For 40 years Buzzy Sproat, wearing his signature black cowboy hat, led the mule rides down to the remote Kalaupapa peninsula on Molokai, regaling visitors with stories and whistling elaborate tunes.
What made him stand out was "his love for people," said Roy Horner, who with Sproat co-owned Kalaupapa Rare Adventure LLC, dba Kalaupapa Mule Tour. "He just loved to talk story and meet people from all over the world."
Eldon Kaneakala Sproat died June 14 in Honolulu. He was 76.
Sproat was diagnosed May 9 with leukemia but had been in great shape, Horner said.
"He still rode the mules down the park," he said. "One week in April he rode down five days in a row. I said, ‘Buzzy, you don't have to go down.' He said, ‘I love it.'"
Sproat led mule-riding visitors down the switchbacks of the steep, 2.9-mile sea cliff trail into the former leprosy colony, and would often pinch-hit as the tour bus driver and guide at Kalaupapa National Historic Park.
"He was well liked here," said Ron Giblin, acting superintendent for the park. "He was always willing to give a hand with the pali trail. He would be more than happy to bring down medication for people on the mule train."
At the Kalaupapa settlement, Sproat would often get off his mule and into the driver's seat of the patient-owned Damien Tours and act as tour guide when they were short-handed, Giblin said.
When one of the bridges went out on the trail, he was helpful in hauling supplies in, he said.
"The passing of Buzzy is a loss to the National Park Service as well as everyone who has been a part of the Kalaupapa Community for the past 40 years," the park said in a statement. "Responsible for establishing the famous Molokai Mule Ride, Buzzy shared his lively stories and aloha-filled smile with tens of thousands of visitors.
"He never hesitated to save the day by muling up a resident in emergency situations, or delivering important supplies and medications on short notice. He supported this community in anyway he could. His knowledge of the trail, Kalaupapa and the history surrounding this special place is something that will be sorely missed by many. Our thoughts, prayers and aloha go out to his family and those whom he has touched."
He encountered people of all ages and from all walks of life, and "it's touching to read all the stories" on social media, said his daughter Brandi Sproat-Tilini.
"Someone in his 20s said, ‘Your dad was the only one that didn't judge me even though he knew how knucklehead I was. … He was kind and welcomed me with open arms.' It was kind of nice to hear."
Uncle Buzzy left his mark not just on Kalaupapa, but all over Molokai, which he navigated in a white pickup. He will be missed at the coffee shop, the feed store and in downtown Hoolehua.
"My dad was Mr. Aloha," she said. "He was the guy that was always there. … Everybody's going to miss him."
Sproat was also a family man.
Sproat-Tilini, who lives in Arizona, said, "My younger sister always said she's daddy's girl, but my dad made every single one of us feel we were his favorite. That shows how special he made you feel."
She'll forever treasure the video clip of her dad singing a special birthday song to her.
Sproat's grandfather, a mule skinner from Missouri, came to Honolulu in 1893 and ended up superintendent of irrigation flumes of Kohala Ditch Co. on Hawaii island. He did his work on muleback, and passed on the job and the mules to Sproat's father, who passed them on to his brother.
Sproat, half-Hawaiian, half-Caucasian, was born in Hoolehua, Molokai, but grew up on the Big Island in Kohala, attended Makapala School there, then Kamehameha Schools on Oahu, and then finished his education at Kohala High School.
The youngest of seven, Sproat was "the whipping post" for his older siblings, with a strict father, and joined the Army in 1955 at 17 as an escape, his daughter said.
He served as a paratrooper with the 11th Airborne Division in Germany.
After the military he worked in a plywood mill and drove a garbage truck in Humboldt County, Calif., then returned to Hawaii and drove a semitrailer on Oahu.
In 1973 his dad called to say a rental car company owner had bought a bunch of mules with the idea of imitating the Grand Canyon trail rides and asked him to accompany him to check it out.
The California mule handlers were scared to go down the steep Kalaupapa Trail, so Sproat jumped on one and rode all the way down to the beach.
The owner made him an offer to run the mule rides, which he accepted.
In 1993 Sproat approached Horner, an insurance agent, to take over the mule ride business. They formed a company together.
Horner said, "I just marvel at how a person can enjoy working and whistling," and "how much he loves his wife and children and grandchildren."
As a tribute to Sproat, the company had a documentary made of his life a couple of years ago.
In it he says, "I'll continue to do this for as long as I can. I probably going to be one of those guys who dies with his boots on. It's been a great life, and I wouldn't trade all this for anything."
He is survived by wife Marlene; sons Eldon "Sale," Kamakaohua and Kuluwaimakalani; daughters Teura Keanini, Liette Corpus, Eldene Albino, Sherron Kaneaiakala, Azure Nahale, Brandi Sproat-Tilini, Kalehua Augustiro and Kim Beagle; 37 grandchildren; and numerous great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren.
Visitation will be at 8 a.m. Saturday at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Hoolehua ward. Services will be from 11 a.m. to noon. Burial to follow at Kanakaloa Veterans Cemetery. Online condolences: woolseymortuary.com.[caption id="attachment_56745" align="aligncenter" width="462"] Buzzy Sproat loved to “meet people from all over the world” while leading tourists to Kalaupapa National Historical Park as co-owner of Kalaupapa Rare Adventure. He died June 14 at age 76. (Courtesy Sproat family)[/caption]