In 1963, four couples decided to celebrate King Kamehameha’s birthday.

They reserved a table at a dining room that cooked them a Hawaiian meal served by waitresses whose outfits matched the room’s Hawaiian decor. The men dined in jackets and ties, the women in elegant holoku.

Back then that dinner could have been at Canlis, Trader Vic’s, or maybe Dot’s in Wahiawa.

In fact it took place where these celebrants all lived: Rogue Valley Manor, a retirement community in Medford, Oregon, 30 miles from the California border and over 2,000 miles from Hawaii.

Today at least 10 percent of the 1,000 or so Rogue Valley Manor residents are from Hawaii. Only Oregon and California have more people living there.

Hawaii residents make up about 10 percent of the resident population of Rogue Valley Manor in Medford, Oregon. The 668-acre grounds are huge compared to any senior residence in Hawaii. Neal Milner

Not Aging In Place

Why does a place so isolated and so far from Hawaii attract so many former island residents?

After all, so much about culture in Hawaii emphasizes why people who live here want to stay here.

There are iconic songs about home, about missing Hawaii — “Home in the Islands,” “Waikiki,” “Honolulu City Lights.”

So much is about keeping ohana together in this special place that people never want to leave.

Grow up here, maybe go away for a short time, but return to live and ultimately die surrounded by the same people and same setting you’ve been around almost all your life.

Hawaii’s sense of place was not strong enough to hold these people. At the same time their attachment to Hawaii is too powerful and alluring to forget.

As I pointed out in my last column, in reality aging in place in Hawaii is quite different. It’s not so much a desired choice. It’s more like a default, a necessity: “We gotta do what we gotta do.”

In contrast, Hawaii’s Rogue Valley Manor residents do not live there by necessity. They choose it from a wide range of alternatives.

The manor is located in a beautiful setting on a Southern Oregon hill overlooking a lush valley. When my wife and I visited there in a mid-October, the valley’s colors were a mixture of red, green and gold.

The 668-acre grounds are huge compared to any senior residence in Hawaii.

The five dining rooms, apartments and assisted living facilities are on top of the hill. Spacious private cottages slope downhill toward the residents’ RV parking lot, their community gardens, some small ponds and a new memory center. And there is a golf course.

Hawaii, even its most expensive elderly residences, has nothing remotely close to this.

Money gave the residents entrée, but it also gave them alternatives. Why did they pick this one?

Probably the most important reason is health care. Rogue Valley Manor is a continuous care retirement community, which means that it has the facilities to guarantee on the premises whatever level of living and care people need as they age and become more fragile.

A number of places in Hawaii also say they offer continuous care, but typically the Hawaii Rogue Valley Manor residents did not think the island facilities matched up.

Unburdening The Children

Most of the residents had lived in Hawaii for a long time and raised their families there.

Some still had children in Hawaii, but most did not. None had family anywhere close to Southern Oregon.

They chose to move to Medford rather than somewhere close to their children because they saw aging in place as a burden they didn’t want to place on their kids.

As one man whose family first came to Hawaii as farmers in the 1860s put it, he did not want his children to go through what he went through taking care of his mother as she aged in place next door to his family in Hawi on the Big Island.

At Rogue Valley Manor, he said, “Your kids don’t have to be the ones to get you to stop driving. The staff will do that for you.”

There are good reasons why people who lived their life in Hawaii decide to spend their pau hana years somewhere else.

Hawaii’s sense of place was not strong enough to hold these people. At the same time their attachment to Hawaii is too powerful and alluring to forget.

Though most had lived in the islands for many years, many had also lived for a substantial time on the continent away from their extended family.

Many travel extensively even after moving to Rogue Valley Manor. An ex-Hawaii resident in her 80s who moved here alone told me that one reason was the adventure.

I spoke to a woman who had been a schoolteacher in Hawaii for 30 years. But along the way she had also spent extensive time in the interior of Alaska, where she met her husband and helped him build churches.

Today the two of them continue to do missionary work in Africa for a few months every year.

Punahou Grads ‘Make Themselves Known’

No group is more identifiable here than the Hawaii contingent — “those Hawaiians,” as the other residents often call them.

Many regularly wear aloha attire. (I was teased for not wearing an aloha shirt.)

The niches at the entrance to their apartments are filled with artifacts from Hawaii.

That retired teacher’s small apartment is covered from floor to ceiling, half with Hawaii memorabilia, including an artificial stream, and half with artifacts from Africa.

She regularly wears a dressy muumuu to dinner.

Old school rivalries still linger. When I asked one woman where she went to high school, she said reluctantly, “Farrington,” then added, “There are plenty of Punahou people here. They make themselves known.”

Most seemed satisfied with this balance between past and present.

The resident I talked to who was most dissatisfied, who moved here in part because Hawaii was not like it used to be, wanted a cultural affinity to Hawaii that was much deeper, more a part of his everyday life and memories.

He saw his wife and himself as mostly outside the Hawaii group, but even though his cultural affinity to the islands was deeper, he had no interest in moving back.

These residents had the resources to have options. What they chose was not simply out of necessity.

Leaving Hawaii was not about “good riddance.” It was about “we can do better.”

That is the aging exception highlighting the rule that for most older people, “we can do better” is not an option they can afford.

Sure, the pull of Hawaii is strong for kupuna.

But stories, song, and political oratory about ohana and home should not conceal the fact that there are good reasons why people who lived their life in Hawaii decide to spend their pau hana years somewhere else.

Keep in mind that the Beamers’ “Honolulu City Lights” is really not a song about living in Hawaii. It’s about a person who misses Hawaii but chooses to live elsewhere.

Thoughts on this or any other story? Write a Letter to the Editor. Send to and put Letter in the subject line. 200 words max. You need to use your name and city and include a contact phone for verification purposes. And you can still comment on stories on our Facebook page.

About the Author