[Story and photo by Mike Foley: Published originally in the online BYU-Hawaii “Newsroom,” September 26, 2003]
Elder R. Lanier Britsch [pictured at left], a service missionary working on writing the 40-year history of the Polynesian Cultural Center, traced the close ties between BYU-Hawaii and the popular visitor attraction during the University’s Sept. 25 devotional address.
“The history of the Polynesian Cultural Center is closely bound to BYU-Hawaii,” said Elder Britsch, the former BYUH Vice President of Academics and author of several history books on the growth of the Church in Asia and the Pacific. He is collaborating with the Center’s first employee and long-time executive, T. David Hannemann, on the PCC history book.
Elder Britsch explained the PCC was dedicated almost 40 years ago on Oct. 12, 1963, “to provide employment for the students at CCH [the Church College of Hawaii], now BYU-Hawaii.” He added the Center also provides employment for residents in Laie and the surrounding communities, helps preserve the finer aspects of Polynesian culture, and serves as a “subtle missionary for the Lord’s Church.”
Elder Britsch praised President David O. McKay, who was “personally responsible for the existence of the PCC. It remains a First Presidency project to this day. That is, the president and CEO of the PCC reports to a board of directors and then directly to the President of the Church. There is no other commercial entity in the Church quite like it.”
“That said, how is it doing? Is the PCC a worthy sister to BYU-Hawaii? Is it meeting the spiritual, educational, and temporal purposes for which it was founded? Is it appropriate for an institution of higher learning to be joined so closely to a theme park?” Elder Britsch asked. “My answer is yes.”
“The relationship between the PCC and BYU-Hawaii is the epitome, the very definition of synergy. The sum of the two is greater than the individual parts,” he continued. “This has been true since the PCC was founded.”
To illustrate, Elder Britsch noted that every president of BYU-Hawaii has been closely associated with the Cultural Center since it opened. Current BYU-Hawaii President Eric B. Shumway, for example, served temporarily as president of the Center; and University Advancement Vice President Napua Baker is currently a member of the Center’s board of directors. Elder Britsch added that over the years the University and Center have done many things together, and “both institutions have benefited.”
“Probably the most important cooperation relates to serving the needs of students,” Elder Britsch stressed, explaining that representatives from both institutions select International Work Experience Scholarship (IWES) students who study at the University and work at the Center during their years in Laie. Under this unique plan, IWES students graduate debt-free.
“The shared dreams of the founders of the Polynesian Cultural Center have been realized beyond their most urgent hopes,” Elder Britsch continued, noting the Center has also provided over $140 million in support of BYU-Hawaii and the students since 1963. “These funds come from outside of Laie, and outside the Church. These are new dollars, virtually all of which are tithed by our fulltime workers.”
In addition to this considerable financial support, Elder Britsch noted the Center also provides valuable leadership and spiritual training. “Never in my life have I been more consistently spiritually fed than in the devotionals and prayer meetings I attend each morning in the corporate offices of the PCC,” he said, adding that workers in every department have always held devotionals. He also noted the impact has been far reaching.
For example, as one of the participants in the PCC/BYU-Hawaii Asian Executive Management Training Program for interns from the People’s Republic of China was leaving Hawaii to return home, she expressed that among many lessons “the greatest thing…that we’ve learned here is the love of the people at BYU-Hawaii and the Polynesian Cultural Center.”
“They are so caring and giving, and the thing that we will take back with us and treasure, more than just the knowledge, is how people should love their families,” she said. She also told of calling her husband in China at one point during her internship, and during the span of their conversation, telling him three times that she loved him, which is not typical in Chinese culture.
By the end of the conversation, however, he replied he also loved her. “That is the first time I ever heard my husband say that to me,” she said.
Others have similarly been touched. A PCC construction service missionary from California said, “It’s almost a spiritual experience to work here. You feel something. I’ve felt these things before, but not like here.”
Elder Britsch said part of that feeling comes from the PCC employees over the years who are “passionate about the place” and even willing to sacrifice to work there. “At the PCC, our desire is to share the spirit of the gospel through the spirit of aloha.”
“We who understand know that the spirit of aloha is the Holy Spirit. It is most comfortable in places where it is invited by the righteousness of the people who are there,” Elder Britsch said. “This is what we who work at the Center feel; it is what we hope to share with each other and with every guest who spends a few hours with us.”
“Now the task for us is to remain true to the original intent and purposes of these great institutions.”