Our Christmas tribute to Fred, who confessed: “Mum, I left my heart in Samoa.”
Once in a while that feeling of profound inadequacy will drive us to question the reason we’re here, and yet despite the sadness and the pain the sun will soon rise so that the pain is stemmed, and once again all is well.
Such a feeling showed up last week with the passing of Samoa’s lovable rogue and patriot, Tupua Friedrich Wilhelm Wetzell, whose iconic mark of astounding achievement, is today etched indelibly clear on Samoa’s countenance as a politically independent nation.
Fred was born in Apia on 13 May 1933.
His primary education started at the Apia Primary, Leiifiifi, in 1938 and ended in 1945
Later, his family moved to New Zealand where he continued his education at Porongahao Secondary School, Hawkes Bay, in 1946–1948, and then later at Napier Boys High School, in 1949–1951.
In 1951, having won an apprenticeship award as a Motor Mechanic, he found employment at John Andrew Ford Motor Co., Symonds Street, Auckland, and three years later he was a Qualified Motor Mechanic.
On 19 May 1955, he married Fuatino Frances Freda Cynthia (nee: Godinet), they started a family, and that was when Friedrich Wilhelm Wetzell’s new life, as the budding entrepreneur began.
Fred and his family had returned to Samoa.
Today he is running the family’s cattle farm and coconut plantation at Ologogo, Savai’i, and at the same time, he was shipping scrap metal to Japan.
By 1958, he had shipped “more than 600 tonnes of scrap metal to Japan on MV King Kai Maru,” and included in one shipment were “four army war tanks found at Satupuala.”
The story is that there “would have been more” such shipments, had not the New Zealand government who was governing Samoa at the time, intervened.
They turned down the application to cut up the Adler Warship that was sitting at the Apia Harbour at the time, so that it could be shipped to Japan as scrap metal, saying the Adler was to remain a war monument.
And now with his plans derailed, Fred Wetzell shifted his attention to New Zealand where in 1964, he established the Wetzell Bros. Engineering Service Station, on Park Road, Auckland.
This time he was travelling back and forth between Samoa and New Zealand, which was when his mother intervened, asking: Why don’t you go somewhere else?
To which Fred replied: “Mom, I left my Heart in Samoa.”
That was in 1972, Fred was 39, and after that exchange with his mother, he returned to Samoa and stayed permanently.
Incidentally, that was also when his life as a dreamer began.
He dreamed of building a resort around Lake Lanoto’o on the top of Upolu, and he then started construction of what he tentatively called Lake Lanoto’o Road, to make it happen.
His dream was to build that resort on the “Top of the World.”
It it was not be though. There was so much opposition to his project – some politically, others culturally - so that in the end it was quietly scuttled.
Still, Fred Wetzell would not be discouraged; with that dream out of the way, he was now focusing his attention on concrete.
And then on 22 June 1973 Apia Concrete Products was established. The new company was blessed by Patele Tovio, and commissioned by the Late Prime Minister, Honorable Mata’afa Maulinu’u II.
And then a number of successful businesses and appointments with Tupua Fred Wetzell at the steering wheel, showed up.
• 1986 Lata Plantation Development, Lata, Savaii. A Multi Crop, Cattle Farm and bottled Artesian Water, Vai Lata.
• 1993 – 1994 20,000m3 Historical concrete poured into one single project – Apia Wharf Break Water Tetra pods and Apia Foreshore Seawall Matautu to Mulinu’u. It was to protect his beloved township of Apia from rising seas and destructive tidal waves.
• 1996 - Appointed Board Director of Tropic Resorts (Sinalei Reef Resort.)
At that point though, the one that stood out was his appointment in 1997 as the Honorary Consul-General of Japan, to Samoa.
And then in 2013, as if to make publicly known that Tupua’s service was far more valuable that it had been previously anticipated, the Japanese government acted.
It “conferral on Tupua Friedrich Wilhelm Wetzell the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Neck Ribbon,” and the bestowal was made “by the Ambassador of Japan to Samoa, His Highness Yasuaki Nogawa.”
It was “on behalf of the Emperor, the Government and People of Japan.”
Read the citation: “It is in recognition of Tupua Friedrich Wilhelm Wetzell’s significant contribution to the promotion of mutual understanding, and friendly relations between Japan and Samoa.”
Still, Fred Wetzell, even with the prestige and the accolades that were coming his way at the time as a result, he would remain the simple man of the people that he was.
He was a:
• Contributor to Little Sisters’ of the Poor, Mapuifagalele;
• Contributor to Carmelite Sisters’ Monasteries of Samoa, Wallis & Futuna and Tonga;
• 2001 – 2006 Appointed Chairman Samoa Polytechnic.
• 2007 – 2011 Appointed to National University of Samoa Council.
• Major Sponsor – Samoa High Commissioner’s to New Zealand Golf Tournament & The Wellington Samoa Golf Academy Inc.
• Supporter of Rotary and Rotaract Clubs
• Member of Apia Lions Club
• Patron and Major Sponsor – Samoa International Game Fishing Association
• Patron and Major Sponsor – Samoa Squash Rackets Association (since 1980)
• Supporter of Samoa Rugby Union
• Member of Apia Turf Club
• Major Sponsor Annual Samoa Soccer Federation Business House Tournament
And there he was.
Back there in Auckland in 1972 during that chat with his mother, he told her: “Mom, I left my Heart in Samoa.”
Along the way his service to Samoa over the years has been quite impeccable, and having lived his dream of loving Samoa to the fullest, now he is gone.
How about us?
It is Christmas again today. So how are your dreams coming along?
Please don’t answer.
As for Fred Wetzell, his legacy will survive. It will not die.
After all, he is Tupua Fred Wetzell, “The Foundation of Samoa”.
May you rest in peace, Tupua.