Delsa Moe, Vice President Cultural Presentations and Jimmy Mapu, Director Guest Services (far left) join President of the Polynesian Cultural Center, Alfred Grace (far right) in congratulating Mat Lotomau (center with lei) who won the Spirit of Aloha Award along with Mat’s parents and the tour guides.

PCC presents annual ‘Spirit of Aloha’ award


Mat Lotomau, Spirit of Aloha Award recipient

In a special “team” meeting on November 4 in the Hawaiian Journey Theater, the Polynesian Cultural Center presented its 2014-2015 Spirit of Aloha Award to Mathew “Mat” Lotomau.

“With this award, we honor and recognize one of our finest senior student employees at the Polynesian Cultural Center,” said President & CEO Alfred Grace. “He has been the epitome in representing the cultural beliefs at the PCC.

Grace explained that Keith and Carol Jenkins, philanthropic friends of the PCC and BYU–Hawaii, endowed the award about five years ago in honor of the late Barbara Velasco, a loving Hawaiian lady who passed away in December 2010.

Prior to that, Velasco worked closely and shared her profound aloha with the Jenkins and other key members of the BYUH/PCC Presidents Leadership Council for 12 years.

“To us, she became an example of Christ-like charity, concern and commitment,” the Jenkins wrote in a letter about Velasco. “We are grateful that her goodness touched our lives.” Grace also noted that soon after she passed, the Jenkins started the Spirit of Aloha Award for “a BYU–Hawaii student employed at PCC who best demonstrates the spirit of aloha personified by the spirit and life of Barbara Velasco.”

“What an honor,” responded Lotomau, a Samoan born in Auckland, New Zealand, but raised in Melbourne, Australia. He recalled his first job at PCC was as a canoe guide. “I had a blast. It was one of the best experiences I had.” He said he also worked in the Theater Department, but he ended up sticking with the Guest Services Department “because of the people I worked with and because of the love that I have for the Center. I am so grateful for them,” he said, getting emotional.

“I’m grateful for every experience I’ve had here… and I’m going to be the biggest advocate of the Polynesian Cultural Center to everyone that I come in contact with,” he continued.

To his colleagues and new PCC student employees, Lotomau advised, “Stick with it and give it your all. Do your best, because you never know when there’s something you might learn along the way. There’s a reason for everything, and why you’re in a specific job at the Polynesian Cultural Center.”

“I think PCC will be here for another 50 years. I really do. I was here for the 50th reunion [in 2013], so I want to be back for the 100th — in a wheelchair, performing on stage,” he joked.

Lotomau, who graduated just days earlier from the adjacent Brigham Young University–Hawaii with a bachelor’s degree in advertising and graphic arts, left Laie a few days after receiving the award, bound for a new job on Australia’s Gold Coast with the Marriott hotel chain.

In addition to a personal copy of the Award and a perpetual plaque that remains at PCC, Grace presented Lotomau with a monetary check to help him as he pursues his new career.

The other three Spirit of Aloha Award recipients, as listed on the perpetual plaque, are Ben Howells, a Guest Services guide from Sheffield, England, in 2011; Otis Fruean, a student carver from Auckland, New Zealand, 2012; and Travis Seumanutafa, who worked in Special Events and Guest Services, 2013.

Story by Mike Foley


Mike Foley, who has worked off-and-on

at the Polynesian Cultural Center since

1968,  has been a full-time freelance

writer and digital media specialist since

2002, and had a long career in marketing

communications and PR before that. He

learned to speak fluent Samoan as a

Mormon missionary before moving to Laie

in 1967 — still does, and he has traveled

extensively over the years throughout

Polynesia and other Pacific islands. Foley

is mostly retired now, but continues to

contribute to various PCC and other media.