Tribute to the late “Uncle Bill”

After “Uncle Bill” — William Kauaiwiulaokalani Wallace III — passed away on March 2, 2009, I started digging through some of my old photos to put together a pictorial tribute, along with a few comments. Most of these photos center around the BYU-Hawaii sailing canoe, Iosepa, and either have never previously been published or haven’t been seen for some time:

Here’s the back-story:

I knew Bill for a little over 40 years, and because I am about four years older than him, that’s what I often called him…although I was also happy to call him “Uncle Bill” out of my great respect for him.

I first met Bill when we were students at Church College of Hawaii, and my wife-to-be, Sally Ann McShane, was staying for the summer of ’68 (I think) in the Wallace’s family house on Lanihuli St. in Laie. Bill’s sister, Ziona, was nominally in charge of the place and he came over from time to time.

That was the same year I was surprised to be standing in line at our so-called snack bar in the CCH cafeteria annex and heard two young Kiwi women right behind me speaking Maori. It was rather amazing because few of our Maori classmates could speak te reo in those days. One of the girls was Nihipora Kereama, who would eventually become Bill’s first wife (I’ve totally forgotten who the other was).

I remember I’ve always been a bit in awe of Bill’s knowledge of Hawaiian and other Polynesian cultures, starting during the time he was one of the four main managers at the Polynesian Cultural Center. In those years I also got to know Bill’s father, Bill Jr., a retired fireman from Molokai, who was “chief” of the Hawaiian village for a couple of years. Bill Jr. was a very handsome, photogenic man with a beautiful smile, and we used him in a number of our marketing campaigns.

Incidentally, many of you have seen Uncle Bill greet people with a traditional foreheads-touching nose-pressing Hawaiian honi or Maori hongi, but because of his Samoan heritage and my background in those islands, we often greeted each other with a Samoan sogi or pressing cheeks together.

Over the years I’ve turned to Uncle Bill quite a few times for story interviews. For example, I remember doing a story with him one time on his participation with a group of Hawaiians and Maoris who went to South Point on the Island of Hawaii to celebrate the tradition of that’s where some of the great migrations left for Aotearoa.

We did more stories together after he came back to teach at BYU-Hawaii, and the founding of the Hawaiian Studies program was a particularly high point in the mid-1990s. I was also there covering him when the first plantings went in at Kahuola, the malama aina or land portion of the Hawaiian Studies program. About that same time a number of us were also with him as we hiked up into the nearby Nioi Heiau, which Bill said he thought was an agricultural shrine.

But it was the impending creation of the traditional Hawaiian sailing canoe (this was well before it was named Iosepa) that really kicked our interviews onto another plane: In 2000 I was working for Hawaii Reserves, Inc., as their director of public relations, and one of my main responsibilities was publishing Kaleo o Koolauloa, the community newspaper for Laie, Hauula and Kahuku. Former BYU-Hawaii President Eric B. Shumway asked me if I could give extra coverage to the canoe as its plans developed . . . and, of course, I said yes.

It’s been a great, thrilling experience for me ever since, reaching peak after peak with the arrival of the logs, the shaping of the canoe, Bill’s bestowal and explanation of the significance of its name, the launching and the voyage to Kawaihae in 2004, and on and on. On one of those glorious days in 2004 I even got to go out on Iosepa for a few hours, which was an unforgettable experience. I remember when Uncle Bill played the part of the “man overboard” to drill the crew in their response.

We’ve done stories and videos together since then, of course, but it’s still sinking in that Uncle Bill is gone much too soon and there won’t be any more fresh ones. Fortunately most of our past stories are still online, and I have lots more information on the Iosepa that I might even turn into a book one of these days. But that’s still in the future.

For now, I want to reflect more on how much I’ve enjoyed my long association with Uncle Bill, his family and his creations: The Hawaiian Studies program and the Iosepa.

Mahalo nui, Uncle Bill, for enriching all of our lives and blessing this community.

Some additional comments on the pictures in the slideshow:

#2-3, Uncle Bill and Ira A. Fulton: Fulton, a member of the BYUH/PCC Presidents’ Leadership Council is a major donor and supporter of the university’s Hawaiian Studies program and had a close friendship with Uncle Bill. On June 24, 2004, Fulton, the presidents of the PCC and BYUH as well as the BYUH President’s Council, donor Dallas Lowe and several LDS Philanthropies people came to Kawaihae to sail on the canoe.

#4, Polynesian protocol for the blessing of Iosepa: It’s estimated that approximately 3,000 people came to Hukilau Beach in Laie on November 3, 2001, for the blessing and launch of Iosepa — an unforgettable event.

#5, Boom presentation in Kawaihae: The contributions of the Hawaiian sailing canoe Makali’i — which is home-ported in Kawaihae — and sponsoring organization, Na Kalai Wa’a Moku o Hawaii, to the training and success of BYU-Hawaii’s canoe, Iosepa, cannot be understated. Partially in recognition of that immeasurable assistance, Uncle Bill, then-BYUH President Eric B. Shumway, Ira A. Fulton and the crew of the Iosepa presented a canoe boom to their hosts. The boom was a gift for a sister canoe to Makali’i that Na Kalai Wa’a was preparing to give to “Papa” Mau Piailug, the Satawal native who single-handedly in the mid-1970s began the process of resurrecting traditional wayfinding among the Hawaiians.

#7, Chadd Paishon: Paishon, a Makali’i captain and former Hokulea crew member, provided Uncle Bill and all the Iosepa crewmembers with invaluable training.

#8, Attending Waimea Ward: Whenever it’s possible, Uncle Bill and Iosepa crew members attended Waimea Ward, the nearest LDS ward to Kawaihae where they were training.

#9, Uniting the Iosepa hulls: A small ceremony was held on September 7, 2001, when the twin hulls of Iosepa were named and officially united. Uncle Bill and the other Hawaiian Studies leaders chose the Hawaiian names of Lehi and Sarai for the hulls.

Iosepa, Utah, 27 Oct 2004, Photo by Mike Foley#11, Iosepa Cemetery, Skull Valley, Utah: Over the years as I’ve covered the story of Iosepa, I followed through on my desire to visit Iosepa, Utah, several times, in all kinds of weather.

It takes several hours to get there from Salt Lake City, driving west on the interstate highway, and then turning off into Skull Valley on the road to “nowhere.” It’s hard to imagine a less-likely spot for Hawaiians and other Polynesians to want to live. For example, my October 27, 2004, photo gives you some idea of the conditions…and yet they thrived there. They built a miles-long irrigation system from the same mountains pictured above, and beautiful homes. They learned to make poi from local produce, and they were also quite well known for their Hawaiian entertainment. In fact, years ago I remember one of the kupuna telling me they cried when they left in 1917 to return to Hawaii.

Today, almost all the houses are gone and the place is usually deserted. The structures visible in the picture were put up several years ago by the Iosepa Foundation, which has also helped to restore the cemetery and erect the Hawaiian ali’i monument which looks out over the valley. Thousands of mainland Polynesian and former islanders gather there each Memorial Day.

#13, #15, #16, Arrival of the logs: Starting from when the dakua logs arrived in Laie from Fiji on February 7, 2001, people began visiting the lot on the corner of Iosepa Street and Naniloa Loop in Laie to be near the canoe. There was a special spirit there for the duration of the creation phase. And just a note about the lot: Hawaii Reserves, Inc. allowed BYU-Hawaii to use the lot as the construction site for the canoe. Some people thought it was a park, but for many years it’s been zoned for the development of a new hotel that will eventually replace Laie Inn.

#21-25, Iosepa returns to Hukilau Beach: On July 23, 2004, the Iosepa returned to Laie after it’s first interisland voyage. Laie kupuna and family members waited on the beach as the captains and crew swam in together. It was a joyous reunion and another of many unforgettable Iosepa moments.

#28, The CES Board of Trustees visits Iosepa: On April 23, 2001, Uncle Bill welcomed the Church Educational System Board of Trustees, including several members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, to the Iosepa building site. They were among many VIPs and others who came.

#31, Uncle Bill and John Kaimikaua: Uncle Bill’s cousin, John Kaimikaua, a Hawaiian cultural expert with strong family ties to Molokai, helped put on a Hawaiian ‘aha’aina or special feast on March 3, 2001, at the canoe building site for invited guests. Kaimikaua explained how each course of the feast had symbolic meaning.

#32, Uncle Bill and pictures of his ancestors: During a special fireside on August 3, 2004, following the Iosepa’s first interisland voyage, Uncle Bill once again explained how the name of the canoe came to him in a dream of his grandfather, who was one of those who lived in Iosepa, Skull Valley, Utah. The name, Hawaiian for Joseph, also has ties to Joseph F. Smith, who started serving as a missionary in the Sandwich Islands in 1854 and later, as president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, selected and dedicated the site of the Laie Hawaii Temple on June 1, 1915; as well as  to Joseph Smith Jr., founder of the Church, and Joseph, the youngest son of Israel, in the Old Testament.

#33, Uncle Bill and his ipu: During his BYU-Hawaii devotional address on July 24, 2000, Uncle Bill explained how he was struggling with his law school studies in Provo…until he started using his ipu heke [dried gourd “drum”] to create Hawaiian chant-like mnemonic rhythms to memorize case law and other lessons.

:: Watch a video clip of a BYU-Hawaii procession and chanting in Uncle Bill’s honor…


  1. michael hogge says:

    Well done, Mike. You have a great treasure chest of documentations that should be bound and given to the university and the city of Laie. These long-time organizations should be highly grateful for your ongoing contributions and recording of daily life and culture in this special place. May you achieve your personal goals with health and sufficient resources to meet your needs.

    Many Mahalos

    Elder Hogge

  2. Mahalo ia ‘oe e Mike. Maika’i kela

  3. Daisy Kim says:

    Thank you Dad. This is beautifully put together. A befitting tribute to a man whose life touched so many. Na ke Akua pu…

  4. Thank you so much for the wonderful pictures and video tributes of this wonderful man. My name is Te-Rangi and I am Amanda’s daughter who lives here in Salt Lake City. Me, my husband and our children were not able to come to pay our respects to my step-father Uncle Bill, but my children had learned to know and love their “Grandpa Bill” and miss him. Much mahalo and aroha to you for doing this.


    Te-Rangi Doull

  5. Tatiana Crosby says:

    Thank you Uncle Mike for this amazing tribute to my Dad. I have and will treasure all the photos and stories you have shared. My Dad always loved and respected you very much! Mahalo!- Tatiana Crosby a me ‘ohana–

  6. Mike Dang says:

    I met Bill at law school @ BYU-Provo. He was such a good man I always remembered his aloha pumehana. I regret that I wasn’t able to meet up with him again now that I’ve moved back to Hawaii.

    Thank you for this tribute to him. What a good example he was of living life for others.

  7. Ken Baldridge says:

    Mike, I just stumbled across this and was moved by the tribute you paid Bill. Good job; keep up the fine work you do (unappreciated as it may sometimes seem!–I understand). Ken Baldridge

  8. Lattisha Wallace says:

    Thank you so much for this beautiful tribute to my father. I’m so grateful that you preserved so many precious moments of his life in these beautiful pictures. Mahalo uncle.

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