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'A place of miracles' Polynesian Cultural Center attracts millions

17,000 students have financed education by working at PCC

LAIE, HAWAII

In the early 1960s, Kalo Mataele Soukop of Tonga traveled the Hawaiian island of Oahu with other dancers to promote a new project — the Polynesian Cultural Center.

Performers at the Polynesian Cultural Center entertain guests who visit Laie, Hawaii, on the North S
Performers at the Polynesian Cultural Center entertain guests who visit Laie, Hawaii, on the North Shore of Oahu. The center has attracted more than 35 million visitors since opening on Oct. 12, 1963. | Courtesy Polynesian Cultural Center
Guest plays drums with performer in Tongan village of PCC. The center is helping to preserve the cul
Guest plays drums with performer in Tongan village of PCC. The center is helping to preserve the cultures of many Pacific island nations. | Photo by Gerry Avant, Church News

The concept of the center was simple: Students from across the Pacific attending nearby Brigham Young University-Hawaii would work their way through college by sharing their island heritage with tourists.

But many were skeptical about the plan. "You people are crazy," she was told over and over again. "What makes you think the tourists will come to Laie?"

Polynesian Cultural Center shares Samoan culture and customs.
Polynesian Cultural Center shares Samoan culture and customs. | Sarah Jane Weaver, Church News
| Sarah Jane Weaver, Church News

Sister Soukop's response was indicative of the faith and tenacity of early PCC founders. "We have leaders," she told the critics. "We know we will be successful one day. We won't give up."

Today as a member of the PCC board of directors, she has seen first hand the fruits of those early efforts.

To date, the center has attracted "not thousands or tens of thousands, but millions of people," said Von Orgill, Polynesian Cultural Center president, noting that the overall visitor count hit 35 million this year.

That, he added, was hardly conceivable when the center opened on Oct. 12, 1963 — a time when fewer than 1 million people visited all of Hawaii each year.

Polynesian Cultural Center, Nov. 2010
Polynesian Cultural Center, Nov. 2010 | Sarah Jane Weaver, Church News
Polynesian Cultural Center, Nov. 2010
Polynesian Cultural Center, Nov. 2010 | Sarah Jane Weaver, Church News
Performers at the Polynesian Cultural Center entertain guests who visit Laie, Hawaii, on the North S
Performers at the Polynesian Cultural Center entertain guests who visit Laie, Hawaii, on the North Shore of Oahu. | Sarah Jane Weaver, Church News

In addition to preserving the Pacific island cultures, the center has helped provide educational opportunities to student employees. More than 17,000 students have financed their studies at BYU-Hawaii by working at the PCC and the center has provided more than $175 million in financial support to BYU-Hawaii and its students, said Brother Orgill.

The cultural center "is a place of miracles," he said.

Performer dances in Samoan village of cultural center.
Performer dances in Samoan village of cultural center. | Sarah Jane Weaver, Church News
Polynesian Cultural Center performers blow conch shells.
Polynesian Cultural Center performers blow conch shells. | Sarah Jane Weaver, Church News

The PCC features pre-created villages that highlight customs of Samoa, Aotearoa (Maori New Zealand), Fiji, Hawaii, Marquesas, Tahiti, Tonga and Rapa Nui (Easter Island). Visitors can also experience island food and participate in crafts and games.

The center "touches people with the spirit of aloha — which we know to be the spirit of the Lord," said Brother Orgill.

Polynesian Cultural Center, Nov. 2010
Polynesian Cultural Center, Nov. 2010 | Sarah Jane Weaver, Church News

Many of the visitors also take advantage of the opportunity to visit the Laie Hawaii Temple Visitors Center. In fact, about 80 percent of those who tour the temple grounds and visitors center come from the PCC, said Brother Orgill. It is one way the center helps the Church "build bridges of friendship," he added.

In addition, he said, many students who work at the center and attend BYU-Hawaii get an education and return to their home nations as leaders.

Polynesian Cultural Center dancers welcome VIP guests to the center. Many BYU-Hawaii students financ
Polynesian Cultural Center dancers welcome VIP guests to the center. Many BYU-Hawaii students finance their education by working at the PCC. | Sarah Jane Weaver, Church News
Polynesian Cultural Center performer.
Polynesian Cultural Center performer. | Sarah Jane Weaver, Church News

"It is a touching thing to witness and an amazing thing to see day in and day out," said Brother Orgill. "Laie is a small community, on a small island in the middle of a big ocean. Yet the influence of this place is truly profound."

sarah@desnews.com

Cultural center has rich history

Following is a brief history of the Polynesian Cultural Center in Laie, Hawaii

| Photo by Gerry Avant, Church News
| Courtesy Polynesian Cultural Center
| Photo by Gerry Avant, All
| Photo by Gerry Avant, Church News
Many BYU-Hawaii students finance their education by working at the PCC.
Many BYU-Hawaii students finance their education by working at the PCC. | Sarah Jane Weaver, Church News
Performer makes fire for guests at the Samoan village.Performer makes fire for guests at the Samoan
Performer makes fire for guests at the Samoan village.Performer makes fire for guests at the Samoan village. | Sarah Jane Weaver, Church News
Performers dance in Samoan village of cultural center.
Performers dance in Samoan village of cultural center. | Sarah Jane Weaver, Church News
The center has attracted more than 35 million visitors since opening on Oct. 12, 1963.
The center has attracted more than 35 million visitors since opening on Oct. 12, 1963. | Sarah Jane Weaver, Church News
| Sarah Jane Weaver, Church News

(Source: Polynesia Cultural Center, www.polynesia.com/early-history.html).

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