challenging times

The Covid-19 Closure

Introduction, late 2019

As one of the Polynesian Cultural Center’s strongest years ever drew to a close, with perhaps even better results forecast for the coming year, few people realized a looming, worldwide health hazard would devastate Hawaii’s tourism industry, indeed would change many aspects of our entire lifestyle.

 This chronicle, however, is designed as a narrative to focus on what happened in Laie as within months, what would become widely known as the COVID-19 pandemic would soon force the Center to close for almost a year and make numerous operational adjustments.

Surprisingly, however, the Center has emerged from these challenges stronger than ever under a new business model; and some of us believe this chapter in the Center’s history ranks as the most significant accomplishments since the earliest days of our prophetic founding over 60 years ago.

 The detailed COVID-19 chronicle describes events through media reports, accounts and observations of our leaders and their inspired decisions and actions described in harmonized input gathered from first-person interviews with PCC President and CEO Alfred Grace, President’s Council members including Eric Workman, vice president and Chief Marketing Officer; Tagaloataoa Delsa Atoa Moe, vice president of Cultural Presentations, and Greg Maples, vice president of Culinary Services (formerly known as Food and Beverage Services).

 You will also read of the roles the Center’s chairman of the board of directors Fraser Bullock, and others played, including Church and BYU­–Hawaii leaders, as well as Elder Brinton and Sister Nancy Burbidge, senior missionaries who President Grace asked to remain in Laie during the shut-down and keep a journal of their experiences. Seth Casey, director of marketing, and Jimmy Mapu, the Center’s director of Guest Services, who worked closely with students who stayed in Laie during the pandemic, also provided a record of what took place after most of our full-time had been furloughed while others took early retirement, and BYU–Hawaii student employees had left.

 But in truth, many unnamed people sacrificed and served under previously unimagined circumstances during this time to help the Center overcome the COVID-19 challenges, positioning us to reach tremendous new potential.

early 2020, the coronavirus spreads

Elder and Sister Burbidge noted in their journal that “visitors from Japan, China, Taiwan, South Korea, and other parts of the world were enjoying Center. However, some of the international student guides shared disquieting messages from family members (back home) about a new and concerning illness in some Asian countries.”

Elder and Sister Burbidge noted in their journal that “visitors from Japan, China, Taiwan, South Korea, and other parts of the world were enjoying Center. However, some of the international student guides shared disquieting messages from family members (back home) about a new and concerning illness in some Asian countries.”

“Some have been advised by family members to wear masks. After consideration, they were told they could wear masks, but would be reassigned to non-guest areas,” the Burbidges wrote.

“National and international news sources reported a new SARS-like virus infection that was sweeping through Asia and Europe. The large numbers of PCC visitors from Asia prompted concern in consideration of steps to be taken to promote health and well-being of students, volunteers, and the community of Laie.”

January 2020

The Polynesian Cultural Center reported coming off its best-ever year at the end of 2019, with January and February 2020 numbers expected to look even better.

january 21, 2020

Local media reported the Hawaii State Department of Health had issued an advisory to “be on alert for patients who have traveled to Wuhan, China.”

It’s fair to say few people in Hawaii then knew much about the “new coronavirus” or realized it would eventually be dubbed COVID-19, start a worldwide pandemic, and shut down Hawaii’s tourism industry with disastrous economic impact for many businesses and people.

pcc's first alarm and response

President Grace and the President’s Council had already begun following the potential health threat of COVID-19. “As early as February 2020, a cruise ship arrived in Hawaii, and several passengers purchased a circle island tour which included a stop for lunch and a visit to the islands at the Polynesian Cultural Center,” he said.

“Two of those passengers were later identified as having COVID, and that ship went on to be quarantined, I believe, in San Francisco. That really brought the warning home to us. It was going to be very difficult to protect ourselves and our PCC guests.”

february 11-12, 2020:

The World Health Organization announced COVID-19 as the official name of the new coronavirus.

Delsa Moe recalled she was attending a funeral in Portland, Oregon, in February “when the first case in the U.S. had been detected in Seattle, and everybody was panicking. The world started shutting down, and masks were in use everywhere.”

“We knew about China, but we thought maybe it could be contained there,” she said. “But once it spread to Europe, we said, okay, this is coming.”

About that same time, Eric Workman said he remembered watching a TV news report about COVID-19 and then giving BYU–Hawaii a call.

“I think this may get bigger than we fear,” he said, “and we might end up having to shut down. The response we got was, ‘Oh you’re overreacting. There’s no way. It’s going to blow over. It’ll be fine.’”

March 6, 2020:

A cruise ship passenger was flown home to Hawaii with the first confirmed local case of COVID-19.

March 2020:

The 3,600-member Hawaii Restaurant Association named Greg Maples, vice president of Center Culinary Services, as its chairman.

In this important position, which Maples held with the Center’s encouragement until July 2022, he had unprecedented, frequent access to top state and Honolulu County government officials, industry and media leaders, and was able to receive and share invaluable information on the status of the COVID-19 pandemic in Hawaii which he could share the Center President’s Council.

The Burbidge journal records, “Until March of 2020, the Polynesian Cultural Center had only a three-day unplanned closure. Leaders of the Center consulted with the Board of Directors as well as with the Office of the Presiding Bishopric and other leaders of The Church [of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints].”

Of those meetings, President Grace said, “We made the decision during the week leading into March 14, that we would close the PCC for two weeks in the interests of our employees and our guests, and the fact that it was very difficult to protect all of them from being affected by COVID-19. The first day we were closed was March 16, 2020.

Fraser Bullock, the Salt Lake City-based Chairman of the Center’s Board of Directors, confirmed he and President Grace “were in very close contact with each other throughout this period. We also contacted or had in the loop Donald Blohm from our board, and it seemed we moved extremely rapidly when we saw that this could be a potential threat to our guests and to our employees.”

“We informed the Presiding Bishopric that our recommendation was to close, and they quickly approved that. I believe they consulted with the First Presidency to keep them notified.”

Bullock also recalled initially, “I didn’t think it would affect the PCC, but as we moved into early March, I saw that this could be a significant impact for us. Once we recognized the risk to the public, we didn’t hesitate.”

Of that decision, Workman stressed, “We decided we needed to close down in an abundance of caution. We had people from the government and industry call us and say, ‘Please tell me you guys haven’t shut down. You guys have led this thing. You lead. People are going to follow you, and everyone’s going to shut down right after you, if you do this.’”

“We were one of the first to close because we did not want to put people, our employees, our community, and the Church at risk. We decided we needed to close. Within a week, everybody else closed, not following us, but because the government said they had to.”

March 17, “thinking we’d only be closed for two weeks”: Hawaii State Governor David Ige announced “a number of new orders and guidelines…strongly encouraging visitors to postpone their vacations, limiting social gatherings to no more than 10 people, plus closing all bars and clubs. Restaurants were told to close or provide only drive-thru, take-out or delivery options.”

“So, we were actually ahead of the State mandating closures,” President Grace continued. “On the 16th everyone thought we were crazy. Some wondered how we knew how much COVID was going to impact us. But we were thinking we’d only be closed for two weeks. We had no idea at that time that we’re going to be closed for nearly a year.

Within a few days, “the governor ordered anyone arriving in Hawaii to undergo a mandatory 14-day quarantine, which ended up almost completely shutting down Hawaii’s tourism industry.”

These were the early days when some visitors who came to Hawaii despite all the news would end up confined to their hotels for the duration of the quarantine, and otherwise found else to do or that was open.

Elder and Sister Burbidge soon reported in their journal that “the pandemic-induced closing presented a new challenge: Leadership was sailing on new and uncharted siege. It was hoped the closure would be short, no more than two weeks, and then with precautions, the Center would open up.”

They also reported Center leadership made assignments “to undertake projects during the two-week shutdown. Many of the assignments involved work and skills new to the students, but with focus and understanding, the work went forward.”

March 18:

Within a few days, however, Hawaii Gov. David Ige, determined to close all but essential commercial activities on the islands. The closure, timetable and list of activities were revised to reflect this directive.

March 24:

The Department of Health reported the first COVID-19 fatality in Hawaii, an adult with underlying health issues.

March 26:

The number of COVID-19 cases in Hawaii passed 100.

Most missionaries Directed to Leave:  And about this time, missionary leaders in Salt Lake City directed the majority of the senior missionaries serving at the Polynesian Cultural Center and BYU–Hawaii to return home.

An article in the BYUH Ke Alaka‘i newspaper indicated, “All missionaries who would have gone home before June 15 were told they would not be returning.” (Others with a later, original release date were informed they might have the opportunity to return and finish the number of months they were called to serve.)

Moe said the Center held a special meeting in the Hawaiian Journey Theater to announce the missionary directive: Oh, there was a lot of crying, because some of them had only been here like a week or two.” She added that an architect senior missionary was asked to stay behind to help with project plans; and of course, the Burbidges, who were stake missionaries, were already at home — so they also stayed. In addition to the historical journal they kept, Elder Burbidge is a retired attorney who helped revise the Center’s policies and procedures manuals during the closure.

This was a tender time (for the missionaries),” the Burbidges agreed, “as they were informed and arrangements were made for travel. The BYUH campus was also closed and classes were held online. This required adjustments in work schedules. Specifics related to the adjustments were explained through interviews with those involved.”

With lead time as short as one week, President Grace pointed out “the missionaries were scrambling to get travel arrangements made, but all the cars they owned, they didn’t know what to do with them. We decided Anthony Wong would hold them for the missionaries; and if they wanted to sell them, we would sell the missionary cars for them.”

“We also we paid to help cover the cost of shipping, not only for the Center’s CC senior missionaries, but also for the BYU–Hawaii senior missionaries, because they helped out at the Center as well.”

And Delsa Moe thought, “When BYU–Hawaii said they were going to start sending students home, we knew there was no way we could function without students.”

Some students were “stuck” in Laie: The Burbidges explained “as BYU–Hawaii students were getting sent home as quickly as possible, a lot of Asian countries and some of the Pacific island nations closed their borders against COVID-19. Even so, some international students and even a senior missionary was stuck here. Sister Tonga, for example, ended up serving a 32-month mission, and when that ended, she still couldn’t go home to Tonga, so she stayed on for school.”

April 2020:

In April 2020, Gov. Ige issued a statewide mask mandate, requiring face masks be worn both indoors and outdoors.

Back at the Center, President Grace noted “we soon could see we would be closed through April, but open again in May.”

May 2020:

Then everything began deteriorating from there. So, we made the announcement, I believe it was in May or getting close to May, that we would be closed through the summer.”

Unemployment and furlough benefits: “As we got into the summer period, around June, July, it became very apparent that COVID wasn’t going away. The State was reacting aggressively to try to stamp it out, and so we began saying, Okay, we need to really look at furloughing our employees.”

Delsa Moe recalled, “We had faith COVID would end and tourism would resume, but as to how long that would take, we didn’t know.”

The Burbidges explained this was not an easy decision: “Unlike other Church entities, the PCC funded wages and salaries from guest ticket revenues and funds held in reserve accounts. With the closure, there were no guest ticket revenues, and there was total reliance on reserve accounts.”

“As reserves dwindled, action needed to be taken, but what and for how long? Reckoning the length of the closure was formidable. The analogy of drinking from wells dug in an earlier era along with the warmth provided by fires kindled in the past was always on the minds of decision makers. Careful consideration was given to alternatives that would keep employees as whole as possible and still sustain the PCC.”

Prayers to Heaven and consultation with the Board members and leaders at Church headquarters were continuous. Should, where possible, employees be provided salary and wages from the accumulated revenues? Should across-the-board pay reductions be considered?

It was determined some employees could be furloughed and receive the same or more income from federal and state [unemployment] benefits.

President Grace added, “As we went through the furlough process and helping our employees claim unemployment benefits, the problem was that it was it was quite complex; and so Tai Vuniwai, our vice president of human resources, and his team were assigned to make sure we took full advantage of these benefits.”

Delsa Moe said Mat Widman and Potai Matalolo were two of the HR team members who deserved to be singled out for their work on unemployment filing, “and keeping the rest of us posted.”

“We set up a program where we had representatives from many areas of the Center, and also from HR become coaches. They literally worked one on one with all of our employees to help them apply for their unemployment benefits. Consequently, nearly all of our employees got their unemployment benefits very quickly. And so, they didn’t see a real reduction in the compensation. In fact, for a lot of them, the part-timers, they saw an improvement.”

Moe recalled even nearby Turtle Bay Resort Human Resources people asked if they could take a look at how the Center was handling unemployment filings.

President Grace also noted that while a lot of people in Hawaii were complaining about going through the unemployment benefits process, “we hardly had any of that because of the effort put in by Tai and his team, and the ‘coaches’ that they assigned to each area to make sure that our staff were able to apply and check all the right boxes, and make sure they submitted them on the right forms. All these things that had prevented other people from getting timely unemployment benefits, HR did an amazing job at that.”

A reduction in force: “After that,” President Grace continued, “we realized we we’re going to have to go through a reduction in force, because we saw the pandemic closure was going to last an extended period of time. But we wanted to be as good, if not better, than any other company in Hawaii as far as extending voluntary severance packages.

“And so again, Tai Vuniwai was tasked with doing this. He reached out to Church Risk Management’s Steve Hoskins, who put us back in touch with legal representation here, so we were able to put together a real well thought out voluntary severance package.”

“Fortunately for the Center, we had been doing financially okay. Up to that point, 2019 was on record as the strongest financial year we’ve had, so we had been building up our cash reserves for a rainy day, which we had to tap into” (as well as some assistance from the Church).

The Burbidges wrote in their journal that those fulltime employees who were furloughed, “received revenue in amounts similar to or in excess of what they would have received if they had continued to work. The Human Resource department worked with these employees to help file for benefits and enable them to maximize the rapid disbursement of these funds. The processing of filing assistance was unmatched by any other employer on the island.”

September 2020:

The Burbidge journal also recorded “to further reduce numbers, employees were offered early retirement, as well as other retirement incentives. As before, the ‘ohana members were helped to file and receive benefits and entitlements. A ‘graduation’ was held to recognize retiring members of the ‘ohana. Individual banners, special tributes, and gifts were provided along with a parade of cars carrying these wonderful, departing family members.”

“It was a really unique way of celebrating with all of them,” Delsa Moe added.

December 17, 2020:

BYU–Hawaii announced a “phased return for students to campus,” which included them undergoing a weekly, provided COVID-19 testing and vaccination program, that was also set up in conjunction with Cultural Center employees.

As 2020 drew to a close, the Burbidges reported “this was a time of scarcity and heartache. People were ‘pinched’ and attempts at reducing the shock of insufficiency and unemployment continued. Neighbors, students, coworkers, and families helped one another, and were likewise helped. This was a time to demonstrate that we were all ‘one ‘ohana, sharing what we had.’”

Guest Servicers Director Jimmy Mapu, who had been charged with helping and keeping track of BYU–Hawaii student employees who were “stranded” in Laie during the pandemic, did so by organizing them into contact groups, each headed by two students.

The student leaders were charged with making sure all the students in their respective groups were in school, had food, a place to sleep, and transportation when necessary.

Married student workers and former workers were also organized into groups to be sure those in need had diapers, formula, and other “baby” necessities, and that parents were eating. In some cases, parents were going without food to provide for their children.

Meanwhile, students who previously worked as Guest Service guides, learned to work in other areas at the Center. They were very willing to train and do other jobs to help out and earn needed money. For example, they were trained to operate equipment, to use power, saws, power, drills, and other power equipment along with pick and shovel skills.

They used to “sludge” they removed from the lagoon in flowerbeds and other planted areas at the PCC. This was often a new experience for the students. Many had never used a saw, hammer, screwdriver, or other tools before.

The Burbidges added that Mapu also organized a weekly devotional for all the remaining students, who participated either virtually or in person.

“Jimmy Mapu and his team, they were just everywhere,” Delsa Moe added, “putting stuff together, and helping out the maintenance crew, and Talagū Ah Hoy, who was normally the on-site coordinator for group sales at the Center, “ended up being assigned to Physical Facilities and managed these work groups. She made it fun for them, and she also learned how to drive a ‘bobcat’ [loader] so she could haul mulch.”


Using the shutdown time wisely: President Grace praised the Center’s “amazing team and Facilities Management. Kealii Haverly was taken literally from being director of sales and transferred to become director of facilities, after Dan Briskin took the voluntary severance package. He showed an amazing ability to come up the curve quickly, and between him and his team, they started maintaining the Center as best we could under the circumstances.”

Everybody pitched in: Eric Workman recalled seeing President Grace at one point early in the closure “weedwhacking out on some lawns, and everybody took their shifts to security. We all just pitched in with minimal staff.”

Draining the lagoon: “A lot of students who were unable to return home during COVID were on the BYU–Hawaii payroll, and we were asked to accommodate many of them,” President Grace said. “A lot of them picked up paint brushes, and they kept everything painted here at the PCC. They were doing jobs they’d never done before in their lives. For example, we drained the lagoon, and cleaned it out. We literally removed truckloads of sludge from the lagoon.”

Delsa Moe added, “There were several weeks where they were in the lagoon scooping fish and relocating them elsewhere; and while the lagoon was empty, they also put up siding. On the lagoon walls.

“We removed a lot of the large trees that had been at PCC for many years. The actual banyan tree that used to be by the Kau Kau snack bar  and was previously called the Banyan Tree snack bar, we removed that because it wasn’t serving a purpose.

Moe also said during this time she found it very “unusual” to be home every evening, compared with her usual 12-hour days before the closure. Like other Center leaders and managers, she did some of her work from home, and attended some meetings via internet.

Completing capital projects: “There were also some capital projects that needed to be done, but we previously had a hard time figuring out how to do these while guests passed through the Center. They were in major traffic flow areas.”

President Grace explained that Fraser Bullock, chairman of the board of directors, “was coordinating everything with Church leadership for us, and in addition, he gave us tremendous direction. For example, he was very concerned about what we could do to support BYU–Hawaii students at that time, and he was helping us go through our financials, making sure that our funding was adequate for the areas that needed it,

“Even though there would be a drain on funds,” President Grace continued, “we reviewed this with the Presiding Bishopric, and they reviewed it with the First Presidency, who finally said ‘Yes, let’s go ahead and get this done while we can.’”

Again, President Grace thanked Bullock for his efforts. “Remember, by this point of the pandemic, the Church had become very conservative.”

“For instance, we replaced a main water line that runs down the makai [inland] service road, all the way from the Hawaiian Village to the Mahinalani Store, crosses over the main thoroughfare by the Gateway Restaurant, and comes right around back to the lagoon.”

Meanwhile, Moe said, “The Guest Services team learned general maintenance skills such as how to remove carpet and how to lay hardwood floors. So, when the Center decided to move out of their Snow Administrative Building offices onto the grounds (to save money), they also learned how to put the modular office equipment together that the Church donated to us. They went from office to office, put stuff in, put down flooring if needed, repainted, and set up desks. They were busy, and it was great.”

“Where President Grace’s office is now on the grounds, that was the old training room. We converted that into our own unemployment office. All the computers that were setup in there, employees could come in anytime of the day. They would have at least three or four of us who would be in there to help them file.”

Help from BYU–Hawaii’s President Kauwe: “When President John S.K. Kauwe III came to BYU–Hawaii that Fall, “with his background in medicine, he reached out and connected us with the company that did COVID testing for us at a fraction of what everybody else was charging,” Moe said. “We sent our employees there once a week.”

Moe added that the Center and BYU–Hawaii also made the COVID testing facility available to the community. “It was a great community service,” Moe added, “and sometimes we would have food distribution events. We would send our employees there every week. It was so convenient. That just became the norm.”

he reached out and connected us with the company that did COVID testing for us at a fraction of what everybody else was charging,” Moe said. “We sent our employees there once a week.”

Moe added that the Center and BYU–Hawaii also made the COVID testing facility available to the community. “It was a great community service,” Moe added, “and sometimes we would have food distribution events. We would send our employees there every week. It was so convenient. That just became the norm.”

Eating together, farming: “About once every two weeks, those of us who were working would gather in the Tongan village or the Samoan village where everybody would cook. They would make an umu [Samoan oven], and we’d all just kind of eat over there. By now everybody in the village was a farmer. They were planting everything, creating gardens, and stuff needed to be harvested and eaten. We had taro, sweet potato, bananas, and people would bring in other food. It really reminded me a lot of Samoa, you know, when we would get together in a village and eat.”

Daily President’s Council meetings, too: Moe also remembers during this time the Center President’s Council “met every day just to be updated on what was happening with unemployment, and our employees who had decided to resign; and we decided what we could offer to our employees in a retirement package.”

Near the end of 2020, thinking of reopening: “We requested through Fraser to the Bishopric Bishopric, that the Center be allowed to open in January,” President Grace said, noting that while the Presiding Bishopric was concerned that “we’re still in the midst of COVID and things are still really tight in Hawaii, run your plan by us.”

“The President’s Council refined our plan. We talked about all the safety precautions we would take, such as spraying everything with electrostatic spray — a negatively charged sanitizing spray that sticks to everything. We would set up sanitizer stations everywhere, and also require that face masks continued to be worn, as well as other things we needed to do.”

For example, small family groups could sit together in the luau and night show, but otherwise these groups and individuals had to maintain six-foot distances for safety.

“Our procedures were so well thought through,” Moe said, that even Hawaii Gov. Ige and his national guard commander “came out to the Center to see what we were doing as a model for other places to follow. That’s how much trust they had in us.” She also credited Greg Maples’ work with the Hawaii Restaurant Association “for helping us through all of this.”

December 15, 2020:

The State began a COVID-19 vaccination program, starting with health care, front-line and first responders.

Early January 2021:

President Grace reported the Church “gave the Center approval to do a soft re-opening.”

January 28, 2021:

The Burbidges wrote the PCC launched “a soft partial opening.”

“We started by opening at 3:00 p.m. in the Samoan Village only, plus the luau and night show, Monday through Saturday except Wednesdays. We closed Wednesdays,” said Moe. “Each village culture had a ‘station’ in the Samoan village, and the guests could do whatever. It was all contained there.”

“The canoe pageant was discontinued, but we just had one luau, in the Hale Aloha, with the tables spaced six-feet apart. Then our guests went to the night show. Imagine, our Pacific Theater seats over 2,500 people, but we only allowed 200 guests in there. They all sat in the lower central section. It was almost like going back to 1963, when sometimes the number in the cast outnumbered the guests.”

Eric Workman explained that with both the luau and the night show, the Center adjusted the ticketing system so there were “three seats between parties and one row between groups” for social distancing.

“Our Night Show cast shrunk from like 120 down to 56. Every single dancer had to learn all six sections in the show and they loved it. Everybody was like, wow. They were so positive and willing to do this, and whatever was needed to help out.”

“Because of the socially-distanced capacity limitations, we were sold out for months in advance,” Moe added.

“Also remember, a lot of the best performers in the night show had gone home. But our senior theater manager, Ray Magalei talked to everybody and told them, ‘This is your opportunity to step up and be the best performers that you can.’”

“That’s exactly what they did,” President Grace said. “They danced with clear plastic facemasks on. They became some of the best performers we ever had here. They had the maturity and the discipline, and their commitment was amazing.”

Open five days a week: “Initially, we hardly had any employees,” President Grace explained about the Wednesday closure. “We couldn’t hire enough employees to stay open six days anyway. We also found under the five-day schedule it’s so much easier to maintain and manage our manpower.”

“We’d love to say we planned all these things in advance and they’re good decisions, but we’ve also been pleasantly surprised some of the changes have exceeded our expectations. That’s been a pleasant surprise,” Moe said.

The Onipa’a luau show: President Graced pointed out about this time the Center also launched “our new luau show called Onipa‘a that people love, because it is so different. Even though the guests were paying more, satisfaction ratings started to climb.”

april 26, 2021:

The Center opened more fully, but “with reduced guests.”

July 8, 2021:

The state ended its pre-travel testing and quarantine requirements for domestic travelers to Hawaii who were vaccinated in the U.S.; and visitor counts began rising that summer.

August 2021:

Most Hawaii public school students returned to their classrooms that August.

September 17, 2021:

in an interview with the BYU–Hawaii Ke Alaka’i newspaper, the Center’s senior marketing director Seth Casey said of the larger reopening, “The PCC opened all of the villages, and the Gateway Buffet. Even though we could accommodate a little bit more, capacity limits were still a fraction of what they used to be before COVID.”

“In Hawaiian and Polynesian culture, they give hugs and do a lot of lei giving,” Casey also said, noting those practices were temporarily amended for safety reasons: “Instead of giving hugs or handshakes, we give a shaka sign. …Most people recognize the sign. It is deeply rooted, not only in our Hawaiian pop culture, but also here in Laie. The shaka sign was founded here by Hamana Kalili, and we’ve got a nice, big statue of him out in our courtyard.”

Leis and new mask practices: To follow safety guidelines, Casey explained the Center employees “don’t personally give leis to the guests anymore.” Employees now hand the lei to each party and invite them to give it to each other. In this way, “they can still experience the meaning of giving a lei to another person, rather than just receiving the lei.”

And until the State of Hawaii changed its mask man mandate, guests only needed to wear masks indoors. “Thankfully, most of the PCC experience is outdoors,” Casey continued. “The only time guests need to wear a mask is if they go into the Gateway restaurant, into any of the retail shops that are enclosed, and the restrooms. Other than that, they can come without the mask on, and it has been a relief to a lot of guests because it’s hard to wear a mask all day.”

January 2022:

The Center reopened the Gateway Restaurant buffet

A Deep Sense of Gratitude:

We went through some challenging phases,” President Grace said. “For me, there was tremendous concern and worry at the outset. My initial reaction was to say, ‘Oh, my gosh, what’s going to happen to us as a company, and so forth?’ But that quickly turns to, ‘Oh, my gosh, what’s going to happen to all of our employees?’ And then it’s worrying about individuals: ‘What are they going to do?’ This was not a good time for them to be in this situation. It became a very personal matter of concern for the welfare and the well-being of our people.”

“It was also very sad to see the senior missionaries leave in one, week, and watch the students rush to get on planes and head home. Then just seeing everything to slow down, and BYU–Hawaii and the Center close was something we don’t want to experience again.”

“I’m very grateful to Center, and everything that it has done to bless my life and the lives of many others who have come through this special place,” Moe said. “That’s why so many people come back for our reunions that we have because PCC is not just a workplace to them, you know, PCC is a tradition. And for some of them it has become a family tradition where they’ve had generations of family members come and work through here

But President Grace also said the COVID years have caused him to feel a “deep, deep sense of gratitude, because as big and wide as the Church is, the Brethren turned to us and said, ‘What can we do to help you? How can we support you at the Polynesian Cultural Center?’”

“It’s renewed in my mind that this place is important to the Lord.”