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Mr. Mauna Kea
By Adi W. Kohler with Catherine Bridges Tarleton

This charming little memoir feels like a friendly chat between its subject and the reader. With the unpretentious attitude that made him into a legend in the hotel industry, Adi W. Kohler tells his life story, from his birth in 1936 in Sudetenland to his retirement as GM of the magnificent Mauna Kea Beach Hotel in 2000.

Written with the assistance of his secretary, Catherine Bridges Tarleton, Mr. Mauna Kea begins with the kind of anecdote that helped build Kohler’s reputation. A guest was devastated to learn that on top of being accidentally put in a room next door to her ex-husband and his new wife, she was put in a blue room. She never stayed in blue rooms, she only stayed in yellow rooms, and this simply would not do. Anyone who has ever worked in a luxury hotel has encountered the tempestuous whims of the rich. But although the yellow/blue travesty was ludicrous, Kohler gave the woman the respect he felt every guest deserved: he moved the husband, and then had the bedspreads and watercolors in the woman’s room switched from blue to yellow. Nothing was too much to ask for, as far as he was concerned.

Following a childhood in Germany, where Kohler helped at the family restaurant, he went on to work in hotels in Germany, France, the United States, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. Throughout, the book is filled with firsts: Kohler’s first set of golf clubs, which were given to him by Chi Chi Rodriquez; his first job for Laurance Rockefeller as a seasonal worker at the Jackson Lake Lodge in the 1960s; and his first impressions of the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, where he arrived for what would become a 27-year stint in 1973.

The story of the Mauna Kea, entwined with Kohler’s, is particularly fascinating. This beloved hotel on Hawaii’s Kohala Coast was the vision of Laurance Rockefeller; it was a tribute to the fusion of Western and Eastern styles, as well as a lesson in responsible development. In addition, the book is filled with plenty of anecdotes about hotel life and family, the latter focusing on Kohler’s beloved wife, Chacha. The photos, too, are of note. With their personal family album feel, they endear you to Kohler, while letting you know what kind of man he was: unassuming and friendly, just the kind of host who can easily make anyone feel at home.

Check our "The Best of Hawaii" guide.

(Updated: 06/30/08 HC)

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