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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, April 9, 2010

Howard C. Donnelly, 90, former Waikīkī hotelier

By Alan Yonan Jr.
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Howard C. Donnelly

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In 1956 a young hotelier named Howard C. Donnelly was entrusted with the responsibility of managing one of Waikīkī's landmark hotels, the Moana Surfrider.

Three years later the Cornell University graduate was promoted by owner Matson Navigation Co. to run the Moana's sister hotel, the Royal Hawaiian. That was followed by stints at Outrigger hotels and the Ilikai.

Wherever Donnelly went he earned the respect and loyalty of his employees, all of whom he knew by name, said friends and colleagues.

"He inspired great fidelity among those who worked for him because he had done most of their jobs on his way up through the ranks," said Peter Fithian, a businessman in the local visitor industry who worked with Donnelly over the years.

"He required very high standards of performance from his employees, and they gave it willingly, never with a harsh word about him," Fithian said.

Donnelly died last month in Edina, Minn. He was 90.

"He was there during the heyday for tourism and old time hotelmanship," said his daughter, Dawn Siemon. "He knew every VIP that came in. It was a very personal business because it was so small back then. That was the part that was so special," she said by phone from her home in Edina.

"He knew every maid, every front desk clerk and their families. He made sure the people who worked for him got promoted into jobs that would help them do better in life."

One of those people was Chris Hemmeter, who Donnelly hired as a management trainee at the Royal Hawaiian in 1962 after graduating from Cornell with a degree in hotel management.

Hemmeter went on to develop some of the state's most successful hotel projects, including the Hyatt Regency Waikiki, the Hyatt Waikoloa and the Westin Kauai.

In 1963, Donnelly became executive vice president and general manager of the Ilikai Hotel. At about that time he also formed his own restaurant company, International Innkeepers Inc., which opened the Top of the I restaurant at the Ilikai.

Donnelly finished his career in consulting, helping to open many hotels in the islands including the Grand Hyatt on Kaua'i, and the Ala Moana and Prince Kūhiō hotels on O'ahu.

He also helped found the School of Travel Industry Management at the University of Hawai'i in the mid-1960s and was president of the Hawaii Hotel Association in 1969.

Donnelly was born in New York City and grew up in upstate New York. When World War II broke out, he interrupted his education at Michigan State and enlisted with the 10th Mountain Division of the U.S. Army in World War II. When he returned home after the war, he married Tia Olsen and graduated from from Cornell University with a degree in hotel management. He was awarded the 1947 Schlitz Scholarship to the Swiss Hotel School in Lausanne.

In addition to Siemon, he is survived by another daughter, Kaari Hughes, six grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.