director of grounds operations
Job: Supervises a crew of 11 who handle ground maintenance and related duties for Diamond Head Memorial Park
Paul "Kalei" Santos III , director of ground operations for Diamond Head Memorial Park
, is familiar with most of the jokes about working at a cemetery, including the one about how he has thousands of people under him.
But after nine years in the business, Santos takes the razzing in stride. What matters more to him is doing a good job at maintaining the park's 24 acres of burial plots and mausoleums, located near Diamond Head crater across from the Hawaii Film Studio on 18th Avenue.
Santos supervises 11 maintenance workers at the park, and himself gets involved in much of the required manual labor. He also handles administrative duties in the office, where he works with employees such as Amy Caminos, the park's general manager.
Santos started working part time at the park while attending St. Louis School, from which he graduated in 1999. He got the job through his uncle, Danilo Peralta, who had the job that Santos now has, but who now works for the City & County of Honolulu.
After high school, Santos studied computer science at Leeward Community College, but he was about halfway through the program, he said last week, when he was offered -- and accepted -- a management position at the park.
Santos is 26 and lives with his significant other, Jerry Fulkerson, with whom he has an 8-year-old son, Chase. They reside in Waialae, not far from the memorial park.
CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Santos wrote a few notes for his crew on a blackboard that lists funerals the park has scheduled.
What is your job title?
Paul "Kalei" Santos III: Director of grounds operations.
Q: How long have you worked at the park altogether?
A: I'm going on nine years. I just made nine years with the company.
Q: How many people do you supervise?
A: A total of 11 -- 10 grounds and one mechanic.
Q: What does the mechanic work on?
A: All equipment ranging from two-cycle engines to heavy equipment. It's a wide range of equipment.
Q: What would be heavy equipment?
A: That would be the backhoe. We recently had a forklift, but that's out of service right now.
Q: What's the backhoe used for?
A: Digging graves.
CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Paul "Kalei" Santos III has been grounds operations supervisor at Diamond Head Memorial Park for the past four years. Above, Santos, at left, last week rode through the park with crew member Danny Stark, with whom he had been working on a drip-irrigation system for the park.
Your supervisor, Amy Caminos, the general manager, said that you started at the entry level with the company, so you're quite familiar with what everybody on your crew does. What was your first job with the park?
A: I was actually a part timer. I was in general grounds maintenance. That's our entry-level position. A lot of times we have summer hires, and that's what I was. My uncle was superintendent here, and he asked me if I wanted to work here. So that's how I started here. And his job is what I have now. But they changed the title of the position to director of grounds operations, because I do admin work now, too.
Q: Does your uncle still work there?
Q: What is his name?
A: Danilo Peralta.
Q: What are your basic responsibilities there?
A: Well, a lot of people think we just take care of the grass and such, but that's a misconception. We do a lot of things. We do cement work -- we produce cement vaults in-house, vases, markers, all that. We do building maintenance; heavy equipment operation; we do irrigation plumbing; it's pretty diverse.
Q: How did you learn how to do all that?
A: Well, I started at entry level and learned on the job. Just took knowledge from above and my co-workers, and about two years ago, my company gave me the opportunity to take CLT (certified landscaping technician) classes.
Q: Where did you take those?
A: We took it out at the Laborer's Union Hall, which is out in Pearl City.
Are you in a union?
A: Not currently, but all the groundworkers are part of the ILWU.
Q: Are you management exempt?
A: Yes, exactly. My first position with the company was actually union.
Q: Do you find it challenging to be the supervisor of a crew?
A: Yeah. I've got a pretty diverse crew. There are some language barriers, and you're managing personalities more than anything when you have a diverse crew.
Q: How much manual labor are you personally involved in these days?
A: I'd like to say probably 70 percent of my time is manual labor. I'm still young, so I like to think I still have a lot of manual labor left in me. Plus I like to think that the crew is growing together.
Q: What are the general working hours of your crew? Is it seven days a week, 24 hours a day?
A: Well, six days a week, from 7 to 3:30, is the normal crew. But I'm on call 24 hours a day.
Do you ever have any problems with vandalism?
A: We have some problems, especially on the 22nd Avenue side of the property with graffiti on the back wall of our mausoleum. But other than that, it's not a problem. We get cases, just like anyone else.
Q: About the park itself. How many acres does it cover?
A: Twenty-four acres.
Q: Do you have an inventory of some sort of all the plants you maintain?
A: Not really. We actually grow some of the plants that we use to replace in some areas. Other than that, everything else is purchased. We do grow mock orange, oleander and lawa'i, a fern.
Q: Those are used for the funerals?
A: No. Those plants are used around the park. All the flower arrangements are purchased by the families from florists.
Q: So you guys are the folks in charge of excavating new grave sites?
Q: What about after the burial ceremony? Are you in charge of filling the site back up and beautifying it?
A: Yeah. We backfill it and dress it up, plant some plugs of grass, install memorials and vases.
Q: Memorials -- is that like the gravestones?
A: Yes, the headstones.
Q: About how many grave sites are there at Diamond Head Memorial Park?
A: Burial plots, we got about 32,000, and then we also have some crypts and niches, but I don't have exact totals for that.
Q: Is there still room left in the park for more ground burials?
A: Definitely. As far as plot openings, we had 300 that we opened about three or four years ago, and about 650 niches opened up two years ago.
The niches are in the columbarium, right?
A: Yep, the columbarium.
Q: How long does it take to fill them?
A: It really depends. The way the market is right now, we see a noticeable change in cremations, so we tend to fill the niches faster. The market, it's heading toward an urn-dominated market, as opposed to a full casket.
Q: What would you attribute that to?
A: I think it's a lot to do with people's preference. Before it was strict that everybody bury full body, but now as the Baby Boom has come up, they're more out of the ordinary. You get some pretty unique requests. Not the traditional ground-plot burials.
Q: Well that's good in a way, huh, because it leaves more room for everybody?
A: True. You can place two full bodies or eight urns into one ground plot.
Q: Have you ever had to exhume a site and move the remains to somewhere else?
A: Yeah, we get some interesting cases. We've got cases where people want to relocate the remains. We exhume and we hand it over to the mortuary and they take if from there.
Q: How often does that occur,?
A: I'd like to say a couple times a year. It's not very often. A lot of times, families will exhume the body and place it into an urn so they can reuse the plot.
Is the park nondenominational?
A: Yeah, it's nondenominational.
Q: Has anything spooky ever happened to you while at the park?
A: Not really. I've heard some stories, but nothing I've ever seen or heard personally.
Q: What about the general mood at the park -- is it kind of sad or is it more uplifting than that?
A: It's more uplifting, actually. Obviously we deal with families in need, but other than that, we try to do everything uplifting and look on the bright side.
Q: What about yourself? How has working for Diamond Head Memorial Park affected your own outlook about life?
A: It actually kind of broadens your view of life and the way you look at things. Families are going through grief, and obviously you have compassion and you realize you're just one accident or misfortune away from losing someone you love.
Q: It's a beautiful place where you work.
A: I think so. I could be biased, because it's something I take pride in, but we got Diamond Head crater right there, and a view of the ocean from the top of the park. It's beautiful and pretty peaceful. I love working here.