Leis family is the model for philanthropic giving


‘Tis the season — of joy, family, friends, gatherings, good food and gifts. In the spirit of  the true meaning of giving, we’d like to salute one of our heroes. If you’ve visited our fine dining restaurant, you know the name Leis family. But that’s just the tip of the story.

Dorvin Duane Leis grew up in Riverside, Calif., the eldest of three sons of Ward and Susan Leis. He received his high school diploma in 1946 and attended Pasadena Junior College and Pasadena City College.

Dorvin developed the entrepreneurial spirit at a young age. His career started at the age of 12 when he started a successful limeade stand with the help of his parents and a friend. The two boys put on their white drugstore soda counter coats and went to work every day during the summer break. They sold limeade for 5 cents and offered a plate lunch for 25 cents. His parents required him to keep meticulous records to ensure the business was running correctly and profitably. An entrepreneur was born.

After his first business venture, Dorvin proceeded with several more opportunities, including a lawn-mowing service and a lamp manufacturing company. ln 1961, Dorvin started his mechanical contracting business in Pomona, Calif., beginning as a plumber working out of his garage. In 1967, one of his clients asked him to move to Maui to help construct a Travelodge hotel in Lahaina and, in 1972, the Leis family permanently relocated to Maui.

Thanks to Dorvin’s hard work and strategic leadership, his mechanical contracting business, Dorvin D. Leis Co. Inc., grew to become the largest mechanical contractor in the state of Hawaii. Today, it employs more than 100 people.

On June 16, 2015, Dorvin passed away at his home in Kihei after a difficult five-year battle with cancer. Dorvin’s values, work ethic and generosity will truly be missed by his family and all the communities he supported. But his legacy most certainly lives on.

Dorvin was a dedicated family man and he lived by these principles: family is the top priority; genuinely care about people and believe that no one should feel hopeless, helpless or alone; embrace a culture of loyal and lifelong friendships; and always give back.

He also strongly believed in supporting the communities in which we live and work. He instilled these principles in his children and incorporated them in his businesses.

Through the years, his gifts of time, wisdom and philanthropy have helped innumerable Hawaii nonprofits and strengthened the fabric of our community. In addition to serving on the University of Hawaii Foundation board of trustees, and the UH-Maui College Chancellor’s Advisory Council, Dorvin and his wife, Betty Mae, were generous donors to UH.

Dorvin and Betty Leis established the Leis Family Sustainability Fund with a $1 million gift to advance all aspects of sustainability at UH-Maui College.

With this generous gift, we are able to expand our sustainability efforts to encompass a wide spectrum of operations. Sustainability is the lens through which we can make every aspect of the college more efficient and adaptive, from the environment and physical space to our programs and community engagement. We strive to be agile, responsive, and understand how decisions made in one part of campus can impact the whole. A sustainability focus keeps organizations relevant and engaged, and in our case ensures students are prepared to meet the needs of a rapidly changing society.

And although Dorvin is gone, our college recently humbly accepted another significant gift from his family.

This is also the season of “mahalo,” and that’s what we say to the many supporters of University of Hawaii Maui College. All of us wish all of you a happy, healthy and prosperous new year. And we encourage everyone — especially our students — to embody the values of Dorvin and Betty Mae Leis. Be assured that every act of philanthropy — from the smallest kindness bestowed upon a neighbor in need to a major monetary contribution to a community or international nonprofit — makes this world a much, much better place.

To learn about the UH Foundation and how you can follow in the Leis family footsteps, please visit maui.hawaii.edu/uhf.

* Lui K. Hokoana, Ph.D, is chancellor of the University of Hawaii Maui College. “Ka’ana Mana’o,” which means “sharing thoughts,” is scheduled to appear on the fourth Sunday of each month. It is prepared with assistance from UH-Maui College staff and is intended to provide the community of Maui County information about opportunities available through the college at its Kahului campus and its education centers.


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