Eight Paniolo to be Honored Saturday by Paniolo Preservation Society

January 16, 2012
photo by Anthony Roberts

Sonny Keakealani

Story submitted by Patti Cook:

Eight senior stewards of the paniolo heritage will be honored during Paniolo Preservation Society’s inaugural Lifetime Achievement Awards celebration from 5:30-8 p.m., Sat., Jan. 21, 2012 at PPS new Paniolo Heritage Center at Pukalani Stables.

This new awards program recognizes revered senior members of the Hawai’i paniolo community whose careers exemplify the values of ranch life in the Far West.  These individuals have distinguished themselves in performing their life’s work, which has set them apart from others, commanding the respect of their peers.

“Hawai’i’s uniquely insular ranching industry necessitated that knowledge and skill be passed on to the next generations if the heritage of paniolo life was to be perpetuated.  A select group of individuals have carried out this unspoken responsibility,” said PPS Founding President and Board member Dr. Billy Bergin.  Dr. Bergin is co-chairing this new awards program with another PPS Founding Board Member Alex Penovaroff.

Paniolo Lifetime Achievement recognition recipients include:

•         Silver Spur Award:  Donnie DeSilva (Honoka’a) and Sonny Keakealani (Waimea)
•         Kepa Award:  Clement Andrade (Volcano), Richard “Casey” DeSilva (Ka’u), Willy Gomes (Kona), James “Kimo” Ho’opai, Sr. (North Kohala), Miki Kato (Pu’uwa’awa’a) and Eugene Olivera (Kea’au).
Families of these remarkable paniolo, the ranch communities they come from and have worked at throughout their years of service, and members and friends of PPS are invited to this first awards program to honor these senior stewards of Hawaiian ranching.

The program will begin with a brief reception and sharing of each of the eight paniolo’s achievements and stories, and conclude with a paniolo-style pa’ina (feast) with laulau, kalua pig, long rice with all the fixings.

Advance reservations required for the celebration.  Tickets are $20 for adults; $5 for keiki 5-10-years-old and it will be free for younger children.  Tickets can be purchased with cash or checks at Kamuela Liquor Store and Parker Ranch Store, or by calling 854-1541 and arranging to send a check payable to Paniolo Preservation Society to P.O. Box 640, Kamuela, HI 96743.

PPS Silver Spur Award Recipients:
PPS is honoring two charter Directors — Donald G. “Donnie” DeSilva and Robert “Sonny” Keakealani – each with a Silver Spur award reflecting not only a decade or more of service to PPS, but also their exemplary image and service to the heritage of the paniolo over their lifetimes.  Further, their service in mentoring scores of protégés who are have become refined, skilled, outstanding livestock men and women is testimony to their unselfish sharing of wisdom acquired over their collective century of experience, said Dr. Bergin.

These men have many career parallels and yet distinguished themselves as stand alone specialists in their respective fields.  Both men spent their productive lives in the hills and meadows of Parker Ranch.  Both are revered for their institutional knowledge of ranch life, cowboy gear, place names and the legends that go with them.
For Donnie, his deep and abiding love for horses is eclipsed only by that of his family.  Since joining Parker Ranch at age 18 in 1958, his career ascension from a dairy hand, cowboy and herd foreman was climaxed upon being named head of the Horse Department of Parker Ranch.

In Sonny’s case, his birth into cowboy work was at the land of his ancestors, Pu’uwa’awa’a Ranch.  Lured to Parker Ranch by their livestock manager Walter Slater, he became a cowboy at Waiki’i under Dan Kaniho, a mentor he regales of to the present day.  In his progressive career, Sonny rose to foreman and eventually superintendent of the Ka’u Division.  Upon returning to the main ranch, he readily transformed from a wild cattle hunter to that of embracing the rotational grazing regime, which involved gently moving as many as 3,000 head of cattle to new grass fields on a weekly basis.

“Both men excelled as mentors of promising paniolo throughout their more than four decades of service.  Immeasureable is the value of their dedicated efforts in preserving the heritage of the Hawai’i cowboy, the language, the gear and tradition,” said Dr. Bergin.

Robert “Sonny” Keakealani (Waimea)

A product of Pu’uwa’awa’a Ranch of the Hind family, Sonny cowboyed from boyhood there until he left for a tour in Vietnam, returning home with a Bronze Star before climbing back on a cowhorse.  Absorbing the deep seated paniolo culture from his grandfather, father and uncles, he was soon named foreman.  When the ranch was sold, Walter Slater beckoned to Sonny to come to Parker Ranch where he spent the rest of his career on a ranch he grew to love as much as the outfit upon which he was born.  Rising from cowboy to foreman to superintendent in short order, he was lucky to work all five divisions of the ranch including Ka’u . In fact, Puna is the only district of Hawai’i Island in which he has not cowboyed.

Sonny has been a featured speaker at the Autry Western Museum, Cheyenne Frontier Days Old West Museum, Western History Association convention in Phoenix and the Dry Creek Fellowship Conference on Horse Trappings of the World, not to mention dozens of presentations through the Islands — all on the unique features of the Hawaiian Tree Saddle.  A founding charter director of PPS, Sonny has served the outfit with honor and unspoken pride in the heritage that he was borne into, grew up with, living and working until the present day while expressing gratitude to his forebears and mentors.

Now PPS honors him with Honorary Directorship for his life efforts.

Donald George “Donnie” DeSilva (Honoka’a)

Except for a short stint on California race tracks, Donnie devoted his entire productive life to Parker Ranch.  A noted horseman, he became the mainstay architect of the Parker Ranch animal horse program dedicated to producing cow horses for the working man.  Starting as a hand at Old Dairy at  Paliho’oukapapa right out of high school, he quickly rose to herdsman status at the Makahalau Purebred Bull Station before being appointed to the prestigious Cowboy Gang by Rally Greenwell.  Assuming leadership for the Horse Program managing four Quarter Horse Stallions and 160 broodmares, it wasn’t long before the ranch asked him to oversee the entire Pukalani Complex made up of the Breaking Pen, Surgery Barn, Pukalani Stables and the Orphan Calf Program.

By retirement age, Donnie grew to become an authority on the Hawaiian Saddle Tree and its unique rigging, the awe awe. A disappearing trade skill, he began teaching several interested men who since have become aweawe makers in their own right and style.  A founding charter director of PPS, Donnie has stood firm in the mission of preserving the heritage of the paniolo and has truly earned the status of Honorary Director.

PPS Kepa Award Recipients:

Clement Andrade (Volcano)

Hilo born and raised, Clem’s love for horses and cattle was expressed early on the family ranch.  People in Hilo knew him as “Cowboy” Andrade.  First in apprenticeship, then partnership and eventually ownership of Andrade Trim Shop, Clem’s upholstery work often overlapped into saddle work in that his expertise in leather craft was well-known.

A rancher and rodeo enthusiast all of his life, Clem’s contribution to bettering the sport came with his primary role in establishing the Hawai’i Rodeo Association (HRA) that eventually became the Hawai’i Rodeo Cowboys Association (HRCA).  Upon founding the organization together with Bob Bethea, Freddy Rice and Albert Silva, a rule book was produced that specifically governed all rodeo events including those unique to Hawai’i such as double mugging and po’o wai u.

Through Clem’s leadership, the sport of rodeo was elevated profoundly, approaching governance that paralleled mainland venues.  Additionally, the rule book covered conduct, dress code and an appeals process that has served the test of time.

Clem’s contribution to the governance of Hawai’i rodeos lived far beyond the organization itself.  Testimony to this is reflected in roping and rodeos over the past 40 years when officials pull from their hip pocket the tattered but sound “HRA Rule Book” to resolve a critical call.

Richard “Casey” DeSilva (Ka’u)

Hilo born and raised in the foothills of Kaumana, Richard James DeSilva was one of several sons of Frank Sheiking DeSilva.  A rascal at heart, his school years at St. Mary’s School on Waianuenue Avenue in Hilo were peppered with antics far beyond the imagination of the Marianist Brothers.  His love was schooling horses, not being schooled in rigid standards of a parochial education.

After an honorable discharge from US Army service, he returned to Hilo where his work ethic and mechanical and fabricating skills gave him ready employment.  But Richard always saved the afternoons and weekends for Ho’olulu Park Stables and Race Track where his father and Uncle John were found at work with horses.  These opportunities gave him a constant role as a jockey while instilling in him an unabiding love for Thoroughbred horses that continues to today.

In rodeo, he was a multi-event contestant.  He could always be counted upon to be at the pay window for rough stock competition.  Drawn to Saddle City Rodeos on O’ahu, many of his bronc riding counterparts recognized his style of riding, matching it to that of Casey Tibbs, a world champion who along with other mainland rodeo standouts redeoed on O’ahu.  Through his cohort bronc riders, his name became “Casey” while only old timers recalled him as “Sheiking.”  Beyond matching Tibbs’ flair for stylish saddle bronc riding technique, Casey was noted by his signature black Stetson, red bandana, colorful long sleeved shirt and starched and creased Levis.

Casey’s special contribution was in the Saddle Bronc Riding event.  Not only was he a fierce competitor and state champion, he was the ambassador of one of rodeos oldest and most challenging events, frequently performing exhibition rides requested by rodeo sponsors.  When the event was waning in popularity in island rodeos, Casey turned to youth rodeo to generate a re-birth of this signature event.  Actually grooming the teenage boys for the event, Casey mentored many young men in the Hawai’i High School Rodeo Association.  His charges went on to compete in the National Highs School Rodeo Finals held in Oklahoma, Colorado, and Wyoming.

Willy Gomes (Kona)

Born into a large family of Ahualoa homesteaders, young Willy was sent to work in his teens doing chores for neighboring concerns.  Always fond of horses, he quickly directed his efforts to achieve competence in working with them.  Hiring on first at Choy’s Ranch in Hanaipoe, Willy enjoyed the mountain life where afternoon pastimes included breaking snorty colts or hunting fat hogs for the smoke house.  This ranch eventually changed ownership to State Senator William N. Nobriga.  Willy stayed on working with other rough riders like Bull Costa and Casey DeSilva.

When Willy married and started a family, he found more stable employment at Honoka’a Sugar Company where his leadership skills were evident.  However, he was still drawn to his love of ranch life.

Willy was lured by Bull Johnson, to move to Hu’ehu’e Ranch as foreman.  By this time, Willy had become a major figure in Hawaiian rodeo circles, particularly on the Big Island where he was involved in the formation of the Hawai’i Saddle Club and the building of the arena in Honoka’a.

Armed with a livestock background and skills of a natural leader, Willy took on the foreman’s job with gusto at the historic Hu’ehu’e Ranch in North Kona.  With his wife, Mary and two young sons, Billy and Allen, the Gomes settled into a small home near the Holualoa section of Hu’ehu’e Ranch.  Willy’s skills on the job were matched with his love for rodeo.  A multi event contestant, Willy found steer wrestling as his event of choice, becoming the state champion for the event.

Willy’s special contribution to Hawai’i’s paniolo heritage came with equal strength in both promoting rodeo while demonstrating progressive leadership and physical improvements on one of Hawai’i’s most historic ranches.

James “Kimo” Hoopai, Sr. (North Kohala)

Kimo Hoopai was born in 1936 in North Kohala.  During his youth, he was exposed to some of the best cowboys and cattlemen Hawai’i ever produced.  Notable among his mentors were Peter Kainoa, Sr. and Ronald von Holt.  Seeking the life he wanted at age 15, Kimo went to work as a Kahua Ranch hand becoming a direct understudy of Johnny Kainoa.  It wasn’t long before Kimo mastered the art of horse breaking at a time when Kahua Ranch used little vehicular transportation and the thought of ATVs was 40 years hence.

Walking market cattle down to Kawaihae the night before shipping meant covering rough country in the cool of night on a dependable, sure-footed cowhorse that could bring you home the next day.  Pu’u Kamali’i above Kawaihae Bay had a spacious corral to accommodate the cattle until daybreak when the sight of the SS Humu’ula signaled the final leg of the trip to market.  Once at the Honouli Bay Shipping pens, a young Kimo would immerse himself in the art of hoau pipi, swimming the fat steers into the surf and onto the long boat.

Kimo especially admired Johnny Kainoa’s horsemanship in producing work and rodeo horses that were stout in build, groomed with pride and trained to gentle perfection.  Kimo also adopted the use of a lala covering for his tree saddle, a tradition preserved to this day by the cowboys of Kahua and Ponoholo Ranches.

A wonderful chapter of Kimo’s life was marrying his childhood sweetheart, Leina’ala Akina.  Their combined virtues of hard work, musical talent and appreciation of ranch life would bring forth generations of paniolo of special note.  Between their sons Kimo, Jr. and Bernard, both top cowhands in their own right, came forth four grandsons and three granddaughters, all of whom became accomplished paniolo from their teen years forward.  Now they are parents producing a third generation of cowboys and cowgirls, eight in total to date.

Kimo (and Leina) deserve well-earned recognition not only for his fine horsemanship and ranching leadership but for instilling the pride of the paniolo in their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren, 24 in all – a lifetime intergenerational contribution to the perpetuation of the paniolo lifestyle.

Miki Kato (Pu’uwa’awa’a)

Born and raised on a dairy farm in South Kona, Miki’s love for cattle was well embedded by the time he left school to work at the rough and ready McCandless Ranch.  During these early years, Miki broadened his skills in ranch chores beyond cowboying, notably in building redwood water tanks.  This interest drew him to go to work for K. Taniyama who contracted with the Hind family to build water tanks across their ranch lands from Honomalino through Holualoa and north to Pu’uwa’awa’a.  While building tanks at the latter ranch, Miki fell in love with the slopes of Hualalai mountain and went to work for Pu’uwa’awa’a Ranch where he spent the rest of his career.

During his formative years at this ranch, Miki became aware of the impact of range management practices on the native and natural flora, fauna and forage.  As he assumed a more active role in management, he fostered grass management practices with emphasis on rainfall and rest and recovering of paddocks while using rotational grazing accordingly.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, intensive grazing regimes were imposed on these once productive grazing lands and he witnessed the devastating impact that seemed irreversible.  When Miki’s role was elevated to management and, in retirement, consultative roles, he has since over the last two decades worked tirelessly through the Department of Land and Natural Resources and UH-CTAHR to restore these lands to productivity while further protecting the natural environment.

“PPS applauds the lifetime efforts of Miki Kato in providing exemplary stewardship to the lands of Pu’uwa’wa’a while living in the spirit of aloha ‘aina,” said Dr. Bergin.

Eugene Olivera (Kea’au)

Mountain View born and raised, Eugene is a man of the mountain who rode proudly for the brands of many great outfits, including ‘Aina Hou, Kapapala, Kea’au, Keauhou, Pu’u Akala, Pu’u O’o and SC Ranches.  Eugene’s experiences took him to Ka’u, Puna, Mauna Kea and Hamakua from a time when cattle were moved across the Pu’u ‘O’o Trail back and forth on horseback just as we drive vehicles today.  The only difference was that the very high elevation passageways where very large herds were transported required guiding the animals single file across jagged volcanic a’a terrain.

Eugene was also exposed to cowboy life dealing with gentle registered cattle to the wild bulls of Mauna Kea and every type of operation in between.  Always noted for his dependable, loyal disposition, he stood out among his peers for his dedication to aspiring young cowboys.  Over his 60 years as a cowboy, he mentored many a young man in horsemanship and ranch chores from shoeing to branding.  Many of his early protégés have since become fathers and grandfathers, each of which has or is passing on to the next generation the teachings of the wisened man of the mountains, Eugene Oliveira.

For more information about PPS, call 854-1541, go to www.PanioloPreservation.org, or find PPS on Facebook.

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