By Jesse Drake
With a life as colorful as Marc Thompson’s, it’s hard to pick just one slice of it to tell.
The software design engineer in UIT’s University Support Services has held about 50 jobs (he’s lost track). He’s moved 38 times and attended five different high schools — two of them, twice. His cousin is Green Day front man Billie Joe Armstrong.
And as a teenager, he planted 10,000 pineapples in eight hours.
During his senior year at Layton High School, Thompson and three classmates signed up for Youth Developmental Enterprises (YDE), an ostensibly character-building program in which young men were paid a small stipend, and room and board, in exchange for working the pineapple fields of Lānaʻi and Maui, under supervision of an adult leader called a “Luna.” YDE began as a venture between The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Boy Scouts of America, but was turned over to a corporation years before Thompson signed on.
Before their adventure, the friends agreed to shave their heads. It was March 1979 and the boys were on the shaggy side. The problem with going first, as Thompson volunteered to do, is that after he was done, his friends chickened out.
“I mean, you had to cut your hair a little before you went … but mine was the shortest by far,” Thompson said. “That’s why I wore a bandana. My ears got completely cooked, and when my hair finally grew back, it was bleached completely white.”
Spring was a quiet time in the program, which could swell to hundreds of boys in 30 or more groups in summer. When Thompson arrived, there were about 84 boys in seven groups labeled L1 through L7 — five pickers and two planters. Thompson was in L7, one of the planting groups, for which he was the leader.
Early each morning, the boys would load up on flatbed trucks and head out to their respective fields. Thompson would fill a burlap sack full of spiky pineapple crowns. The fields were covered with a thin plastic mulch film marked with planting spots as a guide. He’d move to one, dig in with his spade, shove in the crown, and move to the next. He did this five days a week, eight hours a day.
“By the end of a day, I was wiped out,” Thompson said. “Pineapples grow low to the ground, and my hands were working constantly at that level.”
A good day’s planting was 3,500 to 5,000 pineapples, but being competitive, the boys challenged each other to reach 10,000.
“I was the only one that year who did that,” Thompson said. “Everyone was cheering me on, ‘You can do it, you can do it!’ So that helped.”
Thompson’s time in Hawai'i wasn’t all pineapple planting. He stayed busy studying, too. He earned his high school diploma by virtue of a correspondence curriculum, in which the school would mail him assignments and he’d mail back the completed homework.
“I had good grades in high school. I never stayed in one place long enough in to get in any trouble,” he said.
Sunday church services were mandatory, but Saturday was activity day. There was softball, sand sculptures, and the boys tried to out-shock each other at a competition called “Weird Duck Day,” which Thompson won at least once. In another competition, he won by swallowing three raw eggs from a glass in three seconds.
The other high point on Saturday was being driven to a secluded sandy beach on the windward side of the island, where they’d ride boogie boards “until the waves got too big,” he said, “and all the haole [white] boys would get out and the locals would take over.”
Lānaʻi, now 97%-owned by Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, historically has comprised Hawaiian fishing villages, a Mormon missionary colony, cattle grazing land, sugar cane and pineapple plantations, and tourist accommodations. Thompson said when he lived there, other than a post office, a grocery store, and a little airstrip, there wasn’t much more than beaches and pineapple fields. While some things have changed, it’s considered one of Hawai'i’s most secluded islands, with not a single traffic light.
Thompson signed up for six months — about as long as he’d lived anywhere at one time — but requested to be transferred to Maui after three months. He was frustrated when a friend was sent home for what he considered a small infraction.
“That was hard. We’d built a really tight group over that three-month period,” he said.
But other than that disappointment, Thompson reflects fondly on his time in Hawai'i.
“It really was a great time to be young and quite an adventure,” he said.