I heard from Ken Takeya, who told me he went to Honolulu Christian College when it was at Makiki Christian Church in 1965. It was just before it merged with Hawaii Pacific College, he said.
I taught marketing and management at Hawaii Pacific University for 15 years, from 1998 to 2013, and had never heard that. My books and this column are a direct result of my time there.
What I recall hearing is that HPU’s roots began with Jackson College. Honolulu Christian College was unknown to me, so I decided to look into it further. What I found is that HPU has three roots and several interesting details I thought readers would enjoy.
The earliest root of HPU is Jackson College, which began in 1949 in Quonset huts purchased from the Navy.
The school was named for Sgt. Dewey Wayne Jackson, a Pearl Harbor Marine who was stationed in Hawaii after World War II. He wanted to do “something for the territory” with $8,000 he had saved (over $85,000 in today’s dollars) and talked to the Rev. Louis Barrett.
Jackson had been an orphan, and they first considered starting an orphanage, but an opportunity arose to purchase property at 2655 Manoa Road. Barrett suggested it could be turned into a Christian college.
Jackson donated his life savings and Barrett mortgaged a home he had in Texas to start the school. It was led by Barrett and sponsored by the Hawaii Baptist Foundation but was interdenominational.
The Manoa Valley site had been the home of Charles Frazier, who had developed Lanikai.
By 1953 Jackson College had branches at Barbers Point NAS, Kaneohe MCAS and Ford Island NAS. Jackson, stationed at the U.S. Embassy in Iran in 1953, continued to send $100 a month to the school.
The school had financial problems due to low enrollment and by 1965 was three years behind in its mortgage. Banks foreclosed on the property.
Former teachers and administrators then established Hawaii Pacific College from the remnants of Jackson College. Hawaii Pacific College used the Jackson College campus, and its former students were welcomed at the new school. Hawaii Pacific University uses this 1965 date as its beginning.
Hawaii Pacific College moved a few months later, in February 1966, into rented space in the Community Church of Honolulu at 2345 Nuuanu Ave.
Fifty-four students occupied the second floor of two classroom buildings. An old house on the property was used as a library and offices.
Honolulu Christian College
The second root of HPU was Honolulu Christian College, founded in 1953. It occupied eight rooms on the second floor of Makiki Christian Church on Pensacola Street and paid nominal rent.
It was begun by representatives of Baptist, Congregational and Methodist churches, and students were required to attend chapel. With a small enrollment the school’s chief problem was money.
In 1965 Honolulu Christian College and Hawaii Pacific College each had fewer than 70 students. A merger might enhance their chances of surviving, they decided.
Negotiations to merge the two colleges took place in 1966. They found easy agreement on the purpose, objectives and philosophy of the new institution.
Contentious issues included whether faculty would have to sign a Christian “statement of faith” and whether Jews, Buddhists, agnostics or atheists would be allowed to teach.
The merger went forward in September 1966. They operated under the Hawaii Pacific College name and on their “campus” at 2345 Nuuanu Ave. Twelve faculty instructed 125 students. Tuition was $200 a semester.
Faculty did not have to sign statements of faith, but student Bible studies and thrice-weekly, nondenominational chapel convocations were part of the program, Takeya told me.
Hawaii Loa College
The third leg of HPU was tentatively named Christian College of the Pacific. It was envisioned in 1959 by four Protestant groups but was renamed Hawaii Loa College before it opened in 1967.
Hawaii Loa was the legendary Polynesian navigator who discovered the Hawaiian Islands and led his people here. The trustees felt the name conveyed “the true meaning of our multicultural and multiracial background.”
About 150 acres of land were donated by Harold K.L. Castle makai of the Pali Golf Course. The land had been offered to the state for its Capitol, but it was turned down.
Building in Kailua proved costlier than anticipated. Alternative locations in Waimanalo and Wahiawa would have been less expensive but were discarded.
Hawaii Loa opened in September 1967 with about 50 students in temporary quarters at Chaminade College. In 1969 it moved into Hawaii Pacific College’s former site at 2345 Nuuanu Ave.
Finally, in May 1971, after generous donors stepped forward, the Kailua campus opened with 103 students.
Twenty years later Hawaii Loa had grown to 450 students but was running a $4 million deficit. It decided to merge with HPU, which had 7,000 students and 400 faculty and staff. A merger would save over $1 million, they felt.
The two schools had considered merging as far back as 1977. It became a reality in 1992.
Hawaii Pacific University had taken up residence in 120,000 square feet of rented space in the downtown area but lacked something that many students wanted: an actual campus. Hawaii Loa had that campus.
Hawaii Pacific University
“In 1972 Chaminade had about 4,000 students, and we had 200,” former President Chatt Wright recalled. “Our goal was to pass them. There was a lack of acceptance of us in the early days. When we passed them around 1988, we felt we were finally established and accepted. We declared we were a university and no longer a college.”
Wright says that Hawaii is an easy sell. “People are excited about Hawaii. It’s a beautiful place. All we have to do is tell them about the exotic, exciting, dynamic, learning center HPU is. We’re successful at attracting students from all over the world.”
HPU moved into the Aloha Tower Marketplace in 2015, finally giving it a downtown campus. The school sold its Hawaii Loa campus property and will move out in the next two or three years.
HPU is one of the most diverse schools in the world.
“We have 5,000 students from every state and from over 65 countries,” Wright said.
He said this makes a substantial contribution to Hawaii.
“All these people enrich the state intellectually,” he said. “They bring different perspectives, values and insights to the conversation.”
This year HPU is relocating many of its offices and classrooms nearer to Aloha Tower Marketplace, current President John Gotanda says. “We’re renting 100,000 square feet at Waterfront Plaza.
“It’s creating a sort of a triangle-type campus with Aloha Tower being the centerpiece of the student experience and Waterfront Plaza as well as Pioneer Plaza being the academic service hubs of the university.
“This keeps HPU within close proximity to the business community and government offices, which facilitates student internships.”
Currently HPU is adding doctorates in physical therapy, nursing and psychology.
HPU has also partnered with Dell, Microsoft and Sony to create Hawaii’s first e-sports program as part of its varsity athletics. It will engage a new generation of athletes and fans, Gotanda said.
HPU’s e-sports team competes in this emerging sport through the Peach Belt Conference.
E-sports provides HPU students with the opportunity to develop valuable skills such as leadership, teamwork and creativity.
Additionally, e-sports is attracting interest from a wide variety of industries, from sports management to health and technology, opening potential career pathways for students to pursue after graduation.
HPU is one of the first universities in the nation and the first in the state to build an e-sports arena, which is at Aloha Tower Marketplace.
“HPU is nimble and can change very quickly when it’s called for,” Gotanda said. “We’re able to respond to market changes and launch these innovative programs in a very short amount of time.”
I think Marine Sgt. Dewey Jackson would be proud of what he launched 70 years ago.
Have a question or suggestion? Contact Bob Sigall, author of the five “The Companies We Keep” books, at Sigall@Yahoo.com.