Legendary Paniolo Walter Stevens

Tasting and celebrating the deliciously diverse flavors of Hawaiian ranching and farming are at the heart of Hawai’i Island’s “Taste of the Hawaiian Range,” which will celebrate its 16th year from 6-8 p.m., Fri., Sept. 30, 2011 at Hilton Waikoloa’s Grand Ballroom.

For the Paniolo Preservation Society, which is dedicated to perpetuating Hawai’i’s proud and living ranching tradition, it’s also an opportunity to honor men and women who define the expertise and values required to steward land and animals and build a nationally respected livestock industry with a unique, culturally rich lifestyle.

Thus, at this year’s “Taste of the Hawaiian Range,” PPS will pay tribute to the late Walter Stevens of Waimea, who continues to this day to be revered as “The Great Horseman of Parker Ranch.”

Walter “Wala” Stevens was a career cowboy at Parker Ranch and considered by many old-timers to be the finest horseman the ranch ever produced in its 164-year history.  Both Walter and his brother, Charles (Kale) Stevens, made tremendous contributions to Parker Ranch and to the ranching community in Hawai’i.  Born in 1931, young Walter was raised by his step-father, John Keonaona “Makua” Stevens. Jr., after the untimely death of his father, Charles Stevens, from tuberculosis.  Makua was an excellent horseman and soon recognized this innate gift in young Walter, mentoring him in the finest points of bitting, reining, and cow-horse training.  By the age of 14, Walter had secured a fine reputation as a horseman and cowboy, and had his sights set in only one direction: Parker Ranch.

Walter’s tenure at Aina Paka (Parker Ranch) began humbly at the Breaking Pen where he soon became sought out by the other cowboys for his skills at gently breaking green colts.  In 1951, Walter was assigned to the ranch’s purebred cattle operation under Bull Johnston, where his skill with cattle equaled that of his skill with horses.  1952 brought him back to the Breaking Pen and he had barely settled in when he was called into military service during the Korean conflict.  Returning to Parker Ranch after three years at war, he worked the purebred herd, managed the breeding stallions at Pukalani Stables and also served as ranch owner Richard Smarts’ personal mounted valet, wrangler and “ambassador of aloha” to the many distinguished guests that Smart welcomed to the ranch. Walter Steven’s skills as a horseman were legendary and a direct reflection of his personal integrity: he was calm, fair, gentle, yet to the point with an intelligence to match any challenge.

Together, the Stevens brothers helped move the ranch to a higher standard of excellence that instilled great pride among its employees.  Both Kale and Walter passed away in 1994, leaving behind a legacy of professionalism, stewardship and great accomplishment that serves as a high-water mark for all Parker Ranch paniolo.

Guests at the 2011 Taste event will have an opportunity to talk story about Stevens at the PPS booth and also participate in a give-away of a stunning, seldom-seen 2’x3’ black-and-white archival photograph of Stevens.

PPS involvement in “Taste of the Hawaiian Range” this year formally launches what will be a three-year campaign to transform Pukalani Stables into an exciting, interactive “living history” heritage site and community gathering place.

For more information about Paniolo Preservation Society, or details on use of the new Paniolo Heritage Center at Pukalani Stables for a family gathering or group celebration, go to www.PanioloPreservation.org, or fan the organization on Facebook www.facebook.com/paniolopreservationsociety.