Hardy Spoehr '62Healthy Outlook
Pressed to describe his career path, humble Hardy Spoehr ’62 harkens back to his early days as a “two-year wonder,” switching from job to job. Besides overlooking the fact that he’s headed the same nonprofit since 1993, that self-deprecating assessment fails to convey the man’s essence: Whatever Spoehr does, he does full bore, with such a generous, open spirit that others are inspired to help him succeed.
As executive director of Papa Ola Lokahi: The Native Hawaiian Health Board, Spoehr strives tirelessly to improve the health and well-being of Hawai‘i’s indigenous people. He partners with numerous institutions to improve access to medical and preventative care (including traditional healing practices) and to expand the ranks of native Hawaiian health professionals.
Spoehr, who moved to Hawai‘i from Saipan in the early 1950s when his father became director of the Bishop Museum, was chief justice of Punahou’s student court and a football star who went on to play for Wesleyan University. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in Asian Studies, he returned to Punahou to teach sixth grade, pioneering the Outdoor Education program with trips to Camp Timberline.
“Ralph Martinson, Dave Eldredge ’49, Charlie Ane ’49, Fred Van Dyke, Duane Yee, Mabel Hefty, and of course, John Fox –those were the people who really fashioned me as a person,” he said, recalling the coaches, teachers and administrators who influenced him as a student and as a young teacher.
After three years on the faculty, Spoehr ventured to the Cook Islands to teach at a college there, and ended up as coach of the national volleyball team and chief planning officer for the prime minister. Returning to Hawai‘i in 1972, he earned a master’s degree in geography from the University of Hawai‘i-Manoa and in 1976 took the job that would shape the rest of his life. Mentor Myron B. “Pinky” Thompson ’43 asked Spoehr to oversee planning and development for Alu Like, Inc., the nonprofit Thompson had co-founded to help native Hawaiians achieve economic and social self-sufficiency. Spoehr stayed four years, and virtually every job he’s held since – at the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, the Kaho‘olawe Island Conveyance Commission and Papa Ola Lokahi – has focused on Hawaiian issues.
After nearly 20 years at Papa Ola Lokahi, Spoehr has no immediate plans to retire. But this father of two (Sarah Spoehr ’84 Jenny and Brandy Spoehr ’87 Rea) and grandfather of six is pondering the next phase of life with wife Joyce, who works at Foster Botanical Garden. “I strongly feel that there’s a time in one’s life when you need to get out of the way for the younger folks coming up to take over,” he said.
When that times comes, he’ll have plenty to keep him busy: canoe paddling; any number of civic, environmental and cultural causes; and the bagpipes, which the Celtic Pipes and Drums of Hawai‘i stalwart first picked up in middle age.
“Well, I am a person of many interests, that’s true – credit my broad Punahou training,” said Spoehr, with a characteristic twinkle in his eye.
By Christine Donnelly