LIHUE — Kauai Auto Repair owners Angel Santiago III and his family never hesitate to help the community.
They especially stepped up to the plate during last year’s historic flood in April. Santiago not only released his long-time employee, Cory Soares, to serve as a member of the National Guard, his business also remained open and provided assistance to flood victims as needed, including fabricating fuel lines for rescue Zodiacs at no charge.
That’s why Kauai Auto Repair is set to receive what is deemed one of the top U.S. government honors for employers; a “big trophy,” said retired Major General Robert Lee who is the state chair of the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve.
Representatives from the ESGR, as well as local and state government officials, took time on Monday to honor Santiago, about a week before he heads to Washington, D.C., to accept the Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award.
What makes this honor stand out even more for Kauai Auto Repair is that the business is one of only three from the state that has ever been presented with this esteemed recognition since the award’s inception in the mid-1990s. Moreover, it’s the only business from a neighbor island to receive the designation.
“All I can say is, ‘my part is a small part,’” said Santiago, who, along with Soares, is a graduate of Kauai High School.
But every little bit of counts, Soares said.
The Kalaheo resident said he is grateful to work for Santiago, who is also a long-time friend and has always been supportive of Soares’ continued endeavors with the National Guard.
Santiago has accommodated all of Soares’ deployments throughout his 17 years of employment at Kauai Auto Repair by keeping him on payroll and welcoming him back with open arms.
“He’s a key part of our business,” Santiago said. “It’s hard to find qualified, disciplined employees.”
Soares, who is married to Casey with whom he has five children and one grandchild, has been deployed overseas on three occasions — two in Iraq and one, which he recently returned from, in Egypt.
But he’s also been called upon to assist in emergencies locally, such as last year’s flood where he helped rescue people stranded in Haena by bringing them to Hanalei Bay via Zodiac boats.
Soares spent about a week on the North Shore providing aid to the community while sleeping in Humvees at night, and at the same time, Santiago did his part by providing help wherever it was needed.
Lee said these facts are among the many reasons Kauai Auto Repair, located in Puhi, was one of 15 selected to receive the Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award out of thousands of nominees across the nation.
Coco Zickos, county reporter, can be reached at 245-0424 or firstname.lastname@example.org.