On Tuesday, June 1, the Outrigger Hotels & Resorts ‘ohana gathered to celebrate Kehau Kruse’s retirement after 13 years of service. Fittingly, the celebration featured music, chant, Hawaiian food, and enough lei to cover Kehau’s ears. I was on the mainland, and particularly since Kehau has been such an integral and highly-respected member of our team, I was sorry that I had to miss the opportunity to tell her in person just how much she has meant to our company. However, I did speak to her by telephone and tried to convey my feelings over the din of the festivities. Several who attended the event have worked together to file this report.
The luncheon was a surprise for “Auntie” Kehau with members of her family and her halau attending. Ka’ipo Ho hosted the luncheon that recognized her distinguished career as a member of our Human Resources Team. Matt Sproat supplied the nahenahe (sweet) Hawaiian musical entertainment.
Perry Sorenson and Dr. Chuck Kelley presented Kehau with gifts of aloha. David Carey thanked her for everything she did to inject additional cultural vitality into our company and said, “As a member of the Ho’okele (steering) team, she played an important role in bringing the teachings of Dr. George Kanehele to life at Outrigger. Through Kehau’s efforts, Outrigger Hotels & Resorts has been recognized as a leader in creating a Hawaiian sense of place in many aspects of who we are and what we do, from our Ke ‘Ano Wa’a (the Outrigger Way) values to architectural and design features of our hotel renovations. Kehau has kept us true to the Hawaiian culture. I wasn’t sure what all of this meant when George explained the process at first, but Kehau made it easy to understand, as she represented the culture in so many creative ways.
Perry Sorenson said, “Even though Kehau is leaving the company, her imprint and her spirit will continue to guide us in everything we do. Our awareness of the importance of understanding the culture wherever we have hotels, and doing what is right, pono, in our business practices is to a large degree thanks to Kehau. Through her efforts and those of many others who have helped set our course, Ke ‘Ano Wa’a has never been just a ‘program.’ It’s the core of our values as a company, a guide to how to treat each other, our guests, and our place. She has led by example. We’ll miss her footsteps, but know the path to follow.”
Bill Brown remembered interviewing Kehau when she applied for the Human Resources Administration position 13 years ago. “We went through an interview that took 10 minutes, but our conversation that day went on for two hours. We spoke of the unique aspects of doing business in Hawaii. Kehau saw an opportunity to work for a kama’aina family business and support many local people in the hospitality industry.”
Ka’ipo Ho added his recollections of Auntie’s energetic work style. “She could get pretty worked up about whatever assignment she had. My desk faced hers and her energy would spill over into conversations with me and phone calls to others. Frankly, it was hard to get my own work done. On my third day at Outrigger, I started wearing a Walkman. Whenever Kehau saw the headphones on my head, she would try not to bother me. After a few days, I stopped carrying the Walkman — I just wore the headphones. She caught on to my trick when she saw me wear the headphones to the restroom. From then on, we called the headphones my “Auntie Blockers.”
With that, Ka’ipo produced a set of headphones with a 20-foot cord. There was a tear in Ka’ipo’s eye when he spoke about how he was going to miss all her energy at work.
Kehau’s career with Outrigger Hotels & Resorts has been distinguished by her Hawaiian cultural contributions, which have become a regular part of the life of our ‘ohana. Over the years, she has helped us celebrate openings and closings of hotels, all types of employee recognition, including retirements, employee-of-the-quarter gatherings, and our annual conference. On a few occasions, Kehau has even blessed hotel rooms in a traditional Hawaiian ceremony to ease the stress for staff after a guest’s death.
Kehau’s expertise in oli (Hawaiian chant) is a gift she has lovingly contributed. She has been a student of Kumu John Lake for many years. Last year she earned her ‘uniki, or certification as a master practitioner of Hawaiian chant. As a kupuna (cultural expert), Kehau will continue to share her culture in a manner that preserves Hawaiian traditions for generations to come.
Although Kehau is now retired, she will keep on making her cultural contributions to the community and to our ‘ohana as our on-call kupuna.