Star-Bulletin Features

Friday, January 22, 1999

By Dennis Oda, Star-Bulletin
Mel Ozeki moved to Las Vegas to start a magazine
about Hawaii for isle expatriates.

‘Ohana away from home

Island sons and daughters
living on the Mainland can
turn to 'Ohana to keep in touch
with isles in their communities

By Michelle Ramos
Special to the Star-Bulletin


MEL Ozeki had a dream. A dream that one day ex-islanders, homesick for Hawaii news, Hawaii faces, Hawaii anything, would be able to open a magazine and feel like they were sitting back home, catching up on the local news.

It didn't happen until he retired. That's when he and his wife Emily moved to Las Vegas to begin their new venture -- 'Ohana Magazine.

"I came here (Vegas) specifically to start the magazine," Ozeki said. "I just did not want to return to the islands because of the economic life ... the hardship I thought there would be to find a job."

Ozeki retired in 1994 as a lieutenant colonel with the Hawaii Army National Guard. He traveled across the United States beginning 1984 when he began a special active duty tour for the guard. Prior to that, he worked for Hilo County and the University of Hawaii at Hilo.

He didn't have any business or marketing training. The only experience Ozeki had that was remotely related to publishing was that he had toiled as a newspaper copy boy for four years while attending the University of Hawaii at Manoa in the '60s.

By Dennis Oda, Star-Bulletin
Sann Wright, left, and Christine Biaggi joined the
'Ohana after learning firsthand what it's like to live
without an isle connection. The two ex-islanders
live in Las Vegas.

Ozeki worked on getting his Ph.D. in diversity, and graduated from Kansas State University in December 1995, at the age of 50. Then with $60,000, the Ozekis' life savings, they asked for help from the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce, which introduced the couple to two publishers.

"Both of them had the same message," Ozeki said. "Either I'm very rich or I'm crazy." But he was determined.

"We made an awful lot of mistakes not knowing basic (publishing) principles," Ozeki said. "We still do, but not nearly as costly as before."

For example, he quickly learned that printing less number of pages didn't mean his printing costs would be lower.

"Printing 14 pages costs more than printing 16 pages because a signature consists of eight pages." A signature is a sheet several pages are printed upon in some multiple of four so when the sheet is folded to page size, it forms a book.

Art He also learned that the placement of color pages also affected signatures. "Can make an additional $3,000 cost," he said.

"It's learning the hard way." He and Emily read as much as they could, scrutinized every invoice they received and asked many questions.

Together they persevered and their first issue of 'Ohana -- 32 pages dated August 1996 -- was completed in late July 1996.

"I should have put September," Ozeki said. By the time all the magazines were distributed it was early August. "It appeared like it was a month old but it wasn't."

Around 4,000 copies of the first issue were distributed. Twenty-five percent of the copies were mailed to a random list of Hawaii residents and Mel's high school classmates -- Mel was born and raised in Hilo. Hawaiian Airlines put the remaining on its Honolulu flights to and from Vegas.

For the second issue, dated October instead of September, the Ozekis had 16,000 copies printed. California Hotel wanted 10,000 copies to put into hotel rooms, Mel said.

For the next year, Mel and Emily persisted. They wrote, typed, met with graphic designer Diana Barclay-Crane and printing company Southwest Color Graphics, proofed, edited -- did everything it took to publish and distribute a monthly magazine.

Emily continued handling most of the administrative duties while Mel searched for Hawaii writers and gathered Las Vegas information to put into the magazine since Hawaii residents were known to frequent Vegas regularly.

By December 1997, Mel was almost ready "to go to the cuckoo house," he said. "For two people, it was too much pressure." That was when he decided to change 'Ohana from a monthly to a bimonthly magazine and came out with the April/May 1998 issue.

"Now we're doing well," Mel said.

"Doing well" still means that the Ozekis work seven days a week. However, two issues ago Mel hired a magazine distributor to ease their workload.

"We'd have thousands of magazines spread out throughout the living room," Mel said. He and Emily would have to label each one, then stack them by zip codes to be mailed out.

Mel also added Christine Biaggi and Sann Wright to his staff to take care of marketing, and started working with Honolulu-based graphic designer Kathy Miya-Revuelto.

Biaggi and Wright are ex-islanders now living in Vegas. "I met them through the magazine," Mel said. "They contacted me saying they wanted to help."

Art Most of Mel's staff are volunteers. None of the writers get paid and many of them reside in Hawaii. Michael W. Perry joined 'Ohana two issues ago and Emme Tomimbang has been writing her "Island Moments" column since the June/July 1998 issue. "Emily and I meet so many beautiful people," Mel said.

People also call, send letters or e-mail, telling the Ozekis how grateful they are and "how they really enjoy the magazine bringing home back into their hearts." Some also request that Mel cover upcoming "Hawaiian" events being held in other cities -- like the "Hawaiian" festival that was held in San Francisco last year -- while others ask Mel to print information about Hawaii clubs in other states.

'Ohana is also gaining strength as a regional magazine, Mel said. Tourists in Vegas are beginning to buy the magazine for the Vegas information, making the magazine more mainstream too. But Mel still feels Hawaii should be 'Ohana's main focus.

The magazine continues to be a vehicle to keep islanders, no matter where they are, in tune with what is going on in the islands, said Mel, who distributes about 7,000 copies to Hawaii, Vegas and parts of Southern California.

Another 3,000 copies are mailed to subscribers worldwide, including 50 military islanders stationed in Europe. Many subscribers learn about the magazine through word of mouth and the magazine's Web page.

"This is a real 'Ohana magazine," Mel said. "It is frustrating at times, but it is also rewarding."


Subscription info

'Ohana magazine can be found in Big Save on Kauai; KTA Super Stores and Sure Save on the Big Island; and Dai'ei, Foodland, Longs Drugs, Sack 'n Save Foods, Star and Times supermarkets. Issues cost $3.95. Annual subscriptions are also available for $20.

For information on how to subscribe, write: 'Ohana Magazine, 4573 Portadown Lane, Las Vegas, NV 89121-5756; call 1-(702)-434-0544; fax 1-(702)-435-8561; e-mail; or connect to

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