Ann Kern, lead interpreter at the H.N. Greenwell Store Museum, explains that customers of the store, circa 1890, often bartered for goods with coffee, goat skins and lauhala hats. A lauhala hat as shown was worth $1. A framed picture of Henry Nicholas Greenwell in on exhibit. (Brad Ballesteros/Special to West Hawaii Today)
The Kona Historical Society maintains the Jean Greenwell Archives and two historic sites — the H.N. Greenwell Store Museum (pictured) and the Kona Coffee Living History Farm. Other programs include jeep and boat tours, lectures, historic preservation and the Kona Heritage Ranch project. (Brad Ballesteros/Special to West Hawaii Today)
Pixie Navas, Kona Historical Society archives clerk, sits behind a desk with historical photos to identify people, research the date and place, and document the donated pictures. In front of her is a stacked wall of file boxes containing historical picture still needing to be processed. (Brad Ballesteros/Special to West Hawaii Today)
Etsuko Miller, Kona Coffee Living History Farm house interpreter, using an apron made from a rice bag talks about tatami mats in a Japanese household to California residents Bruce and Summer Clancy. Shoes were not worn in the living area of a home so the mat would not get soiled or damaged. Pictures hung on the wall of family members back in Japan. (Brad Ballesteros/Special to West Hawaii Today)
The Kona Historical Society is more than a depository for local history.
The nonprofit has become a focal point for what the community was and is. It provides a sense of place, as well as a way for residents in the Kona districts to learn the importance and power of their history. It also plays an important part in extending that knowledge to visitors and newcomers.
Executive Director Jill Olson credits the organization’s success to the continuity, chemistry, dedication and passion of the staff, members, board of directors and volunteers — all of whom have helped accomplish a significant amount of work over the past three decades, “have given above and beyond” and continue to selflessly undertake other projects or duties.
Still challenges exist, including raising money to fulfill its nearly $400,000 annual operating budget, finding volunteers and sponsors, and having to cut hours or reduce staff while maintaining its efforts. Like many other historical institutions, the society copes with a budget shortfall and faces fierce competition for grants, mostly because of the economy, Olson said.
Its annual budget five years ago was $1.2 million. Since 2007, the society has become more dependent on fundraisers and donations. All contributions and program income go toward running the nonprofit. Examples of past expenditures include $50 a month to feed Charlie, a donkey at the Kona Coffee Living History Farm, $100 for a two-month supply of eggs for Thursday’s Portuguese sweet bread stone oven baking program, $800 to replace a broken research computer in the Jean Greenwell Archives, $1,500 to provide a scholarship for 300 local students to visit the H.N. Greenwell Store Museum, and $5,000 for the preservation and conversion of historical films.
Its membership, consisting of roughly 900 people worldwide, has remained mostly unchanged, but not all members play active roles in the organization or renew each year. Annual dues are $35 for individuals and $55 for families, Olson said.
The society knows it needs all the help it can get to survive, grow and succeed. It has about a dozen employees, most of whom work part time. Volunteers, donations and new members are always welcomed, Olson said.
Help is needed for maintaining the structures, coffee field, macadamia nut orchard, vegetable garden, the native forest area and the archives, said Program Director Kuulani Auld.
A group of residents founded the society in 1976 with the goal of collecting, preserving and sharing the history of the Kona districts. Back then, development in West Hawaii was growing and longtime kamaaina were moving away for jobs, causing concern about the potential disappearance of history, Olson said. The list of key founders, members and volunteers over the years is long. But the late Sherwood Greenwell and Jean Greenwell were invaluable historical resources who are still missed, she added.
“This is part of our heritage,” said Alfreida Fujita, a volunteer for at least 2o years. “Our legacy and history should be alive, present and celebrated. This is our history to tell and (tell) often. We can’t forget the icons and people who are Kona’s foundation.”
The society operates living history programs, featuring costumed interpreters who capture visitors’ imaginations and bring to life historical tidbits, at two award-winning sites: the H.N. Greenwell Store Museum and the Kona Coffee Living History Farm. Both are on the National and State Registers of Historic Places.
Located at the 1,500-foot elevation in South Kona, the working 7-acre coffee and macadamia nut farm was the homestead of Japanese immigrants in 1900. It was continuously farmed by three generations of the Daisaku Uchida family between 1913 and 1994. The farm now serves as an outdoor museum that recreates the daily life of Japanese coffee farmers and their children from 1925 to 1945.
At the height of its operation, H.N. Greenwell Store was more than a place in the remote Kona district where people could get everything they needed. It was the center of life for those living in mauka Kona during the late 1800s, as well as a spot where people gathered to trade goods and talk about community affairs.
The society offers a wealth of information through its archives, which 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. It has created publications such as “A Guide to Old Kona” and “Historic Kailua Village Walking Map.”
The society is still committed to the Kalukalu Ranch Homestead, an outdoor living history exhibit it has planned to develop for more than 10 years. When completed, it will tell the story of Kona’s ranching heritage and feature several independent, hard-working, strong individuals. Future structures include a replica of a typical 1890s family ranch home and outbuildings, as well as cattle walls and animal pens. Activities like bread baking, lei making, blacksmithing and saddle making depict the everyday life of local cowboys and ranching families, Auld said.
Other offerings include jeep and boat tours, the free monthly Hanohano O Kona Lecture Series at the West Hawaii Civic Center, workshops, school programs and historic preservation of the special qualities of historic Kona. Call 323-3222 or visit konahistorical.org.