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OK, OK — The man who can’t say no

By Staff | Mar 7, 2013

The Kadotani family — (from left) Raymond, Sammy, Owen and Hatsumi — visited Whalers Village a few years ago to sell Take Home Maui products at the annual Maui Onion Festival.

LAHAINA – If you like the word “OK,” you will love Sammy Kadotani. The 91-year-old community treasure, described years ago as a “perpetual motion machine” in this newspaper, is persistent in using the word “OK” all the time. As a matter of fact, he is persistent in everything, whether it’s buying a house or asking for a contribution for his latest cause.

In his distinctive talk story way, Sammy described his first adventure with home ownership.

SAMMY: “There was this house they were building – a sample home. I said, ‘What the hell, I have to start looking for a home.’ I fell in love with that. It was right on Wainee Street further down from the Catholic church.

“Finally, I came home and said, ‘OK, I made up my mind; we are going to buy that house.’ It was a three-bedroom. The wife asked, ‘Where are we going get the money??’ I was working at the Pioneer Mill office for $250 a month. That is OK. I will try to go to the bank. The banker was Jack Vockrodt.’

The conversation, according to Sammy, went like this:

BANKER: “OK, Sammy, come on it. You want to buy a house? How much does it cost?”

SAMMY: “$9,600.”

BANKER: “OK, come back tomorrow.”

SAMMY: “So I went back, and I sat down.”

BANKER: “I want all your expenses. Do you drink?” “Yeah. I drink.” “How are you going to pay me? You do not have enough.”

SAMMY: “I will never forget this: fifty-seven dollars and 72 cents a month (would be the payment).”

BANKER: “OK, you come back tomorrow.”

SAMMY: “I must have gone back to see him about 15 times. And he never gave me that answer… finally, the contractor said, ‘Sammy, are you going to buy the house? I have to paint the house.’ “

SAMMY: “So I said, ‘OK. I will try one more time.’ So I went down to the bank.”

BANKER: “You tell him wait to paint. You come back tomorrow.”

Disgusted, Sammy told the banker he would take his business elsewhere.

BANKER: “OK, OK. I will approve that.”

SAMMY: “And then I had to borrow $2,000 from my mother. I paid her off slowly, and it took 15 years. When Raymond, my son, finished Lahainaluna, the loan was paid off.”

In the early days, Sammy had a chance to take over his father’s fish store on Front Street. He wanted no part of it, since as a kid, he could be found usually chopping fish rather than playing baseball. Instead, he became a timekeeper for the mill, showing a talent for management. One of his six bosses once suggested he take a job running the Hotel Hana, but he declined.

His next assignment was to manage Pioneer Hospital, run by the mill. When the hospital closed, doctors formed the Maui Medical Group. Sammy came along to run that. And when Kaiser Permanente came in to build a clinic, Sammy moved over there to run that for 13 years, too.

Sammy’s other talent has been raising money for every conceivable cause. His mind for dates may not be what it once was, but he remembers every project and every idea he put into action.

He pushed to get Lahaina a community swimming pool, raised money for a $15,000 electronic scoreboard for Lahainaluna High School, and in 1987, he ran a Lahaina community reunion that attracted 3,000 people.

In 1994, he formed the PGA (Proud Grandparents Association) to raise funds for King Kamehameha III grammar school. He recently decided that it should have a statue of the great king to commemorate the school’s 100th birthday. He signed on a sculptor and raised $5,000 to help pay for it.

Lahaina Restoration Foundation needed to sell bricks to finance the restoration of the Pioneer Mill Co. Smokestack. With Sammy in charge, LRF has sold more than 1,000.

An avid golfer, Sammy played at Kaanapali in the 1960s for $12 a round. He quit golf because it became too expensive, but not before playing in “Swinging with Sammy,” a golf tournament for locals he organized that continued for 20 years.

No profile of Sammy is complete without mentioning boats. With friends, he used to remove the metal from old plantation house roofs to make tin boats to ride out to the waves. The kids used washboards as surfboards.

His front yard features a canoe once used in the Spencer Tracy film “The Devil at Four O’Clock,” which was filmed in Lahaina. Painted on the side is “E komo mai” (welcome).

Among Sammy’s proudest achievements and a highlight of his long life was his first trip to the Mainland, bringing along 21 Boy Scouts to a national Jamboree in Colorado and traveling for six weeks by plane, train, automobile and bus.

Pride in his sons and grandsons is also a highlight. The Kadotanis put two sons through college. Raymond runs Take Home Maui, the “pineapple store” on Dickenson Street, and Owen worked for years as a chef at Kaanapali resorts before opening a business.

A grandson is about to graduate from law school, and a granddaughter works in human relations for Hula Grill.

Sammy’s favorite relaxation may be watching the San Francisco 49ers. A fanatic, he tapes all the games and watches them again and again. He still can’t get over last month’s Super Bowl loss and “the terrible call by a referee.

“I’ve watched it three times. And they lose every time!”

Over the years, his wife, Hatsumi, has tried to get him to go to the beach more. “But he just can’t stop,” she said.

He summed up his own life best: “I like to help. People say, ‘Hey Sammy.’ I can’t tell them no. When do you want me?”