Children’s museum founder resigns

Robin Mazor, who founded the Kauai Children’s Discovery Museum in 1993, has resigned due to a power struggle between herself and members of the museum’s volunteer board of directors.

The resulting stress has affected her health, Mazor’s husband said.

Tashi Maclaine, her husband, said differences in opinion about where and how to lead the museum in the future surfaced a year ago, eventually forcing Mazor to seek medical treatment for stress the situation brought on. She submitted her resignation to the six-member board on Sept. 15, is recuperating on the Mainland, and was not available for comment.

Jonathan Chun, a museum board member and a Kaua’i attorney, said Mazor, in her letter of resignation, alluded to health concerns as a possible reason for leaving her job, but noted she left on amicable terms.

“Both sides understood the things that we needed to do,” Chun said. “And we understand it was something she needed to do at this time.”

Chun said Mazor’s vision (of hands-on exhibits, and use of experts as speakers and programs) is “still everybody’s vision,” he said.

At the same time, Mazor was to play an instrumental role in carrying out two chief goals of members of the board, those being holding more fund-raisers and expanding the museum to meet the needs of more Kaua’i children.

In the meantime, the board will or has set up a search committee to find a replacement for Mazor.

Since its opening, the Kauai Children’s Discovery Museum, now located at the Kaua’i Village shopping center in Waipouli, has served thousands of Kaua’i children and their families.

Mazor said on a Web site that the mission of the nonprofit museum is to provide learning adventures focused on science for people of all ages.

She said she was motivated to make the museum a success because Hawai’i, at one point, ranked last among the 50 states in science proficiency and literacy.

She said her challenge was to change that through countless exhibits, educational programs, live demonstrations, performances, workshops and lectures.

A community leader who has worked with the museum staff characterized Mazor’s departure as being “extremely sad.”

“She was a visionary, and without her, there would have been no Children’s Discovery Museum,” said the community leader, who asked not to be identified. “There was a power-struggle in the staff. New people came on, and there were different ideas (thus forcing Mazor’s ouster).”

Phyllis Kunimura, a longtime educator and owner and operator of a private preschool in Kapa’a, Kauai Independent Daycare Services, Inc. (K.I.D.S.), said in a letter to The Garden Island that, “It was difficult to imagine KCDM (the museum) without her vision, dedication, and steady guidance.”

Kunimura, widow of former Kaua’i Mayor Tony T. Kunimura, said Mazor brought the world to Kaua’i’s children.

“For the last 11 years, KCDM has regularly set up stimulating and challenging experiences for the children, as well as bringing the latest and best traveling exhibits from the Mainland,” Kunimura wrote.

Maclaine said the well-being of the museum has been Mazor’s life work for the past 11 years.

She got the museum started with a $50,000 grant in 1993 and, today, the yearly budget hovers at more than $350,000, Maclaine said. Almost all funds were raised from grants and fund-raisers Mazor started, Maclaine said.

“She did 60 hours a week at least (on the job), doing the work of five people,” Maclaine said.

Maclaine, a museum volunteer, said two board members began interfering with Mazor’s work about a year ago.

“They weren’t going along with her directives as far as raising money and the operation of the museum, and not going by her directives on what exhibits she wanted,” Maclaine said.

Maclaine said Mazor, for instance, wanted to bring a volcano exhibit to the museum. While she wanted to have a pre-fabricated volcano shipped to the museum, to save money, the two board members, who Maclaine did not identify, wanted to have the volcano built within the museum, but at a higher cost.

“She had done this many times, and had done creative exhibits,” Maclaine said. “She felt it would have been cheaper to bring in the volcano than to build one.”

That confrontation would lead to Mazor’s downfall, Maclaine said.

“That was a major decision that created stress,” Maclaine said. “When she went to the doctor, he told her she should probably think about retirement. That was July 15, and the doctor told her that she would have a hysterical breakdown.”

Maclaine believes the stress built up over the years for Mazor.

“The job got increasingly harder. She had to go to training programs, learn all the skills of being a director and being a grant writer,” Maclaine said. “She lasted 12 years.”

Mazor started her sick leave on July 15, and as part of the conditions of her resignation package, she received four months of paid vacation, Maclaine said, adding that “she deserved more than that” because of her many years of hard work and dedication to the museum.

“She needs to relax and get her health back,” Maclaine said.

Chun said Mazor submitted an e-mail copy of her resignation to the museum board members in mid-September. “I can honestly say it was mutually-agreeable, a fairly-friendly and amicable parting of the ways,” Chun said.”

He said the board members and Mazor share the same vision for the museum.

“Robin’s vision is still everybody’s issue,” he said. “Everybody agrees the museum needs to be expanded to meet the educational needs of Kaua’i’s children. She shares that vision, and everybody agrees with that vision. We are all going to go with that.”

Chun said that the board members are happy with the direction of the museum, but that “we need to get the museum going.

“We needed to really work on the financial picture of the museum,” Chun said. “Everybody was committed to that.”

Mazor has been marching in step with that tune, and “she was pushing us to raise more funds,” Chun said.

Chun said Mazor is on good terms with the board members, and for a brief time after her resignation she worked as a volunteer at the museum.

He said it was his impression that she will continue to volunteer at the museum after she has recovered from her health problems.

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