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Friends remember community leader Jim Shefte

By Staff | Feb 19, 2015


NAPILI – With the passing of Jim Shefte, the West Side lost a quiet force.

His reach was deep and extensive, and his legacy lives through the countless non-profits that benefited from his heartfelt volunteerism and leadership.

Shefte was born in 1943 in Saulte Ste. Marie, Michigan.

He lived in Chicago and Southern California before he found his home in Hawaii.

His daughter, Jamie Shefte-Ibarra (Lahainluna High School Class of 1986), shared the story of his introduction to the islands.

“His best friend was from Molokai. Greg Helm went to college in California. They went to the same college, Palomar Community College (in San Marcos). When they were friends there, Greg convinced my dad to come to Hawaii to work – to take a vacation and come work in the fields of Molokai.

“He was in his early 20s, and that was in 1964-65, and he never left,” Jamie added.

After a short gig in the fields of the Friendly Isle, Shefte moved to Oahu and worked as an auditor in the accounting department at the Kahala Hilton.

It was there he met the love of his life, Olinda, from Molokai.

“Her maiden name was Reyes, which is a huge family there, but her mother was a Naho’oikaika. Her uncle Warren lived in Olowalu with his family until his death about 15 years ago. Linda is my hula sister, and we were very close when we were students of Auntie Emma Farden Sharpe,” noted Louise Ross of the Napili Kai Foundation.

“Linda’s irrepressible local aloha style was the perfect complement to Jim’s serious demeanor throughout his long career. Together they formed a perfect partnership that only true soul mates can achieve,” Ross added.

They married in 1966 on Oahu and moved to Maui in 1968. Together they raised one daughter and three sons, all graduates of Lahainluna High School. They have nine grandchildren.

His first job on Maui was at the Kaanapali Hilton, but it didn’t take him long to slip into his lifelong career at the Napili Kai Beach Resort.

He started out in a part-time position as night auditor in 1970, was later promoted to controller and retired in 2005 as the resort’s general manager.

“During my 25 years at the Napili Kai Beach Club (now Resort),” Ross recounted, “I worked very closely with Jim.

“Jim was always firm but fair, decisive, conscientious and compassionate,” Ross continued. “He gave his best whatever he undertook, whether at the resort, as president of the Maui Hotel Association, president of the Lahaina Rotary Club, director of the Napili Kai Foundation or the many causes he volunteered for after his retirement.”

Dave Ferguson of Management Consultants of Hawaii remembers Shefte for his work with the Lahaina Rotary Club: “Jim could always be counted on to contribute or participate in Rotary events as a club president or chairman of an Avenue of Service.”

Terryl Vencl, executive director of the Maui Visitors Bureau, met Shefte “when I went to the Maui Hotel Association in 1990.”

“In my years of knowing him, he had been a board member of both Maui Visitors Bureau and Maui Hotel Association under my executive director positions at both arms of the visitor industry, the marketing and the legislative, respectively,” Vencl noted.

“Board positions are volunteer, but he also chaired committees, worked on the (Kahului Airport) runway extension issue of 1996, worked on the Charity Walk Committee and his property was always contributing in either volunteerism or funding for needy causes, and they still do,” the MVB executive advised.

Her respect for Shefte’s virtues developed over the years.

“Jim was a well-respected man in our industry. While he was quiet, he was never afraid to speak out on things he felt important and was always a contributor on both the industry boards mentioned above. I always appreciated his thoughtful and engaging contributions to discussions. He and his wife became friends (with me) over the years, and it broke my heart to hear of his passing. I feel blessed to have worked with him for years, and my very best wishes go out to his wife and family.”

Joe Pluta added to the conversation: “He was a fellow member of our Rotary Club of Lahaina; past president of the club as well. He was also on the Board of Directors of the West Maui Taxpayers Association Inc. and the West Maui Improvement Foundation Inc. After many years as the controller of the Napili Kai Beach Resort, Jim was promoted to be the general manager. In all those capacities, Jim tirelessly served the community in many ways.”

Gregg Nelson took over as general manager of the Napili Kai Beach Resort when Shefte retired.

“He was a great community support leader. He truly believed in supporting not just the Napili area on the West Side but all of Maui,” Nelson said.

“He had so many great qualities,” Nelson continued. “You could refer back to the old days when George Ariyoshi was running for governor, and he (Jim) had a phrase for George: ‘He was quiet but effective.’ I think Jim was that. He was very conscientious and a great leader for Napili Kai and very involved in the community. He wasn’t one to take credit for much; he was generally somebody very much behind the scenes.”

Ross summed it up aptly: “Maui has lost a solid citizen, and he will be missed. The Napili Kai Foundation, along with many other organizations, owes him a debt of gratitude.”