Oahu native Bobby Young remembers hand-stacking cargo, plans to retire next year
By Hilary Reeves
Robert “Bobby” Young grew up in the small Oahu neighborhood of Iwalani Place, in Kaimuki, just below the island’s towering Diamond Head crater. In the early 1950s, only 26 homes dotted the verdant landscape. Young lived in one with his parents and five brothers.
“My dad was the ultimate provider – no matter how difficult times were, we always had food, shelter, and clothing. When I was younger, I never put too much thought into what I wanted to be because life was good. My dad made life easy for me. I enjoyed going to the beach everyday, hanging out with my friends. I wasn’t focused on being somebody.”
When Young was 10, his father encouraged him to get a job delivering newspapers. Young woke early to fold papers and deliver them to the expanding neighborhood of more than 70 homes.
“I got to know everyone in the neighborhood, and when Christmas time came around I would get a lot of stuff because everyone knew me, the paper boy,” he laughed.
Young joined the U.S. Navy after high school, and was honorably discharged in 1974. He began working the Oahu waterfront after his cousin Betty, who was a supervisor at Young Brothers, offered him a job. After 43 years with the company, Young plans to retire next year.
“I worked my way up from being a utility man, to a machine operator, to becoming a leader man,” he said. “I’ve seen so many changes in the company, and met so many people in my time here that I could go on forever”
Young watched the company modernize over the years. He can remember a time when he used to chase cattle onto the barges and into chutes and trailers. He hand-stacked cargo, securing containers on chassis with big latches, one-by-one. No pallets. No forklifts. He said he still enjoys the camaraderie he feels working side-by-side with his coworkers and feels a sense of pride when he remembers the company’s early days.
“I have friends I’ve worked with for a very long time,” he said. “I’ve seen the company grow and progress. A lot of the newer employees don’t understand how far we’ve come, and it’s kind of neat that I’ve been here all this time and I know where we came from.”
To Young, Young Brothers is forever intertwined with family and community. He was honored to name a barge after his son, Makoa, which was recently decommissioned. He organized and hosted three statewide fishing tournaments on behalf of the company, strengthening an important bond between Young Brothers and the islands it serves.
“We are in many ways the lifeline of the islands,” he said. “People complain about shipping prices, or running out of toilet paper during a storm, but what they don’t know is all the sacrifices we make to keep it flowing. The long hours, working on holidays and weekends, really requires a lot of personal sacrifice, but we do it to serve the state of Hawaii. We have to respond to many statewide emergencies, such as hurricanes and tsunamis. While others are safe at home with their families, we try to prepare the state by making sure supplies and shipments are safe. Know that we are doing the best we can, always.”
Looking back, Young said he wishes he had focused more on his education.
“Back in my day, after you graduated from high school it was about staying out of trouble and joining the service. We never really thought about college; it wasn’t like how it is now. Going to college might have opened up different opportunities to me, and living in a time now where everyone goes to college, it’s interesting to think about what I might’ve become had I gone.”
Lucky for him, Young said, it’s not too late.
“I think it’s still possible for me to go to college after I retire,” he laughed.
Young said he’s most proud of his family: his five brothers, “the original ‘Young brothers;’” his wife of 41 years, Arvilla; his daughter Mele, a school librarian, and son-in-law Darrin, who also works at Young Brothers; his son Makoa, a special education teacher, and fiancée Stefanie, who are getting married next month; and his three grandchildren.
“My granddaughter Melia is interested in music and plays soccer. Moani also plays soccer and is in band. Both girls plan to attend college. My third granddaughter, Riley, was born earlier this year. On my days off, I spend my time babysitting baby Riley. To see my grandkids grow up in good homes with good parents makes me proud of how hard I worked to get here and all the sacrifices I have made. My family, especially my grandkids, are my legacy.”
With retirement approaching, one thing is clear: he’s not interested in slowing down.
“I’m going to spend more time with my family, watch sports, manage my aquarium, and get back into deep-sea fishing,” he said, “but I’ve also though about working at the Verizon or Apple store. I’m really into technology – I have it all: bluetooth everything, iPhone, iWatch, iPad, smart TVs…everything. Sometimes I go to these stores and I think, “Why is there no one here like me to explain this stuff?” It’s really something I could see myself doing. I’ve also thought of driving the mini train in the mall when I retire so that I could give Riley free rides all day,” he laughed.
But before Young’s time at Young Brothers is done, his goal is to share the knowledge he’s accumulated over the years with the next generation.
“I believe the history of Young Brothers is very important to the future of the company, and I will do my best to leave behind all that I know – spreading love and aloha to everyone!”