Lionel DuPonte, pioneer in Maui tourism, dead at 86
By Christie Wilson
Neighbor Island Editor
WAILUKU, Maui Lionel Vernon DuPonte, 86, a pioneer in Maui's tourism industry, died Monday at his home in Wailuku.
For more than 30 years, DuPonte operated Maui Island Tours, providing ground transportation, tours and school bus service. His fleet of limousines, vans and buses bearing the company logo of the sun rising over Haleakala was a familiar sight around the island until DuPonte sold the business to his friend Robert Iwamoto of Roberts Hawai'i in the 1980s.
DuPonte brought the first rental cars to Maui when he opened a Hertz franchise.
When the company bought back its franchises, DuPonte opened the local Budget car rental office. He also found success working for New York Insurance Co. and was one of three partners who owned the Valley Isle Motors Ford dealership before it was sold to Jim Falk.
"He loved the idea of wheels," said DuPonte's son, Martin, of Pukalani. "He always said that wheels were the way to get around and that transportation is a basic need."
As a member of the Hawai'i Aeronautics Commission in the 1950s, the elder DuPonte helped plan the current configuration of Honolulu International Airport.
DuPonte was born in Kona where his father, Manuel, owned a coffee farm. The family later moved to Maui where Manuel DuPonte served as sheriff of Upper Pa'ia.
Lionel DuPonte attended St. Louis High School in Honolulu and the University of Hawai'i, where he was a wrestler. He won a scholarship to Greeley Teachers College in Greeley, Colo., and later earned a master's degree from UH.
After serving in the Army Air Corps during World War II, he returned to Maui as an accounting teacher and football coach at Baldwin High School.
Martin DuPonte said his dad was a sports buff who founded and served as commissioner of the amateur Maui Boxing Association during the 1950s.
The sport was hugely popular among the island's plantation communities at a time when the only other form of entertainment was movies.
Lionel DuPonte used boxing to steer young men away from trouble, his son said, and throughout his life imparted his belief in the importance of education. He helped sponsor and place a number of local athletes at Mainland colleges.
Trained as an educator, DuPonte would enter the tourism trade through an association that began in the 1940s with Bob McGregor, who would become head of Tradewind Tours, and other industry pioneers.
"Imagine, they had peanut shells between them, but they had a great vision," Martin DuPonte said.
Referring to his father, Martin DuPonte said: "He saw a Maui that no one could have imagined."
Although retired and a survivor of three open-heart surgeries, Lionel DuPonte stayed active running his horse stable in Kula until just a few weeks before his death. In addition to his son, DuPonte is survived by his wife, Eva; seven grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.
Visitation will begin at 10 a.m. Saturday at St. Anthony Church, with a Mass at 11 a.m. Inurnment will follow at 2 p.m. at Maui Veterans Cemetery. The family requests aloha attire and memorial donations to St. Anthony Grade School. Ballard Family Mortuary is handling the arrangements.