homepage logo

West Maui community mourns the loss of Keith Gleich

By Staff | Aug 1, 2019

Keith Gleich would often ride his bicycle on Front Street with Rascal, his blue macaw, on his shoulder.

LAHAINA – Keith Gleich, our beloved Don Quixote-Prince of Lahaina, passed peacefully in his sleep on July 17.

He was 73 years old.

Three months ago, he fell and hit his head while attending to his faithful sidekick, the blue macaw Rascal, in the dark hours of the night and never recovered.

His image is emblazoned on our collective memory, riding his bike down Front Street with Rascal by his side or behind the sales desk at the Salvation Army Thrift Store since 1998; and, before that, tending bar or working at a pool hall.

His story is endearing; and, although a very private man, the Lahaina News was able to piece it together like a patchwork quilt with the recall of his compatriots from the Salvation Army (SA), including Kevin Nagasaki, Corps Officer in Charge; Rita Lei Medina, Corps Administrative Assistant and Family Service Case Manager; and Aranda Kahaialii, Homeless Programs Case Manager.

There were many opening their hearts to his memory on Facebook or stopping by the SA post on Shaw Street.

Born in South Dakota on Feb. 25, 1946, Keith found Lahaina during a R&R visit when he served in the Air Force in the 1960s.

Enamored, he returned in 1968, establishing roots in the then-close-knit plantation town he called home for the remainder of his life.

The names of the various places he worked are big in our small-town consciousness, like Moki’s Bar for Francis Kellett, the Corner Bar for Uncle Moon or the Blue Lagoon at the Wharf.

Nagasaki expanded on his days before his over 20-year stint at the SA: “He did a lot of jobs. He did a lot of construction. He did the pool hall. He even did the imu for the luau across the street at 505 in the ’70s.”

He also bartended for Pancho and Lefty’s.

Medina described her loss.

“We all recall him from the old days. That’s part of it for me – losing what we used to have way back when. We lose a piece of it a little bit more and more. Keith was a huge part of that history for a lot of us.”

“It’s a loss of somebody special that we know that anytime we were in town, that was somebody we would see. We could bank on seeing Keith, and now he’s not there. He is part of our past,” Kahaialii acknowledged.

Her memories of that era were youthful.

“I have known him since I was a little kid. My mom (Vidella Nagasaki) owned a yogurt shop in Lahaina Market Place, Sandwich Isles. I directly had a relationship with him. Being a child, because Aunty Francis’s grandchildren, the Sutherlands, we all hung out. Our parents owned businesses, our grandparent’s owned businesses, so we all hung out in Lahaina.

“He would have gifts for us, even though sometimes we were rascals, like little candy things, chips. He had the biggest heart in the world, but he wanted you to do right.”

“The way that I remember him,” Medina added, “is that he wasn’t the easiest to get to know at first, but what you come to find is that he is an old soul. You can tell that about him, and he’s got a heart of gold. He doesn’t wear it on his shoulder, but he’s there for you when he sees that you’re an individual in need of help.

“He loved tie dye; he knew his music, especially Arena Rock. He was very knowledgeable in Hawaiian studies, too. Whatever he did, he just immersed himself in it,” Kahaialii observed.

“Lahaina Skate Company did a skateboard of him and his bird. I have a picture of it on my wall,” Medina said.

Lynn Morris, a Salvation Army Thrift Store worker, was emotional when talking about Keith.

“I knew Keith for 25 years. I worked with him almost 20 years. He was a dad I never had. I’m going to miss him very much. He was good to me. He taught me how to do the computer and the cash register. He was very patient with me. He was just good to me, and I’ll never forget that. That’s from my heart,” she said with a crack in her voice and tears in her eyes.

Karen DeVos is a visitor-volunteer at the SA each year in January and February.

“In the five to seven hours per week when I volunteered at the store, I had the opportunity to listen to Keith and was amazed at the insight, care and concern he showed to many of the people who came through the store. He had a low-key, very effective way of dealing with some of the characters who frequented the store. Sometimes, I would just stop what I was doing in the store, in fascination, to listen and watch him in action,” she wrote.

Kevin Nagasaki had a special bond.

“I knew Keith over 20 years. Blue Lagoon had closed. He wasn’t working. He was looking for a job. Once he came here, he never left,” Nagasaki said.

“It was about six or seven years ago that he found God,” Nagasaki continued. “He knew God, but he finally started coming to church, every Sunday’til the day he couldn’t come anymore.”

He died a Salvation Army Soldier.

With hundreds of questions, Medina acknowledged that the SA is consulting with Keith’s ohana regarding memorial options.

She asked for the community’s patience. “They have asked for a moment to work through their loss of a family member,” she explained.

There is a bulletin board on the outside front entrance of the SA Thrift Shop. Look for updates there, on Facebook or the next issue of Lahaina News.

In a Facebook post, Medina wrote”may I share with you all the huge outpouring of love and support that has come to the Salvation Army from all overamazing grace for this humble man who many held dear. The love is in the stories that so many have shared. And these stories are part of the golden thread of the fabric of the rich history of Lahaina.”

A hui hou, Keith.