The Guam Hall of Fame
by Annette Donner
Josef Martinez Ada
Josef Martinez Ada opened Guam's first factory owned and operated by a Chamorro. His name will forever be synonymous with his pure coconut oil soap, known for its purity and medicinal qualities. Preferred on Guam over the imported soaps, it was exported to Pacific Islands and as far away as Shanghai, China. According to his grandson, former Governor Joseph F. Ada, the Ada family soap tradition began on Saipan in 1909. Young Josef started a soap factory after learning soap making at the George Fritz family soap mill in Germany. Fritz was the German administrator for Saipan then, and a good friend of Joseph's father, businessman Pedro Ada. After a slow start--until Josef could adjust the ingredients to the humidity--his factory was a success, and along with other Ada family businesses, thrived for the next two decades. By the time his father and brother Antonio died, the growing Japanese dominance on Saipan made Josef decide it was time to return to his Guam roots. In 1930 he opened a soap factory in Anigua, quickly beating the entrenched competition with the pure coconut oil ingredient and good advertising. He became well-known for his honest and generous business practices, as well as for his photography and baking skills, also learned in Germany. He raised 10 children with Maria Perez Torres Ada, and youngest daughter Winifrida Ada Manibusan remembers "Tun Pepe" as a devoted father and husband. During the World War II Japanese occupation, Ada and his three sons were forced to make soap for the Japanese. The family says, however, in spite of the danger of being caught and punished, Ada always managed to sneak some soap to their friends and family. At war's end, Ada and his son John, Senator Tom Ada's father, reopened his business by rebuilding the twisted equipment he found in his bombed-out factory. Coconuts were at a premium after the war's devastation to the island vegetation, but Ada insisted on spending hours in the jungle himself scrounging for coconuts to insure the purity of his product. The re-opened operation was an instant success, even with the military, who were so impressed by the quality they increased their orders and assisted Ada ship in new equipment to expand his operation. The business thrived until Ada's illness in 1955. Today the Josef Ada soap legacy is found in great-grandson Eric Ada's thriving Hafa Adai Soap Factory, operated in Harmon with his sisters, Tricia and Ester. The soap, coconut oil and shampoo is in packages beautifully designed specifically for each customer and found in Guam's leading hotels and the world-class DFS Galleria, and is exported to Japan, Taiwan, Korea, Saipan and the US. "We wanted to keep the legacy of my great-grandfather alive," says Eric Ada. "We're doing this because we love and believe in the product they created." Tan Winnie, Josef's youngest and only surviving daughter, believes the legacy of Tun Pepe's soap will last because he knew quality isn't always something tangible. "When he made that pure coconut oil soap," she says, "he made it with love...love that's coming right from his heart."
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