Ninety-nine years ago this week, Duke Kahanamoku competed in his first Olympics in Stockholm, Sweden. He won the gold medal in the 100-meter freestyle swim and a silver medal with the relay team. He returned to the Olympics in 1920, 1924 and 1932, winning three gold and two silver medals.
But what did he do after the Olympics? Few know that he ran two Union Oil service stations.
Duke had trouble finding a career after the 1932 Olympics. He once bemoaned that "out of the water I am nothing." He acted in a few Hollywood movies, playing Indian chiefs, mostly.
The head of Union Oil in Hawaii asked Duke whether he wanted a job. "I said heck yes, I’m not too proud to pump gas. I did it because it was something to do," Kahanamoku said in 1965.
Famed golfer Codie Austin Cooke, who won the first four Territorial Women’s Championships in Hawaii, knew Kahanamoku. "Duke ran a Union Oil gas station on the corner of Nuuanu and Pauoa roads." It’s now a Chevron station. He ran another in Waikiki.
"One day my dad pulled our car into the station, and Duke came to the window. ‘How’s your golf game, Codie?’ he asked me. I was thrilled to have him recognize me." Cooke was just 14 years old at the time. "Dad was upset and said, ‘We’re going to give him all our business. He shouldn’t be pumping gas. He should be the ambassador of our territory.’"
His service station career didn’t last long. Duke found his calling and ran for sheriff of the City and County of Honolulu in 1935. He served 13 terms and then was appointed as the city’s official greeter and ambassador of good will after that.
Bob Sigall, author of the "Companies We Keep" books, looks through his collection of old photos to tell stories each Friday of Hawaii people, places and companies. Email him at Sigall@Yahoo.com.