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Laie: 'spirit of aloha'

Millions visit Oahu's North Shore, a gathering place since mid-1800s

LAIE, HAWAII

On a quiet street in Laie, Hawaii, Flora Kapualahaole Soren demonstrates the true spirit of aloha. Following the example of the generations before her, she extends an open-door, open-refrigerator invitation to a reporter from Salt Lake City.

Flora Kapualahaole Soren's grandfather purchased land in Laie, Hawaii, in 1865.
Flora Kapualahaole Soren's grandfather purchased land in Laie, Hawaii, in 1865. Photo: Photo by Sarah Jane Weaver

Sister Soren shares her stories, her photographs, her history, her time and her food.

Her generosity, she explains, is something she learned in her youth. Laie is — and always has been — a place where visitors are welcome, she explains.

Sister Soren would know. Her roots in the island community run deep.

In 1865, the Church purchased 6,000 acres of barren land — with no known source of fresh water — on the North Shore of the Hawaiian island of Oahu.

The land had been an ancient sanctuary for defeated warriors or fugitives in Hawaii who sought protection and cleansing in the puuhonua or city of refuge. Now it would be "a gathering place" for pioneer members of the Church in the Pacific.

Kalo Mataele Soukop came to Laie, Hawaii, in the early 1960s when she left her native Tonga to attend school in the community. She was an original dancer at the Polynesian Cultural Center.
Kalo Mataele Soukop came to Laie, Hawaii, in the early 1960s when she left her native Tonga to attend school in the community. She was an original dancer at the Polynesian Cultural Center. Photo: Photo by Sarah Jane Weaver

Among the early settlers was Sister Soren's grandfather, who came to Laie with the Latter-day Saint missionaries and purchased land when the Church bought property. Her mother became the first Relief Society president on the island of Oahu.

Sister Soren grew up playing in Hawaii's sugar cane fields; her first job, at age 9, was hoeing weeds in the fields at Kahuku Plantation. She would later work at the Dole Pineapple Cannery, before serving for years as Laie's postmaster.

She is one of the many who helped the Church grow and prosper in Laie, a place that today attracts millions of visitors who come to the Polynesian Cultural Center, the campus of BYU-Hawaii, and the Laie Hawaii Temple.

Eric B. Shumway, former president of BYU-Hawaii, and his wife, Sister Carolyn Shumway, say the aloha spirit is part of Laie, Hawaii.
Eric B. Shumway, former president of BYU-Hawaii, and his wife, Sister Carolyn Shumway, say the aloha spirit is part of Laie, Hawaii. Photo: Photo by Sarah Jane Weaver

The overall visitor count at the Polynesian Cultural Center, for example, hit 35 million last year, according to Von Orgill, Polynesian Cultural Center president. And more than 2,500 students — representing more than 70 countries — attend BYU-Hawaii each year, said BYU-Hawaii President Steven C. Wheelwright.

Kalo Mataele Soukop first visited Laie in the early 1960s, when she left her native Tonga to attend the Church school in Laie.

She would later travel the island of Oahu with other Polynesian dancers to promote the cultural center, then a new project.

Sister Soukop said the early concept of the cultural center had many critics. "You people are crazy," she was told over and over again. "What makes you think the tourists will come to Laie?"

But Sister Soukop's response was indicative of the faith and tenacity of Laie's pioneers. "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 firsthand the fruits of those early efforts.

Frieze on the grounds of the Laie Hawaii Temple illustrates locals' emphasis on the family.
Frieze on the grounds of the Laie Hawaii Temple illustrates locals' emphasis on the family. Photo: Photo by Sarah Jane Weaver

Looking back, she credits her father for his vision to send her to Laie, where a few years later she would also serve a full-time labor mission for the Church.

"This place was dedicated and blessed by [Church President] David O. McKay. He said one day millions and millions of people will go through this little village. I have witnessed that."

Elder Scott D. Whiting, an Area Seventy who lives on Oahu, said Laie has been a gathering place for Church members in the Pacific since the mid-1800s.

And because of the temple, which stands at the heart of the island community, Laie remains "a draw and compelling place to be for all of us who reside in the islands," Elder Whiting explained.

Laie — the temple, campus and cultural center — is known not just to Church members but to others in Hawaii, he added.

Eric B. Shumway, former president of BYU-Hawaii, said Laie — and the temple that stands at the heart of the city — bring together people and cultures from around the world.

"The spirit of aloha — that is what this place has," said his wife, Carolyn Shumway. "Here people are more interested in each other than things."

The community is more about "the way people love each other and take care of each other" than anything else, Brother Shumway noted.

Photo: Photo by Sarah Jane Weaver

He said the uniqueness and the beauty of the community are matched by counter forces, including understanding and patience.

Welcoming visitors to Laie has much to do with the power and spirit of aloha, Sister Shumway said.

"Aloha has to do with good cheer and hospitality and love and forgiveness and all things that are sweet and wonderful in human relationships. Hospitality is part of that," she said.

Now one of the older Church members in Laie, Sister Soren has practiced that hospitality for decades.

Bright colored hibiscus plants add beauty to Hawaiian community.
Bright colored hibiscus plants add beauty to Hawaiian community. Photo: Photo by Sarah Jane Weaver
Visitors to the Laie Hawaii Temple grounds can see the ocean.
Visitors to the Laie Hawaii Temple grounds can see the ocean. Photo: Photo by Sarah Jane Weaver

Her family history is woven into the community; her mother, for example, is depicted as the woman holding the shell in the frieze, titled "Maternity," standing outside the temple.

As a Church News reporter leaves Sister Soren's house, she demonstrates once again that all are invited to Laie.

In 1865, the Church purchased 6,000 acres of barren land -- with no known source of fresh water -- on the North Shore of the Hawaiian island of Oahu. Today, the Laie Hawaii Temple, above, the BYU-Hawaii campus and Polynesian Cultural Center stand on that land.
In 1865, the Church purchased 6,000 acres of barren land -- with no known source of fresh water -- on the North Shore of the Hawaiian island of Oahu. Today, the Laie Hawaii Temple, above, the BYU-Hawaii campus and Polynesian Cultural Center stand on that land. Photo: Photo by Sarah Jane Weaver
Sun sets on beach in Laie, Hawaii, on the North Shore of Oahu.
Sun sets on beach in Laie, Hawaii, on the North Shore of Oahu. Photo: Photo by Sarah Jane Weaver

Talking about the hot Pacific sun, Sister Soren places a cool treat from her freezer in each of the reporter's hands.

And then she makes her promise she will return during future visits to Laie.

The message is indicative of everything that encompasses aloha. Sister Soren's door is always open.

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Stunning beach scenes are common in Laie, Hawaii.
Stunning beach scenes are common in Laie, Hawaii. Photo: Photo by Sarah Jane Weaver

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