New leadership at Kona Historical Society


When Keauhou Mauka resident Joy Holland was growing up, she remembers passing by the Kona Historical Society in Kealakekua, longing to work there someday. As a teen, she had a passion for history, and a place whose mission was to preserve and share the community’s rich history “sounded very cool.”

Her dream came to fruition last month, when 42-year-old Holland started her new position as the society’s executive director.

Prior to joining the nonprofit, Holland was a preservation archivist at the University of Hawaii at Manoa’s Hamilton Library where she combined archival project management, collection management duties and special collections experience with college instruction, public relations and office administration.

Last summer, Holland worked part time at the Kona Historical Society’s Jean Greenwell Library and Archives, Portuguese stone oven bread baking program and Kona Coffee Living History Farm. She has also been working toward a master’s degree in library science with a special collections, museum and archives emphasis, expected to be completed in the fall.

“Joy is from Kona, understands the community and has an impressive background in library science. With her broad experience, she will be able to take all the good work done here to another level,” said Jill Olson, a founding member of Kona Historical Society and the retiring executive director.

A group of residents founded Kona Historical Society in 1976 with the goal of collecting, preserving and sharing the history of the Kona districts. Then development in West Hawaii was growing and longtime kamaaina were moving away for jobs, causing concern about the potential disappearance of history. Since the late Sherwood and Jean Greenwell’s initial founding successes, the organization has grown. It is assisted by a long list of key board of directors, members, staff and volunteers, Olson said.

Olson was the executive director for 38 years. Under her leadership and with the help of many, the organization has two Smithsonian affiliated living history museums; two national and state registered historic buildings and a library and archive with a regionally significant collection of photographs, records and unique items to Hawaii’s history. The society also has numerous community outreach programs, including jeep and boat tours, the free Hanohano O Kona, lecture series and numerous educational programs for kindergarten through 12th grade students. Besides being the recipient of more than 15 awards, the society has the only two permanent National Endowment for the Humanities exhibits in the state — the H.N. Greenwell Store and Kona Coffee Living History Farm.

Though she loved the job, 69-year-old Olson said the nonprofit “needed somebody younger with new energy.” When Kona Historical Society started, the population in Kona was roughly 8,000 people. Today, there are more than 60,000 people and the world is a different place, filled with lots of new technology, she added.

The latter is what Olson is confident in Holland being able to use to enhance telling and sharing of old stories and get residents in the Kona districts interested in the importance and power of their history.

Holland wants to maximize the Jean Greenwell Library and Archives through regular exhibits and eventually putting some of the collection online. The archives boasts the largest photo collection on the Big Island, more than 140 maps, rare and out-of-print books, historical records, oral history interviews, films and videotapes in temperature- and humidity-controlled conditions. Holland also plans on making significant and unique photos available by selling prints.

Another goal is to use crowd-sourcing and social media to get the word out about the society, what it offers and how people can help protect local history, as well as extend that knowledge to visitors and newcomers. She hopes to find new members, donors and sponsors. She wants to create partnerships and develop creative fundraisers while trying to make the organization as sustainable as possible.

Holland is committed to making the Kalukalu Ranch Homestead, an outdoor living history exhibit it has planned to develop for more than 10 years, a reality. When completed, it will tell the story of Kona’s ranching heritage and feature several independent, hard-working, strong individuals.

Since retiring, Olson has been consulting eight hours a week at the Kona Historical Society and helping Holland with the transition, which will continue through the end of April. Olson said she’s not exactly sure what’s next for her, though she may start doing pottery again. Olson said she is still passionate about local history, which she says provides “an irreplaceable sense of place,” and promises to stay involved with the society as a volunteer.

Kona Historical Society members interested in meeting Holland can do so at a special pizza party from 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday at the Kalukalu pasture. Reservations are required by Monday.

There’s a suggested $5 donation to attend.

For more information, call 323-3222 or visit konahistorical.org.