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Kinimaka, Napoleon end long Kalapaki careers

Kaupena Kinimaka’s last task at his job at the Royal Sonesta Kaua‘i Resort was Friday when he volunteered to help with the food and beverage crew at the premiere of the Disney movie “Jungle Cruise” for Kaua‘i cast and crew, said Kristy Kinimaka, Kaupena’s daughter.

The Royal Sonesta, through its newsletter, announced “Ho‘omaika‘i ‘ana,” or congratulations on retirements of two of the property’s longtime employees — Ben Napoleon and Kaupena Kinimaka.

“Ben humbly and quietly retired on July 12 after his enduring time on this property since 1967,” the announcement for Napoleon states. “From the beginnings as a busboy with the Kaua‘i Surf and eventually in his position as a guest-services manager with Marriott International and, until his retirement, Ben is only one of two from our property to be awarded the Willard Marriott Award of Excellence.”

Napolean is looking forward to spending more time with his wife Nora, and more family garage barbeques.

The second recipient of the Willard Marriott Award of Excellence is Kaupena Kinimaka, whose official retirement date is July 30.

“Kaupena literally grew up here on Kalapaki Beach, spending his childhood days playing on the beach while his dad Percy Kinimaka worked as a beachboy and operated the hotel’s beach services,” the Sonesta announcement reads.

“His career persevered and started with the Kaua‘i Surf, the Westin, the Kaua‘i Marriott and Sonesta. Following 55 years, Kaupena is the dedicated director of safety and security, with the priority to always keep the hotel, guests and associates safe.”

Kinimaka earned the Willard Marriott Award for ideals of achievement, character, dedication, effort and perseverance.

Sue Kanoho, executive director of the Kaua‘i Visitors Bureau, said: “I have had the pleasure of knowing Kaupena for the past 33 years, and working with Kaupena for the past 25 years. We have spent many storms, hurricanes and floods on the phone working through challenges, and at all times he had the guests’ best interest in mind. Kaupena was our anchor for the Hawai‘i Lodging &Tourism Association Kaua‘i’s Charity Walk as well as the Visitor Aloha Society of Kaua‘i. It will be a huge loss to not have Kaupena in our day-to-day lives for tourism.”

Caroline “Dukie” Asing is the senior sales administrative assistant with the Royal Sonesta, and said, “Kaupena is basically my ‘brother from another mother.’”

“We started our friendship on Kalapaki Beach when I was 7 years old, and Kaupena was 10. Our parents worked for the Kaua‘i Surf, and I grew up hanging out with Kaupena and, ultimately, working for his father, legendary waterman/beachboy Percy Kinimaka at the infamous Kalapaki Beach Shack.”

“Kaupena taught surf lessons and did the torch-lighting ceremonies. We had an iconic childhood on the beach, but as I write this, I realize that we learned a big lesson about hospitality — sharing the aloha spirit with visitors and kama‘aina alike.”

“I could go on and on about all he does for the community, but he is not one for the limelight. He is just a simple man who works hard and finds the biggest joy in coming home to his family. His wife Carolyn, daughter Kristy, and granddaughters Kaimalie and Kailana are the apples of his eyes. If you want to see him smile, just mention his mo‘opuna and his eyes light up, and he has the biggest grin on his face,” said Asing.

Brad Snyder met Kaupena in 1995 as the opening general manager of the Kaua‘i Marriott Resort &Beach Club, and had this to say: “I made my first visit to the property where Kaupena was overseeing a small group of employees that were maintaining and securing the previous Westin Resort since its closing due to the Hurricane Iniki.”

“In many ways, Kaupena’s style and leadership set the direction for how Marriott wanted to manage the resort on Kalapaki Beach,” said Snyder. “His humble, honest attitude and care for the property and those he worked with, concern for the community, all became the standards from which we began our approach in positioning the Marriott on Kaua‘i.”

“To say that Kaupena is a legend, much like his father Percy, would be an understatement,” Snyder said. “From the Kaua‘i Surf, the Westin Resort, the Kaua‘i Marriott to the Royal Sonesta, Kaupena has been instrumental to the success of the property, and he has earned the status of a true legend of Kalapaki.”

Asing said some of the things she learned from Kinimaka are “to work hard, do the best you can, and with the love of family and friends.”

“It’s all good,” Asing said. “Thank you, Kaupena, for being you — the best ‘brother’ I could ask for.”


Dennis Fujimoto, staff writer and photographer, can be reached at 245-0453 or
Source: The Garden Island

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