Great and powerful men long sought the friendship of Charles Lindbergh, but few ever succeeded. Tevi Joseph Kahaleuahi is a simple man who did. Kahaleuahi and Lindbergh met several years ago when Lindy wanted a beach cottage built on his five-acre spread near the town of Hana on the Hawaiian island of Maui. A bulldozer operator for a nearby ranch, Tevi also enjoyed local renown for his expert lava rock craftsmanship. After the cottage was finished, Tevi and Lindbergh began to talk and work together and eventually became good friends. At the flier’s request Tevi put up a second building, a small studio in a remote corner of the estate, but his artistry this time went unappreciated. Returning to Hana desperately ill after four months’ absence, Lindbergh died before he saw the tiny cottage.
Tevi has no photographs of Lindbergh. Instead he proudly displays a long cane knife bearing the initials C.A.L., a gift from his friend. As a final, and lasting, testimony to the companionship they shared, Tevi dug Lindbergh’s grave, a 9×9, 12-foot-deep crypt which he lined on the bottom and sides with lava rock. Lindbergh, who knew he was dying of cancer of the lymphatic system, had designed his own gravesite, and had asked that Tevi build it. The 63-year-old Hawaiian’s sons and grandsons helped.
The day after Lindbergh’s burial, Tevi lovingly added two feet of ocean-smoothed stones and pebbles atop the grave, outlining it with rougher lava slabs. That day, a private memorial service was held for family and close friends only—including Tevi, for whom the service was delayed so that he could go home, get cleaned up and return.
Fittingly, the man who built the Lone Eagle’s last homes in life and in death has roots in the lush island that Lindbergh held in such affection. Tevi Kahaleuahi is one of the few remaining pure blooded Hawaiians. Born on Maui into a family of 10 brothers and sisters, he has left the island three times in his life, and only to visit Honolulu, a city which depressed him. “Cars run in all directions,” he says. “Run so fast. I don’t go there any more.” Tevi has worked all his adult life from sunrise to sundown, first as a cowboy, later with heavy equipment. The hard manual labor has kept him lean and sinewy. He and his wife Ana Malia have lived for four decades in a rickety Polynesian house surrounded by the tropical brilliance of wild orchids, hibiscus, roses and birds-of-paradise. Here Tevi and Ana reared five children.
Just before his death, Lindbergh summoned his friend, and Tevi sadly recalls their last conversation. “I didn’t know he was sick. When we shook hands, his handshake was so strong it hurt my hand. We talked about the cottage, and he said he was not going to see it, but he knew it was beautiful and that I had done a good job. We talked about going fishing. We didn’t get to go, but I know when I go fishing the next time, he will be there. We will fish together.”