Gerald Minami won the Honolulu Police Department’s reserve officer of the year award in, well, he can’t recall. Sometime in the ’90s. Hey, it was a busy decade. Who keeps track?
Certainly not Minami, a 66-year-old contractor, reserve officer and retired Air National Guardsman whose philosophy on work, life, relationships, the future — everything, really — seems to boil down to a single categorical imperative: Keep it moving.
Minami figures he takes after his father, a proud, roll-up-the-sleeves type who eked out a happy, comfortable life for his wife and three kids from an intermediate school education and a lot of long hours working in construction.
And like his father, the soft-spoken, unfailingly polite Minami makes no apologies for holding fast to traditional values of hard work, service and humility that he learned growing up in Kaimuki and Waikiki in the 1950s.
"My father believed in right and wrong," he says. "We heard the same thing growing up: ‘Don’t embarrass the family!’"
Indeed, whether it was delivering newspapers as a kid or working at the pineapple cannery during the summers as a teen, Minami understood early on that being a man meant knowing how to stick to a job.
Minami had intended to become an architect, but with the Vietnam conflict escalating, he chose to enlist with the Air National Guard and was trained as a medic.
Minami calls the year he spent training in Texas and Alabama "an eye-opening experience" for a kid from Hawaii. Back at home he worked with an independent medic unit at Koko Crater and later the 154th Medical Unit at Hickam, but always valued his annual training excursions to Japan, Korea, Guam, the Philippines and Alaska. He would remain with the Guard for 35 years, eventually retiring as a chief master sergeant.
Minami’s military service overlapped his first marriage, which yielded two children, and his first career as a hotel manager in Waikiki. In the 1980s he embarked on a second career as a contractor, building a roster of steady clients that continues to keep him busy today.
For the last 31 years, Minami has also sated his compulsion to serve by volunteering as a reserve police officer. Like regular officers, he is fully versed in police procedures and is empowered to enforce laws as any officer may, albeit without any compensation.
When necessary, he’s put himself in harm’s way to protect the public, dodging cars while directing traffic during a hurricane, doing his best "verbal judo" as he tried to quell a massive brawl outside a bar, even ducking a frying pan as he attempted to break up a domestic dispute.
Minami, who remarried 15 years ago and helped raise a stepdaughter, says the payoff for a life spent in service to others lies in the satisfaction of having done his part to make the world a better, safer place for his children and grandchildren.
"What is comes down to is helping the next generation get a little bit farther, just like my parents did for me," he says. "I hope I did a good job and that my children will pass it on."
Reach Michael Tsai at email@example.com.