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John T., Twinkies and 200,000

By Staff | Apr 14, 2016

John Tryggstad at the Maui Friends of the Library bookstore at The Wharf Cinema Center.

KAHULUI – How many people does it take to pick up and deliver 200,000 books? Answer: One. How many miles do you have to drive to do that? Answer: 13,000.

How many banana boxes were needed four years ago to hold 30,000 books that were packed and then returned after Lahaina Public Library was stripped to its bare walls and modernized? Answer: 750.

The one who completed all this prodigious grunt work is the powerfully built, 6’3″, 220-pound, hardworking, gregarious John Tryggstad, famously known as John T. John may well be the hardest working man on Maui.

John has served nearly eight years on the board of the Maui Friends of the Library (MFOL), helps the state Department of Land and Natural Resources band birds and recently was elected MFOL president.

The 200,000 books (those worth salvaging) have gone to three highly successful MFOL bookstores. This summer, the 104-year-old nonprofit will use proceeds to gift a $300,000 bookmobile to the Hawaii State Public Library System.

Without John, a strapping Minnesotan of Norwegian heritage who took up residence on Maui in 2007, there might not have been modernization of the library or the delivery of thousands of books to those bookstores.

Without the sale of those books, most gathered by John, there would be no new bookmobile.

In an understatement, John noted what he brings to a project: “a positive attitude and a work ethic that knows no bounds.” (He’s got that right!)

At 20, John T. joined the U.S. Air Force and drove a tanker truck holding 5,000 gallons of jet fuel for F-100 fighter jets at a Vietnam airbase. He returned to the states on Dec. 23, 1969. (John admits to having a bit of a photographic memory.)

The next four years, he managed four drive-in restaurants in Minnesota. Thinking ahead, John thought he would need a pension at age 65 and signed on with Continental Baking Co. delivering Wonder Bread, Hostess Twinkies and Ding Dongs in a big territory.

For nearly 27 years, he delivered Twinkies in Minnesota (80-hour weeks, 12 to 14 hours a day). Soon he was one of the top Twinkie salesmen in the state.

Thirty years ago, John thought he needed a wife and advertised for a divorcee in a newspaper. He got 30 responses and found Janelle, promising her “laughs and adventure.” They married after six months. A systems analyst for Northwest Airlines – and one smart lady to go along with John’s sharp intellect – Janelle (with John) enjoyed the perk of free airline tickets.

Beginning in 1989, they made some 60 short visits to Maui before buying a home in Kihei in 2007.

John also plays hard, too. “We go on a honeymoon every year,” he is fond of saying. The couple has taken some 21 cruises, including this year to New Zealand. (“I planned the trip so as not to miss a board meeting,” John explained.)

Another thing about John: his enthusiasm knows no bounds when it comes to Maui. One of his biggest passions – besides talking about not only the library renovation but the bookstores (what MFOL has done may be unique in the nation) – is Maui.

“People come to Maui with a passion,” he said. “People here are fantastic.”

John’s enthusiasm also extends to my books, mentioning them to customers when he is in the bookstores. He is even quoted on the back cover of the latest, saying: “I couldn’t put it down.”

At 69, John T. has been nominated three times for Outstanding Older American of Maui County, and last year was a finalist. He shows no signs of slowing down. MFOL hopes he still has a lot of hefting left.

Columnist’s Notebook: You can now meet the columnist and buy a signed book every Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the MFOL bookstore on the third floor of The Wharf Cinema Center. Pick up some used books at very modest prices, too.

On the bookmobile front, MFOL has launched a fund-raising drive for “Holoholo” (the name of the bookmobile) to purchase new books and library materials for the vehicle. You can contribute at mauifriendsofthelibary.org.