The Orlando Sentinel has reported that Kau’I Brandt, a longtime icon at Disney’s Polynesian Resort, has died. Known as ‘Aunty Kau’I’ by Walt Disney World Guests, Brandt worked at the Resort as a greeter for decades, often handing out handmade leis and giving hula lessons.
In a statement issued on Friday, Josh D’Amaro, Walt Disney World President, expressed the company’s condolences: “We are all deeply saddened by the passing of Auntie Kau’I, a longtime Cast Member and Hawaiian icon who brought happiness to millions throughout the years as she took such joy in immersing Guests in Polynesian culture.”
A native of Hawaii, Aunty Kau’I was part of the WDW Opening Day Cast back in 1971, when she was hired for what originally was a three-month luau gig following a summer she spent working in Disneyland. That job then was extended indefinitely, and Brandt became a beloved fixture for Guests who adored spending time with Aunty Kau’I during their stay at Disney’s Polynesian Resort.
Brandt was given the title of ‘Cultural Ambassador’ at the Resort, where she met and entertained younger Guests with fresh-flower leis, grass skirts, and hula dancing. “If the kids are happy, the parents are happy,” she told the Sentinel in 2009.
Born during a lightning storm in 1932, Brandt’s mother named her ‘Kauihealani,’ which translates to ‘thundering voice of heaven.’ In a 2014 Sentinel interview, Brandt told the news outlet of a clear memory she had of December 7, 1941, when her mother told her to get off the roof of their home, yelling up to her,”It’s war. Get off the roof.” Brandt said at the time she did not understand “what war was, …but, we learned. It was a tough time.”
Many years later, after turning down multiple offers to appear in a Disneyland Polynesian-themed show, Brandt finally accepted and moved to California in 1971 for the summer. “I’ve always heard once you leave Hawaii, you never go back,” she said, ” And I guess it’s true because we left Hawaii for the summer of 1971, came up here to Florida only to help them open up the Polynesian Resort, and here I am.”
Guests of Disney’s Polynesian Resort over the past five decades are forever grateful she stayed. Aunty Kau’I will be greatly missed.
Photo Credit: Jacob Langston / Orlando Sentinel