Since the passing of Barry Taniguchi on Sept. 20, plaudits for the late chairman and CEO of KTA Super Stores and condolences to his family have poured in from leaders of Hawaii’s business, government, health care, education and nonprofit sectors.
The 72-year-old Taniguchi — philanthropist, health care advocate, tireless volunteer and board member for a vast number of business, civic and community organizations — was as known for his wise counsel and humility as for his statewide sphere of influence.
“He had a tremendous amount of love and aloha for the community …,” said Toby Taniguchi, president and chief operating officer of KTA, who took over day-to-day operations of the seven-store islandwide supermarket chain from his father in 2014. “I think he found a tremendous amount of satisfaction in working to make our community a better place, a healthier place for all of us.
“He was never afraid to roll up his sleeves and get involved in movements or things that are important to him. He cared about people from the cradle to the rocking chair.”
U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, called Taniguchi “a brilliant problem solver and man of action.”
“We will greatly miss his intellect, his gentleman’s style and his determination to always do the right thing,” Schatz said.
Roberta Chu, a Bank of Hawaii senior vice president and close friend of Taniguchi’s who sat on numerous boards with him, said she “couldn’t say no” whenever Taniguchi asked her to serve.
“If he could do everything, plus run KTA, what was I going to complain about?” Chu said. “Barry built his reputation from the ground up. He didn’t serve on a board so it would be on his (résumé). If he was part of an organization, they had his commitment.”
A short list of Hilo-born Taniguchi’s past and present organizational affiliations include serving as chairman and president of Community First, a health care-focused community action organization; president of the Aloha Council of Boy Scouts of America, Hawaii Island Chamber of Commerce and Hilo High School Foundation; chairman of Hawaii Island Food Basket (the Big Island’s food bank) and Hawaii Employers’ Mutual Insurance Co. Inc.; vice chairman of Hawaii Health System Corp.; independent director of Hawaiian Electric Industries Inc.; director of American Savings Bank; treasurer of Lyman House Memorial Museum; trustee of the Hawaii Community Foundation, the Tax Foundation of Hawaii and The Queen’s Health Systems; and board member of Hilo Medical Center, the Public Schools of Hawaii Foundation, Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Hawaii, Hawaii Island Economic Development Board, Hawaii Employers Council, Hawaii Community Foundation, Pacific Tsunami Museum, and Maunakea Management Board, for which he was chairman from 2007 to 2012.
Taniguchi was presented the Hawaii Alliance of Nonprofit Organizations Lifetime Achievement Award in 2016. Pacific Business News honored him as one of the 25 most-influential business executives in Hawaii in a 2013 issue commemorating PBN’s 50th anniversary.
The Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii honored him in 2015 with its Living Treasure of Hawaii Award, and he was inducted into the Junior Achievement of Hawaii’s Business Hall of Fame in 2010 and the Hawaii Food Industry Association’s Hall of Fame in 2015.
Taniguchi began working at age 12 as a courtesy clerk in the downtown Hilo store of the family business his grandparents started in a 500-square-foot building on Waiakea Peninsula in 1916. He became the company’s third chief executive, succeeding his uncle, Tony Taniguchi, who died in 1989.
KTA has grown despite fierce competition, from the former Sure Save and Food Fair supermarkets, from the Oahu-based Foodland chain, which includes Sack N Save and Malama Market, and from big box stores such as Walmart and Target, which have grocery sections.
Taniguchi told the Tribune-Herald in 2016 that customer loyalty, the quality of KTA’s employees, and a focus on local products are three of the things that have helped the grocery chain keep up with its competition.
He was at the helm when KTA launched its popular Mountain Apple brand in 1992. He said his uncle Tony and Derek Kurisu, a KTA executive vice president, conceived Mountain Apple Brand as a way to help displaced sugar workers who wanted to remain in agriculture market their products.
Taniguchi graduated from Hilo High School in 1965, where he played football and was president of the student council.
“He was Hilo through and through,” said Bill Walter, former president of W.H. Shipman Ltd. and past president of the Hawaii Island Chamber of Commerce, who served on the student council with Taniguchi at Hilo High.
After high school, Taniguchi earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration with an emphasis in accounting from the University of Hawaii at Manoa and was licensed as a certified public accountant in 1971.
A strong supporter of the University of Hawaii system, he established the Taniguchi Memorial Fund in memory of his grandparents and KTA’s founders, Koichi and Taniyo Taniguchi, and provided UH-Hilo’s first permanent faculty endowments to help the campus attract and retain the best teachers and scholars.
UH President David Lassner expressed the university community’s “deepest condolences to his family, friends and to all who were touched by his wisdom, his service, his generosity and his kind heart.”
“He always looked forward and the entire UH ‘ohana will be forever grateful for the leadership, vision and steadfast support he invested in making a better Hawaii for all,” Lassner said. “Barry Taniguchi truly exemplified what community means and will be sorely missed.”
A proponent of astronomy on Hawaii Island, Taniguchi served on UH-Hilo’s Maunakea Management Board since its formation in 2000. He left in 2012 but returned in 2018, according to a statement by the Office of Maunakea Management, “out of concern that the controversy over the construction of the (Thirty Meter Telescope) was often ill-informed and was undermining the years of hard work that was invested by many groups and individuals in the community-based decision-making process.”
Dennis Francis, president of Oahu Publications Inc., the Tribune-Herald’s parent company, said he was “fortunate to follow Barry’s leadership” as board chairman for the Chamber of Commerce Hawaii.
“Barry led with thoughtful and carefully crafted programs,” Francis said. “His relationships across the state were second to none. Barry cared deeply about business in Hawaii. His contributions were immense, and he will be dearly missed.”
Community First, which Taniguchi founded, became his passion in his later years. Health care on Hawaii Island benefited through Community First and through Taniguchi’s membership on the Hawaii Health Systems Corporate Board in 2007-2009 and the Hawaii Health Systems East Hawaii Regional Board in 2016-2019.
“He did so much to help Hilo Medical Center become a really good hospital,” said Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim. “This community was very lucky to have him.”
“Our community, our health care system, and our hospital, are so much better because of Barry,” said Dan Brinkman, East Hawaii Regional CEO of Hawaii Health Systems Corporation. “… While we are mourning his passing, we are also reminded of the good that one person can do for so many.”
As former president and board chair of the Aloha Council of Boy Scouts of America, Taniguchi helped lead the Roots and Wings campaign to renovate and refurbish Aloha Council’s camps across the state. Since 2016, the Hawaiian Electric Industries Charitable Foundation has donated or pledged $64,000 to the Roots and Wings campaign. In Taniguchi’s honor and memory, the HEI Foundation pledged an additional $61,000 to reach a milestone of $125,000.
“He was generous with his time and passionate about helping the community,” said Connie Lau, HEI president and CEO and HEI Foundation chair. “Barry made Hawaii better.”
“Barry was one of those guys that doesn’t come along very often,” Walter concluded. “And when they do, we’re just fortunate to have them. The effects of what he did in his life will live on for a long time.”
Visitation for Taniguchi is 8-11 a.m. Friday, Oct. 18, at Honpa Hongwanji Hilo Betsuin, 398 Kilauea Ave.
A memorial service is at 11 a.m. with lunch to follow at the Sangha Hall. Casual attire is requested.
Taniguchi is survived by his wife, Sandra Taniguchi of Hilo; sons, Toby (Charlynn) Taniguchi of Waimea and Ryan Taniguchi of Tacoma, Wash.; daughters, Tracy (Aaron) Taniguchi and Terri (Scott) Hayashi of Hilo, and Amanda Taniguchi of Seattle; brother, Lon (Lisbeth) Taniguchi of Hilo; sister, Maryan (Stanley) Taniguchi of Hilo; parents-in-law, Kazuo and Marilyn Tamei of Hilo; brother-in-law, Richard (Lily) Kamei of Honolulu; seven grandchildren and a great-granddaughter; uncles, aunts, nephews, nieces and cousins.
Email John Burnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.