Chris Luedi, regional vice president and general manager of the Fairmont Orchid, hands Waimea Middle School student Holly Hoover a bag containing shoes and athletic apparel. (FILE PHOTO)
From left, Daniel Akaka, Chris Luedi and Mayor Billy Kenoi pose for a photo after Luedi accepts the Spirit of Aloha award at the BIFF. (PHOTO COURTESY OF THE FAIRMONT ORCHID FOR NHN)
Chris Luedi with Kimokeo Kapahulehua from the film “Family of the Wa’a,” a documentary chronicling their journey as they paddled the entire 1,650-mile Hawaiian archipelago in a traditional six-person Hawaiian outrigger canoe. (FILE PHOTO)
As part of the annual Big Island Film Festival, Mayor Billy Kenoi presents the Spirit of Aloha award to those who contribute to the growth of the festival while embodying the true meaning of aloha and the spirit of the islands. Last week, he presented that award to Christof Luedi, regional vice-president and general manager of the Fairmont Orchid, for donating space and helping promote the festival.
“Chris is an amazing guy. He is someone who is of here, not from here. He celebrates the values we are proud to call Hawaiian: h’aha (humility), pe’ahana (diligence), kela (excellence), le’ale’a (playfulness), alaka’i (leadership) and kulia iåka nu’u (achievement),” Keoni said.
Jan and Leo Sears have been BIFF organizers since the beginning and were instrumental in nominating Luedi for this award.
“Chris really has taken it upon himself to give as much support to the BIFF as possible, on behalf of the Orchid,” Sears said.
But there is more to this story than just a hotel donating space for a local event. And that story is Luedi himself.
“I am from a very small village (692 people) in a very small country (Switzerland) with a tremendous sense of community,” Luedi said.
When he moved to Hawaii 14 years ago taking a job as general manager of the Fairmont Kea Lani Hotel on Maui, he found that same sense of community. And he believes in utilizing the hotel’s facilities and manpower to help perpetuate the Hawaiian culture, “to make sure it doesn’t go away.”
“As a head of a hotel, my goal is to run a good organization and for the guests to have a genuine experience. At the same time I find great enjoyment in finding individuals who can contribute and leave a legacy of leaving the island a better place,” Luedi said. We can use the hotels and the people who work in the hotels to help perpetuate that.”
In that regard, the Fairmont Orchid donates space for the BIFF, assists in promotion and strives to make it a better event.
“I feel utterly unworthy of receiving something like this award,” Luedi said, “But it’s gratifying. After 14 years in Hawaii, what I have learned is that it’s all about the community and achieving something that maybe someone thought couldn’t be achieved. Put a little manpower behind it and we can help.”
On behalf of the Fairmont Orchid, Luedi also recently donated gently used Adidas workout gear and running shoes to members of Waimea Middle Public Conversion Charter School’s cross country team as part of the Shoes for Schools donation. Luedi then ran with the team, followed by a healthy snack prepared by Executive Chef Hubert Des Marais. The hotel also partners with North Hawaii Hospice through a variety of events. They donate boxed lunches to volunteers with Habitat for Humanity, and donate gently used toiletries to the West Hawaii Veterans and local homeless shelters. They also raised $33,000 in the 35th Annual Visitor Industry Charity Walk.
This is the fourth year the Orchid has hosted the BIFF. According to Sears there are three components that a recipient of the award should meet: be tied into the movies or the film business, be a good citizen, and be respecting and promoting of the island culture.
“Mr. Luedi has really stepped up the involvement of the Orchid. He really wants the film festival to succeed on the island and has embraced the culture — he does all kinds of paddling — he has immersed himself in the culture,” Sears said.
Indeed, Luedi has more than a passing passion for paddling.
“Ocean life is a big part of who I am now,” Luedi said.
Those who know him confirm that Luedi walks his talk, embracing the Hawaiian culture.
Between 2003-2008, Luedi, together with Maui community leader Kimokeo Kapahulehua, paddled the entire 1,650 mile Hawaiian archipelago in a traditional six-person Hawaiian outrigger canoe. The journey was chronicled in an award winning documentary Family of the Wa’a, which was shown at the festival last year.
Luedi is the third recipient of the Spirit of Aloha award. Big Island actor Dick Hershberger was the first, and Big Island film commissioner John Mason received the Spirit of Aloha award last year.