The Thurston family runs its own construction business, Thurston Pacific Inc. Tiffany, left, Tatum, Kathy and Charlie Thurston operate the business on Puuhale Road.

Building a family

For the Thurstons, Mom started
the clan working in construction

Kathy Thurston always has been a believer -- in both herself and her faith. It was that self-confidence that spurred her to get a drywall contractors' license after a male co-worker told her in 1983 that she couldn't get one because she was a girl.


And it was the conviction in her own ability that led her to start her own construction company in 1997 when the Hawaii economy was in the doldrums.

Today, the 47-year-old mother of two is president and owner of Thurston Pacific Inc. in Kalihi. Her husband and two adult children also work there.

The 25-employee company, which Thurston said has been profitable since day one, primarily performs utility work by putting in water lines, drains, sewers, and electrical and communication duct lines. Among Thurston Pacific's major customers are the Board of Water Supply, the Air Force and Hawaiian Electric Co.

"I specifically started in utilities because whether the economy is up or down, it's constant because water line drains need to be rehabilitated," said Thurston, who has worked in the construction business for 23 years. "I started in an economic slump and everybody thought 'she's crazy to be starting a new business.' But it was actually a very opportune time because I was able to start with lower overhead and I was able to negotiate better rates on rent and the purchase of equipment."

Kathy also is involved with water of a different sort as she, husband Charlie and 23-year-old daughter Tatum paddle for the New Hope Canoe Club, where Charlie runs the show. Tiffany, their 25-year-old daughter, has raced in the past but isn't doing so this year because she's a singer and is working on a new album.

"We live in Kailua so we always paddled with the Kailua Canoe Club when the kids were little, and then over the years as the kids grew up," Kathy said. "When New Hope (Christian Fellowship) started their canoe club ministry, we started paddling again (after taking a break)."

So maybe it's true, then, that the family that prays together, stays together.

"We do just about everything together," Kathy said. "We snowboard together, dance together, sing together. We've a very close-knit little family."

She's extended that same bond to her extended family -- her employees -- whom she spoils with daily treats when they arrive for work. Anyone care for a Melona bar, shave ice, mochi ice cream, animal cookies or a Fat Boy?

"Of course, we also provide healthy choices like fudge bars and sherbet bars," she added.

In addition, the company gives its employees vitamins, Gatorade and sunscreen, as well as providing exercise equipment at the company yard.

Kathy Thurston, left; her husband, Charlie; and their daughters, Tiffany and Tatum enjoy padding together.

Charlie, 49, worked 11 1/2 years as superintendent for a stevedoring company before joining Thurston Pacific full time four years ago. He had previously assisted his wife part time. He's Thurston Pacific's safety officer and equipment manager and said he doesn't mind that his wife calls the shots.

"I think my wife and I, like any other couple, have our challenges here and there -- especially when you work together," he said. "But probably no more than anyone else. And I feel pretty secure in the idea of my wife being the boss and working in her career. I don't really have issues in that.

"The way I look at it is we're all going after the same goal. That goal is to try and make a decent living in this economy in Hawaii and to raise our two children. The main thing with me is my family and our faith. And that's what kind of keeps us going."

The Thurstons' two daughters are part-time workers. Tatum goes to Kapiolani Community College and handles permits and performs other administrative duties. Tiffany, who graduated from the University of Hawaii, works minimal hours now but before used to do payroll, accounts payable and permits. Now, Tiffany works more for New Hope.

Kathy, a 1975 Kamehameha Schools graduate, grew up in the construction business.

Her late father, John Enos, was a drywall contractor and her mother ran the office. In 1981, her father became involved in the engineering business by buying a friend's share of that business to help him out.

Enos eventually was going to sell it back to his friend but things didn't pan out and Enos was left running the business. Kathy, working for her father at the time, suggested that he get his general engineering license, but he wasn't interested.

Kathy was interested, however. After mentoring by her father, she received her drywall contractors' license. Her parents gave her the opportunity to learn and manage projects and Kathy ultimately obtained her general engineering and general building contractors' licenses as well, and became president of her parents' business.

But Kathy really wanted to have her own business, so in 1997 she left to start Thurston Pacific.

"I wanted to challenge myself and open my own little company," she said.

That company now exceeds $5 million a year in revenue.

As she looks back at it, she describes the jump to her own business as "a leap of faith."

"I felt like the Lord was saying, 'You need to do this.' In 1997 when I started in this business, I felt really blessed because you don't see many opportunities for small projects now. But in '97, I felt very fortunate because when I started bidding for projects, they were awarded to me. Projects that were available at that particular time were just the right size for me -- someone starting out fresh. I was just fortunate. Timing is an essential element."

Perhaps, then, it was divine intervention in 1983 that put Kathy in the field on a renovation project at the hotel now known as the Turtle Bay Resort. That was when she told by a man working on the project that she couldn't get a drywall contractors' license because of her gender.

"I'm actually really grateful to him," she said. "To be quite honest, I don't know if I would have been so motivated if he hadn't challenged me.

"For most of us, we need some kind of motivation or challenge. And as I get older and wiser, it's to be the best Kathy I can be. I think he helped me reach out to be the best, reach out farther than I would have reached."

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