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Maui Soda’s president dies

Cathy Nobriga Kim was 63

CATHY NOBRIGA KIM – Started work as a teen

WAILUKU — Looking around a kitchen table filled with papers, bills and old photos, former county Prosecutor John D. Kim said there is one thing he will miss most about his wife, Catherine “Cathy” Nobriga Kim.

Everything.

“Just everything,” he said Wednesday afternoon. “She did everything.”

Hailed as a humble and hard-working leader within her home, business and community, Maui native Nobriga Kim, president and general manager of Maui Soda & Ice Works Ltd. and its Roselani Ice Cream brand, died Monday. She was 63.

The family said she died suddenly due to health reasons.

Founded in 1884, Maui Soda & Ice Works has been run by generations of Nobriga family members. The Nobrigas acquired the company in 1946 and have since won various recognitions, including a 2014 state award in a family-owned business category.

Maui Soda reported more than $24 million in sales in 2016. It is one of 24 independent Coca-Cola distributors in the country and supplies Coca-Cola products and other beverages to Maui and Lanai. Roselani Ice Cream has been manufactured since 1932.

Nobriga Kim started her career at Maui Soda & Ice Works in 1979; as a teenager she made popsicles and other novelties.

She met her husband-to-be on Oahu while she was working at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. The attraction was “not mutual,” Kim said, laughing.

“I showed up all local, with long hair,” Kim said. “I said, ‘You hungry? Let’s go.’ She said no, not until you cut your hair.

“The next weekend, I cut my hair.”

They married on Sept. 5, 1981, and had three children, Kaitlin, 24; Ethan, 26; and Michael, 31.

After Kim obtained his law degree on the Mainland, they moved to Maui, where Nobriga Kim returned to the family business. Her roles included serving as inventory cost controller, ice cream sales manager and vice president of production, among others.

In 2015, Nobriga Kim succeeded her brother, Michael A. Nobriga, as head of the family company. The accomplishment was a highlight of her life, Kim said.

“She had always wanted that,” he said.

Buddy “James” Nobriga, Roselani operations manager and Nobriga Kim’s oldest nephew, said the title came with lots of responsibility.

“In our family, that’s the coveted role,” he said Wednesday. “You don’t just become the leader of the company, you become the leader of the family. That is not something that is taken lightly. It holds together our family in here and out there.”

Hillory Zablan, Roselani Frozen Department office manager who worked closely with Nobriga Kim, said the businesswoman, who was sharp and financially savvy, exemplified integrity in business.

Despite all of her personal and business connections, “she never wanted to get our ice cream into a business because of connections,” Zablan said. “She wanted to get it in on its own merit.”

Nobriga Kim’s brother, James Nobriga, Maui Soda & Ice Works vice president of facilities and distribution, said some of his sister’s strengths in business and in life came from growing up with four boys.

“She was tough,” James Nobriga said. “She was the rock of the family.”

“I will miss her leadership she provided here and for the family,” he added.

Outside of the family business, Nobriga Kim had countless volunteer positions on community boards and organizations. She worked with the St. Anthony Junior and Senior High School board, Maui Chamber of Commerce, Maui Memorial Medical Center Foundation, Hale Makua Health Services, A Keiki’s Dream and the county Committee on the Status of Women, among others.

Her alma mater, St. Anthony, held a special place in her heart. She was a key player in the decision to unite the grade school and high school, according to Timothy Cullen, head of school and principal.

“There’s no simple way to capture all that she was,” Cullen said Wednesday. “I know she loved her school, her faith, her family.

“We know it’s not just a loss to their family, but to our school ohana and the whole Maui community and beyond.”

Cullen added that the school is thankful to have her daughter Kaitlin on staff as a teacher and that she exhibits the same qualities as her mom.

“The thing I’m going to miss most is just everything about her,” Kaitlin said Wednesday. “Letting her go was hard. Telling her it was OK to go because I have strong women who have been with her and who know her.”

The daughter of Buddy and Barbara Nobriga, Nobriga Kim was born Oct. 1, 1956, in Wailuku and grew up in Kahului, Paukukalo and Kahakuloa. She graduated from St. Anthony Schools in 1974 and received her bachelor’s of business administration from UH Manoa in 1979.

She is survived by her husband; three children, Mike, Ethan and Kaitlin; grandson, Dominic; four brothers; and numerous nieces, nephews and godchildren.

* Kehaulani Cerizo can be reached at kcerizo@mauinews.com.