Puhi Camp residents to gather for reunion this weekend

Former residents and family members from Grove Farm’s old Puhi Camp are expected to reminisce about the bygone days of camp life, renew friendships and sample varied ethnic foods during a two-day reunion at Kaua‘i Veterans Center starting Saturday.

The reunion comes four years after the camp’s largest reunion was held at the old Kukui Grove Pavilion in Lihu‘e. About 1,000 people attended the reunion.

Former camp members had hoped to hold the next reunion in 2008, but decided to hold it this year to bring together as many former camp occupants as possible before they pass on, according to event coordinator Bobby Agena.

“This is mostly for the seniors,” Agena said.

The contributions of the thousands of immigrants who came from Japan, Portugal, China and the Philippines to Kaua’i to work in the sugar industry will be recognized, Agena said.

The reunion also offers registered participants the chance to learn from the past and establish new and lasting friendships, he said.

Agena said the camp experience was the common thread for generations of plantation workers and has helped them emerge as better people.

The reunion will allow today’s residents to appreciate the values former plantation workers cherished — loyalty, diligence, sacrifice and hard work.

Of the more than 500 persons who have registered for the event, 200 will come from the Mainland and from other counties in Hawai‘i, Agena said.

The turnout is anticipated to be smaller than that for the 2003 reunion primarily because of competing events, “but it is going to be packed (at the veteran’s center),” he said. Admission price for adults is $10 and $5 for children between 6 and 12 years of age.

Agena said in addition to himself, key planners for this reunion were Bernie Sakoda, Brenda Castillo-Erorita, Candice Castillo Onishi, Daphne McClure, Gerry and Fred Ellamar and Chick Cacabelos, all of whom were former camp residents.

Saturday’s event, scheduled from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m., will feature speeches by David Pratt, a retired Grove Farm executive, Moses Madayag, Harry Yamanaka and Pat Agustin, a moment of silence for former camp residents who have passed on, a lu‘au and live music by Walter and Polei Palmeira.

Comedian Frank De Lima is scheduled to perform at 8 p.m., and Luna Suego (Peter Borrero) will perform at 9 p.m.

A luncheon is scheduled at 11:30 a.m. the next day at the center.

Agena’s wife Tassie said every ticket holder will receive a souvenir book, a cookbook entitled “The Kau Kau Tin,” featuring some of the best food recipes from the camp days, and a commemorative wooden back scratcher.

Agena said a commemorative blue-and-yellow T-shirt will be sold for $10.

Gifts also will be offered, including cans of corn beef, sausage and bags of rice, the main staples of the plantation-era families, Tassie Agena said.

Grove Farm Plantation, led by George Norton Wilcox, opened Puhi camp in the early 1920s so the company would have a sufficient number of workers for the cultivation of sugar.

The camp located off Kaumuali‘i Highway was home to as many as 1,200 workers and family members at its peak and consisted of as many as 600 plantation-style homes.

The camp was like a small town, as it boasted three stores, a Chinese laundry, a slaughterhouse, a movie hall, a place for social events and a boxing ring.

The homes were eventually dismantled in phases to make way for Kaua‘i Community College.

The last homes were demolished in the 1980s.

• Lester Chang, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 225) or lchang@kauaipubco.com.

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