Aloha Spirit Award total surprise to Nalani Brun

PRINCEVILLE – Already in awe of the 250-member audience’s ability to recall the words to both “The Star Spangled Banner” and “Hawai’i Pono’i,” Nalani Brun was not surprised when she was called to the Princeville Resort ballroom’s stage for a second time recently.

She thought she was going to lead the crowd in a rendition of “God Bless America,” as one of her colleagues earlier asked of her, at the Kaua’i Chamber of Commerce’s quarterly general membership meeting.

Even when discussion at the podium turned to the annual Kaua’i Chamber of Commerce Aloha Spirit Award, she was unfazed. After all, she had nominated someone.

But not until her boss, county Office of Economic Development Director Gini Kapali, reached under the table for a big brown bag full of leis, and her 5-year-old daughter Kamalani Brun yelled, “Mommy, you won,” did Nalani Brun realize she had joined some elite company as the 2001 recipient of the Aloha Spirit Award.

Now came the difficult part.

Getting up in front of crowds in the hundreds, even the thousands, to sing, is no problem for Brun, who one night a week is a featured soloist and emcee at the Kaua’i Coconut Beach Resort lu’au and even wowed a capacity crowd at Stan Sheriff Center on the campus of the University of Hawai’i at Manoa before a UH volleyball game (broadcast statewide live on TV) with her vocal talents.

But to speak, impromptu, was another matter entirely, and something she recalls approaching with apprehension.

And one which she handled, like a complaint from a Kaua’i visitor about a restaurant meal gone bad or an activity that didn’t deliver thrills as promised, with grace and poise.

“I am very, very honored to receive this. Mahalo,” she said, simply, after deflecting sole credit for accomplishments that rightly belong to the teams she is part of, and the obligatory remarks about how others are more deserving than she of this award.

“It was quite a shock,” Brun would say later, after realization that she was the winner, not just one of 38 people who nominated others for this year’s award.

The county’s economic development specialist for tourism, Brun has worked for the county since 1994, and enjoys the teamwork inside and outside the office that helps her and others continue to effectively promote the island of her birth.

Taking care of special groups and individuals in order to ensure they’ll continue being those all-important repeat visitors is a large part of her job, something she knows from experience takes long-term planning.

That teamwork allows all involved, whether it be a rodeo group, canoe club or any other band of people united for a common goal, to work together, and celebrate victories together, she said.

From her days as county public information officer under former Mayor JoAnn Yukimura, Brun also knows the value of a sympathetic ear when taking complaints from visitors and residents.

Rather than looking at an upset or irate caller or office visitor as a burden or inconvenience, she views all of these contacts with people as opportunities to brighten days.

It is just this sunshine that prompted Faith Shiramizu of the county Department of Public Works to nominate Brun for the honor. Shiramizu had always been impressed with the positive, happy attitude Brun brought to work every day.

“Nalani Kaauwai Brun, the eldest daughter of Bill and (the late) Nancy Kaauwai, has always been a shining image of what Kaua’i’s aloha spirit is meant to be,” Shiramizu wrote in her nomination letter.

“If you just met her today, you would never know that she has faced her share of trials and tribulations. Why? Because if you just met her, she would be focusing on you, your needs, and how she could meet those needs,” Shiramizu wrote.

“Immediately, that’s Nalani. What everyone loves so much about Nalani is the person that she is that exudes Kaua’i’s aloha spirit; always happy, always positive, always has a sunshiny smile, always goes out of her way to help,” Shiramizu continued.

“Having worked with Nalani for a few years, I’ve witnessed her desire to please everyone’s needs, right now, even though it sometimes meant that she would have to drag her daughter Kamalani to some late-night or weekend meeting or function. That’s Nalani,” said Shiramizu.

“If ever there was a person deserving of an Aloha Spirit Award, it’s Nalani.”

As a result of some of those trials and tribulations Brun has been through in her 38 years, including her mother’s battle with cancer, Brun tends to live each day to the fullest, sharing her happy, positive attitude with everyone she comes in contact with.

“Attitude makes up for it all,” she said, admitting she’s made mistakes and will make more before she’s through. The important thing about mistakes is learning from them, she said.

While she also admits not being the sharpest person in the tourism promotion game, she knows that when she makes a pitch to a visitor or group or local visitor business, they’ll at least have the comfort of knowing she’ll be around to make good on her promises.

“This is a great job. I love this job,” she said, explaining that the three OED bosses she has served under, the late Gerald Dela Cruz, Glenn Sato and Kapali, have all given her free reign to make her position what she thinks it should be.

“The people I work with” in the OED office are what she likes most about her job. There is nothing, honestly, she doesn’t enjoy about her position, she said.

Brun’s job entails coordinating entertainment for incoming and departing visitors at both Lihu’e Airport and Nawiliwili Harbor, and lately has come to include dispensing grants for various island cultural celebrations.

“I’m the cheerleader of the festivals,” she said, encouraging festival organizers to keep going when they’re at wits’ end, especially in the hours just before the festival is scheduled.

The volunteers make her proud. And with $50,000 in county funds and $150,000 in Hawai’i Tourism Authority annual funding for various Kaua’i festivals, she knows she has an awesome responsibility to the statewide public to make sure those funds are expended properly.

She also does lots of booking of airline, hotel and ground transportation reservations for the various travel and trade shows, attendance at which is mandatory for her in her professional capacity.

Brun lives in Wailua Homesteads with husband Patrick Brun and daughter Kamalani Brun, a first-grader at King Kaumuali’i Elementary School in Hanama’ulu.

Help island by spending money here

You want to know how you can help the island’s economy recover faster from the visitor downturn as a result of the events on the mainland East Coast last month?

Spend your money on Kaua’i. Become a visitor on your own island.

Want some ideas on how to do that? See, an under-construction Web site listing lots of information and discounts from local businesses specifically for island residents.

Nalani Brun, economic development specialist for tourism in the county Office of Economic Development, said the Kaua’i Chamber of Commerce’s “Think Kaua’i, Buy Kaua’i” program might be making a quick comeback in the wake of the terrorist events that racked the nation and world last month.

And now is the perfect time to explore Hawai’i’s “Island of Discovery,” as Kaua’i is marketed to visitors around the world, Brun said.

“It’s a fun island. We have a lot of things to do,” she said. And with local businesses offering specials to residents through the end of the year and beyond, now is the time to explore Kaua’i, she said.

Not only will you likely stumble across something you haven’t seen before, or didn’t know about Kaua’i, but you’ll be helping the island’s economy by spending money here that will circulate on the island a few times before it leaves, she added. That, obviously, helps the island economy.

The message OED is conveying to local businesses in order to encourage on-island travel by Kaua’i residents is to appeal to families. People aren’t likely to venture out on journeys, even without leaving the island, without their families in tow, she concluded.

Business Editor Paul C. Curtis can be reached at or 245-3681 (ext. 224).


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