Kamehameha Schools

Never heard of Kamehameha Schools? Its $6 billion in assets makes it one of the largest foundations in the United States. Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop was the last direct descendant of the royal Kamehameha family. A year before she died in 1884 Princess Pauahi wrote Article Thirteen of her will. She directed the trustees of her estate "…to erect and maintain in the Hawaiian Islands two schools, each for boarding and day scholars, one for the boys and one for the girls, to be known as, and called the Kamehameha Schools" (named after her great-grandfather Kamehameha I). Where did the $6 billion in assets come from? Princess Pauahi inherited a total of 375,000 acres of land from her parents, aunt and cousin. Over the years some of it has been given away, sold or condemned but, over 366,000 acres remain---making Kamehameha Schools far and away the largest private property owner in the state of Hawaii. Matter of fact, many of the hotels and large shopping centers in Hawaii are built on land still owned by Kamehameha Schools. The revenue generated from its real estate operations (over $150 million) is used to support the various schools it operates.

Offices for Kamehameha Schools lie near the fringe of downtown Honolulu in a blah-looking concrete slab of a building. Built in 1979, the four-story structure is owned and occupied by Kamehameha Schools. Entering the building I'm directed by a security guard to the main reception on the second floor. After checking in with the receptionist I take a seat on one of the six black & white floral designed chairs. The reception/waiting area is small but nicely furnished. I count to two plants (real) and two floral displays (real). Historical photos hang on one wall and nearby there's a large glass display case filled with various nik-naks such as gifts from former students and artists.

The accommodating Coleen Kaanehe, Senior Executive Secretary to CEO Dee Jay Mailer, answers my questions. Almost 300 people work in the building. As in most downtowns parking is at a premium. So, employees partake in a lottery to see who gets to park in the adjacent foundation-owned parking garage-though they still have to pay a parking fee. Those who commute to work via bicycle enjoy covered parking. Smoking isn't allowed in the building, meeting rooms are numbered and there's no employee cafeteria. However, there's a break room with microwave and lots of eating places located within a few blocks. It's a two minute drive to the nearest freeway and 15 minutes to the airport.

CEO Mailer occupies a middle office on the second floor. There's a television, one plant (real), a quilt, yearbooks, a picture of Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop and, a handful of kids drawings on a wall. What's the view out the window? An unexciting view of the adjacent parking structure. Nearby is the boardroom and as I expected there's a picture of Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop. The oval-shape boardroom table (seating 14) is a real beauty. Why? It's made out of Koa, a dark and rich wood indigenous to Hawaii.

Website: www.ksbe.edu


How does my visit to Kamehameha Schools (Grade: A) compare to other foundations visited? Read on.
For many, many years the Ford Foundation (headquartered in New York City with $11 billion in assets) cornered bragging rights to being the biggest foundation in the United States. My repeated attempts to visit were a total disaster as I was treated with disdain by the arrogant, rude, unhelpful staff. (Grade F-). The Ford Foundation has now been downgraded to a distant second on the list of biggest foundations thanks to the establishment of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation ($28.8 billion in assets)
A great time was had visiting the $3.2 billion in assets Rockefeller Foundation headquartered in New York City. (Grade A).
I was visiting Kmart in Troy, Michigan and was intrigued to see a full-on farm located directly across the street from Kmart's huge modern headquarters. It turned out to be the headquarters for the $2.7 billion in assets Kresge Foundation. I walked in unannounced and received a terrific reception. (Grade A).

I've pasted below the stories on my visits to the Ford, Rockefeller and Kresge Foundations.

The Rockefeller Foundation
With assets over $6 billion, the Ford Foundation is the largest foundation in the United States. Rockefeller Foundation, with $2 billion in assets, makes the top five listing.

The Rockefeller Foundation occupies three and a half floors in a 47-story, mid-town high-rise near Rockefeller Center. I meet with Frank Karel, Vice President: Communications and a very nice guy. I assumed the Foundation would be in Rockefeller Center. Karel tells me it was before but they moved to avoid a conflict of interest.

This is the first foundation I've ever visited so I ask Karel what exactly IS a foundation? Karel explains it's a business whose business is to give money away. Karel gives me an enthusiastic and extensive tour of the place and introduces me to just about all 149 employees. Karel had passed around the advance material I sent so I felt like something of a celebrity. It seemed like everyone wanted to meet "the guy going around the country on a bike."

Nothing fancy about these offices. The reception area has four red velvet chairs and a modern leather couch with red trim. The lobby walls feature pictures of past trustees & presidents. I recognize two of them-Cyrus Vance and John Foster Dulles. A small photograph of John D. Rockefeller hangs on a wall near the receptionist's desk. Curious that. I would have expected something much bigger (this one's about 8 X 10) or an oil painting in an ornate frame. After all this is the man who funded the Foundation.

The Foundation has amassed an extensive international folk art collection. I see a women's sarong from Indonesia; an 18th century Water Buffalo head from India carved from wood and covered with fabric and paper-mache; a saddle blanket from the Navaho tribe in Arizona; temple doors from a Hindu temple circa 1800; an 18th century Chinese wedding basket; and 19th century puppets from Indonesia.
Before leaving Karel asks me to promise him one thing. "Sure, what's that?" I ask. "Give me a call and let me know how your visit to the Ford Foundation goes." he answers. In hindsight I think his smile was a bit sly.

The Ford Foundation
Walking into the Ford Foundation atrium is like walking into a jungle. Built in 1967 the 14-story building with three underground floors features an impressive 11-story atrium filled with a lush tropical rain forest.
Off to the side is the reception area. I ask the receptionist if she can call President Franklin Thomas's secretary. "I'm not going to call up there and bother them with something like this", she replies. "Why not", I ask. "They're busy people and they don't fuss with things of this nature". "Do you have a phone I could use?" I ask. "No", she barks. "There's a pay phone down the street".
"You aren't going to help me at all are you?" I ask. "No", she answers and she goes back to reading her book. Later, my attempts to reach anyone on the phone or schedule an appointment meet with the same courtesy and graciousness so aptly demonstrated by the receptionist. When, as promised, I report back to Karel at The Rockefeller Foundation, he laughs and says he tried to warn me.

The Kresge Foundation
How many of you would guess the offices for The Kresge Foundation, one of the largest foundations in the US, would be in downtown Troy on a dairy farm in a farmhouse built in 1852? Once a thriving 300-acre dairy farm, the Brooks family farmstead was reduced to its present three acres when the family sold the rest of the property in the mid-sixties to commercial developers. The farmhouse, listed in The National Register of Historic Places, is constructed of split-faced stone in the Greek Revival architectural style. Also on-site behind a white picket fence and slew of grand old trees is a large red barn and two original windmills-one which continues to pump water for site irrigation. The Kresge Foundation acquired and relocated to the farm in 1984.

What's amazing or better yet-bizarre about the set-up is the location. First, right across the street is Kmart's massive chocolate-colored headquarters. Second, surrounding the farm on both sides and the rear is a complex of modern glass office buildings and third, the main thoroughfare in Troy runs right by the place.

This is one of those instances where I just happen to be riding by, notice the place, and walk in and ask if someone will meet with me. Phyllis Johnson, Executive Secretary, is more than accommodating.
Not noticeable from the street and connected to the farmhouse is a well-masked, two-story modern office addition-which is where most of the 24 employees work. Believe or not, the old two-story farmhouse contains a modern elevator-though you wouldn't be able to find it on your own. Why? In order to preserve the building's historic integrity, it's hidden behind a closet door. Walking though the closet to reach the elevator I feel like I'm on an old Get Smart television episode.

The farmhouse contains two conference rooms. One is called the Mustard room and the other the Beige room because it's the color of the walls. Victorian-style furnishings fill the rooms and I guarantee meetings don't last long here. The wood-back chairs are tiny-like as if they were meant for little kids and, look very uncomfortable. "Why are the chairs so dinky", I ask Phyllis. "You have to remember this farmhouse dates back to the 1850's and back then-people were much smaller", she answers.

A small perk: when the apples on the over 50 apple trees on the property ripen--employees get to pick 'em.

In 1899, Sebastian S. Kresge, started the S.S. Kresge Company which is now Kmart Corporation. Kresge established the Kresge Foundation with an initial gift of $1.3 million in 1924. His instructions to the incorporating trustees were set forth in brief terms; the Foundation's income was to be used "to promote the well-being of mankind". Since its establishment, The Kresge Foundation has awarded a cumulative total of 6,474 grants for $960 million. Current assets are over $1.4 billion.

I find it interesting that Kmart has nothing what-so-ever to do with running or influencing the foundation. I'm also told it's just coincidence the two are located across the street from each other.