Perched in a lava rock-strewn area, below the final resting place for veterans and overlooking a panoramic view of Kona coastline, is a greenhouse.
West Hawaii Veterans’ Cemetery Development and Expansion Association President John Grogan said it’s been at least three or four years since the greenhouse has been filled with a sea of green — hundreds of tiny native plant seedlings. However, it will be used again soon. Thanks to the Home Depot Foundation and the Kailua-Kona Home Depot store, the structure is getting a much-needed renovation.
The Home Depot Foundation awarded $6,450 to the association for the project that supports the ongoing effort to restore the once flourishing dry land forest at the North Kona cemetery, mauka of Queen Kaahumanu Highway and Kua Bay. Credit also goes to the association’s grant writers, Tomoe Nimori and Angelica Stevens, who applied for the foundation’s community impact grants program, which supports the work local nonprofits, public schools and other community organizations are doing to improve their neighborhoods.
“The cemetery, established in 1994, was hot, dry and almost devoid of trees, although the area was once a part of a vast Hawaiian dry land forest before the introduction of goats to Hawaii Island. Continued reforestation since 2005 has changed the look of the cemetery. Native plant restoration is what this award will help fulfill and guarantee that the work will continue,” said Richard Stevens, reforestation project coordinator for the cemetery. “The renovation efforts of Home Depot to the greenhouse will help with the cemetery and regional restoration activities.”
Within a month, the association hopes to be growing native species from seed in its new greenhouse for outplanting at the 62-acre cemetery and in other areas regionally, Grogan said. Local public schools, charters and universities have used the greenhouse to raise seedlings for the grounds and other reforestation projects. Students have also come up with unique ideas for supporting the young plants in the hot, arid environments, such as placing a frozen water bottle next to new plantings with no irrigation, he added.
The association’s mission is to develop, beautify, reforest and maintain the cemetery to ensure a fitting and final resting place. West Hawaii Veterans’ Cemetery is one of only three state-owned veterans cemeteries in the country been awarded “shrine status” by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Grogan said.
The effort is more than restoring the grounds’ beauty; it’s an opportunity and privilege to be good stewards of the land, Grogan said. To date, more than 10,000 native plants have been planted, typically on a nearby a hill overlooking the cemetery. Thousands of volunteers — including residents, veterans, community groups, schools, businesses and active military personnel from Pohakuloa Training Area — have helped. All have “generously donated their time, talent and treasure to enhance the cemetery,” and some have no obvious connections to this place, he added.
Since Wednesday, Home Depot employees have been voluntarily donating their time and skills to repair the 25-foot-wide, 30-foot-long greenhouse. There will be a deck, a new shade cloth and an irrigation system. The structure will also be painted a color that blends into the landscape. The project is anticipated to be completed by this weekend, said Greg Gettman, Home Depot pro desk supervisor and the project’s manager.
More than 20 Home Depot employees are participating in the project and Saturday’s outplanting effort. Besides being part of the company’s core values, hands-on community service is also the right thing to do, and it’s very rewarding, Gettman said.
The Kailua-Kona store has done at least seven or eight local community service projects this year.
“Their contribution means a great deal to us,” Nimori said of the Home Depot volunteers. “If it weren’t for them, we would be at a loss. Now we can do even more in regards to growing and maintaining native plants for future outplantings.”
Volunteers are welcome to join the association, as well as the volunteers from PTA, University of Hawaii and Home Depot, during its outplanting effort from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. Saturday at the cemetery. Besides helping plant seedlings, help is needed to remove weeds, Grogan said.
For more information about the cemetery or the association, call Grogan at 326-2309.