Fifty-five years ago on October 12, 1963, hundreds of invited dignitaries, tourism executives, Church College of Hawaii (which became BYU–Hawaii in 1974) administrators and faculty, media, Polynesian cultural leaders, Church officials and community representatives gathered on the brand-new Polynesian Cultural Center’s hot, sunny Hale Aloha theater stage for a special dedicatory program.
(Historical note: The same volcano-like backdrop still rises above the Hale Aloha today, which is now the main venue for the PCC’s Alii Luau and other special functions.)
Elder Hugh B. Brown, First Counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which founded both BYU–Hawaii and the Center, came from Salt Lake City, Utah, to preside and offer the dedicatory prayer.
Te Aroha Nui, a group of 144 Maori volunteers — some of them former Latter-day Saint building missionaries — came from New Zealand at their own expense several weeks earlier to help put the finishing touches on the Center. They stayed to provide incomparable music for the dedicatory program and a spectacular opening to the Aotearoa Village.
A pattern of alumni reunions begins
The cumulative number of visitors climbed into the millions as the years passed, making the Polynesian Cultural Center one of the most popular attractions in Hawaii. The cumulative total of employees also grew into the thousands. The majority of them, as it is to this day, were full-time students at the adjacent Brigham Young University–Hawaii. Typically while enrolled, they worked part-time at the PCC and moved on when they graduated.
Many of them met their future spouses while working at the Polynesian Cultural Center. Generations of alumni children have also come to Laie to attend BYUH and, of course, work at the PCC.
But an interesting dynamic began as early as 1983 with the PCC’s 20th anniversary: PCC management started to include alumni reunions as part of the celebrations . . . and we discovered our alumni would return to Laie, Hawaii, from all over the world to rekindle the spirit of aloha they enjoyed as young employees. Special alumni evening shows soon became highlight events.
Each succeeding reunion grew bigger and more memorable. Some years the Center celebrated anniversaries in five-year intervals, sometimes 10.
A week-long golden anniversary alumni celebration
Our week-long golden anniversary reunion in 2013 was our biggest ever. The Center began several years in advance to plan special activities on each day from September 1-8: For example, here’s a partial list of events:
- Day 1: A special choral musical program.
- Day 2: A special welcoming program in the newly renovated Hawaiian Journey theater, followed by welcoming activities in each village, and a welcoming reception in the newly renovated Hawaiian Village that evening.
- Day 3: Tributes to the labor missionaries, who volunteered to help build the Center, as well as the PCC Brass Band, which used to march through the villages each afternoon and end up with a half-hour concert.
- Day 4: Sports! One word should be enough to remind everyone that Polynesians love to play sports, and they are very good at it. They are also terrific entertainers, so the day ended with a tribute to our “living treasures” — kupuna or elder Polynesian cultural experts — and an alumni talent show.
- Day 5: We love to dance — all kinds, and the day ended with a ball.
- Day 6: “Gold” and “silver” alumni evening shows. The number who wanted to participate had grown so big that we had to split the highly popular alumni evening show into two performances: A “gold” show for those who originally performed between 1963-1988, and a “silver” show for the younger alumni who originally danced on PCC stage since 1988. The theater was packed for both shows. Nobody paid attention to the late hours, and both shows were outstanding.
- Day 7: A community parade in the morning, and a historical conference that afternoon.
- Day 8: We concluded with several Church-related activities, including what Latter-day Saints call a “testimony” meeting where alumni shared their feelings about the impact of the Polynesian Cultural Center in their lives.
An unforgettable event
Enjoy a few more pictures of the various events:
55th anniversary reunion
“Fifty-five years ago, the Polynesian Cultural Center embarked on a journey our founders envisioned as a uniquely rare opportunity to educate the world about the magnificent people of Polynesia,” said PCC president and CEO Alfred Grace. “We celebrate this anniversary reaffirming our dedication to continually improve how our guests experience Polynesia by engaging with people proud to share their culture and heritage.”
Among other observances, the Center held a 55th anniversary concert on Saturday, Oct. 20, 2018, from 7-10 p.m. The concert featured Hawaii artists Kimie Miner, Rebel Souljahz and Mana’o Company.
Plan ahead for the 2023 PCC alumni reunion
Yes, the PCC’s golden anniversary in 2013 was truly memorable. Of course, some of the alumni were labor missionaries who worked on the Center before it opened. Others were original PCC performers. Many of those dancing in the 2013 “gold” alumni evening show were white-haired; and some needed extra time to kneel, stand and do their motions.
Some have since passed away, and there will inevitably be fewer of older alumni when the 2023 reunion rolls around; but we believe that celebration will be bigger than ever. Plan on joining us.
Story and most photos by Mike Foley, who has been a full-time freelance writer and digital media specialist since 2002. Prior to then, he had a long career in marketing communications, PR, journalism and university education. The Polynesian Cultural Center has used his photos for promotional purposes since the early 1970s. Foley learned to speak fluent Samoan as a Latter-day Saint missionary before moving to Laie in 1967, and he still does. He has traveled extensively over the years throughout Polynesia, other Pacific islands, and Asia. Though mostly retired now, Foley continues to contribute to PCC and other media.
A late 1960s PCC student employee and later a full-time senior manager, Foley has participated in each PCC alumni reunion since 1983.