Happy 20th Birthday, MNKO!

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By Diane Haynes Woodburn

Diane Haynes WoodburnThe Chinese Calendar tells us that 2016 is the year of the Fire Monkey — a year in which anything can happen, as this cheeky animal bursts with exuberance. His humor and wit will increase communication and help us get through stressful times with grace.

But it is the fire sign that really gives this year its brilliance. Those born under the element of fire are adventurous, innovative, articulate and born leaders. And, the Internet tells me, those born under a fire sign love to explore new horizons. Hmmm, sounds like a good idea for a magazine.

Yep, it was under a fire sign, twenty years ago in 1996, that Maui No Ka ‘Oi Magazine was born. It was the year of the fire rat — no monkey business involved. Rather, hard work and a true-grit spirit of survival launched Maui No Ka ‘Oi — along with a mentor with a heart.

To tell the story, I have to go back even further, to 1983, when I launched my first magazine. Art to Onions was designed as a product catalog (with stories) of everything wonderful on Maui. A little before its time, Art to Onions dropped the catalog element and lived for ten years under the new title Pacific Art and Travel. I could not have picked a more volatile economy. By 1993 the travel and art markets had plunged into a deep recession. Many advertisers, even the bigger companies, filed bankruptcy, leaving creditors (like me) unable to collect on receivables. My company plummeted, and having no other choice, I closed Pacific Art and Travel. As a single mom with no other resources, I was devastated, broke, and scared.

I spent most of the next year taking jobs writing grants, juggling bills, and waking up in the middle of the night wide-eyed, wondering if I would be able to keep my house. I would calm myself with the mantra “My kids are good. I’m healthy. It’s only money.”

Haynes family photo

Another year, and Print Media Day was coming up — a trade show for Hawai‘i publishers and their clients. I wanted so much to hide at home, but could not help thinking of the song I had sung to my children for so many years: “Whenever I feel afraid, I hold myself erect, and whistle a happy tune so no one will suspect I’m afraid.” I had to go. I put on a smile, and walked as tall as my five-foot-one, 105-pound frame could carry me. If I had known how to whistle, I would have.

It felt like the walk of shame — until one man, a publisher I admired, stopped not just to say hello, but also to be kind, supportive, and encouraging. He expressed his faith in me as a publisher and encouraged me to keep going. And most importantly, he offered to listen to me.

It was a few weeks before I found the courage to call. I did have an idea for a new magazine, I told him. I wanted to call it Maui No Ka ‘Oi. Although he lived on O‘ahu, he and his wife came to Maui every weekend to work on their little Upcountry home, where he hoped to someday retire. One Sunday, we scheduled an appointment and he reviewed my proposal. “You have to do it,” he told me. “Write a business plan.”

“I can’t,” I responded. “I have to get a job or I will lose my house.” He wouldn’t hear of it. “Write the plan,” he said. He then got out his checkbook, and wrote a check to help me get through the next month. “I don’t want it back,” he told me. “I want to see Maui No Ka ‘Oi.”

Mahalo, Kim Jacobsen. Because of your kindness, faith and generosity, Maui No Ka ‘Oi was indeed launched. Since then we have donated nearly $500,000 in cash and in kind to support nonprofits in our community. I hope you know how much your investment has grown, and what an important part you have played in developing dreams.

As we launch into 2016, the world is once again a scary place — for much bigger reasons. Perhaps the Year of the Monkey will indeed find better communication between peoples of all nations. But I believe it is the fire we must embrace. It is my hope that we each find the courage to stand for tolerance and generosity so that together we pave the way, even with the smallest of kind acts, to a more humane world.

A Hui Hou

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