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1 Jun


After 30 years in the Navy, Don Hess thought it was time to retire. After all, he had commanded two ships and was chief of staff for aircraft carrier operations in the Person Gulf during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. He had also served as a Congressional liaison on behalf of the Department of the Navy with the House of Representatives in Washington, D.C.

And now he was taking it easy in Hawaii.

But his wife, Joy, whom he met in 1995, said to him one day, “Don, you know, you were a lot more interesting when you were working than now that you’re retired.”

Still in his early 50s, Don had to agree that he really was too young to be retired, so he started “casting about” for something to do. He became a volunteer leader for the United Way.

“That gave me the first feel-good feeling that I’d had since I left service,” Don said. And from that involvement, through the friend of a friend, he learned that a not-for-profit group was looking for somebody to take charge of a retired Naval ship that was destined for Pearl Harbor.

That ship was the USS Missouri, a legendary battleship with a long history of service. A world-famous battleship where Japan surrendered to end World War II. A battleship with Don Hess’s name written all over it.

Don signed on as the vice president of operations for the USS Missouri Memorial. He helped coordinate the vast undertaking of towing the ship to Pearl Harbor, and he developed a plan to exhibit the ship to visitors.

The Memorial opened on Jan. 29, 1999, with 1,500 visitors coming aboard the mighty ship on the first day. In 2000 Don became the Memorial’s executive vice president and COO, and from 2002 to 2008 he served as president and COO.

“Volunteers are the lifeblood of the organization,” he said. “When we first brought the ship here, we had a staff of maybe half a dozen. But as soon as we docked here, there were volunteers at the gate just waiting to say, ‘How can we help you?’”

Don retired from the Memorial in 2008, but he’s taken on yet another career: as executive vice president of Wakelight Technologies, a company founded by his wife.

Life in Hawaii suits the retired Navy captain.

“What do I love about Hawaii? I haven’t worn a tie in years. I love being barefoot,” he said. “There’s a saying that when you’re in Washington, D.C., no matter how good the day, when you walk out of the office at the end of the day, you’re still in Washington, D.C. Whereas when you’re in Hawaii, no matter how bad the day, at the end of the day when you walk out the door, you’re in Hawaii.”

Telecommuting in paradise

7 Mar

Endless summer.

That’s part of the reason Garret Pick moved to Hawaii. That, and the culture, the natural beauty, the diversity, the people, the food, and the music.

“I like just about everything” about Hawaii, Garret said.

The 6-ft., 6-in. electrical engineering grad first experienced Hawaii as a layover location between his travels to Asia and his home base in Chicago, where he was a field engineer for Motorola – a job he landed right after graduation in 1993. He traveled the world but “kind of fell in love” with Hawaii and jumped at the chance to take a Motorola job based in the Honolulu area in 1997.

When that job ended, he moved back to Chicago but tried to figure out a way to get back to the islands. After a couple of years, he went to work for a friend who founded a start-up company in San Diego. The company was open to telecommuting.

Garret moved back to Hawaii full-time about 10 years ago, luring his then-fiancé (now wife) Janet with the prospect of a Hawaiian wedding. The couple now has two children, Kanoa, 8, and Makela, 6, both born on Oahu.

Telecommuting in paradise sounds ideal, but Garret admits it can be challenging at times.

“It’s hard to get away from work,” he says. “My office is basically the bedroom, and it’s pretty easy to mix work and personal life. It’s easier now that the kids are in school. Now it’s nice and quiet. I actually get more done here I think than if I was in an office. There aren’t people stopping by your cube to ask questions, pull you into meetings.”

Garret builds and maintains software for his company, Packetvideo. He communicates with his co-workers in California through frequent conference calls and the Internet.

Nuts about Hawaii

28 Feb

We meet Jerry Allen at the Post Office along the main highway that runs through tiny Pepeekeo, Hawaii. It is raining.

We follow him back along the highway and onto a heavily rutted road that takes us to our destination: acres and acres of macadamia orchards.

There we get out of our vehicles and walk between rows of trees as Jerry explains the growing season (late July through early March), the harvesting (the nuts fall from the trees onto the ground, and his crop is harvested by hand, although some growers use mechanized harvesting tools), and the complex processing of the one of the island’s most sought-after resources.

“We’re not selling nuts,” Jerry smiles. “We’re selling Hawaii.”

Jerry lives on Oahu in the windward town of Kailua (population 36,513), but his macadamia groves are on the Big Island of Hawai’i. The trees, he explains, need a warm, rainy climate, and the Hilo coast of the Big Island is one of the best places on earth to grow macadamia nuts.

Jerry has lived with his wife, Bev, in the same house in Kailua since 1964. (“Oahu is the most beautiful of the islands,” he says.) Following his graduation from Iowa State in 1955 with a degree in engineering, Jerry was a member of the Pacific Air Force in Hawaii and served during the Vietnam War before going to work for C. Brewer & Co. Ltd., a major player in Hawaii’s sugar cane industry that had also diversified into the macadamia business. He was part of the team that created the well-known Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Corporation.

Today Jerry owns, leases, or manages orchards that produce two percent of the entire Hawaiian macadamia nut crop.

About macadamias, Jerry says, “They’re delicious. Eat a lot.”

The Big Island

17 Feb

We’re back in Iowa after a wonderful visit with Jerry Allen on the Big Island of Hawaii. Jerry graciously flew to the island from his home on Oahu to meet us, and he gave us a tour of his macadamia orchard. Jerry’s a great teacher. He explained all the ins and outs of growing and processing macadamia nuts. It’s definitely not like growing corn in Iowa! The trees are at the end of their growing season right now, but we were able to see a few nuts still on the trees and on the ground, where they are harvested.

I’ll post the Hawaii alumni stories and more photos soon.


11 Feb

We’ve been in Hawaii since Feb. 8 (after a LONG series of flights from Iowa), and I have to say this is one of the most culturally and geologically diverse places I’ve ever been. It’s my first trip to Hawaii — the only state I hadn’t visited before. So it’s been an interesting experience.

We have had a warm welcome from our Iowa State alumni connections: Don Hess, Garret Pick, and Jerry Allen. Yesterday afternoon, when we met with Don (’65 distributed studies), the staff of the Battleship Missouri Memorial in Pearl Harbor rolled out the red carpet for us. Don is the former president and chief operating officer of the memorial, so maybe the public relations staff was bending over backwards in respect for Don, but deep down I think they just have incredible customer relations and give everyone the royal treatment. At any rate, we had a great afternoon with Don and I’m anxious to share more about his story with you later.

Today we met with Garret (’93 electrical engineering) and Jerry (’55 industrial engineering) in their homes and also had a lovely time doing a photo shoot with Garret on the beach (above). I am constantly amazed at the talent and success of Iowa State alumni — and I find it so interesting where they’ve all ended up. In this case, they’re all in Hawaii, and it’s just been my good fortune to meet them here. Garret is a software engineer and Jerry is a retired vice president for corporate planning for C. Brewer and Co. Ltd. on the island and currently an owner and manager of a macadamia orchard.  Yum!

I’ll post more later — we’re meeting Jerry again tomorrow on the Big Island. Jim, of course, takes all the professional photos but you’ll just have to make do with mine for now.