The Polynesian Cultural Center intermittently presents several categories of awards. Most recently in one of its early 60th anniversary events on August 9, 2023, and following a special banquet in The Gateway, Center President and CEO P. Alfred Grace and Vice President of Cultural Presentations Tagaloataoa Delsa Atoa Moe presented 14 “living treasure” and eight “exemplary service” awards to the following honorees:

‘Living Treasures’:

In starting the awards portion of the program, Moe noted criteria for the Center’s “Living Treasures” include:

  • They must be a former Center employee or a contract worker for a minimum of 10 years.
  • They must be living at the time the award is announced but not a current employee. (The last part does not apply to contract workers.)
  • They are recognized within and beyond the Center for their mastery of Polynesian culture.
  • They are friends to our mission of service, culture and aloha.

“The hard part was reducing the list of nominees,” Moe continued. “We had many others who were considered based on these criteria,” she said before calling the most recent honorees forward:

Sela Feinga accepting her Living Treasure Award

Sela Feinga “is recognized for her artisan skills for weaving and for creating colorful lei and haku masterpieces that adorned her handicrafts shop at the Center,” Moe said. “We created our plumeria farm so she wouldn’t have to go around the community, climbing trees and picking flowers.”

Akasi’i’eiki Tovo accepting his Living Treasure award

Fakasi’i’eiki “Fasi” Tovo: “A master of Tongan performing arts who is especially known for his lively choreography, poetic song composition, and as a master teacher. He can teach any non-Tongan how to look like a Tongan when they dance,” Moe said, also pointing out his wife, the late Mele Tovo, was honored as one of the Center’s “living treasures” during the 50th anniversary.

The award for Cy Bridges was accepted by his wife, Iraani Bridges

Cy Bridges, “a very renowned Hawaiian cultural, performing arts, and oral traditions expert: We had to wait for him to retire before we could honor him with this award. He was also the kumu hula for the Center’s hālau, Hui Ho’oulu Aloha. He is a well-known composer, chanter, musician, Hawaiian linguist, Pacific genealogist — not just Hawaiian, and he is one of Aunty Sally Wood Naluai’s haumana” (students: Aunty Sally was the Center’s first kumu hula 60 years ago. Bridge’s wife, Aunty Iraani Bridges, who was also recognized as a 50th anniversary living treasure, represented him.)

Keith Awai accepting his Living Treasure award

Keith Awai, “a Hawaiian cultural and performing arts specialist, a kumu hula, choreographer, chanter, and dancer, he is very well known for teaching Hawaiian cultural values. He is also a gifted and revered teacher here in Hawai‘i and on the mainland, and he was one of Aunty Sally Wood Naluai’s haumana.”

William Mahoni accepting his Living Treasure award

William Mahoni, “a Pacific carver and artisan, his artwork has been shared all around, especially his collection of Pacific island drawings. You see them everywhere, but you probably didn’t know he was the artist. He is also well-known for his extravagant prop designs and fabrications. You saw them during our former Haunted Lagoon and Christmas Lagoon events, which Mahoni also directed.

Ellen Gay Dela Rosa accepting her Living Treasure award

Ellen Gay Dela Rosa, “is also known for her expertise in Hawaiian performing arts as a choreographer, chanter, musician, and dancer. She is beloved not only of many here at the Center, but also throughout Hawai‘i, the mainland, Japan, and probably other places. She, too, is another of Aunty Sally Wood Naluai’s haumana.”

Mildred Enos accepting her Living Treasure Award

Mildred “Aunty Milly” Enos, “a master Hawaiian quilter whose knowledge was vital in quilting exhibits and demonstrations at the Mission Settlement. She’s very particular in her stitching, and her handiwork has been presented to many VIPs.”

Tauasa Siela Avea accepting his Living Treasure Award

“Chief” Tauasā Sielu Avea: “No stranger to many guests who have visited Hawai‘i, he is a Samoan ambassador and entertainer extraordinaire. He genuinely loves his audience. You can tell that at any show or function where he’s entertaining. He is a musician, a fireknife dancer, our inaugural world fireknife champion here at the Center, and an actor.”

Eseta Toelupe accepting her Living Treasure Award

Eseta Toelupe, “an artist and weaver who’s made intricate leis that have adorned prophets, apostles, presidents and celebrities, while serving as an employee, then as a volunteer, a senior missionary, and she’s back to being a volunteer again. It’s very hard to find weavers of this caliber anymore.”

Steve Cheney accepting the Living Treasure Award

Steve Cheney, “a contract worker, 10-year volunteer, and steel guitar master who is renowned throughout Hawai‘i and across the U.S. He’s also been recorded many times for the Center’s luau and other shows.”

Ratu Seru Inoke Suguturaga accepting his Living Treasure award

Ratu Seru Inoke Suguturaga, “is someone who’s recognized for Fijian cultural arts as well as a Fijian cultural advisor and liaison with many of our Fijian dignitaries. They are so comfortable with him, many times they go to his house and relax there. He is also a composer and musician.”

Elisa Terripaia accepts her Living Treasure award

“Mommy” Elisa Teriipaia: “All those who have been dancers at the Center would not have looked as good without the talents of this artisan and designer, fabricator, dressmaker, who did not hesitate to tell the theater girls how to wear their costumes properly. She is also a genius when it came to creating costumes from all across the Pacific. She could take measurements, then cut cloth without a pattern — a skill only a very few people have.” (Her husband, Iona Teriipaia, was recognized as a “living treasure” during the 50th anniversary.)

Faivaola Eric Shumway was recognized as a “Living Treasure” at a special dinner held in Utah.

Faivaola Eric Shumway learned the Tongan language so thoroughly as a young missionary that he was given a Tongan title and is a well-known Tongan language scholar and orator who spent many years as an administrator and president at BYU–Hawaii. He also served as an interim president of the Polynesian Cultural Center, and when the king and queen of Tonga came to the Center in 2016 to participate in the reopening of the Tongan Village following extensive renovations, Faivaola addressed them on behalf of the Center.

Leilua Logoitino Apelu was recognized as a “Living Treasure” at a special dinner held in Utah.

Leilua Logoitino Apelu, who started working at the Center as a student dishwasher, had such a strong work ethic that after graduating from BYU–Hawaii, he eventually became the Church Educational System administrator for all the Church schools in Sāmoa. After returning to work at the Center, he dynamically filled many positions of responsibility and retired as the Chief Operations Officer.

Moe also announced that a week earlier President Grace presented Shumway, Apelu and Steward their respective awards at a dinner in Salt Lake City. Shumway lives in Orem, Apelu lives in Salt Lake City; and Steward lives in Washington.

President P. Alfred Grace and his daughter, Phoebe Grace, along with Les Steward, Longo Apelu and Eric Shumway, and their respective spouses, were honored at a special dinner held in Salt Lake City


Exemplary Service awards:

Before presenting these awards, Moe outlined the following criteria:

■  “They have worked for the Center for about 30 years, either full- or part-time.”

■  “The recipient must have demonstrated excellence in service while employed at the Center.”

■  “They are friends to our mission and what we represent as well as to the Church.”

Before acknowledging them, Moe pointed out that “the leis we present to all of them tonight, the employees said let’s not order them. We want to make the leis for them. These are the people who taught us such skills, and what better way to show our appreciation than to put in our own talents and time to make them.”

Exemplary service awards honorees included:

Les Steward at the award ceremony in Salt Lake

Les Steward started as a student from “down under” who worked in the Theater sound and lights department, then moved into the business office as he completed his studies. More recently he was vice president of Finance, and after serving as a mission president in California, returned to oversee the Center’s physical facilities.” (After retiring, Steward and his wife moved to Washington state.)

Mahana Pulotu accepting her exemplary service award

Mahana Pulotu: “We begin with someone who worked for many years in the Tahitian Village, Guest Services, and in the [former] Education Department,” Moe said. “She has a perpetual smile. Even when she speaks,you can hear the ‘smile’ in her voice. She is the ultimate cultural host, who leaves a lasting impression on anyone she meets.”

(Her husband, Tui’one Pulotu, was recognized as a “living treasure” during the 50th anniversary.)

Tovia Lake accepting her exemplary service award

Toiva Lake: “She performed her job as a custodial supervisor with passion and commitment,” Moe began, “especially when she and her team took it upon themselves to ask, ‘what more can we do to WOW our guests,’ and they put fresh floral arrangements in the restrooms.”

“She also nurtured the homesick students, the ones who could barely speak English. She, too, is always smiling, and makes ribbon leis and gives them away to everybody.”

Fifita Unga accepting her Exemplary Service award

Fifita Unga: “Her name is still talked about frequently when we share our cultural beliefs,” Moe said of Fifita Unga, who retired recently as the vice president of culinary services. “She never did anything less than 100 percent, especially when it came to hosting. The food workers always looked sharp, just like she did with her ‘garden of flowers’ in her hair.”

Kelea Lombard accepting her award

Kelela Lombard accepting her exemplary service award.

Kelela Lombard: “The person who was the initial welcoming voice of the Center. She sounded like a Polynesian Oxford graduate. She is dedicated to the Center’s mission, just like her mom, Ofa, was. She worked for years as a Reservations supervisor and was known for her excellent customer service skills. She could calm even the most unsatisfied customers.”

Moe also pointed out as President Grace presented her award that “Kelela was a supervisor when he, too, was just a young sales guide.”

Larry Yuen accepting his exemplary service award

■ Larry Yuen: “This individual was quiet and the ‘invisible’ controller for the Center. He was known for being in his corner office with the light on before anyone else came in, and often it was still ‘burning’ after everyone else had gone home. He worked many long, dedicated hours to ensure that the Center was financially sound. That was the hallmark of his service.”

Moe also cited him for his skills in calculating ASCAP and BMI [copyrighted music royalty] percentages.

John Muaina accepting his award exemplary service award

John Muaina: “Still known as the Center’s ‘spiritual compass,’ he could calm all those with fiery personalities and those with gripes. ‘Uncle John’ was also our number-one connection to China [through the Asian Executive Management program].” For example, Moe added Muaina “was able to arrange the visit of President Gordon B. Hinckley to China.”

“Since he retired as the vice president of human resources, he has been working as a service missionary or as a volunteer up until today.”

Mike Foley accepting award

Mike Foley accepting his exemplary service award

Mike Foley: Moe described him “as somebody who made sure the world knew about the Center. He is a dedicated and gifted writer, journalist, photographer, and historian for the Center, Laie, and the Church.”

“As a student, he worked in the Theater Department and recently retired from the Sales and Marketing Department. Post-retirement, he continued as a contract worker and volunteer,” and is currently the content editor for the Center’s new 60th-anniversary legacy history website.

Delsa Moe VP of Cultural Presentations

Delsa Moe, VP – Cultural Presentations served as MC for this event

Toiva said she loved working at the Center for 42 years, and came to appreciate the other cultures. I loved it. I wish I was still young so I could continue this job.”

Fakasi’i’eiki Tovo said he didn’t consider himself a “treasure,” but rather he and his family “had been blessed by the treasure of the Polynesian Cultural Center and what it has taught me.”

Tovo, saying he was not someone who spoke many words, shared some of his time with honoree Tauasā Sielu Avea, who “thanked the Center for the award and all those who have worked hard to make it successful.”

“The years I worked here, I thought of it as my own cultural center. I came early and I went home late. I treasure the time that I was here,” Avea said, “and still do things that I learned at this place. I tell everybody, that’s where I’m from.”

In his closing remarks, President Grace said to the honorees, “Every one of you is so accomplished, and I’ve recently realized one of the greatest privileges of being a long-term employee is knowing all of you in your roles and responsibilities. It was wonderful working and traveling with some of you.”

“On behalf of all our Center ‘ohana, we have a cultural belief to honor our legacy. As we strive to do that, we know that you have done that before us. I want to thank each and every one of you.”

“Mahalo nui loa to all of you for your contributions to the Polynesian Cultural Center, to the mission and vision of this community where we are blessed to have a temple, a place of higher education, and the number-one paid attraction in Hawai‘i that preserves and perpetuates the arts, crafts and cultures of Polynesia.”

“Our motto is ‘One ‘ohana sharing aloha.’ Our vision is simple, to spread aloha around the world. It’s who we are, and it’s what the world needs. You did your responsibilities so admirably, and we’ll try to do the same thing.”

Finally, in closing the 60th-anniversary awards program, Delsa Moe said, “Thank you once again for being the legendary individuals that you are and the many examples you left at the Center that continue to be shared with those of us who still work here today.”

The Center’s marketing department live-streamed the awards ceremony, which may also be viewed online at  



Story and photos by Mike Foley, who has been associated with the Polynesian Cultural Center for over 50 years. He had a long career in marketing communications, PR, journalism and university education before becoming a full-time freelance writer and digital media specialist in 2002. Foley learned to speak fluent Samoan as a Latter-day Saint missionary before moving to Laie in 1967, and he still does. He has traveled extensively over the years throughout Polynesia, other Pacific islands and Asia. Though nearly retired now, Foley continues to contribute to PCC and a select few other media. Almost 50 years ago he married one of Aunty Sally’s hula dancers.