Merchant loved Hilo


POSTED: Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Longtime Hilo businessman Ralph K.Y. Lau continued to be part of the rhythm of life in the Big Island town 13 years after he retired.

Lau took over management of Hilo Dry Goods Ltd. from his father in 1930 and continued to own and operate the store until it closed in 1996.

As a member of the Hilo Downtown Improvement Association and the Hawaii Chamber of Commerce, he was on the committee that organized the first Merrie Monarch Festival 45 years ago.

Lau, 96, died Monday at his home.

“;He loved downtown Hilo and admired Hilo Bay,”; said his daughter Karen Sullivan. “;It was his passion after my mother.”;

She said he went to his second-floor office daily to manage his real estate properties until last year, when he could no longer climb the 25 stairs.

“;He rented buildings to individuals who were starting out and kept the rent reasonable,”; she said. “;He wanted to pay back because people were kind to him when he started out.”;

Luana Kawelu, president of Merrie Monarch Festival, said that in the early 1960s, Big Island political and business leaders, including Lau, organized a weekend festival to stimulate the weak economy, with a grog shop, beard-growing contest, coronation of royalty and Hawaiian entertainment. It was taken over by Dottie Thompson and reshaped as a hula competition. Kawelu said Lau and his wife were in the audience each year.

Lau is survived by Beatrice, his wife of 66 years; daughters Cheryl Lau of Carson City, Nev., Karen Sullivan of Oahu and Lisa Staley of Seattle; sister Nit Ung Wong; and three grandchildren.

A funeral Mass will be said at 10 a.m. tomorrow at St. Joseph Church. Friends may call after 9 a.m. The family asks that casual attire be worn and that flowers be omitted. Dodo Mortuary handled arrangements.