Willie Kelepolo, above left, has worked at McKinley Car Wash for almost 40 years, pumping gas and making sure the service crew operates efficiently. He reports to Yuki Yoshikawa, above right, whose family founded the company in 1947, originally as just a service station.

At the car wash

Wilfred "Willie"Kelepolo works
hard and appreciates the benefits
his employer offers

Wilfred "Willie" Kelepolo moved to Oahu from the Big Island in 1966 looking for a better life and he found it. After a few frustrating years toiling at restaurants, he went to work for Yukio "Yuki" Yoshikawa, owner of McKinley Car Wash on Kapiolani Boulevard and has been an essential player at Yoshikawa's busy enterprise ever since. Kelepolo, 64, grew up in Kona, where he attended Konawaena High School. Currently single, he has been married twice and has two grown children. He lives in a 19-unit condominium in Waikiki, for which he also handles maintenance.

Who: Wilfred "Willie" Kelepolo

Title: Gas and vacuum crew supervisor at McKinley Car Wash

Job: Pumps gas and supervises other employees who pump gas and vacuum the cars. Also trains new employees

Question: How long have you been working at McKinley Car Wash?

Answer: About 36 years now. I'm 64 now. And you know, this kind of job is not for just anybody. You gotta like the job, because it's up and down. You gotta put up with the boss, and he gotta put up with you. You gotta go with the flow, watch each other and stay focused.

Also, you look at the company and they get good benefits. They get profit sharing, paid vacation, a medical plan, paid holidays. So we have those things for later on, 'cause you can't work forever.

Q: What's your main responsibility?

A: Before I used to be Yuki's assistant manager, but after awhile I told him I don't want the responsibility.

So now I pump the gas and watch the boys -- the gas boys and the vacuum boys -- to make sure they do a good job.

Q: How many people do you have to keep an eye on?

A: Inside (the car wash) not too many -- about nine inside -- but outside there about 52 guys. On good kind days we average about 800 cars. On good days, it can go over 1,000 cars.

Wilfred "Willie" Kelepolo works with his brother Matthew, right, in servicing a car before the vehicle goes through the car wash.

Q: What's your favorite part of the job?

A: Pumping the gas. The boss said how'd you like to go out there and wipe, and I said no, I only like pump. It takes talent to wipe cars. Not anybody can wipe. I don't know how to wipe. You can't just drag the towel on the car. Yuki, he knows how to wipe, but not me.

Q: Do you meet a lot of interesting people each day?

A: Everything we get is up and down. Some customers don't like things, but you need to focus. You got to make them happy 'cause they're bringing money into the company, so you got to make them happy.

Q: Do you have much to do if the weather is poor outside, like if it's raining a lot?

A: When busy days, the boss wants to see everybody focus, make sure they work hard, because when slow day come, it's like give and take. Gotta give. Gotta sit around and wait. He no send anybody home, but gotta sit around and wait. He make sure everybody get their eight hours.

If heavy rain, then will try stay open at least six hours. And people can volunteer to go home.

Q: What do you remember about getting hired at McKinley Car Wash?

A: When I first started, we only had four pumps. When I first started, was $4.75 for 10 gallons and a free wash. This place has been here about 40 years (as a car wash), so that's pretty long time.

Before here, I was working at a hotel as a waiter, for eight years. But then I thought I no like feed people no more. All the complaining. So I found this place and I stay put.

Wilfred "Willie" Kelepolo has been working at McKinley Car Wash on Kapiolani Boulevard for 36 years. His brother Matthew, left, has been working there for 27 years, also pumping gas and helping the operation run smoothly.

Q: When did you move to Oahu from the Big Island?

A: I moved to Oahu in 1966. I grew up in Kona. I came here to work at Hawaiian Village for awhile, at the Makahikiki dining room, but it was dog-eat-dog. They was putting me on tables way in the back, where nobody sit, so I said forget it. I went to another restaurant and worked for awhile, then said I got to get a better job. So I found this one and stayed put.

Q: How many more years do you figure you'll keep working there?

A: Well, Yuki, I guess he's about 79 now. I'm 64, so I guess I'm gonna go about four more years. Then I'll collect my profit sharing and Social Security and take care of myself.

Q: Mr. Yoshikawa said you're brother (Matthew) also works there.

A: Yeah, he works here. He's same as me. We're pumping gas. We like it.

Q: What do you do for fun in your off hours?

A: When you work, there's no more time for that kind of stuff. I go home and I still have to do my chores at home, the maintenance chores. So I focus on that.

Q: Do you ever have to wash your own car?

A: Our boys get a free wash. But you wipe your own.

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