Robert Midkiff (1920-  )

Philanthropist and business leader Bob Midkiff had a vision of a vibrant downtown Honolulu, where business and culture would converge. He formed the Downtown Improvement Association in 1958. Forty-seven years later, his dream is a reality. The revamped Hawai’i Theatre, bustling restaurants and a multitude of new art galleries are evidence of Midkiff’s influence.

As chief fund-raiser and chairman of the Hawai’i Theatre, Midkiff helped to raise more than $33 million for the recent renovations to the historic building. “For the past seven years, our profits have exceeded our expenses,” he says. “It’s a profitable nonprofit.”

Now that the theater is complete, Midkiff, now 85, envisions an art district radiating from the downtown beacon. He’s enthusiastic about the recent gallery walks and First Friday events. Midkiff says, “Honolulu is just small enough so that you can get your hands around it.”


Mollie Hong Min (1887-1979)

Mollie Hong Min arrived in Honolulu during the first wave of Korean immigration to Hawai’i in 1903, and spent the rest her life working to improve the city around her. Min volunteered for the Red Cross for more than 50 years, helped organize the Gray Ladies at Tripler Hospital and traveled around the world as a delegate of the organization. “One sleeve won’t hold her service stripes,” read the headline of a 1963 The Honolulu Advertiser profile of Min.

She was also an outspoken member of the burgeoning women’s movement in Hawai’i, volunteering for organizations such as the Pan-Pacific Southeast Asia Women’s Association and the YWCA.

Cynthia Rankin, Min’s granddaughter, says, “She was so ahead of her time. She was such a smart businesswoman and community leader, and this was on top of raising five children.” Min was married to Chan-Ho Min, himself a Christian minister and community leader, and her numerous enterprises included a laundry in Schofield, a boarding house for university students in Honolulu and the MacDonald Hotel.

photo: courtesy of Cynthia Rankin & Dr. Richard Min


photo: Ronna Bolante

Tom Moffatt (1930-   )

In a way, Tom Moffatt took over where E.K. Fernandez left off. For more than 50 years, Moffat has entertained Honoluluans with hundreds of spectacular shows–shipping in everyone from Elvis to Frank Sinatra to Michael Jackson. Who hasn’t attended “A Tom Moffatt Production” at one time or another?

Moffatt got his start in radio, presiding over the rock ‘n’ roll invasion first at KIKI and then as a Poi Boy at KPOI. He would go on to dominate just about every aspect of Honolulu’s entertainment industry. He started Honolulu’s first teen nightclub, Fat City, and released the Beamer Brothers’ Honolulu City Lights under his Paradise Records Label. He became the promoter with the golden touch, selling out venues all over Honolulu with big names from the Mainland.

Even with all these achievements under his belt, he’s still known as simply, “Uncle Tom.” Harry B. Soria Jr. says, “People usually hate promoters, but Moffat doesn’t have that stigma. He’s a straight shooter, as old-fashioned a square deal as you can find. Everybody trusts him, and he’s always warm and positive.”


Alice Namakelua (1892-1987)

An icon of slack key guitar, a talented kumu hula and an expert lei-maker, “Auntie” Alice Namakelua was a true practitioner of all things Hawaiian. Namakelua began playing slack key at age 8. “She was a talented guitarist, but she played in the style of the previous century,” says Soria.

Namakelua was a mentor to many of today’s contemporary musicians, including Keola Beamer. “She was a real stickler for the Hawaiian language,” says Soria. “Her biggest contribution is that she was the conscience of the past.”

She wrote 180 songs, but only released a single album. In 1974, at age 84, she released her debut record, titled Auntie Alice Namakelua. Most of her songs were written for local children during her 23 years as the playground director for the city and county Parks and Recreation. Soria says, “She taught thousands of young people singing and hula and she composed many of the songs she taught them.”

photo: courtesy of Hula Records


photo: courtesy of Valerie Ossipoff

Vladimir Ossipoff (1907-1998)

Few architects’ names in Hawai’i real estate command a premium like that of Vladimir Ossipoff. Although he was born in Russia and grew up in Tokyo, he has become known as the premier postwar designer of kama’aina-style residences in Honolulu.

Architect Glenn Mason says that Ossipoff’s work was characterized more by its philosophy than by any specific design element. “He designed buildings that were very appropriate to the Hawaiian lifestyle, very open, with natural ventilation and natural materials. These are things that are common to all his projects. But he tried to find a unique solution to each unique problem. He was not formulaic about the way he approached design.”

During his 60-year career, Ossipoff completed more than 1,000 projects. He was best known for his idiosyncratic, modernist residences, such as the Lilith Strand house and the Linus Pauling house, but he also designed many notable public buildings, including the Pacific Club, the Outrigger Canoe Club and the IBM Building. He even had a hand in Honolulu’s city planning, advising the Department of Transportation on the design of the Moanalua Freeway.


Gabby Pahinui (1921-1980)

There’s no shortage of local artists who’ve left their mark on Hawaiian music, but Gabby Pahinui is exceptional. He’s considered “the father of slack key guitar,” an enormous influence for many ki ho’alu greats, including Peter Moon and Sonny Chillingworth.

Locals also saw him as a folk hero, holding down a day job with the city and county road crew while playing music at night–all to support his wife and 13 children in Waimanalo. Born in 1921, Pahinui performed for much of his life, but he didn’t become a cultural icon until the 1960s, when he and Eddie Kamae founded the Sons of Hawai’i.

“He was a free spirit,” says Kamae. “He had the magic to entertain people. You don’t see that nowadays.”

The Sons’ eponymous release in 1971 helped spark the Hawaiian Renaissance. Pahinui’s raspy baritone seemed reminiscent of ancient Hawai’i. But his progressive instrumentation breathed life into traditional Hawaiian songs, a siren for a new generation of local musicians. 

photo: Ken Sakamoto


photo: courtesy of KSSK

Michael W. Perry (1947-   ) and Larry Price (1934- )           

The first voices many on O’ahu hear in the morning belong to Michael W. Perry and Larry Price. For others, the duo serves as the soundtrack to their cross-island commute, every weekday and Saturday morning.

“Morning” for these two starts a bit earlier–3 a.m., to be exact. For the past 23 years Perry and Price have met for a pre-show breakfast and then again after the show to evaluate the day’s program. “We do a couple things nobody else does,” says Price, “that’s why we’re so durable.”

Although it’s hard to imagine Hawai’i’s top-rated morning radio team as a back-up plan, the duo started out as “Plan B,” says Perry, “Nobody expected us to succeed.” But their sincerity and concern for the listeners is what keeps locals tuning in. “We talk about what the listeners want to talk about,” says Price. Perry adds, “Wherever they are, that’s where we are.”


Robert Pfeiffer (1920-2003)

Robert Pfeiffer started his maritime career as a deckhand aboard a Honolulu harbor tug; years later, he’d captain one of Hawai’i’s Big Five companies, Alexander & Baldwin, and its subsidiary, Matson Navigation.

During his 38 years at A&B, Pfeiffer’s investment instincts paid off. He diversified A&B’s portfolio, expanding into real estate. A&B president and CEO Allen Doane says, “We’re the only Big Five company publicly traded today. We’re not only surviving, but prospering, and that has much to do with Pfeiffer’s legacy.”

Under Pfeiffer’s leadership, Matson was one of the first companies in the Pacific to adopt cargo containers, making transportation of goods more efficient.

In the ’80s, Pfeiffer streamlined A&B sugar production by introducing computer technology. He also led the company to develop Kaua’i Coffee Co., now the largest coffee grower in the state.

Pfeiffer expanded A&B’s property holdings, and, by 1985, revenues from the company’s real estate ventures far surpassed those from sugar.  In a turbulent and changing economy, Pfeiffer proved to be a capable navigator.

photo: courtesy of A&B


photo: State Foundation on Culture and the Arts

Alfred Preis (1911-1993)

Alfred Preis helped shape the city of Honolulu, as an architect and a devotee of the arts. Architecture buffs know that the Austria-born Preis designed the Arizona Memorial–an irony, considering that after the attack on Pearl Harbor, he and his wife were interned for three months at Sand Island. Preis’ other works include the entrance of the Honolulu Zoo, the First United Methodist Church on Beretania and the ILWU headquarters on Atkinson.

As the state planning coordinator under Gov. John Burns, Preis worked with other community leaders to design Honolulu’s Capitol district and transform the once-seedy area into the downtown we know today. He was also one of the chief planners of the Honolulu Civic Center.

“He was instrumental in creating the ‘great park’ concept for the Capitol district,” says Preis’ son, Honolulu architect Jan-Peter Preis. “As an architect and a planner, he made sure that the district connected the mountains to the sea.”

Preis also changed how Hawai’i felt about art. As the first executive director of the Hawai’i State Foundation on Culture and the Arts, Preis pushed for the state to fund art in public places. In 1967, Hawai’i became the first state to devote a portion (1 percent) of all construction costs to public works of art. Since then, at least 26 others have passed similar laws. Today, the public can view many of the state’s 5,000-plus artworks at the Hawai’i State Art Museum in downtown Honolulu.


Mary Kawena Pukui (1895-1986)

For nearly half a century, the Hawaiian Dictionary, co-authored by Mary Kawena Pukui and Samuel H. Elbert, has served as the definitive work on Hawaiian language. But by the time Pukui (see photo at right, center) began working with Elbert on the guide, she’d already spent decades meticulously documenting the words that filled its pages. Born in 1895, Pukui spent her first five years with her Hawaiian grandmother, before returning to her bilingual household in Ka’u on the Big Island, with her Hawaiian mother and her Massachusetts-born father. As a teenager, she began collecting the words, sayings and stories passed on from her kupuna, knowing they needed to be recorded or risked being lost forever.

Some Hawaiians criticized Pukui’s work on the dictionary, accusing her of writing for haoles, recalls her daughter, Patience Namaka Bacon. “She didn’t see the sense of fighting people,” Bacon recalls. “She just told them, ‘I’m not writing for haoles. I’m not writing for you. I’m writing for my grandchildren and your grandchildren.'”    

Pukui was one of the greatest authorities on Hawaiian culture, working closely with the Bishop Museum for more than 50 years and serving as a teacher, historian, kumu hula, translator and composer. She composed or co-wrote an estimated 150 songs–”Pua ‘Ahihi” and “Hanauma,” among them–and dozens of books, including ‘Olelo No’eau, a collection of Hawaiian proverbs. Most of all, she shared her knowledge with the people of Hawai’i, serving as a mentor for many Hawaiian resources, including Kahauanu Lake and Eddie Kamae.