by: Leland Kim
HONOLULU (KHNL) - It's as synonymous with our islands as our beaches themselves. Leis are a Hawaii tradition. For one Kaaawa woman, it's a way to share her aloha spirit and to honor her father's legacy.
They're used to greet officials and to celebrate milestones. It's a proud Hawaii tradition and a fragrant symbol of our aloha spirit. Michelle Kalili has made leis for 55 years. She started when she was only eight.
"When we were little, you know we all went to school and came down here after school and stayed until the evening and stayed on the weekends," said Kalili.
Her father Gus, opened the first lei stand at the airport in 1940. It was an instant success.
"It started getting busy," said Kalili. "His sisters joined him with their businesses there, and it grew from there."
Gus and his sisters have passed on the craft to Michelle and her siblings, and she happily carries on the legacy.
"We feel very proud and honored to be doing something like this, because it's our tradition, it's our heritage," said Kalili.
She said people from all walks of life come to buy her leis.
"We see them sometimes on TV and we've had celebrities come and buy leis for their friends, and that's nice. It's rewarding," she said.
But it's her love of it that keeps her coming back after 55 years.
"It's a personal thing for us because it's our personal gratification," she said. "We've been doing it for so long. We put our heart in it."
Kalili's dad died when she was only five. She said he would be proud his eldest daughter has carried on his legacy.
"Oh, I know he's up there watching," she said. "I know he's up there watching. I wish he were here. I wish he were here."
Honoring her father, and bringing smiles one lei at a time.