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Retired sugar executive Cataluna dies at 77
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Cataluna worked almost every sugar plantation job, from taking care of pack mules to managing some of the largest plantations in Hawaii. He spent his career with C. Brewer & Co. and was one of the industry’s first part-Hawaiian plantation managers.
Keith Smith, who worked with Cataluna at the Wailuku Sugar Co., told The Garden Island his former supervisor was a trailblazer.
“In those days the plantation managers were all Caucasian, and Don and another man, Herbert Gomez, were the first plantation managers of Hawaiian ancestry,” he wrote in an email. “It may not seem like much today, but it was a big deal then.”
Cataluna’s mother, Mabel Vidinha Cataluna, was half-Hawaiian, while his father, Francisco “Chico” Cataluna, was born in Lisbon, Portugal. He was born in Koloa and grew up swimming in Waita Reservoir, riding horses, picking pineapple during the summers and walking barefoot to Koloa School.
His daughter - teacher, playwright and former Honolulu Star-Advertiser columnist Lee Cataluna - said Tuesday the late University of Hawaii agriculture professor Kobe Shoji mentored her father and helped him get into a management training program. He liked to pay the favor forward by writing letters of recommendation, helping students find scholarships and otherwise help people get an education, she said.
“If he had a theme, it was about giving people opportunities,” she said.
After retiring, Cataluna returned to Koloa and had a second career as a Kauai County project manager and grant administrator. He taught business, economics and management classes at Kauai Community College as well as agricultural classes at Kauai Community Correctional Center.
He was a member of the Kauai Police Commission and served as a Kauai and Niihau trustee for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, where he focused on improving educational opportunities for Native Hawaiians. He was later elected to the position multiple times and served until his retirement in 2012.
He is survived by his wife, Dorothy; daughter Lee and her husband Jim Kelly; daughter Malia Blake and her husband Kawika; and grandchildren Kainoa Kelly, Makalapua Blake and Dallas Blake.
Cataluna died Saturday in Lihue. Services are private.
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