Madge Tennent (1889-1972)

In the March 1955 Paradise of the Pacific, predecessor to HONOLULU Magazine, John Dominis Holt wrote, “The spirit of endemic Hawai’i lives in the work of Madge Tennent. She has reached depths in capturing this spirit not achieved by another artist in any of the art expressions.”

A child prodigy who trained at the Academie Jullian in Paris, Tennent was in her mid-30s when she and her husband first arrived in Honolulu. But it was in Hawai’i that she found her life’s muse. Hawaiian women, in particular, inspired her; she painted them in hundreds of permutations, in an expressive manner influenced by Gauguin. She was fluent in a wide range of media, but is most well known for her swirling, chunky oil paintings.

Some took offense at the exaggerated anatomies of the Hawaiians depicted in her renderings, but Tennent’s style has become an iconic part of Hawai’i’s art history. Her work is currently on display at The Tennent Art Foundation Gallery, the Honolulu Academy of Arts and the Hawai’i State Foundation on Culture and the Arts, not to mention scores of private homes around O’ahu.

photo: courtesy of Buz Tennent


photo: Monte Costa

Myron B. “Pinky” Thompson  (1924-2001)

As a child, Myron B. “Pinky” Thompson realized the importance of helping people in need. His parents, Irmgard Harbottle and Henry Nainoa Thompson, raised a dozen foster children, most of them Hawaiian, in their Honolulu home.

A severe World War II injury only deepened his sense of responsibility. During the second assault on Normandy, Thompson was shot in the head. He spent more than two years in a New York hospital, with his eyes bandaged.

“In that time, he started to coalesce his vision of a purpose in life, and that was to go home and take care of the people who needed it most,” says his son, Nainoa. “He had a deep commitment to improving conditions of people in Hawai’i.”

Every job Thompson took on fit his mission of service–as a social worker, executive director of the Queen Lili’uokalani Children’s Center and head of the state Department of Social Services and Housing under Gov. John Burns.

In the mid-’80s, Thompson co-founded Papa Ola Lokahi, the Native Hawaiian Health Care System, and Alu Like, a social services agency that obtains federal funds for job training, health, housing, education and native rights programs.

From 1974 to 1994, he served as a trustee for the Bishop Estate, now called Kamehameha Schools, where he pushed for early childhood education and community outreach programs. He also headed the Polynesian Voyaging Society in the late ’70s, serving as its president until he died in 2001.

“He was a visionary, without a doubt–you see that in all the programs he initiated or was involved in,” Nainoa says. “He was always focused on helping people.”


photo: Monte Costa

Nainoa Thompson (1953-  )

The 1980 voyage of the Hokule’a captivated Hawai’i, and 27-year-old Nainoa Thompson was at the heart of it. Four years after its maiden voyage (navigated by Mau Piailug of Micronesia), Thompson became the first Hawaiian in centuries to navigate a traditional canoe without instrumentation, the way his ancestors had.   

“In my time, before Hokule’a, being Hawaiian was always seen as second rate, and I just carried that anger with me, because there was no place to put it,” Thompson says. “Hokule’a allowed me to use that anger to become part of something extraordinarily special. My whole life changed.”

Like his late father, Myron, once did, Thompson serves as president of the Polynesian Voyaging Society (PVS). In 2000, he became a trustee of Kamehameha Schools, a position his father held for 20 years.

In the 30 years since its first crossing, Hokule’a‘s voyages have taken it more than 100,000 miles across the Pacific. Thompson and PVS also use the canoe as a teaching tool, welcoming 9,000 Hawai’i students aboard last year to learn about the importance of protecting their environment, as well as voyaging.


Haunani-Kay Trask (1949- )

Haunani-Kay Trask has worn many hats over the years: political theorist, educator, poet, magnet for controversy. But she is probably best known as an activist who has helped redefine the terms of Hawai’i’s sovereignty debate; one of her most famous speeches was at a sovereignty rally at ‘Iolani Palace on Jan. 17, 1993, in which she proclaimed, “We are not American. We are native. We are indigenous to Hawai’i. Our lands and waters were stolen by the United States.”

Trask played a formative role in the creation of the University of Hawai’i’s Center for Hawaiian Studies, and became the university’s first full-time professor of Hawaiian Studies. She caught flak in 1990 for suggesting a “haole” UH student return to the Mainland, but remains unrepentant about her vocal opposition to what she sees as continued injustice: “For a long time, people have been accustomed to Hawaiians being soft, sweet and kind, willingly accepting of their oppression. That time has passed. We are articulate, educated, angry, forceful. I’m proud to represent that.”

photo: Jimmy Forrest


photo: courtesy of KGMB

Herman Wedemeyer (1924-1999)

As a student at St. Louis High School, Herman Wedemeyer earned the nickname “triple threat” for his ability to run, kick and pass the ball on the football field, says Bob Tokei, executive director of the school’s alumni association. Wedemeyer would go on to become a triple threat of a different kind: actor, politician and professional athlete, in both football and baseball.

Even today, Wedemeyer is considered one of the Islands’ greatest sportsmen. A running back at St. Mary’s College in California, he was the first athlete from Hawai’i to be named to the All-American first team. Before returning to the Islands, he played football for the Los Angeles Dons and Baltimore Colts and minor-league baseball with the Salt Lake City Bees.

Wedemeyer soon became known around the globe as police officer Duke Lukela, the role he played on the hit TV show Hawai’i Five-O

Former congresswoman Pat Saiki says, “Wedemeyer was an all-around athlete, the type of guy that would fit right in no matter where he was,” including the political arena. Wedemeyer served on the Honolulu city council in the late ’60s, before his election to the state House of Representatives, where he served two terms.


Harry Weinberg (1908-1990)

Harry Weinberg is one of Honolulu’s most paradoxical figures; he was, in life, known as a ruthless, antagonistic businessman, but his legacy has become one of largesse and philanthropy.

Weinberg, a Baltimore native with a sixth-grade-level education, made a fortune in Honolulu, much of it in real estate. His most notable acquisition was the Honolulu Rapid Transit Co., which the city bought from him to create TheBus system. He also muscled his way onto the boards of such heavyweight corporations as Amfac, Alexander & Baldwin and Maui Land & Pineapple, where his aggressive tactics became legendary.

After his death, his riches went to The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, which now donates about $20 million a year to Hawai’i charities. Banker Walter Dods says, “The irony is that, in his time, Weinberg was the tightest, meanest guy, and every business guy was afraid to death of him. … I call it ‘Harry Weinberg’s revenge,’ because he did so well, and he ended up giving all his money away.”

photo: Hawai’i Business and Industry


photo: City and County of Honolulu

John Henry Wilson (1871-1956)

“Employees lit the fuses with cigars and dashed for cover,” said one report of the start of the 1897 New Pali Road project. That road, designed for carriages, was a replacement for an earlier, treacherous route. It, too, would be phased out, in favor of the Pali Highway, in 1962. But back in 1898, when the New Pali Road opened, its young engineers, Louis Whitehouse and John Henry Wilson, were heroes. Wilson came from an illustrious Honolulu family–his great-grandfather was the captain of the original missionary brig, Thaddeus, and his parents were intimates of Queen Lili’uokalani. He studied engineering at Stanford University.

After serving as a road supervisor on Maui and O’ahu in the heady days of early automobiles, Wilson became Honolulu’s mayor in 1920, a position he held until 1927. He served again from 1929 to 1931, and from 1946 to 1955. A champion of cross-island passages, he lobbied for a second route through the Ko’olau Range. His namesake, the John H. Wilson Tunnel, is on the Likelike Highway, although that project was not finished until five years after Wilson’s death.


Chatt Wright (1941-  )

One of the longest serving college presidents in the United States, Wright is credited with the impressive growth of Hawai’i Pacific University. When he joined the school in 1972, there were 57 students and an annual budget of $200,000. Today, the school has 9,000 students and an annual budget of about $95 million.

“He’s more than an educator; he’s a city revitalizer,” says Paul Loo, HPU’s only surviving founder and a current board member. “He single-handedly rebuilt downtown. That area had been retail, then gone seedy. The students add vibrancy.”

In 1998, the Sales and Marketing Executives of Honolulu named Wright as Sales Person of the Year. “He’s one of the few leaders of a nonprofit to receive that honor,” points out Sam Cooke, a member of HPU’s board of trustees.

Wright plans to retire in 2009, but his legacy of education for a global citizenship will carry on. “Education is intertwined with the cultures of Hawai’i; the views that young people have are shaped by the fact that we’re all part of different minorities,” observes Wright. “I think that’s very healthy.”                       

photo: Jimmy Forrest


photo: Kent Hwang

Roy Yamaguchi (1956- )           

In 1988, a young chef came to Honolulu–and transformed the way everyone ate.

The son of a Japanese-American father and an Okinawan mother, Roy Yamaguchi had made a name for himself as a hot young chef in Los Angeles. His last L.A. restaurant, 385 North, though a critical success, was a financial failure. He arrived in Honolulu determined to do it right. Virtually everyone told him his 150-seat restaurant in Hawai’i Kai would be a disaster; he had enough sense not to listen.

Other restaurants were dimly lit, formal and hushed; his was bright, casual and noisy. And the food was unprecedented. It was as if Honolulu had been starving, without knowing it, for Roy’s Szechuan-spiced baby back ribs and hibachi salmon with ponzu sauce.

However, Yamaguchi turned out to be more than a wizard in the kitchen. He supported local farmers. “I probably wouldn’t be in business today if it weren’t for Roy,” says Dean Okimoto, of Nalo Farms. Yamaguchi recruited local staff. He joined with other top Island chefs to promote Hawai’i regional cuisine.

By the time he was done, he’d put Hawai’i food on the map, almost literally, with 33 restaurants, spreading from the Neighbor Islands to Japan and across the Mainland.


photo: Rae Huo

Wally Kaname Yonamine (1925- )

If you’re from Hawai’i and you know baseball, you know Wally Yonamine–or you should. Yonamine took his football career from high school all the way to the San Francisco 49ers–becoming the first Japanese American to play in the NFL. An injury after his first season forced Yonamine to switch his focus to pro baseball in Japan.

During his 12-year career with the Yomiuri Giants and the Chunichi Dragons, his grueling schedule kept him away from his family nine months of the year. “But no matter how long he’s away from the Islands, he’s a guy that had to have his Spam and eggs in the morning,” says his son, Paul Yonamine.

Yonamine finally returned to Honolulu to retire and start the Wally Yonamine Foundation, which hosts baseball tournaments and youth clinics throughout the year. “He accomplished a lot,” says Paul Yonamine, noting his father’s induction into the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame. “We’re always really proud of him.”