Richard H Rodby
January 31, 1931 – January 28, 2012
The Rich and Wonderful Life of Richard Hjalmer Rodby
Dad was born on 31 January, 1931 to Leo and Carita Rodby in Waialua, TH. He was delivered by Dr. Arthur Davis who was the Waialua Plantation doctor and father to Charles KL and Francis Davis.
He grew up in beautiful Waialua, Haleiwa and on the hot plains of Mokuleia. Dad learned to swim at the old family beach house at Kawela Bay. He swam in the ocean and mountain streams and claimed the people of the aina as his own. This is where he felt at home, with the country folks who shared their love for each other, partook in simple pleasures and learned humble appreciation for all things. It was here that he learned to get up early in the morning because of the plantation lifestyle. Dad did this every morning at 4:30 a.m. but once 7:30 p.m. came around he was out like a light as many of you knew.
Keep in mind that he did get pretty kalohe in his youth with his two hanai brothers, Elmer Manley and Joe Dowson. These pages would ignite if some of their youthful escapades were made known. Auwe! In fact Dad and Elmer ran around so much and were so close that Dad was made an honorary member of the Class of 1948 with Elmer’s alma mater, Kamehameha School.
It was the cool Wahiawa wetlands where the Rodby family has resided since 1916. They were one of the first military families to live at Schofield. It was here too that at the family home on California Avenue the Rodby family became fast lifelong calabash cousins with the Peterson boys, Jimmy and Allen, Joe Dowson and the Manley family. You cannot associate any of these wonderful families without the mention of each other’s names…that’s how close they were and are to this day. One giant Wahiawa o’hana continuing on into the next generations as calabash cousins.
Dad’s father, Leo B. Rodby (Big Leo) purchased Kemo’o Farm Restaurant and built it up into a thriving business throughout WWII and the Korean War. December 7, 1941 changed the Rodby family’s life and that of Hawai’i forever. Gone was the simplicity and beauty of youth. The family had built a large home and moved near the restaurant across from Schofield. When December 7th happened, Dad told me he was standing in their front yard across from Schofield and he waved at a Zero pilot and the pilot waved back at him as Dad was bending over picking up still warm machine gun shell casings from the Zero’s. He was nearly 10 years old.
Big Leo sent the family back to Virginia, Minnesota to be with his family and wait the war out. Imagine then that you had to take a 5 day blacked out, zig zagging ocean liner trip to the coast then a three day train ride. It was so cold on the Iron Range in Northern Minnesota that he remembered his ears nearly freezing and how they hurt when they warmed up. The family returned to Wahiawa after the war and Dad graduated from Schofield High which later became Leilehua High School.
After graduation he joined the army and served for two years. It was from his basic training days at Schofield where he met and became lifelong friends with Mahi Beamer. From there he attended Woodbury College in Los Angeles to become an accountant. After graduation Dad went to work at the Santa Barbara Biltmore Hotel first in the accounting department but then transferred into Food and Beverage. He loved the hotel lifestyle and worked his way up the ladder becoming Executive Assistant General Manager for the property. True to form he loved the California beaches.
Dad was later transferred to the Clift Hotel in San Francisco. While working there he attended San Francisco City College and majored in Hotel and Restaurant Management. He graduated and continued working at the Clift Hotel in various executive level management positions. When we were young and took family trips to San Francisco we always stopped at the Clift. The Head Bellman, Eddie would let us park right in the front, and while Dad was showing Mom around Eddie would take us kids to the room where they washed all the silver coins, daily. The coins were always shiny, bright and clean! Dad always got a kick out of bringing his family to show us the hotel he loved.
Then came the call from his Mom saying that his father Leo B. Rodby had passed away and that he was needed back home to run Kemo’o Farm Restaurant. He told me that that he wanted to stay on the mainland for a few more years. But as fate would have it return he did, educated, experienced and full of ideas.
Now his life really took off. He ran the restaurant for a few years then met Mom (then Joan Ballentyne) through a blind date arranged by Mom’s sister Annie and her boyfriend Bim Wilson. Dad told his Mom that he met the girl he would marry. Carita took her wedding ring off her finger and gave it to Dad. The rest is history. From this union sister Robyn was born. So, in a little over 15 months he got married and had three kids and moved his family to Wahiawa. We lived in Wahiawa for 7 years but the family had to move back to the dry hills of Kapahulu because of Nancy’s severe asthma.
Dad wanted to have his family experience life on the mainland so in 1966 we moved to Davis, California. He and Mom built a beautiful custom home. He commuted to and from Hawaii for 1-2 weeks a month for two years. When he was away we always spoke at 7:00 p.m. Hawai’i time for 10 minutes max due to the “long distance charges”. It was while we were living in Davis that he purchased a 60 acre ranch in the historic gold country of Northern California.
Dad told us that this had been a dream of his father long ago to own a ranch in Grass Valley. Dad wanted to make that dream come true. We owned that ranch for nearly 25 years. It was there that he built trout ponds and raised Rainbow Trout and shipped 500+ lbs a week back to Honolulu for Kemo’o Farm and all the European chef’s in the new hotels in Waikiki.
He brought his family back to Honolulu in 1968. Dad worked hard at the restaurant, building the business to include increasing catering, upgrading the dining room, building a snack bar, mini grocery and property rentals. He won numerous industry awards including the highly coveted Holiday Magazine Award consecutively for well over 10 years.
What made Kemo’o Farm that magical place it was? It was pure Aloha. It flowed from Dad’s heart into everything there, the kindness and graciousness of the staff, the cleanliness of the facility, the music, the shiny silver (polished every week) and fresh tropical flowers on the tables, the quality of the food and the service and the beauty of the aina of rural O’ahu situated on the lake. Everyone was a friend. It was…looking back on it now a refuge where people came to, where time stood still and the gracious hospitality of old Hawai’i resided.
Dad knew Charels KL Davis well from growing up in Waialua. When Charles KL returned from the mainland they got together which led to nearly a 12 year run at Kemo’o Farm of music, fun and a whole new venue for Kemo’o Farm. Big Wednesday buffet lunch shows were selling out weeks in advance of up to 150-180 people per show, weekend nights were packed. Dad started adding guests to the show with Charles with all the local Hawaiian entertainers. Emma Veary, Marlene Sai, Eddie Kamae, Mahi Beamer, Karen Keawhawai’i, Moe Keale, Johnny Almeida, Andy Cummings, Myra English and so many, many others. Charles KL always at the piano with his eloquent Tenor voice, perfect piano playing skills, his impeccable pronunciation of Hawaiian and his favorite “Charlie’s unleaded” (Cutty Sark and Ginger).
It was here too that Sammy Amalu called home and spent much time visiting with everyone, dancing hula and telling his famous kolohe tales. You just never knew who would show up unannounced. Pianist Bobby Short, actors Richard Chamberlain, Brain Keith, PGA golfer Lee Trevino (table #4) and others. One of the most memorable and moving performances occurred when Aunty Irmgaard Aluli celebrated her birthday with a round the island bus trip. The entire bus load of family, friends and entertainers stopped in for a Wednesday show. She sang and sang with Charles KL and when she began her famous song, Pua Mana, every lady in the room who could dance hula to the song got up, unrehearsed and in unison danced to sweet perfection. It looked like a room filled with tall swaying palm trees in a gentle breeze. There was not a dry eye when the song and hula was pau. Everyone hugged and kissed each other. The room could have exploded with all the Aloha. Such an atmosphere!
Dad made it all happen. In his calm, gentle way he made it all happen. And you know what…I just realized this. Kemo’o Farm was a natural extension of himself and it worked so very well.
Dad didn’t want to have more restaurants despite encouragement from people on the mainland and locally to do so. So to market the Kemo’o Farm name even further he started a national and international mail order business with Hawaiian food products and then he created… The Hawaiian Happy Cake. The second year he sold nearly 9,000 Happy Cakes. It was insane! The entire family got involved assisting with the baking, shipping, taking orders by hand as there were no computers in those days. It was all by snail mail and costly long distance telephone calls. Remember long distance calls?
We would be remiss if the faithful employees of Kemo’o Farms were not mentioned for it was they who worked hard to make Kemo’o the wonderful place it was for well over 70 years. They were family. Stella Kakazu, Evelyn Yoshika, Kimi Koyamatsu, Bob Chinen, Dorothy Oho and family, Margaret and Tsugio Kuraoka, Anna Asano, Vicky Grilho, Ruth Beck, Roylo Marciano, Ignacio Acosta, Danny Pacheco the Ushijima family and countless others over the years…Mahalo!
The family sold Kemo’o Farm in 1992 and he concentrated on the Happy Cakes. Dad still drove out to the restaurant as he had done 6 days a week from town since 1965 at 5:00 a.m. to work on the mail order and supervise the baking of the cakes. But at the end of the day for as long as we can remember, it was from his daily swims and his love of the water that he renewed his energy. Dad loved to swim; lakes, rivers, pools wherever and whenever but mostly, it was the ocean that beckoned him throughout his life, daily and he gladly obliged.
It was then that he became involved with the Arizona Memorial Foundation first as a volunteer and then a Director Emeritus for nearly 11 years where he worked on projects on Midway and Wake Island as well.
Some of the key highlights of his personal and professional achievements are: Chairman of Wahiawa Chamber of Commerce, Wahiawa Jaycee’s, President 3x of The Hawaii Restaurant Association, HRA Delegate to the National Restaurant Association for 12 years, Board Member of the Hawaiian Music Hall of Fame for well over 10 years, Board member on various committees at the Outrigger Canoe Club and Director Emeritus of the Arizona Memorial Foundation at Pearl Harbor to name a few. One of his proudest achievement s was being named to the first class of Hawai’i Restaurant Association’s Hall of Fame a few years ago. His family was present when the award was given and his smile stretched from Diamond Head to the Ewa plains. So very proud he was and we of him.
As we pause to look back, this fair haired local boy from Waialua and Wahiawa lived a full and rich life. He became good friends with President Reagan, Gen. Fred Wyand, Orion Samuelson, John Brodie, Ernest Borgnine, Dave Brubeck, Maxine Andrews, Jack and Marie Lord, and Jim Nabors to list a few. Many with the exception of President Reagan came to the house for dinner.
We just can’t believe you are gone now Dad. You were as gentle as you were gracious, patient as you were kind and a caring man in these times where many people have lost these qualities. The gentleness of the country lifestyle of your youth engrained in you a quality that we only wish we could have.
You gave us a wonderful life that cannot be surpassed. And in the end, all that really matters is you did your best. You loved your wife, your children and your family, had a deep love of Hawai’i and her people. You have left a rich legacy with each of us. I can hear you saying “be kind, be nice and treat everyone with dignity”. All we can say Dad is that you are the best and there will always be a part of you with each of us, forever.
Me ke Aloha Dad, a hui hou…..Mahalo Piha
The family requests donations be made to the Hawaiian Music Hall of Fame. PO Box 4717 Honolulu, HI 96812
Richard H Rodby
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February 12, 2012
What a great life!
Aloha Robyn and family...