I am very honored to officially launch the KoAloha TalkUlele Story Collection with the first story submitted online by Scott Webb from Kentucky. Reading Scott’s story for the first time was quite moving to me because it beautifully illustrates how the personal can be so powerful. It also reaffirms the importance of this community space as a living breathing online archive for all KoAloha and ukulele stories big and small. It is through sharing our own stories that we can continue to provide hope and inspiration and spread the KoAloha love and ohana all over the world. Please enjoy Scott Webb’s KoAloha Story.
This story begins 6 years ago (September 2005) when my wife, Michele and I took a Hawaiian cruise. This is a cruise that in many ways changed our lives.
We found a place where we would like to spend our end days, if possible, and I found my way into playing music. Not necessarily Hawaiian music, but music with a Hawaiian instrument.
I bought my first ukulele, a soprano on the big island at Kona.
I asked the lady running the store about what’s a good uke and what’s a bad one, and her reply was “Are you planning on learning how to play?” I told her yes, I would like to, and she recommended a KoAloha. On blind faith, I bought it. Being an expensive purchase ($450), I sought my wife’s approval. She told me as long as I learned how to play it she did not care. So along with the uke, I bought a cd called “Ukulele Hero.” Well, it didn’t make me one, but I did learn basic notes and strum patterns.
I tried earlier in my life to learn guitar, but I did not have the patience, and the guitar was something you had to actually dedicate practice time and sit a particular way. Not so with the uke. I could quietly practice while lounging watching tv, or in bed watching tv. All of this was due to the small size. In short, I was in love. After about a month, I had my first epiphany. I was sitting in bed strumming different chords and all off a sudden in a combo of chords, I could hear “Amazing Grace”…in my mind. I asked Michele to listen. When I asked her what I was playing, she answered “No idea.” So, I played it and sang the words. She could tell from then on when I was playing it.
Well, this really gave me the bug, and I was able to start “picking out” several tunes on my own. Then my wife surprised me with several “Jumpin’ Jim” ukulele song books. I was happy. This continued on until January 2006, and I wanted a bigger uke. So I called the factory directly. Patricia Okami (Mama KoAloha) answered the phone. I, always being the bargain hunter, asked if I could get ukes at a reduced price for ordering directly from them. Being true to their retailers, she told me they could only sell them at MSRP. She said she could sell factory seconds at a reduced price.
She had a concert and she made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.
While she was writing up my bill and getting my information, she made polite small talk and asked me if I had any children.
I told her we had just “gotten two” without thinking what I was saying. I explained to her that we had finished up foster/adoptive classes in November, and a set of 2 sisters were placed with us in December. She asked if they were healthy, and I told her the 3 year old was, but the 1 year old had a severe seizure disorder that caused her to have 150+ seizures per day–on a good day.
She was very taken aback by this and after a moment of silence, she said “May I ask you a personal question?” I said absolutely yes. She then said, “Would you mind if I requested prayer at my church for her?” Well, this touched my heart in ways I will never be able to describe. I told her “Yes, prayer is what she needs, and what me and my wife need in parenting her and her sister. So yes, please do.” She then asked me to call back occasionally to tell of any progress with the medical condition of the youngest one Raeden.
I did, and one time Alan (KoAloha VP), Patricia’s oldest son answered the phone. She was out, and he asked who I was. When I told him, he already knew about Raeden, and asked how she was, and talked to me as if he knew me. I was happily surprised by this, and we had a nice long conversation. I’ve now talked to 2 of the Okami family, and they were both really nice people, so I’m now betting it’s a family trait.
I talked to Alan several times after that, and one hot day in July of 2006, I made a fateful decision that I wanted a full custom tenor ukulele from KoAloha. I contacted Alan and told him of my desire, and he said that was up to his brother Paul, who was the master luthier and also ran their production shop. He took my number and said he would ask Paul to give me a call, but to expect a wait, because Paul was over a year behind on his custom schedule.
The next day, Paul called, introduced himself, and asked me why that I wanted a custom. I wasn’t expecting that question. So, I stumbled around until I came up with what I thought was the best answer. I said that I want a tenor uke anyway, and I know after I buy that, I will still want a custom, so actually in doing this, I’ll be saving money. Besides, I told him, I would like exactly what I want in a uke from him, because if he is anything like the rest of his family, it will be the absolute best. He seemed humbled by that answer, then proceeded to ask me how I wanted the uke built. After I gave him the details, he told me it would be about a year before he could start on it. I told him that was fine, because, I had seen the custom pricing, and I needed to save up my money. We both laughed, and we ended the conversation.
As they say…time passes. July 2007 rolls by, and I heard nothing from Paul. In September, I sent a short email asking about construction start date. His reply stated that due to unforeseen circumstances, it would be at least another year until he could start. I was more than fine with that, as I didn’t have even half the money I would need to pay for it. I did have a strategy though. I had to drag my family kicking and screaming into this strategy too. It was simple: for my birthdays and Christmas, instead of giving me a gift, please give me the cash they would have spent. When I finally got it through their hard heads what it was for, they complied, and the cash started mounting.
I next heard from Paul in November 2008. I got a call, and on the ID it said “KoAloha Ukulele.” With anticipation, I answered. Paul said that he had my uke on his clipboard, and would be starting after the first of the year.
He went over what we had talked about 2 years before, and he asked me if I wanted to change anything. In that amount of time, I had come up with a few changes and additions, and gave them to him.
Then I asked him for the cost. He said he would add it all up. He used an adding machine that I could hear in the background. I kept hearing him tap-tap the keys, then ch-ching when he hit the add button. This went on for quite a while, then he hit the total button. Ch-ching-ching-ching-ching-ching. By this time, my heart was in my throat. He asked me if I was sitting down. Instinctively, I moved over to a kitchen chair and plopped down. I told him yes I was sitting, just remember bruthah, I got a family to feed! He laughed, and said, “The first time I talked to you, God put it on my heart to gift this ukulele to you.” I did not understand. I had him repeat himself. He said it again. Still not understanding, I asked him “Why?” He explained as best he could that sometimes at KoAloha the spirit just moves one of them to do something like this, and they simply obey.
This put me in tears. I was overwhelmed. I have never experienced this kind of generosity before. And at the hands of a virtual stranger. I only hope that someday, I can be nearly as good-hearted as these people are.
By this time, I had $1,100 saved. I was thinking, if I keep this, it’s gonna feel like blood money. So, I decided, it was time to “pay it forward”. I knew of a family that was 2 house payments behind, and each was about $1000, so I explained the situation, and asked them if they would be willing to take that much to go toward a house payment. They did, and ended up able to completely catch up a few months later. I also told them, if they ever had the opportunity to please pay it forward. A couple of weeks before Christmas, a waitress at a restaurant we frequent, was the single parent of a little girl that was in my daughter’s head start class. They were not well to do, so the last $100, I left with a manager I knew at the restaurant, and told her to give it to her from a “secret Santa” to buy for her little girl.
So you see, the Okami’s had much more far reaching effect than simply giving an ukulele away. They helped a family catch up on their mortgage and a little girl have a better Christmas. All from over 6,000 miles away.
As Paul Harvey used to say, now…for the rest of the story.
In 2009, we took our youngest daughter to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital to seek a treatment for her seizure condition. In April 2009, they did preliminary testing. The only treatment that could help involved brain surgery. Of course, we were scared to death. But, if there was any hope of her getting any better at all, it was the only option. We decided to take that option. In November 2009, she had the surgery. Due to complications, she stayed in the hospital for 2 months. The hospital is over 3 hours from home, so my wife and I stayed there while our oldest Bridget stayed with my wife’s parents. Poor Raeden had to be put into induced comas several times due to amount of seizure activity she was having. I talked to Alan and Patricia several times, just to get things off my chest, and not worry my wife or other family members with my thoughts—scary thoughts. They would pray with me over the phone, and it helped tremendously.
Well, Raeden came through it all reasonably well. The surgery allowed her medication to work, and cut her seizure activity from 150+ a day to 10 to 20 a day. Sometimes, we don’t see any at all.
Now, back to the uke build. It just so happened on April 30, 2010, we took Raeden to a follow-up exam at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. Afterwards, we stopped at a restaurant to eat, and while there, an email came across my phone. It was from Paul. He said that he had selected the wood for my build, and would be starting the next day. True to his word, he sent me photos the next day of the sides bent in a mold. It had actually started.
Well, pictures and notes started coming ever so often of the progress, and I learned much. I asked questions about the build, and Paul would email me “sermons” regarding how and why he did what he did. I wanted to know as much as I could, to be armed when people asked me questions about my uke. You see, where I live, the ukulele has never been seen as anything other than a toy. And trust me, what KoAloha builds, they ain’t toys, they are precision instruments. Especially the customs, which Paul puts a lot extra into. Not only does he build them completely by hand, he puts his “mana” into each and every one.
I told Paul since I was getting this at such a good price, to take his time, if other things needed to be done, do them. Let my build be one that he did when he had extra time. I also told him if there was anything he wanted to try on a build that he had always wanted to, feel free.
This resulted in mine being the proto-type for a bolt on neck. He liked it so well, that customs will have bolt on necks from now on, and maybe eventually the production models.
He was completely pau (finished) in January 2011, but at my request, I asked him if he could record some of my ukulele heroes playing my uke. Those included Gordon Mark, Herb Ohta, Jr., Pali Kaaihue, Alvin Okami, Alan Okami, and of course my biggest hero of all, Paul. It took a few months to get all that in due to conventions, getting them to come in the shop to record, etc.
But when all was said and done, on July 15, 2011, UPS delivered me the most beautiful ukulele I’ve ever seen.
Or for that matter, I have never seen any stringed instrument as beautiful as this one.
I named my uke Lokahi, which is the Hawaiian word for ‘unity’ to describe what I feel with the KoAloha ohana, but especially Paul. But most importantly, it describes my family and the unity that we have from such different places in life. Truly, God stepped in and gave us ‘lokahi’.
When I saw it, then played it, my first thought was “Perfect.”
Paul Okami is an artist beyond compare. And all the Okami’s are people beyond compare.
Sadly, I’ve only been to Hawaii once, and then I did not know the Okami’s at the time. Our entire relationship has been through phone calls or email, which to me makes them that much more remarkable. They are such a humble and good-hearted bunch of people, that I can’t even begin to put into words. God blesses them, and they pay the blessings forward whenever the Spirit moves them to. Aloha and Spirit, that’s what the Ohana at KoAloha are about.
As for me, and the blessing of Lokahi I received, I hope to be able to play music with the girl scout troop my wife leads. I am an assistant leader, as both our daughters are in the troop. I assist Raeden in all things scouting, as she is developmentally delayed.
Also, I bought a small acoustic amp so I can “plug in” when I play for the troop. It would be difficult for one uke to not be drown out by 15 voices (12 girls and 3 adults). The amp is also battery powered, so I can take it along on camping trips. Anytime you pull a uke out of it’s case, it’s hard not to get a smile from someone as it’s such a happy instrument. People tend to refer to ukes as “little.” They may be small in stature, but inside each ukulele is a huge heart waiting to be brought out by someone playing it.
I can only hope that I can help Lokahi live it’s life to the fullest extent. The more I play it, the more I bond with it. I almost feel as if it is becoming part of me, and I am becoming part of it. Truly, Lokahi (unity) lives up to it’s name, as it has permanently linked the Webb ohana and the Okami ohana.
BONUS: If you would like to hear Lokahi’s beautiful sound. You can listen to a few samples played by the Master Luthier himself, Paul Okami.
Posted In: Featured KoAloha Content, TalkUlele Story Collection
Tagged: 6 years, Alan Okami, Alvin Okami, amazing grace, blind faith, bridget, custom ukulele, hawaiian cruise, hawaiian music, hero, KoAloha, KoAloha Story, kona, Lokahi, master luthier, Michelle Webb, My KoAloha Story, Pat Okami, patience, Paul Okami, pearl harbor, playing music, practice time, Raeden, scott webb, snuba diving, soprano, strum patterns, uke, ukulele, watching tv