Photos courtesy of the Waipahu Centennial Committee

A bango, or sugar worker's ID..

One sweet century

Residents remember the simple times
and a legacy of caring and sharing

By Rod Ohira

A better life gleaned from the sacrifices of Waipahu sugar workers who toiled on the rocky plains of West Oahu is a legacy cherished by a community celebrating its 100th anniversary this year.

"Our parents sacrificed themselves so we could have the things they didn't have," said Joe Hamada, a city building inspector who grew up in Waipahu's nishi (west) Japanese camp. "Because everyone was broke and needed things in the camps, we learned to appreciate and share what we had."

Waipahu's story revolves around Oahu Sugar Co. and the close-knit relationship of multi-ethnic laborers living in segregated mill camps and isolated compa (Japanese for sharing) field camps.

Oahu Sugar Co. began operations in February 1897 with 943 field workers. There were 44 Hawaiians, including 10 minors; 57 Portuguese; 443 Japanese, 408 of them contract laborers; and 399 Chinese, 374 of whom were contract laborers.

The fledgling company experienced a rocky start, as noted by plantation manager August Ahrens in his 1898 annual report.

Two barefoot boys with sugar cane
in pre-World War II Waipahu.

"I doubt if any plantation was ever confronted from its very inception with a more Herculean task in clearing the land than we have seen," Ahrens reported.

"Ridding ourselves of the tangled masses of lantana and mimosa were mere child's play compared to that which did not show on the surface -- stones, big stones, and close together. In fact, stones as big as houses."

But in 1899, the harvest of Oahu Sugar's first crop signaled the birth of a new plantation town.

The average monthly wage of field workers then was $12.50. Despite the hardships, many people have fond memories of plantation life -- memories preserved through storytelling.

The late Shigeru Serikaku, a notable personality of Waipahu's early years, was 16 years old when his family immigrated here in 1906 and opened a service station on Waipahu Street near today's Waipahu Cultural Garden Park.

Men and boys on the railroad tracks in Kunia in days gone by.

According to author Thomas Taro Higa, Serikaku began assembling a flying machine in 1913, only 10 years after Wilbur and Orville Wright's historic first flight.

Serikaku borrowed money from friends to buy a 35-horsepower, four-cylinder aircraft engine and other parts. The airplane's wing span measured 28 feet; its fuselage, 25 feet. In 1916, before 20 spectators, he flew the airplane 40 feet before landing it in a park.

Hamada wonders if Serikaku's feat influenced a teen-age boy who lived nearby.

"He had to know what Serikaku was building," Hamada said of the late William A. "Pat" Patterson, son of a plantation overseer, who ran away from home in 1913 at age 14 -- and later became the first president and chief executive of United Airlines.

While Serikaku was building his flying machine, Oahu Sugar purchased water rights from Waiahole Water Co. and was building more camps.

The Japanese lived in nishi (west) and higashi (east) camps above the mill. There were also Filipino, Spanish and Puerto Rican camps. The Chinese, most of them single men, had no designated camp.

Cane workers sit on a rail transport waiting for a ride.

"Language and culture were the reason camps were segregated," said 82-year-old Consoria "Connie" Basan, who came to Waipahu from Kauai in 1924 and never left. "We never locked our doors, no one would steal."

Barbara Kauwenaole Oamilda, 75, a member of Waipahu High School's first graduating class in 1941, added, "Living on a plantation, everybody knew everybody so we shared what we had.

"My father used to take care of Waipahu Beach (which was near the Kahe Point power plant) and people would always give him fish," she added.

"He'd give some to one camp and on another day, he'd share with a different camp."

Youngsters learned to appreciate the simple things plantation life offered.

"All of Waipahu was our playground," said Hideo Dean Ishihara, 72, whose parents owned a candy store. "The thing I enjoyed most was crabbing. The crabs were so plentiful."

An alley separated Nobuo and Sasayo Ishihara's candy store and the original Arakawa's on Depot Street where Waipahu Bicycle and Big Way Supermarket, two other businesses with deep Waipahu roots, are now located.

The Ishiharas were known for their shave ice served with homemade ice cream and azuki (black bean) doughnuts.

A traveling salesman visits Waipahu..

"People used to line up at 5 a.m. for the doughnuts, which sold for 5 cents apiece," Ishihara recalled.

The family still produces snacks, primarily Ishiharaya tea cookies.

The original Arakawas store used to have rooms on the second floor to accommodate traveling salesmen from Honolulu, Ishihara said. "In those days, the salesmen came by horse-drawn buggies and had to stay overnight."

A theater located in the alley between Ishihara store and the original Arakawas was owned by the family of Shiro Matsuo, who gained fame for his creative saimin dishes.

Hans L'Orange Park, formerly known as Oahu Sugar Co. field, served as the community center.

Plantation life changed forever in 1946 when Hawaii sugar workers won pay increases with a six-month strike. It marked the end of the plantation's paternalistic system as employees became responsible for their own rent and medical care.

Cleanup begins after a 1954 flood.

"The 1946 strike was hard for everyone," Basan said. "We had soup kitchens and ate what the men caught fishing. We ate a lot of rice and if you had an egg, you were lucky.

"Stores donated things, like old bread, to help out. That strike changed everything, I think for the better, because in the old days, Filipinos couldn't afford to buy houses. Now they could."

A post office stands today on the old hospital grounds. Waipahu Super Market has replaced Kawano Store and Hanaoka's, which were popular soda fountain hangouts, and there's Philippine Mini Mart where Horiuchi's once served the best saimin in Waipahu, according to some old-timers.

Although Kapakahi Stream on Depot Road no longer appears to be kapakahi and the rice paddies and asparagus gardens along Farrington Highway have disappeared, there's still some sugar cane.

Ernest Malterre Jr., 81, a former Oahu Sugar Co. administrator, has lived in Waipahu since 1930.

"I've got old Hawaiian cane stalks growing in my back yard to remember the good times," he said.

The times were hard
on early plantation

By Rod Ohira

In the early days of the plantation, each Oahu Sugar Co. employee was assigned a number, inscribed on a metal disc about the size of a silver dollar.

The numbers 1 through 899 identified a Japanese alien; 900 through 1400 were Japanese who were American citizens or Hawaii-born.

The 2000 and 2100 series were Portuguese laborers, 2200 Spanish, 2300 Hawaiian, 2400 Puerto Rican, 3000 Chinese or Korean, 4000 and 5000 Filipino aliens, and 5900 and above Filipino-Americans.

"A bango number told the story of an employee," said Ernest Malterre Jr., a former employee benefits administrator and overseer for Oahu Sugar.

Employees could buy items on credit at plantation stores by using their bango number.

"We charged everything and paid once a month," said Consoria "Connie" Basan, who was 15 when she married her late husband of 44 years in Waipahu.

"Workers always got paid once a month in currency and coins but after the war, they got paid twice a month by check.

"It was hard in those days," she added. "We used to buy only one soap and use it to take a bath, wash dishes and wash clothes."

A plantation family's diet consisted mostly of rice, fish or poultry and vegetables.

"I ate my first steak when I was a junior in high school," recalled Hideo Dean Ishihara. "But when my father took us to town, we used to eat at Yamada Restaurant, where you get two pork chops and rice for 25 cents."

Treats were reserved for special occasions.

"In the camps, the only time we had soda water or new clothes was New Year's," Ishihara said.

Sugar workers earned little money but paid no rent or medical bills in the plantation's paternalistic system.

It was difficult to get better-paying jobs.

"My husband was making $2 a day for 10 hours of work as a blacksmith's helper," Basan said. "He wanted to go to the welding shop, but in those days everyone there was Portuguese.

"He was told no one would teach so we had to struggle for one year to save up $365 tuition for him to go to Honolulu Technical School," added Basan, who worked in the pineapple cannery. "He became the first non-Portuguese employee in the welding shop."

Until 1932 when Oahu Sugar Co. opened a "continuation school," education didn't extend beyond August Ahrens and Waipahu Elementary School at the plantation.

"The plantation allowed a half-day off from work once a week for workers to attend continuation school, and evening courses were also available for those who couldn't attend day courses," Malterre said.

He was among the fortunate ones who attended school in town.

"I used to catch the train to attend Central Intermediate and then McKinley High School," Malterre said. "It cost $4.75 a month to ride the train."

The old Oahu Sugar Co. field was the center of community activities, featuring band concerts, sporting events and carnivals.

In 1972, the field was renamed Hans L'Orange Park in honor of the man who developed athletic programs in the community during his 20-year tenure as Waipahu's plantation manager.

"When you talk about Waipahu, you've got to talk about L'Orange," said Zen Abe, 72, volunteer groundskeeper of the park's baseball field. "The guy bent over backward to help the community."

A view of the old Waipahu Theater.

Future of town will
take note of its past

By Rod Ohira

Waipahu's historic past is very much a part of its future.

For the past 21/2 years, community leaders have been working with Amfac and the city on a master plan for Waipahu.

Three major themes emerged: economic revitalization, recognition and preservation of historical tradition, and community social issues.

"Many of us felt that if you could address the first two -- economic revitalization and still have pride in the past of what historically brought Waipahu to where it is today -- then a lot of the social issues would work themselves out," said Timothy Johns, Amfac's vice president and general manager for Oahu/Kauai development.

Amfac, which owns most of the land around the sugar mill, wants to create a 13-acre light industrial business park on the upper half of the property and devote the lower half to commercial and quasi-public uses.

Amfac broke ground for the industrial park last month and lands have been set aside for the expansion of Hans L'Orange Park, a new Filipino Community Center, a YMCA and a heritage museum within the mill.

"We see this kind of mixed use setting a tone for the future," Johns said. "There's economic revitalization because people will have jobs in the town and small business will have its piece of the rock there, too, yet we haven't forgotten what this site was originally."

Amfac is awaiting final city approval for the first phase of the retail park and is working on new roads leading into the mill site.

"We would think that within a year, you'll probably see business established in the mauka area above the mill," Johns said. "I see Waipahu as being a complement to the second city.

"Kapolei cannot have the same sense of character and history that Waipahu still is able to retain and we shouldn't lose that," he added.

"It can always be a reminder of the good things of the past and if we play our cards right, it can also be a real player in the future and not just historical backdrop."

Cars line the street in the 1950s.

Centennial calendar

June 21: Kickoff, 11 a.m.-9 p.m., Hans L'Orange Park. Waipahu residents past and present are invited to attend "The Great Waipahu Comeback" to talk story with old friends, revisit their stomping grounds and participate in plantation games. Ethnic foods and live entertainment will also be featured.

July 26: Arts and crafts fair, Waipahu District Park.

August: Educational recognition month, events at various locations in Waipahu.

September: Cultural events and displays at Hawaii Village Park.

Oct. 11: Waipahu business history and development day, Kainalu Complex.

Nov. 22: Centennial celebration parade and luau, honoring Waipahu's war veterans and members of the police and fire departments, at Waipahu Intermediate School.

For information about any of the events, call John Tasato, 626-2878; Warren Higa, 671-1088; or Amy Higa, 455-2094.

The Waipahu Pedal Pushers in 1924: from left,
Sadao Shinno, Manuel Reis and James Moniz.

Waipahu sports legends

Sports was a big part of plantation life. Here are Waipahu's "Legends of Sports," as compiled by the Centennial Committee:

Baseball Henry "Prince" Oana, Katsuji "Kats" Kojima, Crispin Mancao, Fred Daguman, Richard Oamilda, Brown Watabu

Boxing Johnny Yasui, Eddie Yasui, Freddy Yasui, Chester Yasui, Albert Silva, Andrew "Andy" Ganigan

Volleyball & Marathon Walter Gouveia

Promotion & Management Hans L'Orange, Mac Flores

Waipahu High School Kenneth Kimura, Masa Yonamine

Bicycling James Moniz, Takemi Arakawa

Hans L'Orange has a Waipahu
school named for him.

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