Feature Stories

Saddle Up Hawaiian-Style: Kauai’s Richard Vidinha one of last Hawaiian-style saddle-makers

Richard Vidinha for Kauai StoriesEver since Richard Vidinha was a boy, he decided that whatever someone else could do, he could do, too – and probably better.


“In my mind, I say, ‘If that guy can do it, why can’t I do it? I get two arms, two legs, same like him,’ ” he says in his strong, gravelly voice, with a hint of Pidgin English. “Maybe he going to beat me, but he gotta go like hell, you know?”


It was natural, then, that when Richard was a saddle-maker, he became known for his fine quality and craftsmanship. Now 89 years old and retired, he is still revered by other saddle-makers in Hawaii, and by all those who have owned Richard Vidinha saddles for decades.


Born and raised in the tiny town of Kekaha, on the west side of the Hawaiian island of Kauai, Richard learned the art of making saddles the Hawaiian way from his grandfather, Manuel Andrade, Sr., with whom he was living.

A Vision Fulfilled: WWII veteran Ikito Muraoka reflects on his “blessed” life

Ikito “Ike” Muraoka as a U.S. Army soldier during World War II, circa 1943, shortly before he was ordered to become a combat medic and given only one week of medical training.When Ikito “Ike” Muraoka was a freshman at Kauai High School in 1936, he never could have guessed that as the result of a hunting accident, he would be given a glimpse into his future.


Looking much younger than his 93 years, with a calm demeanor and a rich baritone voice, Ike recalls that fateful morning clearly.


He and one of his brothers drove from their home in Koloa, on the south shore of the island, to Mahaulepu Valley to hunt pheasants.


While Ike’s brother was standing on a knoll a short distance away, their dog flushed a pheasant out of the brush. The bird flew up and fluttered in the air between the two boys.


“I raised my shotgun and that’s the last I knew — because I was shot,” Ike says.

Suzanne "Bobo" Bollin: The Ocean is Part of My Soul

Suzanne_Bobo_Bollin_cropped_for_Kauai_StoriesSuzanne “Bobo” Bollin is among the small number of people in the world who have swum along the rugged Napali Coast of Kauai, where winter waves reach heights of 40 feet and crash into jagged cliffs.

In fact, Bobo has made the swim so frequently since 1972, that she has lost count how many times she has done it.

A lively woman of 67 with a youthful voice, Bobo is an icon on the North Shore. She is well-known and respected for her swimming achievements and her animated conversation, and is easily recognizable by her long white braids that fall more than half the length of her 5-foot-4-inch frame.

Swimming along the Napali has been only one aspect of Bobo’s colorful life, but it has been a large and integral part.

Tor Chantara’s Fine Art of Marquetry

Tor Chantara marquetry for Kauai StoriesAt the age of 26, Tor Chantara lives his life simultaneously in two worlds, practicing the fine woodworking art of marquetry that has its roots in the 16th Century, while learning techniques and ordering supplies via the Internet.

Marquetry, the way Tor has been doing it since he was 17 years old, requires a degree of patience and attention to detail that was more common centuries ago, in order to achieve a certain level of artistry. A thoughtful young man, Tor even expresses himself in somewhat of an Old World way, punctuating his remarks with “certainly” and “indeed.”

The marquetry veneers that Tor uses for his work are pieces of wood only 1/42nd of an inch thick. To wrap your mind around that figure, envision the marks on a ruler that signify one-sixteenth of an inch. Tor’s veneers are one-third of that — roughly the thinness of a standard postcard.

Kinichi Ishikawa: I've Been Lucky

Kinichi_Ishikawa_for_Kauai_StoriesIn Kinichi Ishikawa’s 96 years of life, he has experienced many changes, but one thing that has remained constant is his kindness to others. 

Through the years, this kindness has ranged from recognizing the humanity in the enemy while fighting overseas as a soldier in the U.S. Army during World War II, to sending new friends home with bags of freshly-picked fruit from his Hanalei orchard.

One of five children of Japanese immigrants who came to Hawaii in approximately 1904, Kinichi has always been grateful for everything in his life. He often remarks, “I’ve been lucky,” even as he recounts times fighting German soldiers in Italy, dodging artillery fire and exploding grenades as a member of the famed all-Japanese 100th Infantry Battalion.

Kinichi’s passion is taro farming and tending to his fruit orchard. He is also a devoted opera fan, and taught himself both the German and Italian languages to understand the stories and songs of the opera. He reads multiple magazines each month including Smithsonian, National Geographic, Discovery and Popular Mechanics, and every morning completes both crossword puzzles in The Garden Island and the Honolulu Star-Advertiser newspapers by noon. As a young man, he once read the entire encyclopedia set in his then-employer’s home.

Hold on Dad! 16-year-old Taylor Garvey saves father from drowning on Kauai

Garvey_Family_on_Kauai_Aug_2014 for Kauai StoriesWhen 16-year-old Taylor Garvey visited Kauai with his parents and younger brother last year, the last thing he expected was that he would have to rescue his father from drowning at one of Kauai’s beaches.

Fortunately, Taylor knew exactly what to do when he realized his father was in trouble. By a stroke of luck – or was it fate? – Taylor had watched the water safety video that plays in the baggage claim area of Lihue Airport. Because the video plays non-stop, Taylor saw it more than a handful of times.

“I just watched it because it was there and to have that knowledge, just in case,” Taylor says. “I never thought in a million years that it would happen. I don’t think anybody ever thinks that it’s going to happen to them.”

Castora Guillermo Suero: Sweet Memories of Hawaii's Plantation Days

Castora_Guillermo_Suero_for_Kauai_StoriesAt 93 years old, Castora Guillermo Suero remembers her days growing up in sugar plantation camps and working for a pineapple cannery as if they took place yesterday. 

“I worked for Dole cannery in Honolulu when I was 16 years old, night shift, 35 cents an hour, from 2 o’clock in the afternoon to 10 p.m., cutting, trimming pineapple skins,” the Lihue resident says, her eyes re-tracing the path of pineapples rolling endlessly down a chute and landing in front of her.

“The pineapples would keep coming. You gotta be fast!”

Castora gave the wages she earned to her mother to supplement their family’s income. Her mother, Guadalupe, also raised ducks and chickens and sold their eggs to help makes ends meet.

“At that time, my father earned $1 a day! Not enough but everything was very cheap,” she says, recalling that a 100-pound bag of rice cost less than $5.

Vic Allen: "I'm just a regular guy"

Vic_Allen_paddling_for_Kauai_StoriesSix months after Vic Allen lost his sight at the age of 38, he was at a recreation center for the blind, when someone mentioned they were taking some people skiing.

“I said, ‘How do blind people ski?’ So I went skiing with them for a weekend at Big Bear, California,” Vic says.

He had skied before he went blind, but it felt different now. “When they strapped the skis on me I went, ‘Whooooaaa!’ ”

By his second day, Vic had taken to his new sport, skiing the black diamond runs that are designed for advanced skiers.

Pam Dohrman: Lost and Found in Kokee

Pam_Dohrman_for_Kauai_StoriesThe last thing Pam Dohrman anticipated when planning to celebrate Mother’s Day with her family in Kokee State Park, was that she would get so lost on a simple afternoon hike that she would spend two nights sleeping alone in the wilderness until being rescued.

It was the afternoon before Mother’s Day, May 2013. Pam’s family was gathering for a big dinner in Kokee, the lush rain forest located at 4,000 feet elevation in the northwest region of the Garden Island.

By the time she arrived at the family’s mountain cabin, Pam’s children and grandchildren were out on a hike on one of Kokee’s many trails.

A fit and active 72-year-old, Pam decided to take a little walk of her own. Having grown up on Kauai, she had hiked in Kokee many, many times. She tossed two apples, some water and a lightweight jacket in her backpack and set off.

Jane Vegas: Quilting Hawaiian Style

Jane_Vegas_with_Haleakala_Highway_quilt_for_Kauai_StoriesJane Vegas so loved making Hawaiian quilts, that when she was raising her seven children, she often lost all track of time while she was sewing, sometimes quilting as many as eight hours per day.

“Sometimes I forgot to cook. My kids would ask me, ‘We’re not going to eat tonight?’ and I had to stop and go and cook,” she says with a laugh.

Sitting in the house in Lawai on Kauai’s south shore that her husband, Solomon, built for their family in 1947, Jane speaks softly in a blend of standard and Pidgin English, switching back and forth between past and present tense while talking about past events.

Now 91 years old and receiving Hospice care, Jane looks back on how her passion for quilting led her to create a career, that as a young girl working in the sugar plantation fields, she had never known was possible.

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