Professional Soul Mates
K5 News co-anchors Stephanie Lum and Walter Makaula like to keep their private lives … well, private, but ‘MidWeek’ managed to open them up a bit
By Lisa Asato
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K5 News at Nine producer Anthony Ferreira says
co-anchors Stephanie Lum and Walter Makaula are
‘very real people’
As co-anchors of K5 News at Nine, Stephanie Lum and Walter Makaula are in the public eye as much as two people can be. Poised, professional and polished, they’ve made their living asking questions.
Turn the tables on them, though, and they’ll admit to some nervousness at the thought of going public with their lives. Some things reside in the realm of the private, as they should.
Asked about their ages, they laugh and politely pass. “I’ll let them guess,” says Lum, who was recently proposed to at the top of Mount Kaala by her boyfriend, John Henderson, an outdoors-man who first caught her eye in a column in MidWeek. (She said “Yes.”)
And if it takes awhile for Makaula to open up, it turns out that this award-winning journalist and former globe-trotting model is one shy guy. At one point over lunch at Sam Choy’s Breakfast Lunch & Crab, Makaula cups his hands over his mouth and confides, “I’m very private.”
So when he does open up about his more personal side it gives you chicken skin.
It’s been a year of personal challenges for Makaula, in which a long-term relationship ended and illness struck two family members. His grandfather was hospitalized after collapsing at Ala Moana Center, and Makaula’s baby sister, Roz Makaula, was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“There was a time when we didn’t think she was going to make it,” says Makaula, who grew up in a family of five children. “And I’m closer with her than any of my brothers and sisters because I’ve always felt responsible for her. Since she was in kindergarten I was putting her on my bike, getting her ready for school and packing her to school. When I got old enough to drive, we went to Kamehameha, I would drive her.”
Roz, who was then a news producer at sister station KHNL, told her boss the news but asked that it be kept from her brother because she feared it would cripple him at work. “She was right,” Makaula says. “But God bless (my boss), she knew how close we were. She hung up the phone with Roz, she pulled me into her office and said: ‘You need to go home. I don’t know how to tell you this but it’s your sister. She has cancer and I can’t tell you anymore because I don’t know anymore, but I don’t want you to do the news. I want you to go home to your family.’
“So that night everybody, all my brothers and sisters ... were at my parents’ house and I was the last one to arrive. That night I spent the night next to my sister and I didn’t sleep, not even a wink, but she did. I just watched her and I had this feeling like this human being who I grew up with my whole life, who I’ve been there for, who I would do anything for, may not be here (anymore), and it was such a sad day.”
That horrible day turned into a hopeful morning. Roz, a MidWeek columnist who’s now doing better, left her sleeping brother a note on her pillow saying she had gone to church, that the sun was shining and she was “ready for the challenges of today.”
“I still have that note to this day,” he says.
It wasn’t always easy putting on a happy face for work, but friends including Lum, his co-anchor, helped to see him through. He says Lum is “as beautiful a person on the inside as well as on the outside. She’s fit and she’s strong - mentally strong.”
She calls Makaula “the most caring and funny person ever” and says the support is mutual.
“We just ... believe in one another and in our product, and do the best that we can,” says Lum, a graduate of Maryknoll School and Seattle University. “We’re each other’s support system because there’ll be days where I need Walter’s support and he knows it, and there’s days when Walter’s stressed out ...”
“And she knows it,” Makaula adds. “We don’t even have to ask.”
Sensing when something’s bothering the other person, they might suggest “C’mon, let’s go for a walk,” or “Hey, let’s get something to eat.”
“By the time we come back we’re happy again,” he says.
Lum, who got her start in TV news in Guam, where she won an award for spot news reporting, says: “There’s a fine balance to it. We both know work is first because at the end of the day that’s what we’re responsible for.”
Lum and Makaula have been at the helm of News at Nine since KFVE revived its 9 p.m. newscast on Oct. 18, 2004, a date which Makaula can recite as if it were his birthday.
“It’s like the day you graduate high school,” he says. “It was the first show, it was brand new and it was my first day as an anchor. So it’s the day I’ll never forget.”
From the start they were always at each other’s desks reviewing material and working to improve the night’s script, basically drawn to one another by a shared drive to succeed where the previous 9 p.m. newscast had not.
“We knew that it had been done before, but it wasn’t as successful,” Lum says of the show’s ‘95 to ‘97 run. “We were a little nervous, but what brought us together was that we were both determined and we were both excited about doing a good job. We wanted to make this work, and we knew it from the getgo. And I think that’s what made us gel because Walter was very serious and I was very serious, and we both sat down with each other and we discussed. We even did some practice runs before going on the air.”
Today, news “One Hour Earlier” attracts better ratings at 9 p.m. than any other program K5 has tried in that time slot, be it sitcoms or shows like Cops, says John Fink, general manager of K5 and KHNL.
Fink describes Lum and Makaula as
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