Ladies First


Talk about significant others—these four truly are women of substance.

Trying to get Kim Johnson, Michelle Ho, Annie Cusick Wood and Linda Schatz together at the same place at the same time is no easy feat. Between North Shore treks, theater performances and everything else in between, there’s no such thing as playing it by ear—at least when it comes to a group photo! And yet, as busy as they were, they still made it work…

Maybe you voted for Brian Schatz; caught Henry Ian Cusick on television; seen Jack Johnson live in concert; or read about Bank of Hawaii’s accolades under Peter Ho’s leadership. But we also think it’s worth turning the spotlight on their equally accomplished spouses, who have made their own mark in the community.

Annie Cusick Wood

Annie Cusick Wood

For Annie Cusick Wood, everything’s coming up trees. From working with Le Jardin Academy’s Christmas tree fundraiser, to helping plant trees in Hamakua Marsh and writing her HTY play The Tiny Tree, it seems that Cusick Wood’s schedule is a forest of activity.

The Scotland native moved to Hawai`i 10 years ago when her husband, Henry Ian Cusick joined the cast of LOST.

Annie Cusick Wood planting trees at Hamakua marsh.

Annie Cusick Wood planting trees at Hamakua marsh.

Moving here was no small step for Cusick Wood. At the time, she was the Artistic Director of Polka Theatre, a children’s theater in London known for its world-class performances. While there, she gained international acclaim for her productions of The Red Balloon and Martha. Both productions toured North America and had a stint on Broadway.

There, she was a working mom; Henry was the (mostly) stay-at-home dad. “I couldn’t have done it without help,” Cusick Wood says.

When the family moved to Hawai`i, a whole new world—personally and professionally—opened up to her.

“I embraced being a stay-at-home mum. Now, I pay it forward,” she says of her appreciation for the time she spends with her three sons. Remembering those friends in London who did the same for her, she’s eager to lend a hand to fellow parents. She also took time to appreciate her new surroundings, spending time at the beach, and hiking trails.

A scene from her HTY play, The Tiny Tree.

A scene from her HTY play, The Tiny Tree.

However, it wasn’t long before the siren call of children’s theater brought Cusick Wood back to the stage, and so she approached Honolulu Theatre for Youth and asked them if they needed help. Soon, she was helping with their fundraising and joined its board of directors. She’s gone on to write and direct Blue, Sort it Out, Peter Rabbit and the Garden, Auntie Martha and the Nene for the theater and her most recent play Th e Tiny Tree, which is currently touring schools. Up next: Baby Blue, a baby theater version (the first of its kind in Hawai`i) of Blue and Home, which delves into houselessness.

“I’ve fit into this role easily,” Cusick Wood says of her knack for writing plays for the younger set. “It has to have a point and a purpose,” she explains. In addition to her work with HTY, she’s worked with HEARTS.

In keeping with her interest in engaging children, Cusick Wood recently started working with Ceeds of Peace, a group that strives to “raise peacebuilders.”

Michelle Ho

Michelle Ho

In 2015, The Girl Scouts of Hawai`i honored Michelle Ho as one of their Women of Distinction for her community volunteer efforts. Volunteering has long been a part of Ho’s life, having first worked with Hawaii Literacy Foundation, as well as serving as a GIFT Foundation board member for a decade. “I remember those meetings and those brainstorming sessions being really exciting,” she recalls of those days on the GIFT board. “Everyone felt that same kind of energy and the need to start something that was bigger than ourselves.”

And yet, the seasoned volunteer and mother-of-two still manages to make her children’s sports practices, school events and other activities despite as her husband’s—Bank of Hawaii CEO Peter Ho—sometimes frenetic schedule.

Ho still exudes the same amount of passion and verve for the non-profits she’s currently involved with—each with a purpose that resonates with her personally—serving on the boards of Honolulu Museum of Art, as well as Kapi`olani Medical Center for Women & Children. As a board member for the medical center, Ho worked tirelessly to get the necessary funding to build the center’s new NICU and PICU. “Our charge as foundation members is how do we share what the hospital does, and how do we remind people that it’s a non-pro~ t?” she says. ° e building is slated to open this July.

Michelle Ho helped raise funds for Kapi'olani Medical Center for Women & Children's new NICU and PICU, which will open in July.

Michelle Ho helped raise funds for Kapi’olani Medical Center for Women & Children’s new NICU and PICU, which will open in July.

And though Ho claims to be no expert when it comes to art, it’s what the HoMA’s been doing for student art education that struck a chord: “You have to figure out what you can take on and can’t take on, and when [I was asked] to be part of that board, it was really about the education. When I learned about what they were quietly doing—they were partnering with the DOE and educating thousands of public school kids, busing them in, walking them over … I thought this is a pillar of our community that is really, at the grassroots, trying to do something to help fill the gap.”

But ask Ho what the secret is to balancing family duties with volunteering, she’ll tell you she wants to know the same thing. “We just try our best. I’m so lucky that I have a very supportive husband and family around and good friends. But like anyone, we always talk about one thing—how to balance everything, it’s like the [million dollar] question!”

Kim Johnson

Kim Johnson

Kim Johnson always figured she’d be educating people. “I grew up in a family of educators,” explains the California native. “So I grew up thinking that’s what you did. And everyone has summers off,” she add with a laugh. It was those summers off, and trips spent immersed in her natural surroundings that spurred Johnson’s love of nature.

“I just grew up appreciating nature and playing outside. I think having a childhood being outside was the seed for wanting to protect it later.”

That seed grew into the Kokua Hawai`i Foundation, an organization founded by Johnson and her musician husband, Jack Johnson.

Kokua Hawai`i Foundation sponsors educational programs aimed at school-aged children that teach them about the environment and how to care for it. Today, programs such as `Aina in Schools has grown so much that it spans the four major islands and there’s a waitlist for participants. Now, the foundation runs a training program for teachers to teach the curriculum on their own. “The program doesn’t look exactly like our 16 model `Aina schools … but the curriculum and ideas are still getting to the students,” she says.

And, that’s the point. Growing keiki who love and enjoy the environment so that they become adults who embrace the role of stewards of the `aina.

Kim and Jack Johnson at the opening of Plastic Fantastic?, an exhibit sponosred by Johnson 'Ohana Charitable Foundation that's on view at Spalding House through July 10 (photo courtesy Honolulu Museum of Art).

Kim and Jack Johnson at the opening of Plastic Fantastic?, an exhibit sponosred by Johnson ‘Ohana Charitable Foundation that’s on view at Spalding House through July 10 (photo courtesy Honolulu Museum of Art).

Recently, Johnson has changed her role with the foundation a bit. As board president, she’s still at every staff meeting and directing many things. However, she’s thoroughly enjoying her role as a docent for the `Aina in Schools program at her kids’ elementary school. “I get to go to school and teach my `Aina lessons—it brings me joy.”

In 2008, the Johnsons launched the Johnson `Ohana Charitable Foundation that helps support “organizations that focus on environmental, art and music education.”

One product of these partnerships is Plastic Fantastic?, an exhibit now on view at Spalding House through July 10.

If one recent Kokua Hawai`i Foundation hire is any indication, all the hard work is paying off. `Aina in Schools educational specialist Summer Maunakea was a student volunteer at the first Kokua Festival. “She said ‘I wanted to study environmental education because of that experience.’ It was really neat to see that,” Johnson says.

Linda Schatz

Linda Schatz

Linda Schatz grew up making the most of her childhood home, Kaimuki. From spending time in her family’s chop suey restaurant to attending area schools, those formative years helped mold the woman she is today.

“It was not all ‘childhood’ fun, but it did teach me what good work ethic is and to be ‘scrappy’ to try and achieve what I want because no one is going to hand it to me.”

Now, she works to create places so future generations can enjoy a similar childhood. “Our kids live in a bubble—they don’t go out and see friends in the neighborhood—they sit in their cars from Point A to Point B,” she explains. “I realized transit would be the catalyst to change this.” To this end, as she worked on her architecture degrees, she focused on urban/renewal/revitalization and later, transit-oriented development.

Her past work has included helping develop the “Our Kaka`ako” master plan and with Forest City’s projects in Kapolei.

Linda Schatz with husband, U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, and their two children with Vice President Joe Biden.

Linda Schatz with husband, U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, and their two children with Vice President Joe Biden.

Today, in addition to balancing work with family life as a wife of a U.S. Senator and mother to two keiki, (“my favorite pastime right now is just focusing on the kids …”), she’s working on her new company, Schatz Collaborative. And “collaborative” is key. “No one development has one star developer spearheading it all,” she explains. “It takes a cast of talented collaborators to believe in a project, a community, a story of place.” Schatz Collaborative is currently working on several deals on the neighbor islands and helping smaller landowners who are looking at redevelopment.

Another passion project is Better Block Hawaii, of which Schatz is a founder and board member. The group works to “promoted placemaking and livability in Honolulu.” It has built parklets and is now working on an affordable apartment project that would encompass approximately 20 units.

Schatz’s statement about her time with “Our Kaka`ako” seems to carry through all her work: “It’s not just about place making and development, it was about economic development and creating an environment for young people to thrive economically, socially and give them what they want without having to leave Hawai`i to seek it somewhere else.”

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