Maui News

Maui Businessman David “Buddy” Nobriga Dies

November 9, 2017, 11:23 AM HST
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David “Buddy” Nobriga. Courtesy photo.

Respected Maui businessman and cattleman, David “Buddy” Nobriga, has passed away, family friends tell Maui Now.

Nobriga, who was the patriarch of a family with roots five generations deep on Maui, died peacefully on Wednesday at the age of 90.

“He was a giant of man, not just to our family but to our community and he will be very sadly missed by all who had the good fortune to know him,” said eldest son Michael Nobriga.

“Although we are heartbroken, we are grateful to have had him in our lives. What we will remember every day is that he taught us, first and foremost, how to be good people,” said daughter Catherine Nobriga Kim.

Nobriga was born on Dec. 7, 1926 into a family of Portuguese immigrants that arrived on Maui in 1886.

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The Nobriga family devoted itself to running and building successful small businesses and serving the community. For more than half a century the Nobriga’s have owned and operated Maui Soda & Ice Works, Ltd., the Coca-Cola® bottler/distributor that has served the Maui and Lāna‘i communities since 1924.  The family is also the manufacturer of Roselani Ice Cream. Maui Soda & Ice Works has been in business on Maui for 133 years.

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Throughout Hawai‘i and especially on Maui, “Uncle Buddy” as he was affectionately called, was an extremely well-respected man, family friends said.  Buddy’s grandfather Antone established Nobriga Ranch as a family operation in Kahakuloa in 1930. In 1965, Buddy and his father Manuel formed Nobriga’s Ranch, Inc. Buddy was president and chairman since 1981. “The land and the cattle he raises there are, literally, parts of him,” said those close to him.

Buddy Nobriga started working part-time for Maui Soda & Ice Works in 1941 while attending St. Anthony’s School. His high school years were interrupted by World War II when he was drafted in 1944.  On his way to service in the Pacific theater, the war ended.

When he returned to Maui, he completed his last few months of high school and went back to work at the family companies. When his father, Manuel, retired from Maui Soda in 1971, Buddy Nobriga became president and ten years later he was CEO.

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Today, daughter Catherine Nobriga Kim is General Manager and the other four Nobriga siblings all work at Maui Soda, too. Buddy Nobriga “retired officially” in 1998 but he remained Chairman of the Board of Directors.  Those close to him say he “was at his desk early every morning, and always had the biggest office, something his five children are fond of pointing out.”  At monthly safety meetings, family friends say he could be found “out in back of the Wailuku plant cooking up a great big pot full of his famous stew or a huge wok full of his amazing hekka.”

Buddy Nobriga’s wife Barbara passed away just two years ago in 2015 after 62 years of marriage. They lived on their ranch in Kahukuloa for most of their married lives and “Uncle Buddy” still lived at that family home at the time of his passing.

In addition to running the family businesses that included the cattle ranch and a feedlot, Buddy Nobriga, for many years advocated for Hawaiʻi’s cattlemen at both the State Capitol and in Washington, D.C.

He lobbied for and provided language for many pieces of legislation including laws that provided for the promotion of beef products and meat inspection. He also helped form the Maui Cattleman’s Association in 1970, serving as its president for 10 years; and was president of the Hawai’i Cattleman’s Council for four years. When Maui Cattle Co. was formed, the member ranchers turned to Buddy Nobriga who shared his expertise and guidance.

Buddy Nobriga served on the Board of Water Supply for 20 years, held positions on the State Water Commission and in the Department of Agriculture. He served on dozens of boards and received more community service awards than the walls and shelves in his office can hold, friends of the family said.

He was inducted into the Paniolo Hall of Fame in 2001. He was named the Maui County Council Boy Scouts of America’s Distinguished Citizen in 2002. He won the first ever Friend of Agriculture Award presented by The Hawai’i Agriculture Conference in 2004, Maui Weekly’s first ever Person of the Year Award (2004), the 2008 Mayor’s Small Business Lifetime Achievement Award, and in that same year was named one of the People Who Made a Difference by The Maui News.

In 2013, he was inducted into the Hawai’i Restaurant Association Hall of Fame. And in 2014, came what is arguably his company’s highest honor to date. Maui Soda & Ice Works, Ltd. was named by the US Small Business Administration as the Family-Owned Business of the Year for State of Hawaiʻi. Later this month, he will be posthumously awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Hawaiʻi Cattleman’s Council.

Besides his family – which now includes eight grandchildren and three great-grandchildren – and its businesses, he always said he was most proud of his 54 years of service to the West Maui Soil & Conservation District, according to information released by Nobriga’s family. For 50 of those years, he served as its chairman.

He and his colleagues are responsible for creating the Honolua watershed which protects the Nāpili area from flooding, for cleaning up the ocean in the Kahana area, and for work on the Lahaina watershed project throughout the last two decades.

In 2009, Buddy was one of four people in the Pacific Islands recognized as environmental heroes by the US Environmental Protection Agency. T his was national acknowledgement for founding the West Maui Soil and Water Conservation District.  EPA officials said his years of commitment to the environment provided the needed leadership to advance a system designed to prevent the pollution of West Maui coastal waters.

He also organized Maui’s Resource Conservation & Development, the first in the state, in 1970, serving as its chairman for ten years. Although he no longer served officially, he continued to be dedicated to the conservation of Hawai’i’s natural resources and mentors others in conservation practices.

Buddy Nobriga also counts his decades of service to the Federal Land Bank Association of Hawaiʻi (now known as Farm Credit Services) among his most significant because this organization serves specifically to help the state’s small farmers. He served as member for 36 years, 26 of them as Chairman of the Board. After his retirement from that post last year, he continued to be available as an advisor.

“Buddy Nobriga deeply instilled his core values – family, business, community service – into his children,” according to information released by the family.  “From the Maui County Fair – Buddy had been involved since 1945 and served as Chairman in 1971 – to the Jaycees Carnival to St. Anthony Schools fundraisers to benefits for virtually every charitable organization and cause on the island regardless of size, Maui Soda is there. Coca-Cola and Roselani Ice Cream are always on the menus.”

“It is not just the giving. It is the spirit in which the help is given that sets this patriarch and his family apart. He will be greatly missed by his family and certainly by the community he helped to build,” family members said in a statement.

Services are pending.

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