Kona Village’s Fred Duerr retires after 38 years
|When Fred Duerr first arrived at the Kona Village Resort on Christmas
Day of 1966, only 20 of the rustic hotel's original 47 Polynesian huts were
completed. The low-impact, high-touch resort was powered by a U.S. Navy
surplus generator, which needed to be hit with a wrench from time to time.
Building materials were delivered by barge from Kawaihae and supplies, guests
and staff were flown in via propeller plane from Kona and Honolulu daily.
In addition, the hotel was staffed by a single cook, who had to be roused
out of bed whenever a guest wanted a midnight snack.
This desert-island atmosphere was more Gilligan's Island than Fantasy Island. But, according to Duerr, who has been the hotel's general manager since 1975, that's exactly the way Kona Village's founder, John "Johno" Jackson, and the rest of his staff wanted it. It is also the milieu that still exists today, and it is what makes the hotel one of Hawaii's most celebrated and beloved resorts.
"We were like Seabees putting the place together in the middle of nowhere," says Duerr. "I've always said that Kona Village is the sum of everyone who has worked here. Our maintenance staff built the walkways and helped decide where the units would go. They even did the landscaping, bringing plants from home."
At the end of November, Duerr will be retiring from his desert-island paradise, splitting time between his home in Kona and a larger spread in Montana. Last July, the 82-acre resort, built on the site of an old Hawaiian fishing village, was sold to Santa Barbara, Calif.-based Ty Warner Hotels & Resorts for a reported $52 million. These changes signal an end of an era for the village, but Duerr is confident that the resort's character, integrity and relative isolation will remain intact. He believes that Kona Village, which has grown to 125 hale, is now more relevant than ever.
"Today, we live in such a crazy world," says Duerr. "It's nice to visit a place like Kona Village, where you don't have to lock your door, and you can let your kids wander and explore. Even though we have a new owner now, and we might have air conditioning in some additional rooms, it's not going to change anything."
Over the course of Duerr's long career, the 66-year-old general manager has watched Hawaii's tourist industry rise and fall. He's seen large, luxuriously appointed mega resorts gloriously sprout up all along the Kohala Coast, and he stubbornly resisted the temptation to follow suit. Then, he saw the bottom of the market fall out. Eventually, the visitors did return and, according to Duerr, the industry returned to its senses, realizing the importance of the Hawaiian people and culture.
"I've never doubted what we were doing here at Kona Village. On the first night I was here, I remember looking up into the sky, seeing all those stars. I thought: This is the Hawaii that I dreamed of as a boy when I listened to 'Hawaii Calls' on the radio," says Duerr, who grew up off an interstate in Dayton, Ohio. "That was Johno's dream. No telephones, no radios, no televisions, just Hawaii. All I've done in the past 38 years was stick to that dream."
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