Been There, Done That, Back to Hilo—a Nine Decade Odyssey
Fred Koehnen has seen a lot of the world and Hawaii in his 91 years. In his recently published autobiography, “Been There, Done That, Back to Hilo—a Nine Decade Odyssey,” he describes what it was like growing up in Hilo and working as a community leader in Hawaii as the rest of the nation underwent tremendous change. This book is a must-read for anyone who lives or is interested in living on the Big Island, or those curious about Hawaii’s history.
In the interest of full disclosure, I want to let you know the author is my father. At 91 years old, my Dad is amazing: he still plays golf twice a week, makes koa furniture, mows his own lawn, and manages his online stock portfolio. A retired businessman and emeritus board member for several local community organizations, Fred remains active in the community and is still lauded for his many accomplishments.
From Hawaii to Germany
Been There, Done That, Back to Hilo presents a delightful look at life in Hilo from 1924 to the turn of the 21st century. The book weaves together the personal reminiscings of a long and well-lived life, as well as historical information about the culture, economics, and personages of 20th century Hawaii.
Over the course of nine decades, Fred has been involved in several industries, working as a cowboy, stockbroker, small businessman, and County manager. As a community leader he has helped to shape and mold our island community in a way few people can equal. He did all this while still managing to travel the world and serve in our armed forces for over three decades, starting in World War II and continuing in the National Guard and reserve forces until the 1970s.
In his autobiography Fred describes what it was like in 1936 to travel from Hilo to Germany—an epic journey spanning half the globe that included two shipwrecks. He provides a close-up view of what Hitler’s Germany looked and felt like just prior to WWII and the pageantry of the 1936 Berlin Olympics in which Jesse Owens, an African American, won four gold medals in track and field. You’ll also discover what it was like to fly on the first inter-island passenger plane—an amphibious craft that landed on the water!
Back to Hilo
As interesting as it is to read about his first-hand experience of world events, it is his role in shaping our island community that’s particularly fascinating. Fred helped write the very first Hawaii County Charter, was the first president of the Hilo Downtown Improvement Association, and helped steer one of east Hawaii’s large landowners, W.H. Shipman Ltd. through some turbulent years with changing management. He was among the team of National Guardsmen that first surveyed the Pohakuloa area for use as a military training area. A savvy businessman, he has successfully managed real estate investments throughout Hilo and lower Puna, including Kapoho, Hawaiian Paradise Park, and downtown Hilo. Fred has served, and in some instances continues to serve, on the boards of several charitable institutions, most notably the Hilo Medical Center Foundation, the Lyman Museum, the Hilo Boarding School, and the Volcano Art Center.
Fred’s autobiography Been There, Done That, Back to Hilo provides a detailed and fascinating history of living on Hawaii Island in a bygone era when the sugar cane industry was king and life was simple. The book richly describes the people and places that make living on this island so special. You can find his book at the Lyman Museum gift shop, 276 Haili Street, Hilo.