Maui Loses a Remarkable Native Son

David “Buddy” Nobriga, one of Hawai‘i’s premier cattlemen, one of Maui’s most respected businessmen and the patriarch of a family with roots five generations deep on this island, passed away peacefully yesterday. He was 90 years old.

“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,” says 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,” says daughter Catherine Nobriga Kim.
Born on December 7, 1926 into a family of Portuguese immigrants that arrived on Maui in 1886, he was the patriarch of a family that has devoted itself to running and building successful small businesses and to serving the community. For more than half a century the Nobriga family has owned and operated Maui Soda & Ice Works, Ltd., the Coca-Cola® bottler/distributor that has served Maui and Lanai since 1924, and the manufacturer of Roselani Ice Cream. Maui Soda & Ice Works has been in business on Maui for 133 years.

Throughout Hawai‘i and most especially on Maui, “Uncle Buddy” as he was affectionately known, was an extremely well-respected man. 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/Chairman since 1981. The land and the cattle he raises there are, literally, parts of him.

Buddy started working part-time for Maui Soda & Ice Works in 1941; he was a freshman at St. Anthony’s School. His high school years were interrupted by World War II. He was drafted in 1944 and, fortunately, 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 became president and ten years later he was CEO. Today, daughter Catherine Nobriga Kim is General Manager and the other four Nobriga siblings all work at Maui Soda, too. Buddy “retired officially” in 1998 but he remained Chairman of the Board of Directors, and 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, you would find him 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. Sadly, Buddy’s wife Barbara (nee Eberly) passed away in 2015 after 62 years of marriage. They lived on their ranch in Kahukuloa for most of their married lives; Uncle Buddy still lived at that family home at the time of his passing.

In addition to running the family businesses that include the cattle ranch and a feedlot, Buddy for many years advocated for Hawai’i’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 helped form the Maui Cattleman’s Association in 1970 and served as its president for ten 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 who, of course, freely shared his expertise and guidance. He 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. 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 U.S. Small Business Administration as the Family-Owned Business of the Year for State of Hawai’i. Later this month, he will be posthumously awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Hawai‘i 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. 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 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. This 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 also counts his decades of service to the Federal Land Bank Association of Hawai’i (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, twenty-six of them as Chairman of the Board. And after his retirement from that post last year, he continued to be available as an advisor whenever called upon.

Buddy Nobriga deeply instilled his core values – family, business, community service – into his children. 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.