Polynesian Cultural Center Commemorates Inspired Beginning

  By R. Scott Lloyd, Church News staff writer

  • 18 September 2013

David Hanneman, the first full-time employee when the center opened, provided food services for the Polynesian Cultural Center in 1963.  Photo by R. Scott Lloyd.

Article Highlights

  • After visiting Hawaii in 1921, David O. McKay envisioned the nations of the world united as one blood.
  • Other Church leaders later envisioned a Hawaiian facility for cultural performances.
  • Today the large, beautiful, and ethnically rich Polynesian Cultural Center has brought these visions to fruition.

“I’m very grateful for President McKay’s prophecy and the vision of those four men and all those who followed them.”—David Hanneman, the center’s first full-time employee 

Each day around noon, when the Polynesian Cultural Center opens, a ceremony is held at the entrance in which the flags of the United States, the state of Hawaii, and the several island nations represented at the facility are raised.

The ceremony might be regarded as a daily tribute to the vision Elder David O. McKay had in 1921, when he was on a world tour as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve. Visiting a small, Church-owned elementary school in the small temple town of Laie, he was impressed by a flag-raising ceremony by the children at the school, among them Americans, Hawaiians, Japanese, Chinese, and Filipinos.

“The Church of Christ will truly make of all nations one blood,” he recorded in his journal. “May God hasten the day when this is accomplished.”

He saw the fulfillment of that dream with the establishment of the Church College of Hawaii in 1955. Later, Elder Matthew Cowley of the Quorum of the Twelve, in counsel with Edward Clissold, a counselor in the Oahu Stake presidency, and Wendell B. Mendenhall, one of Elder Cowley’s former New Zealand missionaries, envisioned a facility in which the Maori and other islanders could support themselves at the school while singing and dancing for tourists.

“I’m very grateful for President McKay’s prophecy and the vision of those four men and all those who followed them,” said David Hanneman, 87, the center’s first full-time employee. “I had no idea that a center would be as beautiful and as big as it is today.”

Born in Western Samoa in 1926, he became successful in business in the United States before being tapped to bring food services to the center after it was founded in 1963.

With an encyclopedic memory about the center, he remembers the labor missionaries of the Church whose efforts were indispensible to the center’s construction.

Among those was Sione Tulione Pulotu of Tonga. At the 50th anniversary commemoration, he recalled that it was an answer to his personal prayer that he was sent to Hawaii to fulfill his labor mission and work on the center and other projects.

Sione Tulione Pulotu, a 1963 labor missionary, rides a float in the commemorative parade. Church News

He danced at the dedication of the center in 1951. And he danced at the Golden Alumni Show as part of the 50th anniversary commemoration.

“I told people, ‘I danced at the beginning, and this may be my last one,’ ” he said.