Q+A: Larry Bush

Since September 2004, Larry Bush has served as the president and CEO of the YMCA of Honolulu. Bush has been the leader of the three major projects that represent the group's future: new YMCAs in Kalihi, Waipahu and Wai'anae. Bush, who turns 59 this month, also remains active in the YMCA's global arena, going to Taiwan in November, to serve as both the Honolulu and U.S. representative at the annual Six YMCA Conference (Singapore, Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan and O'ahu).
photo: Jimmy Forrest

Q: You were a youth member in the YMCA in Dubuque, Iowa, and then started working there in 1971. How has the YMCA changed in your time?

A: We have computers now. (Laughs.) Actually, what’s easiest is what hasn’t changed: the opportunities YMCAs have to serve individual communities. Having traveled from Iowa, then to California, then to Hawai’i–each was a unique opportunity to serve that particular community. And, it’s really about the organization’s values: honesty, care, respect and responsibility. I came to Hawai’i and found out we’ve been doing those things for 136 years. Sometimes the subject matters change–we’re dealing a whole lot more with substance abuse in Hawai’i than in Berkeley–but at its core it’s the same YMCA.

Q: What have been your stiffest challenges on O’ahu?

A: With the [record-low] unemployment rate, it’s a challenge to get enough people to do the work we need. Second, is cost: We’re in the middle of a capital campaign. We’ve met portions of that with great success, in that we’ve built a brand-new Kalihi YMCA and are looking forward to the grand opening [early next year], begun construction on Leeward [Waipahu] and have plans submitted for Wai’anae. But we had planned on building Kalihi for $4.2 million; by the time we finished construction, with rising costs, we were at $6.3 million. The challenge is raising enough money so they come in operating debt-free, affordable to the communities.

Q: How close are you to your $30 million fund-raising goal, and where does the support come from?

A: At this point the Leeward YMCA is the immediate focus. We feel we can raise the money given the prospects we have, and the leadership of [fund-raisers] Jeff and Lynn Watanabe, and Sen. Daniel Inouye being the campaign support chair. And, we are fund-raising in the communities.

Q: How would you characterize the relationship between the YMCA of Honolulu and O’ahu communities?

A: Here, unlike San Francisco, with its transitory residents, membership is forever. You quickly learn that just about everyone has a YMCA story. This Y has impacted so many people on this island, there’s such a rich history, it’s humbling coming here and being a part of it all.

Q: Your son JJ came to work at an O’ahu YMCA well before you and your wife arrived?

A: About four years ago, he needed a job. (Laughs.) It’s definitely been a gift, when your son finally comes up and says, "I really do believe in the YMCA." He’s the athletic director for Nu’uanu.

Q: What is most fulfilling about the YMCA, and has kept you there?

A: Clearly, it’s what I believe in. But the other side is, I’ve always had a lot of fun. With any job where you’re trying to do this much, certainly there’s a lot of stress, anguish at moments, success and failures. Maybe 20 years ago, it was the buildings I had built or remodeled. But if I sit back and reflect on the different jobs and places, it’s really been about the people.