Fred Mendes was born in Kumukumu Camp, Kealia, Kaua‘i, in 1884 to Portuguese immigrant parents, John and Albina Mendes, and was educated at Saint Louis College on O‘ahu.
By 1950, when he retired as harvesting superintendent of Lihu‘e Plantation’s Makee section, he’d worked a total of 51 years for both Kealia’s Makee Sugar Co. and Lihu‘e Plantation, which had acquired Makee in 1916.
He recalled that in 1899, there were many camps scattered all over Makee plantation that housed laborers, who walked to their jobs in nearby fields. But by 1950, plantation workers and their families were concentrated in just a few main camps.
He also noted that Col. Zephaniah Spalding owned Makee Sugar Co. and at one time, his son Rufus was its manager, while another son, Jimmy, was assistant manager.
Col. Spalding’s three daughters had married Italian counts, Senni, Bonzi and Bodrero, and each became a division overseer under Rufus and Jimmy.
With Rufus, Jimmy and the three counts in charge of the plantation, Makee Sugar Co. was known as the “racehorse plantation,” because these men spent most of their working hours at their polo field, playing polo or training racehorses and polo ponies, an unproductive arrangement that ceased when Gaylord Wilcox became manager.
Harvesting workers were paid 17 cents per ton for loading cut sugarcane by hand onto railroad cars in the fields. A good man could load 10 tons during a 10-hour work day. He would pick the cane off the ground and carry it up an inclined plank and stack it in a cane car. Oftentimes, his wife would stack the cane on the ground beforehand.
Fred Mendes also served as a member of the Kaua‘i Police Commission and the Board of Supervisors.
He and his wife, Amelia, had three sons.