Posts Tagged ‘Hawaii’

The Silverbow sails for Oahu

posted on April 17, 2014

SS Permanente Silverbow sailing out of the San Francisco Bay, April 17, 1950.

Henry J. Kaiser’s Permanente Cement works had just begun operations in 1939 when he learned that the U.S. Navy wanted to improve on deliveries of cement to Hawaii.

Kaiser claimed he could cut loading and unloading times by as much as 80 percent by pumping bulk, dry cement from ship holds into storage silos in Honolulu. Cynics said the cement would be ruined, but Kaiser guaranteed the product “…from our San Jose plant to the wheelbarrow in Hawaii.”

In October 1940, Kaiser & Co. purchased an aging freighter (the SS Ancon) from the Panama Canal Company and converted it to a bulk cement carrier. The ship went into service as the SS Permanente in March 1941 under contract with the U.S. Navy.

The SS Permanente was moored at Pearl Harbor when it was bombed by the Japanese on December 7, 1941. The ship was not damaged and had already offloaded its holds when the attack came. Within a few days the silos holding the offloaded cement were emptied for the emergency rebuild of the harbor.

By 1945 there were newer, faster, surplus freighters available, and the old SS Permanente was scrapped.

Two years later the Permanente Cement Company purchased a Victory-class cargo ship that had entered service in 1944, the SS Silverbow Victory. When this ship was refitted to carry cement, she was given the name, the SS Permanente Silverbow. She bore cement to the isles until Kaiser built a cement plant on Oahu in the 1950s.

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Catamarans — two hulls double the fun

posted on September 26, 2013
Henry J. Kaiser's Catamaran Ale Kai V postcard, 1967. Lisa Killen discrete collection
Henry J. Kaiser’s Catamaran Ale Kai V postcard, 1967. Lisa Killen discrete collection

by Lincoln Cushing, Heritage writer

Team USA’s hard-fought battle to retain the America’s Cup title has put catamarans in the spotlight. Almost forgotten, however, after more than 60 years, is Kaiser Permanente’s co-founder Henry J. Kaiser’s historical connection with these graceful and exotic racing crafts.

Kaiser, who founded the Health Plan with Sidney Garfield, MD, had a love affair with boats — and not just speedboats.  He also enjoyed sailing.

Kaiser’s 18-acre Hawaiian Village resort in Honolulu had a fleet of six massive touring catamarans for his guests to enjoy.

These 100-foot, 150-passenger pink behemoths were all named after his wife Alyce “Ale” Kaiser — “Ale Kai” and numbered one through six, using Roman numerals I-VI.

Kaiser designed his resort using the “village plan,” which called for various sections to represent specific types of cultural motifs that surrounded the grounds. Kaiser’s venture was the largest Waikiki resort built in the mid-1950s.

Kaiser’s Hawaiian Village, completed in 1957, is now called the Hilton Hawaiian Village Beach Resort and Spa.

Who built the catamarans for Kaiser? The historical record is fuzzy. Credit goes to either Fred Loy Fat Chang of Nu’uanu, or Japanese-born Hawaiian resident Hisao Murakami.

All six of the Kaiser Ale Kai fleet are still in use today.

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Henry J. Kaiser: Industrialist, health care plan pioneer – and boating enthusiast

posted on August 23, 2013

Lincoln Cushing
Heritage writer


Henry J. Kaiser test driving the Fleur Du Lac on the Potomac River, Washington, D.C., 1948.


Henry J. Kaiser’s youth included canoeing on New York’s Lake Placid and serving as tour guide on a sightseeing boat in Daytona Beach, Florida. But he also liked to do things fast, and he always harbored an affection for speedboats.

Later in life, after Henry had achieved success in his construction businesses, he and his son Edgar enjoyed racing boats at Lake Tahoe. One of their first competitive boats was the “step hydroplane” (an early design effort to achieve high-speed stability) Miss Aluminum II, built in 1933. Renamed Fleur Du Lac (G-19) for Henry’s Tahoe estate, in 1948 she went to Washington D.C. to compete in the President’s Cup.

Scooter Too

Henry J. Kaiser at the wheel of Scooter Too, Lake Tahoe, 1955 (photo by long time Kaiser Industries manager Donald “Dusty” Rhoades)

Henry also maintained a summer home back at Lake Placid, where he pursued racing with his neighbor and friend band leader Guy Lombardo. In 1949 the Ticonderoga Sentinel noted:
“For the second successive week end, Henry J. Kaiser has visited Lake Placid to check on the progress of his two big speed boats. Guy Lombardo also appeared here Saturday to try out the massive 32-foot Aluminum First, with which he will try to break the world’s mile straightaway record in the time trials.”

That didn’t happen, but in 1971 the Lake Placid Sports Council mounted a plaque honoring their local heroes.

The Kaisers would not achieve racing victory until 1954, when the three-point hydroplane Scooter (U-12) powered by a 1750 horsepower V-12 Allison engine driven by Kaiser Industries welder Jack Regas won the Mapes Trophy unlimited class at Lake Tahoe. She ran second, first, and second and posted the fastest lap at 88.748 miles per hour. Henry immediately retired the boat and built a second, the Scooter Too with a 3,420 cubic inch 24-cylinder Allison engine, producing a staggering estimated 4,000 horsepower – but she never won a race.

Hawaii-Kai III

Hawaii Kai III, circa 1956.

Things turned around in 1956. Edgar Kaiser’s unlimited-class three-point racing hydroplane Hawaii Kai III (U-8, named after Henry J. Kaiser’s Waikiki Beach hotel) won the first of six consecutive races, the William A. Rogers Memorial Cup trophy in Washington, D.C.

She was painted Henry’s classic pink and powered by a V-12 Rolls-Royce Merlin engine. The following year she won the national championship and set the water speed record at the official American Powerboat Association runs in Seattle, Washington – 195.329 miles an hour, a bar that would stand for five years.


Henry J. Kaiser’s Catamaran Ale Kai V, postcard, Hawaiian Village, 1967; Lisa Killen discrete collection.

As with most of his goals, Henry J. Kaiser achieved what he sought, and he eventually retired from the racing circuit. His last boating venture was to build six massive touring catamarans in Hawaii, all named after his wife.

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For more on Henry J. Kaiser and boating, see
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Let the children run!

posted on August 14, 2013
Kaiser Permanente Hawaii - Run for Children, 1984, sponsored by the Hawaii Region as part of its Dr. Wizardwise health education program.

Kaiser Permanente Hawaii – Run for Children, 1984, sponsored by the Hawaii Region as part of its Dr. Wizardwise health education program.

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Brisk daily walks keep retired KP CEO Jim Vohs in the pink

posted on September 21, 2012

By Ginny McPartland
Heritage writer

Jim Vohs created this outdoor portrait of his red-headed grandsons in the autumn red leaves in his front yard. This framed portrait hangs in his home.

I had the pleasure one day this summer to take an early morning brisk walk with Jim Vohs, retired Kaiser Foundation Health Plan and Hospitals CEO. Formerly a marathon runner of some note, Vohs enjoys the physical benefits of walking, as well as the time it affords him for reflection. He subscribes to KP CEO George Halvorson’s belief in the power of walking. “Every Body Walk!” is the mantra of Halvorson’s current campaign to get people moving.

I had heard through the grapevine that Vohs, who retired in 1991 and is in his 80s, was an avid walker. So I called to see if I could talk to him about his daily walking routine. He invited me to walk with him at 7 in the morning a few days later. On the phone, I asked: “What if I can’t keep up with you?” He said: “I can adjust to your pace.”  OK! I was up to it.

I met him outside his Piedmont home at the appointed hour. The charming gentleman came out of the gate wearing beige casual pants, white walking shoes, a stylish sweatshirt – and a nice, welcoming smile. My first time to meet him was smooth and relaxed. We began to walk the gentle hills around his neighborhood at a clip talking as we went. He shared with me his thoughts on retirement, his time as leader at Kaiser Permanente, and his views on exercise.

This cartoon appeared in Harper’s in December 1978. Fun-loving friends added “J.V.” to the male jogger’s shirt and presented their version to Vohs. Cartoon and prayer by famed writer of “The Right Stuff (1983)” and “Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (1968)” Tom Wolfe.

He confided that he used to look down his nose at walkers, considering them “wimps” who weren’t serious about their fitness. He later showed me a cartoon from Harper’s magazine featuring a runner with the initials “J.V.” on his chest who recited Tom Wolfe’s “The Joggers’ Prayer”:

“Almighty God, as we sail with pure aerobic grace and striped orthotic feet past the blind portals of our fellow citizens, past their chuck roast lives and their necrotic cardiovascular systems . . . past their inability to achieve the White Moment (jogger’s high) or slipping through The Wall . . . help us . . . to be big about it.”

Today, however, Vohs has changed his mind and believes walking can be the best kind of exercise, indeed for everyone. “What are the benefits of walking for you? I ask him. “Everything that George (Halvorson) says in his missive on walking,” he replies, referring to Halvorson’s weekly letters to KP colleagues.

The number of benefits of walking 30 minutes a day is astounding. They include: lowering the risks of diabetes, stroke, hypertension, breast cancer and its recurrence, colon cancer, prostate cancer, hip fracture and gallstones. Such a regimen can also boost high density cholesterol, lowering the risk of heart attacks and stroke.  Walking helps people to lose weight and makes them feel better psychologically. The list goes on and on.

After our 30-minute walk, we returned to the Vohs home, and he invited me in for breakfast and to meet his wife, Eileen. The fare consisted of decaffeinated coffee, bananas, blackberries, yogurt and muesli. Basically, very healthy, it goes without saying.

The display case for Vohs’ KP service pins was also made of Koa wood by his Hawaiian friend. Koa wood, found only in Hawaii, is prized for many uses, including fine furniture and guitars.

Jim Vohs was the CEO of Kaiser Health Plan and Hospitals from 1975 to 1991. He is credited with many accomplishments at the helm of KP, including initiating an active Board of Directors Quality of Care Committee, expanding the Health Plan into new geographical regions, supporting a rigorous Affirmative Action policy, and defending the core values in times of change. The annual Vohs Award for Quality was established in his name when he retired in 1991.

In reflecting on his KP career, Vohs says he wishes he would have thought of the health plan’s current focus on healthy lifestyles as exemplified by the Thrive advertising campaign, started in 2004. He was  opposed to advertising when it was first suggested in the 1980s because he did not want the not-for-profit Kaiser Permanente viewed as just another commercial organization and says he only agreed to it if the people featured in commercials were actual KP members or staff.

Keeping KP from becoming a commercial enterprise was a no-brainer for him. “We started out as a nonprofit organization providing care that people could afford. I fought against us becoming a profit-making business. That’s not who we were (are).”

Mail Room Clerk Travis Bailey and KP President Jim Vohs show off the March of Dimes TeamWalk trophy — a bronzed shoe worn by baseball star Willie McCovey — from 1985. KP Reporter cover photo by Jaime Benavides, July 1985.

While KP CEO, Vohs was heavily involved with local communities and charitable organizations and urged KP staff across the regions to participate in public events.  In 1985 and 1986, he served as Alameda County chairperson for the March of Dimes’ TeamWalk and marshaled 900 KP walkers in 1985 and 1,000 in 1986.

With Vohs in the lead, the KP team raised $35,000 in 1985 and $60,000 in 1986. Vohs is quick to note that the March of Dimes walk – 32 kilometers for more energetic participants – wasn’t a promotion of walking. “That was different. We were walking to raise money, not for fitness.”

The KP walking team attracted staffers from all over Northern California. As the top team, KP won the traveling trophy, which was a bronzed shoe originally worn by baseball star Willie McCovey. “Once again we proved we’re number one.” Vohs said at the time.

Of his athletic pursuits, Vohs is most proud of his success as a marathon runner. He competed in the Avenue of the Giants 26-mile marathon, which only accepts 1,000 qualified runners, and two full-length Oakland Marathons when he was in his 50s. He stopped running a few years ago when he developed plantar fasciitis, a condition affecting his feet. He continues to play golf, walks the course and carries his own bag.

This clock of Koa wood was made for Vohs by a friend and Hawaii Permanente Medical Group physician. He treasures it and keeps it on display in his study.

After retirement, Vohs maintained a KP office for about five years and continued his participation on a number of boards, including the Federal Reserve Bank in San Francisco, the Oakland Coliseum, Holy Names College and the Oakland Port Commissioners. “My wife (Janice) said I failed retirement,” he offered, half joking. “She said it was like I was still working because I went into the office every day.”At a certain point, he vacated the office to spend more time at home.

Vohs has four daughters, among them a couple of runners who have entered the Bay to Breakers with him over the years.  He also has nine grandchildren. Grandpa Vohs snapped a beautiful photo of two of his grandsons playing in the autumn leaves in a season that has long passed. The boys’ thick red hair blends with the leaf baskets’ contents to create an impressively artful photograph. Vohs has a large framed print of the scene hanging in his family room.

In his study, Vohs displays two special mementos from his KP days – a hand-crafted clock and a display case for his service pins, both made of Koa wood by a Hawaii Medical Group physician and friend. The case shows all his pins from his Kaiser Permanente career under glass. The last one marks his 40 years with the company.


Vohs and his boating friends have a running joke about this papier mache-covered shoe and the memory of a mishap when their boat was swamped.

Another prized object is a tennis shoe preserved with papier mache to remind him of a water excursion with friends that ended with a swamped boat. He and his fellow boaters have a running joke that involves sneaking the shoe back into each other’s possession.

Sadly, Vohs lost his wife of almost 50 years to cancer about 10 years ago. He remarried recently after renewing his acquaintance with Eileen Galloway, a college friend, at a UC Berkeley alumni reunion. Eileen sometimes walks with Jim, but mostly she likes to walk later in the day and a bit slower.

“I want to enjoy myself and appreciate my surroundings,” she said. “And I don’t want to get out of bed at dawn.”

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Hawaii: Not your garden variety paradise

posted on October 7, 2010

By Ginny McPartland

To most outsiders, Hawaii is that far-off paradise where people go for that well-deserved rest and recreation. They come back tan and relaxed, and everyone is green with envy. To be sure, the Hawaiian Islands offer plenty for the casual visitor. But to the residents, it isn’t just about gargantuan waves and potent Mai Tai’s.

Hawaiians have to worry about the same things mainlanders worry about: a livelihood, a good future for their children, and quality health care. Lucky for them, taking good care of patients is top of mind for physicians in the Hawaii Permanente Medical Group. On a recent trip to Honolulu, I witnessed their determination first hand.

HPMG President Geoff Sewell MD and Heritage Director Tom Debley discuss KP history during a 50th anniversary event.

Although in a partying mood (they’re celebrating 50 years as a medical group in Hawaii), Permanente doctors focused on issues during a party/seminar in Honolulu. What have they done right in the past five decades? And what do they need to do differently – better – in the future?

Overcoming a tough situation

The Hawaii Permanente Medical Group staffed the second launching of Kaiser Permanente in Hawaii. In 1958, Henry J. Kaiser had built a 143-bed hospital in Waikiki and had hired a group of doctors who had other interests as well. In 1960, Kaiser realized that the doctors needed to serve the KP membership exclusively for the partnership to work. He then asked The Permanente Medical Group in California to help set up a new group.  Headed by Phillip Chu, MD, the reconfigured medical group began providing for Hawaii members in August of 1960. 

The 1960s was a difficult time for Permanente physicians, indeed for all group practice doctors. Across the country, traditional medical societies resisted prepaid group practice claiming it was “unethical” and denied patients choice of physicians. The hostile physicians denied hospital privileges and medical society membership to group practice physicians, and at times labeled the new care delivery method as “socialist” and its product “inferior.”

Undaunted, the Hawaii Permanente physicians persevered. They set out to prove their detractors wrong.  In 1969, the Hawaii region participated in a study conducted by the Hawaii Medical Association and the University of Michigan that showed KP hospital care to be above average in the state. Later, in 1977, the results of a University of Michigan quality of care study showed Hawaii Permanente Medical Group doctors to be well above the average among Hawaiian physicians. A total of 454 Oahu physicians in 18 specialties, including 42 Permanente physicians, participated in the study.

Quality a major focus

As early as 1969, the Hawaii region had established its own ongoing medical audit system. In 1971, the region received a federal grant to set up an experimental four-year program to monitor inpatient care. Later, Hawaii medical staff developed methods for monitoring outpatient care for all the Kaiser Permanente regions.

Not only was the Hawaii staff distinguishing itself in quality of care, but they were also participating in government programs to reach out and help the poor of its communities. The group participated in a federal Medicaid program in 1971 to care for 500 indigent families on Oahu and later expanded the program to Maui. Other community outreach programs followed.

Perhaps the ultimate community outreach program was launched in Hawaii last year when Kaiser Permanente started a high-tech mobile service on the Big Island. The 500-square-foot exam unit on wheels brings care and preventive screenings to thousands of KP members and to the uninsured in the community.  The van is equipped with digital mammography equipment and is connected to Kaiser Permanente’s comprehensive electronic health record system.

Doing fine now, thank you very much

Fifty years after its founding, Kaiser Permanente Hawaii is thriving. With 430 physicians, 4,400 employees, almost 224,000 members, 278 critical care hospital beds, and 17 outpatient clinics on three islands, the region has established itself as an organization bent on excellence and community service. In the past year, Kaiser Permanente Hawaii has received these designations:

— Highest-rated private health insurance plan in Hawaii (National Committee on Quality Assurance, NCQA, 2009)

–Number 1 Medicaid plan in the nation (US. News & World Report, 2010)

–Highest-rated health plan in the U.S. for breast cancer screening (NCQA, 2009)

–Highest accreditation rating of “excellence of quality and service (NCQA, 2009). Hawaii has earned this rating every year since the NCQA began rating health plans in 1999.

Henry J. Kaiser’s big Hawaii plans honored

View an early Hawaii KP patient could wake to.

Henry Kaiser’s flamboyant entrée into the Hawaii health care scene in 1958 eventually dovetailed beautifully into the Hawaii Permanente Medical Group’s plans. In celebrating its jubilee, the group staged a key event at the Hawaii Prince Hotel on Waikiki, the site of Kaiser’s first Hawaii hospital. Located adjacent to the Ala Wai Boat Harbor, Kaiser Permanente’s early patients awoke to beautiful tropical sunrises and drifted off to dramatic sunsets.

In 1986, the old hospital was blown up in a public spectacle that became part of an episode of the celebrated television series of the time, “Magnum, P. I.” starring Tom Selleck. The implosion made way for the new hotel, and Kaiser Permanente built a new, modern hospital on Moanalua Road north of Honolulu. This is the site of the Hawaii region Moanalua Medical Center and Clinic where construction is under way to expand and improve services.

Front view of the Hawaiian Village hotel built by Henry J. Kaiser in 1955

Meanwhile, just around the corner in Waikiki, Henry J. Kaiser had built his Kaiser Hawaiian Village, a uniquely designed resort that is now the Hilton Hawaiian Village. Kaiser showed his respect for the indigenous population by designing the villages to represent  the culture of the hotel’s surroundings. He employed Hawaiian Samoans to come to the resort site and hand-build the guest cottages. These craftsmen actually wove coconut fronds into thatching. To honor Henry Kaiser, the resort has created museum-like public displays telling the story of his Hawaiian feats.

Today, the Hilton resort also hosts the Bishop Museum Collection, a satellite museum that gives visitors a taste of the original Hawaii. The main Bishop Museum, recently restored and with a new science building, is the largest museum in the state and the premier natural and cultural history institution in the Pacific. The museum is located in Honolulu off the beaten tourist path.

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