Revved Up To Make A Difference
Dennis Esaki’s mother used to tell him ‘Don’t only take.’ He took her words to heart, and all Kaua’i benefits
He doesn’t consider himself a lobbyist per se, which makes sense, as Dennis Esaki isn’t easy to categorically define.
The former Kaua’i Island Utility Cooperative (KIUC) founding board member served as Gov. Abercrombie’s Kaua’i interim volunteer liaison, rides a Harley, has an airplane and helicopter license, and a soft spot for children (he donated a building to Kawaikini charter school).
But overall, this somewhat introverted owner of a civil engineering and land surveying firm – Esaki Surveying & Mapping – knows more about the ins and outs of Kaua’i than most high-profile politicians.
The entrepreneur of sorts knew he wanted to go into surveying since a young age, and studied geology and geophysics at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa because, quite simply, he “wanted to be outside.” The irony is that now, running his own company, he is usually behind a desk rather than out in the field.
Regardless of where he does his work, Esaki says he’s known since childhood that he’s known he wanted to help others.
“I know it’s an overused cliché,” he says. “But I wanted to make a difference. I always knew I’d be doing community things … My mother used to say, ‘Don’t only take.'”
Referring to the several boards he’s on and all the volunteer work he’s taken on, including helping manage Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s campaign on Kaua’i, Esaki laughs and, without bitterness but with a bit of tongue-in-cheek melancholy, mentions his motorcycle.
“I haven’t been riding and doing as much as I like to,” he says. “Instead of my Harley, I’ve got a lot of leftover campaign material where my bike used to be.”
Esaki does make time to travel, though it’s mostly for business, not pleasure: to help the island, especially as Kaua’i’s representative to the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA), which takes him to Arlington, Va., several times a year.
As director of the NRECA, Esaki said he’s gained experience that’s helped him avoid taking “buzz words” such as “clean coal” at face value, and has augmented his knowledge related to renewable energy and global warming.
Of his work at KIUC, Esaki acknowledged the co-op is “progressing slowly,” noting he was proud of the headway made during his time there.
“I fought to take coal off the table in the strategic plan,” he said. “It would have been like going backward.”
The father of two adult sons, Esaki’s schedule remains as full as ever. And when it comes to adding to his list he can’t seem to help himself, though he’s aware the average number of boards he’s sat on at any given time – five – is “too many.”
Esaki, who has been SBA Small Business Person of the Year for Kaua’i and Kaua’i Community College Business Partner of the Year, also is a University of Hawai’i Foundation rrustee, Koke’e Advisory Council Member, Hawai’i Council of Engineering Societies member, and, yes, is the Kaua’i liaison for Street Bikers United of Hawai’i.
The foundation trustee for the Anahola Japanese Community Association treasurer also has been asked to be on the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai’i board beginning in July.
As for what he hopes will become of the island, the Anahola boy (who remembers what it was like when there was one teacher for four grades) said he believes times are tough, and that it seems many are hoping for the same thing: to be able to take care of simple necessities.
“(I’d like to see) the economy recover so people don’t have to worry about whether they have a job tomorrow and can send their kids to school safely,” he says. “Right now they’re worrying about the basic things.
“Things have been pretty slow in my engineering company,” he says. “Some days have been day to day. Some of the big projects have been put on hold …We’ve been fortunate in that I’ve kept my crew up without laying anyone off.”
Positive, however, Esaki said he thinks will shape up. “I think it’s going to get better,” he says. “Can’t complain … Abercrombie said when ‘you’re doing good for the community, just doing good should be enough, don’t expect something in return,'” he adds.