Gwen Battad Ishikawa
Six thousand, seven hundred and ninety-seven . . . give or take.
That’s how many days I’ve worked at The Hawai‘i Herald and Hawaii Hochi, Ltd. On April 20, I bid farewell to the building that was my second home for 26 years and to my co-workers who had become my second family.
I started working at the Herald on Feb. 10, 1992. I was a young’un straight out of college . . . so young that I couldn’t even rent a car by myself when I covered my first Big Island issue story in 1993. On that trip, I met LeGrand Sakamaki, a then-13-year-old weightlifter, who is now probably around 40 years old.
I grew up in the halls of the Hawai‘i Hochi building. Readers saw me get married (actually, they just saw my byline change) and have my son, who is now 15 years old. They’ve seen me climb up the Herald “ladder” from an advertising supplements writer, to staff writer, production editor, interim editor and, finally, to managing editor.
The biggest thrill, however, was when I was on a family vacation in Las Vegas. My husband was a government spokesperson at the time and was stopped by everyone we passed. It literally took us 30 minutes to get through the casino at the Cal.
While shopping at an outlet mall, an older Japanese woman kept looking our way. I figured she probably recognized my husband, so I kept on shopping. To my surprise, she walked up to my husband, pointed at me, and asked, “Doesn’t she work for The Hawai‘i Herald?”
When I first started at Hawai‘i Hochi, there were about four of us who started around the same time. The running joke was to see who would be around long enough to get “the gold watch” that was gifted to employees when they reached their silver jubilee 25th anniversary. Only two of us made it that far. In keeping with modern times, he received a stylish watch and I was given a diamond pendant necklace.
Over the past 26 years, I’ve seen the company shrink from a strong and fully staffed team of 100 to 30. I’ve gone through four editors (three if you consider that current editor Karleen Chinen is on her second tenure as editor). I’ve also seen the company leadership change twice since Paul Yempuku retired in 2011.
I’ve seen how technology has made a positive change in the quality of both The Hawai‘i Herald and Hawai‘i Hochi publications, but at a cost of displacing good employees.
During my tenure, I’ve met so many people — from everyday heroes to community movers and shakers, to government officials and other dignitaries. I’ve been privileged to share their stories and the stories of community organizations with you, our readers.
I’ve stood arms-lengths away from Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko of Japan, Prime Minister Shinzö Abe and then-U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy. Just seeing her in person was a special thrill for me since I’ve always been a huge fan of her father, the late President John F. Kennedy.
Putting together a publication twice a month definitely took its toll. All of the Herald’s staff — past and present — will agree. I thought about leaving several times over the past two decades, but each time, I felt the pull of you, our subscribers, telling me to hold on a little longer.
Since last year, however, the pull to stay started to weaken, and I couldn’t help but give the thought of moving on more serious consideration. In fact, I was part-time at the Herald for three months late last year when I worked for the United States Postal Service. Opportunities didn’t materialize and I returned to full-time status at the Herald earlier this year. Coming back was short-lived, however, because soon after, I secured a position in the marketing department of an engineering and architectural consulting firm.
During my last two weeks, I cleaned out my office. It felt strange to be throwing out 26 years of memories — memories of stories that have changed my outlook on life and have shaped my knowledge of the Japanese American community in Hawai‘i.
I said good-bye to co-workers who have not only become friends, but my extended family. I wrote and sent emails to freelancers and community partners who have become close friends over the years.
There are so many people I want to thank. Karleen Chinen has to be at the top of the list. She gave me the opportunity to write for the Herald back in 1992. She has been my mentor, my friend and my sister. We’ve gone through crazy late nights to hit our deadlines — just the two of us, tested my magician abilities at laying out the Herald and had so many other good-fun times.
Paul Yempuku was the president when I first came on board. At age 91, he’s my surrogate grandfather. I’m glad he still came around each week, even after he retired. I will miss hearing about his “small little island” home of Atatashima in Hiroshima.
To all my friends who left the company before me, a bit of all of you shaped who I am today. To my friends still going strong and holding down the fort, especially Mark Nishioka — you made coming to work fun and I will miss you tremendously.
Grant “Sandaa” Murata, I will miss your “stories.” I will think of you when I wear your favorite color lipstick and when I wear ALL gray. LOL! And Jodie Ching, thank you for agreeing to take on the daunting task that is the Herald.
But, a big MAHALO! goes out to you, our subscribers and our advertisers. Without YOU, there would be no Hawai‘i Herald. We are only as strong as you allow us to be with your support, and for that I am grateful.
Mahalo nui loa. Salamat po. Ippei nihei deebiru. Doomo arigato gozaimasu.