LAIE, HAWAII — In 1961, then-Elder Gordon B. Hinckley traveled with Elder Delbert L. Stapley to Laie, on the north shore of Oahu in the Hawaiian islands. The two General Authorities were under assignment from President David O. McKay to determine the location for a center for Polynesian culture and entertainment. After walking through taro patches, the two Church leaders determined such a center should not be built near the Laie temple as originally planned.
What would become the Polynesian Cultural Center should, instead, be built adjacent the six-year-old Church College of Hawaii.
That was 42 years and 30 million visitors ago. On Oct. 24, President Gordon B. Hinckley returned to Laie to a shower of Alohas and festivities as the Polynesian Cultural Center celebrated its 40th anniversary. President Hinckley, who was accompanied by his wife, Marjorie, presided over three days of activities that were filled with Polynesian song and dance — and many times marked by nostalgia and tears — in remembrance of the Oct. 12, 1963, dedication by President Hugh B. Brown.
"What a beautiful and wonderful remembrance for this great and tremendous occasion," President Hinckley said during a commemorative luau on his first evening here during which he recalled his 1961 visit. "Well, all of us are very proud of the PCC and the tremendous work which it has done over these four decades. It has influenced people all over the world. It has touched the lives of millions who have visited here."
President Hinckley referred to the words of President McKay, who said at the 1955 founding of the Church College of Hawaii, now known as BYU-Hawaii, that the school would have an effect upon millions. "That would not have been possible without the PCC and the PCC has made that a very real and wonderful thing."
Hundreds lined the path into the Polynesian Cultural Center to welcome President and Sister Hinckley. Cries of "Aloha" and "We love you, President Hinckley" filled the air as motorized carts carried them to the remodeled Hale Aloha, the main luau site where the original night show was held 40 years ago. Another luau site, the Hale Ohana, held several hundred overflow luau guests who were also greeted by President Hinckley.
Wearing brightly colored Hawaiian clothing, President and Sister Hinckley were honored with several leis and treated to songs and dances by young performers as they enjoyed a traditional luau dinner. Polynesian Cultural Center President Von D. Orgill presented President Hinckley with a Samoan fire knife, called a Nifo'oti, "an awesome symbol of strength and power," President Orgill explained.
President Orgill added that the gift was a "symbol of the gratitude we feel for your courage, for your example, for your leadership, for your tireless dedication to building people everywhere while you lead us on in building the kingdom of God."
President Hinckley congratulated President Orgill on his leadership of the Polynesian Cultural Center. "Fine, beautiful. So much, so good," he declared.
He told delighted guests: "Aloha to every one of you. Thanks for all you do to make of this a great and successful undertaking. It has been going on for 40 years. It started out as a dream to make it possible for students to attend the Church College of Hawaii and to do entertainment which would yield some profit which would help them with their schooling. That dream has been carried on and refined in a wonderful way and this great institution has been built, constructed to bless the lives of millions and millions of people who have come here and seen this and enjoyed all that it had to offer."
During President Hinckley's visit to Laie, he also presided over the groundbreaking ceremony Oct. 25 for the transformation of Hale La'a Boulevard into a showpiece corridor leading from the Laie Hawaii Temple to the ocean's edge. The renewal will also include a new entrance to the nearby BYU-Hawaii campus. After the groundbreakiing, he and Sister Hinckley were grand marshals in a Laie community parade during which hundreds of residents lined the route to catch a glimpse of the Church president. They were led by a Polynesian Cultural Center band and their white convertible Mustang was escorted by "warriors" in traditional costumes of several Pacific islands.
On Sunday, Oct. 26, President Hinckley spoke at a regional conference held in the Cannon Activities Center on the campus of BYU-Hawaii. (Please see accompanying article on page 11.)
During the groundbreaking, President Hinckley said: "I think that President Joseph F. Smith looks down upon this group today with gratitude and appreciation for your tremendous interest in being here, for your concern with the causes and people which meant so very, very much to him. He came here as a boy and served as a missionary."
In his heart, President Hinckley said of President Smith, "there always remained a residue of great love and affection for the people of Hawaii.
"We have here something that we have nowhere else in all the Church: We have the beautiful temple and all of its environs. We have Brigham Young University-Hawaii. . . , and we have the cultural center; and they work together. This becomes one great and beautiful and magnificent campus, setting forth the beliefs and practices of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
"There is nothing quite like it in so small an area, really, than we have anywhere else in the world. This is a favored and beautiful and wonderful area."
Then, after calling this area "sacred ground," President Hinckley turned the first ceremonial shovelful of soil. Also wielding shovels and offering remarks were Church and civic leaders, including representatives of Hawaii Reserves Inc., which oversees and maintains Church property here and which was observing its 10th anniversary.
Offering music was a children's choir and a choir of students from BYU-Hawaii. Offering a traditional and tender Hawaiian "Oli" were Cy Bridges and William K. Wallace III.
In remarks to the Church News, President Orgill called the Polynesian Cultural Center "a place of miracles."
"This celebration is a true celebration of 40 years of miracles. If you sat down and selected 10 students and said, 'Tell me the story of how you ended up here,' you'd find out there was a series of incredible things that led them to come here. This is another illustration of the uniqueness of this place, this combination of miracles."
He recalled the 30 millionth visitor who entered the center on April 25 of this year. "They represent the millions who have come here and nearly every one of those people have been touched by the spirit that is present. They don't know how to describe it. They wish they could package it up and take it home. You hear these stories replicated over and over again."
President Eric B. Shumway of BYU-Hawaii also spoke of the "magnitude of the blessings" the Polynesian Cultural Center brings to the community, to the Church and to the world. It is a place, he said, "where the Aloha spirit, which is the spirit of Christ, embraces everything that is done over there [at the center] and that the gospel of Jesus Christ is not only embraced but also manifested in word and attitudes."