Longtime Maui union leader dies

William Kennison, 73, led ILWU Maui Division for 30 years

WILLIAM “WILLIE” KENNISON Longtime ILWU Maui chief

Longtime International Longshore and Warehouse Union Maui Division Director William “Willie” Kennison, who helped negotiate dozens of contracts for workers, served on many government and nonprofit boards and commissions and continued to contribute to the community in retirement, has died.

Services for the 73-year-old Waihee resident will begin with visitation from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. Sunday at Ballard Family Mortuary in Kahului with services to follow from11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Aloha attire is requested.

Kennison died May 21 surrounded by family.

Longtime ILWU Maui Division Clerk Joycelyn Victorino, who worked with Kennison for decades in the Wailuku office, said Kennison was the protege of renowned union leaders the late Thomas “Tommy” Trask, the late Thomas Yagi and John Arisumi.

Victorino, the wife of Maui County Mayor Michael Victorino, said Friday that Kennison negotiated contracts for sugar, pineapple, general trades and tourism workers. He worked for the union for 30 years.

Former ILWU Maui Division Director William “Willie” Kennison shares a light moment with his great-grandson Dreyson Kealohapauole-Andres Kennison. He died May 21 at age 73. Kennison family photo

“He did it all,” she said. “He did it with such gentleness and savvy. . . . People respect him and love him.”

She said it was a privilege and honor to work with Kennison, who received calls from governors, mayors and high-ranking officials from companies and community organizations.

Kennison knew if the union and companies worked together good things would come for workers in benefits, working conditions, sick leave and vacation, she said.

“Yet the company could still be profitable,” Victorino added.

ILWU Local 142 President Donna Domingo said Kennison rose through the ranks before entering the union. He worked at the old Wailuku Sugar Co., starting at the bottom and eventually rising to become a journeyman.

Seeing Kennison’s leadership potential, union leaders took him under their wing and in the 1980s Kennison became a business agent for Maui’s ILWU, she said.

“He was very passionate about helping the members. He would do a lot of things out of the realms of what we do,” Domingo said.

She will never forget his sense of humor and tact. “He was such a gentleman, he would always be smiling.”

Still, being a union agent can be tough, and he felt the “heavy weight” of workers losing their jobs, such as in the shutdown of Maui Pineapple Co. in 2009, she said.

Even after his retirement, Kennison remained active with the ILWU, taking on a volunteer role with the ILWU Memorial Association, a nonprofit organization.

The Memorial Association, a separate entity from ILWU Local 142, owns the ILWU buildings and properties in Hawaii and is responsible for administration and funding of all pensioner programs of ILWU Local 142, according to its website.

Kennison also was actively involved with many county boards and commissions and nonprofit groups, including the Maui County Liquor Control, Police and Fire and Public Safety commissions and Maui Memorial Medical Center and Hale Mahaolu board of directors.

His daughter, Wilmanette Oskins, said Kennison was born at the old Malulani Hospital in Wailuku and was a graduate of Baldwin High School.

He was on the debate team and won awards, which could have been an early sign of her father’s speaking and negotiation skills, Oskins said.

He went to college and served in the Army National Guard stationed at Ford Ord, Calif.

The side the public didn’t often see was Kennison’s love of golf, playing rounds sometimes more than three times a week, said Oskins. He perfected his game after retiring.

He loved football and the Dallas Cowboys, old “Looney Tunes” cartoons and Elvis Presley.

“He was always there for me,” Oskins said. “No matter how busy he was, he always instilled the importance of working hard.”

His strict demeanor as a father softened when it came to his grandchildren and great-grandchildren, she said.

He still found time to contribute to the community after retirement. “That was Dad, he wanted to continue to help,” Oskins said.

Suffering from glaucoma, Kennison had to resign from his community service activities because he had difficulty seeing.

“I love my daddy so much. He was so special,” Oskins said tearfully. “The stories I heard from everybody . . . He went over and beyond to help people.”

Kennison also is survived by his wife, Evelyn Kennison; children Feline Kinnerson, Lita Catiel, Rhovelyn Yadao, Roland Iniba and Braydon Seki; two brothers; two sisters; seven grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.