Hawai‘i Friends of Justice & Restorative Justice (HFRJ) provided the first Parole Completion Celebration in 2010 and honored Russ Takai with an award for his inspirational services to the Hawai‘i state parole office after World War II through 1972. HFRJ honored Russ because when he administered the parole office, Hawai‘i has the lowest recidivism rate in the United States.
George Downing and Wally Froiseth, Russ’s old friends, accepted Russ’ award in 2010 on his behalf because he was ill and unable to attend. Russ passed away in 2011 at the age of 92 http://www.legendarysurfers.com/2016/01/russ-takaki-1919-2011.html.
Because of Russ Takaki’s success in rehabilitating people on parole, HFRJ later named the Russ Takaki Parole officer of the Year Award for him. HFRJ also gives awards now to federal and state probation, and federal pre-trial services, officers in remembrance of Russ Takaki’s good work.
The essay on the following pages is by Russ Takaki’s daughter, Ku‘ulei Rodgers, who also recalled this about her father in 2010:
He became close friends with many who went through the parole system. He often took them surfing and out for dinner. He got to know their families on a personal level. What he did was not just a job to him, he was truly dedicated to making Hawai'i a better place for us all. His memories may have faded but his work will live on.
My Father Russ Takai
By Ku‘ulei Rodgers
My father Russ Takaki was born just a little more than a year after Queen Lili‘uokalani had passed away. From humble beginnings in the small sugar plantation village of Halawa in Kohala on the Big Island, his birth was recorded by the registrar that came from Honolulu just once a year to document neighbor island births.
My father’s childhood was plagued with hardship yet no different than many others of that time. He lost his father when he was just a young boy, dragged to death by the mules that hauled the sugarcane from the fields. A teenage brother was never seen again following a fishing trip to Kona presumed claimed by the sea he loved. Another brother playing in the flumes that carried the water to the fields tragically fell to his death and later his last surviving brother passed on before our family really got the chance to know him.
Yet throughout his life he never complained, he was always grateful for what he had, and he always helped others in adversity because he knew what hardship felt like. I believe this is what made him such a good parole officer. He could relate to the hardships in life that so many in his work had endured.
He had a strong work ethic beginning at a very young age laboring as a hoe hana, clearing the weeds from between the sugarcane. A pastor saw promise in his strength and determination and arranged for him to attend Mid Pacific School on O’ahu where he worked in the cafeteria, and on the grounds to earn his room and board. He brought with him nothing more than his local values of hard work, perseverance, cooperation, gratitude, caring, and humility.
It was on O’ahu that he found his lifelong passion – surfing.
At a time when surfing was evolving, he and his friends made surfing history when they sailed from Hawai‘i to surf the waves of the California coast on the first surfing safari. Surfers came out to watch these local Hawai‘i boys surf and to trace on paper the unique hot curl design of their boards (www.legendarysurfers.com). These pioneers of surfing were among the first big wave riders on Oahu’s North Shore and helped make Makaha famous. He also judged surf meets for many years at Makaha, the North Shore, and even in Peru. He befriended many upcoming surfers, donating boards and taking them surfing. He was always very humble yet recognized the accomplishments of others.
My father cared about all people. He embraced rich and poor, young and old, famous and infamous, those of all nationalities and beliefs.
He worked his way through the University of Hawai‘i charging tourists a dollar a ride in the canoe he had purchased by grading math papers in the department he eventually graduated from. From the campus he watched in horror as Pearl Harbor was bombed, realizing immediately that the black smoke filling the skies meant a genuine attack and not one of the many training drills he had observed in the previous months with their white billowing plumes of smoke. He enlisted immediately but because of his university degree he was sent to Minnesota and placed in the interpreter division. When he informed them that he did not speak Japanese, he was placed on KP duty because they did not believe him. He eventually spoke with a higher officer and he spent the rest of his time teaching cartography (map making), a subject he had never approached. He studied at night then taught the material the next day. He asked to no avail to join his friends overseas.
He was married after the war ended to a mainland girl who was enamored with the Waikiki beachboys. They had three daughters, but divorced shortly after the last child was born.
My father raised myself, and my two sisters as best he could juggling work, surfing, and home life. We were all very young at the time he became a single parent and was solely responsible for cooking, cleaning, and all the other duties necessary to maintain a stable home.
I believe that my father’s empathy for others is related to the difficulties he endured in his early life.
He did not remarry until many years after the children had all left home. Along with the three daughters he had a granddaughter, grandson and two great-grandchildren.
I became a marine biologist who shares his love of the ocean and his granddaughter is an archeologist who shares his love of the land.
Ku‘ulei Rodgers, December 28, 2017