Kona Brewer’s Festival Beneficiary Profile: Kona Historical Society

We interviewed Donna S. Starr, Development Assistant at the Kona Historical Society, to learn more about the Society and find out how the community can help and learn about Kona’s rich history.

Kona Historical Society will be directing funds raised at the Kona Brewer’s Festival towards their historical programs for area schoolchildren.

When was the Kona Historical Society founded?

The organization was founded in 1976 by a group of Kona citizens who were concerned that the accelerating pace of change and development in Kona would result in the loss of Kona’s rich history.

What are some of the Society’s proudest moments/biggest successes?

Perhaps our biggest success is the Jean Greenwell Archive and Collections, which began virtually at the moment the organization did, as the founders donated their own family historical documents, films and photographs. During the past thirty-six years the collection has grown to over 100,000 documents, 50,000 photo images of Kona, 225 historic films, 200 oral history tapes, and hundreds of artifacts. It is one of only two climate controlled archives on Hawai’i Island, and the collection is held in trust for the people of Hawai’i. Scholars and ordinary citizens use the archives frequently for research and personal interest, and the facility is available by appointment for this.

The developing of two historic sites for the public can also be counted as great successes. The 1920’s era Kona Coffee Living History Farm opened in 1999, and the H. N. Greenwell Store’s renovation and development to a circa 1890 general store was completed in January 2007. Both sites have seen great success as living history museums, and welcome visitors from around the world.

We are extremely proud that both sites are listed on the State and National Registries of Historic Places.

Other awards of which we are proud include: Historic Preservation Award for the H. N. Greenwell Store from Historic Hawai’i Foundation; the Kona Coffee Living History Farm received the National Preservation Honor Award from the National Trust for Historic Preservation and The Award of Merit from the American Association of State and Local History; many of our publications have also received awards including A Guide to Old Kona, which received the Historic Preservation Award from Historic Hawai’i Foundation and a Certification of Commendation from the American Association of State and Local History.

Kona Historical Society was the first in the State of Hawai’i to receive Smithsonian Institution affiliation status.

Two other program developments are also a source of pride and can be considered great successes:one is the construction of the authentic Portuguese Stone Oven, a community sized oven, where 100 loaves of bread are baked and sold weekly, and visitors participate in the baking process while l earning about Portuguese culture. The other is the development of hands-on historic educational programs for school groups. Over 2500 school children annually visit our sites to learn about Kona’s history and culture in an entertaining and engaging way. Their teachers incorporate these visits with classroom subjects for an enriched learning experience.

What are some of the biggest/most exciting challenges ahead?

An obvious challenge is managing resources to get through the lingering recession while continuing on-going programs and developing new program offerings. The past three years have been very difficult for the Society, as they have been for many non-profit organizations. However, we have seen an encouraging increase in group tours and individual visitors recently and we are optimistic that the worst is behind us.

Another challenge is trying to maintain operations and activities with reduced numbers of staff. Currently all remaining staff work less than 40 hours per week, and the core group of fifteen staff and docents manages and delivers all programs. Without our many volunteers working in various capacities throughout the year we would not be able to continue operating at the current level.

Our most exciting challenge will be to develop the Kalukalu Ranch Homestead on a site adjacent to the H. N. Greenwell Store. This will be the re-creation of a typical 1890’s Kona ranch complete with actual historic ranch buildings, along with new construction that replicates historic dwellings. We anticipate a 5-year process to complete the Ranch.

The HN Greenwell Store Museum.

How does Kona Historical Society plan to face these challenges ahead?

We will continue to cross train staff to work in different areas, so that every operation and activity can be covered as needed. Also, we will sustain fundraising efforts by means of an online auction this year, through our annual appeal and membership drive, and with various fund raising events such as Jeep Tours to remote Island historic sites, and historic boat tours along the Kona Coast. As well, we will persist in seeking grant funding for special programs, operations, and infrastructure improvements and maintenance.

With regard to the Kalukalu Ranch Homestead, the first order of business is to close escrow and complete the purchase of the Ranch site (funding, including a State Legacy Lands award, have been secured for this purpose). Next, we will seek funding to proceed with Ranch construction according to the Development Plan that has been in place for a number ofyears. We hope to begin the development process by Fall of this year.

The Kona Coffee Living History Farm.

How can the community help/get involved?

There are a number of ways to do this:

  • Become a member and participate in some of the activities that help us raise funds, e. g. Jeep Trips to remote sites that are not accessible to the general public.
  • Donate funds to a program or activity that you find compelling, for example the Library and Archives.
  • Volunteer for something, such as a special event, an afternoon each week in the office, greeting visitors at the historic sites, or in the Coffee Farm’s kitchen garden. There are many needs and a variety of experiences.
  • Patronize our programs and historic sites. Bring your mainland guests to visit our sites to explore this beautiful Island’s history and culture. Refer friends, family and visitors to our programs. Buy our coffee online or on site. Stop by on Thursdays and pick up some fresh-baked authentic Portuguese bread (come early–it sells out!). Visit our website for more fun opportunities and Like us on Facebook!