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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, January 19, 2005

1917-2005: Lester Gamble Sr. credited for building Spam brand here

By Curtis Lum
Advertiser Staff Writer

Lester H. Gamble Sr., a businessman who founded a food brokerage firm in 1950 that was instrumental in building the Spam brand in Hawai'i, died Jan. 12 in Kona. He was 87.

Gamble settled in Hawai'i after serving as a Navy PT boat skipper in the Pacific during World War II. In 1948 he went to work for O.J. Burnett, who was the Hawai'i representative for the Hormel Co. Gamble was put in charge of the sales and marketing of a luncheon meat product called Spam, which was little known in the Islands back then.

But Gamble knew that Spam was popular among local GIs who served abroad. The canned meat was part of their rations and Gamble made sure Spam was available on store shelves when the GIs returned, said his son, Hoagy.

"Local guys took a liking to Spam. It went very well with rice," said Hoagy Gamble, who in 1988 took over as president of L.H. Gamble Co., the brokerage firm founded by his father in 1950. "When they came home, they wanted to buy it but they had to seek it out and that's really the reason it got started here."

Hoagy Gamble said it took a while for Spam to become a local staple. He said that when he joined his father's firm in 1972, Spam was "already going really good," but that the Spam craze exploded in the 1980s with the introduction of the Spam musubi.

Today, Hawai'i leads the nation in per-capita Spam consumption. Special events, such as a Spam Festival, have been held in honor of the pink meat.

"From 1948 to now, we have been the company in charge of the sales and marketing for Spam. So my dad really did get it started," Hoagy Gamble said.

Lester Gamble was born on March 3, 1917, in Wessington, S.D., and his family moved to Fresno, Calif., when he was very young. He attended the University of California at Berkeley and joined the Navy just before World War II.

As a commander of a PT boat, Gamble led torpedo attacks on Japanese destroyers off Guadalcanal. He was awarded the Navy Cross and Silver Star, and his boat squadron was awarded a presidential unit citation.

In 1944, Gamble was serving as a training officer at Pearl Harbor when he met Alice Ackerman. The two married that year and remained together until his death last week.

He served on the board of The Queen's Medical Center for 31 years and the Queen's Hospital Foundation for five years.

He was on the board of the Waikiki Aquarium and served as chairman in 1986. Gamble also was an active Rotarian and member of the Waialae Country Club, Outrigger Canoe Club and Pacific Club.

In March 2003, he was inducted into the U.S. Army Museum's Gallery of Heroes, which honors Hawai'i's residents who received the Distinguished Service Cross or the Navy and Air Force Cross.

"He was my mentor. He taught me everything," Hoagy Gamble said. "He treated everybody with respect and all of his business dealings were very, very on the up-and-up."

Longtime friend Kenneth Brown, the former chairman of Queen's, praised Lester Gamble as a businessman and as a person "full of warmth and understanding."

"He was very effective in his position as a director of Queen's and also in his business. That was a wonderful combination," Brown said. "You never would hear him yelling at anybody or pounding the table, but he was terribly effective. Sometimes that kind of behavior is more effective than pounding the table."

Although a native of South Dakota, Gamble blended in very well in Hawai'i, Brown said.

"He was somebody you just accepted as part of the landscape," Brown said. "That's why I'm going to miss him. It's like somebody took away Diamond Head."

Gamble is survived by his wife, Alice; daughter, Carolee Krieger; sons, Lester "Hoagy" Jr. and Mark; seven grandchildren; and five great grandchildren.

Services will be at 3 p.m. Feb. 4 at Christ Church in Kealakekua on the Big Island. Donations can be made to Christ Church, the Tropical Reforestation and Ecosystems Education Center, or the Kona Historical Society.

Reach Curtis Lum at culum@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8025.

Correction: Services for Lester Gamble Sr., who died Jan. 12, will be at 3 p.m. Feb. 4 at Christ Church in Kealakekua on the Big Island. The time of the service was incorrect in a previous version of this story.