HONOLULU – Brothers Samuel and Frederick Kamaka, owners of Kamaka Ukulele, were honored July 23 with the Washington State University Alumni Association Alumni Achievement Award in recognition of service to their community as entrepreneurs and promoters of cultural heritage and in passing on the tradition and values of a family-owned business.
Both earned bachelors of science degrees from WSU – Sam in entomology in 1950 and Fred in political science in 1951. They have served as deputy directors of the WSU alumni district in Hawaii and have influenced prospective students to continue their education at WSU.
Kamaka Ukulele received the first award from the state of Hawaii under the U.S. American with Disabilities Act – the Outstanding Employer of Persons with Disabilities. The company routinely employs handicapped workers and, in 1992, was honored because half of its 20 workers had disabilities.
Also that year, the brothers received the prestigious ‘O‘o award from the Hawaiian Business/Professional Community, presented to those “with creativity, motivation, industry and skill – all key ingredients for survival and success in ancient and modern Hawaii.”
Kamaka Ukulele produces some 4,000 handmade instruments each year. “Seconds” are donated to senior citizen centers. Thousands of school children visit the factory each year to learn how ukuleles are made and their essential role in Hawaiian heritage.
Sam was pursuing a doctorate degree in the 1950s when he returned home to lead the family business, which was founded by his parents in 1916. He became president and factory manager.
Fred earned commissioning through ROTC at WSU and served 25 years in the U.S. Army. He earned the silver star for action at Pork Chop Hill in Korea in 1953 and received two legion of merit and one meritorious service medals. In 1972, he joined Kamaka Ukulele and became vice president and business manager.
At WSU, the brothers founded the WSU Hawaiian Students Club. They were frequent and popular ukulele performers as students in the late 1940s-early 1950s. They have donated a Kamaka ukulele – with an image of Bryan Hall on the front – to the WSU Alumni Association.
They have appeared on the “Good Morning America” television program and, in 2006, a Public Broadcasting Service documentary about them was completed: “Heart Strings: The Story of the Kamaka Ukulele” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SYjUOOyWsjs).
The WSUAA Alumni Achievement Award was created in 1970 by the WSUAA Board of Directors to recognize alumni who have given outstanding service to WSU and made contributions to their professions and communities. The award is the highest honor bestowed by the association. Of an estimated 250,000 students who have attended WSU, the Kamaka brothers are the 527th and 528th Alumni Achievement Award recipients.
Christina Parrish, WSU alumni engagement, 509-335-6907, firstname.lastname@example.org