Tony Delpiano, 93, officially retired from his career as a general manager with Outrigger Hotels & Resorts about 25 years ago.
But the charming senior with a ready grin and sharp wit still spends every Friday morning voluntarily working the floor of the Outrigger Waikiki because his mentor Roy Kelley, the founder of the Outrigger hotel chain, told him to keep guests happy.
"Roy Kelley put me here and I listened to him," Delpiano said from the koa-wood bench where he has carved out his own space in the hotel’s entry. "I talk to people. I ask them if they are having a good time and if there is anything that I can do for them."
Growing up in Bristol, R.I., the child of Italian immigrants, Delpiano never envisioned spending a lifetime built around a Hawaii hotel career.
"As a kid, I didn’t even know what a hotel looked like," he said.
Delpiano, who was one of seven surviving children, said that his family struggled to make ends meet.
"I got off at the ninth grade and went to work at a jewelry factory. We were too poor for me to stay in school," he said.
But the course of Delpiano’s life was changed by war and by love. Three days after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, he enlisted in the Navy and was sent to the Mediterranean, where he served on the destroyer USS Niblack (DD-424).
After the war ended, Delpiano got a job as a bellhop at the Boca Raton Hotel, the property that launched his hospitality career.
"I was the only one they hired because the uniform fit," he said. "If I had been taller or shorter, I wouldn’t have gotten that job."
While working at the hotel, Delpiano met the former Barbara Dorsam of Manoa. The couple, who were wed in 1954, have been married 58 years, but Delpiano still refers to his longtime bride as "this lovely one."
"I had just been to Europe and I was too broke to get home, so I was working in a dress shop at the same hotel," said Barbara Delpiano.
The couple, who worked across the hall from each other at the Boca Raton Hotel, quickly embarked on the romance that would bring Delpiano to Hawaii.
"Everybody was talking about Tony," Barbara Delpiano said. "I couldn’t wait to meet him, and when I did I saw how handsome he was."
After the two were married, they lived in Florida, where they had their first two of three children. Eventually, they moved to Hawaii where Delpiano started his career with Outrigger as a cashier at the Edgewater Hotel. However, he quickly moved up, going from the Outrigger Reef to the Outrigger Waikiki, the Outrigger East and finally the Prince Kuhio, where he retired as general manager.
"I worked seven days a week when I first started," Delpiano said.
Kelley and his wife, Estelle, who built the chain alongside her husband, set the bar high, he said.
"He didn’t like computers so we did everything by hand," Delpiano said. "He didn’t have any neighbor island hotels because he didn’t want to own any that he couldn’t walk through. His managers didn’t sit behind a desk; we were always working the floor."
While Outrigger employees worked hard, the Kelleys were generous, he said. "One day I came to work and asked to borrow $7,500 from Mr. Kelley so that I could buy a piece of property," Delpiano said.
Kelley pondered Delpiano’s request over lunch and returned with a check.
Delpiano said, "He told me, ‘I guess Christmas came early.’"
Now Delpiano’s weekly visits to the Outrigger Waikiki are a nod to Kelley’s generosity and to his insistence that employees provide personalized service.
"I remember asking him one time why we didn’t get a beautiful mailbox like the Moana," Delpiano said. "He told me, ‘The mailbox stays under the desk. I want them to ask you where the mailbox is so you can get to know the guests.’"
Delpiano said he learned much about what guests wanted and shared those findings with Kelley.
Delpiano still shares insights with Outrigger Waikiki General Manager Robert McConnell and Chuck Kelley, Kelley’s grandson.
"He’s still a wonderful ambassador for the company," McConnell said. "A lot of our returnees have come to know him by name, and they look forward to coming back and catching up."
Current employees, like Stan Daguay, who has worked for Outrigger for 45 years and once worked for Delpiano, also appreciate his weekly visits.
"He remembers names that I don’t even remember," said the 70-year-old Daguay. "He still acts like he did when he was working. He’s amazing."