Fernandes’ legacy lives in ‘Town of Opportunity’

LIHU‘E — A-tun-cion!  A-tun-cion! Achtung! Achtung!

That familiar cry which floated over the throng of people at the Kaua‘i County Farm Bureau Fair is silenced.

William “Billy” Fernandes, former member of the Kaua‘i County Farm Bureau, died Thursday at his home in Wailua Homesteads.

A former Territorial and state Representative, state Senator and Kaua‘i County Councilman, Fernandes was 88 years old at his passing.

“Give him a microphone, and he won’t let go,” said Lehua Fernandes-Salling, Fernandes’ daughter. “He helped wire the farm fair and during the pineapple days, even had music for his workers.”

His career with the Merchant Marines, the service he entered following his graduation from St. Louis College in Honolulu, was the banner Fernandes carried, being visible during the annual Veterans Day Parade where he was elevated to having his own special golf cart from where he would marshall the annual event.

Following his tour during World War II, the Wailua boy returned home, working with Kapa‘a Electric, his family’s business, as an electrician while juggling growing pineapple.

Cattle replaced pineapple with the demise of the pineapple industry in the 1960s.

“When the cannery closed, he and a few other people in Kapa‘a got the town to invest whatever money they could to build Pono Kai in the site of the former cannery,” Fernandes-Salling said. “They were afraid ‘The Town of Opportunity’ sign would become obsolete. We should have kept that sign.”

Fernandes was also owner and operator of Kamokila Village in Wailua, a site located at the base of the cliffs fronting the Wailua River, and once utilized as the site for the investiture of the Aloha Festivals Royal Court.

In 1952, Fernandes was elected to the Territorial House of Representatives, starting his long political journey at the side of his father, the late Senator John B. Fernandes. When Billy Fernandes was elected, it was the first father-and-son team elected to the legislature for the Territory of Hawai‘i.

When Fernandes-Salling was elected to the Legislature in 1982 for a term spanning 16 years, Billy was at her side, beaming with pride at the continuation of the Fernandes legacy in the political arena.

“He was so proud,” Fernandes-Salling said. “Not only did he have a smile, his whole body showed off his pride.”

He was later elected to the state Senate where one of the projects he worked on was the construction of Morgan’s Ponds at the Lydgate Park.

Albert Morgan, following a trip to Sorrento on the Italian coast, contacted Fernandes and presented pictures of the protected swimming areas for the people.

Together they prepared a presentation to the State of Hawai‘i for the creation of a 2.6-acre rock barrier and impoundment along Lydgate Beach, a project that came to fruition in 1964 when $18,000 was appropriated to build the children’s wading pool and the adult swimming pool.

The late Gov. John Burns appointed Fernandes to serve as the Deputy Director for the state Department of Agriculture.

In the mid-1970s, Fernandes was elected to the Kaua‘i County Council where he served as councilman.

Fernandes was also active in community activities, being one of the people who established the Kaua‘i Racing Association and helping construct the Mana drag race track and host the first drag race. The facility, currently managed by the Garden Isle Racing Association, is named the Kaua‘i Raceway Park and hosted its June event over the weekend.

“It was all about the kids and safety,” said Fernandes-Salling. “He was home during one of the state sessions and heard this loud noise coming from across the (Wailua) river. He jumped in his truck and discovered kids racing in the cane field. Seeing that, he said, ‘We gotta do something.’”

He helped organize the Kaua‘i Canoe Racing Association and became a member of the State Canoe Racing Association, hosting the first state meet at Hanalei Bay.

Fernandes was a founding member of the Kaua‘i Community Federal Credit Union and a member of the Kaua‘i Veterans Council where he was instrumental in organizing the group and was able to help obtain the funding the council needed to construct the Kaua‘i Veterans Center and Museum.

Fernandes is survived by his wife of 64 years, Evelyn Ohai Fernandes, a son Kimo (Stephanie) Fernandes, daughters Audrey Maile Fernandes, Lehua Fernandes-Salling, and Napua (Wayne) Law, 14 grandchildren, 22 great-grandchildren, brothers George B. Fernandes and Stanley B (Wella) Fernandes.

A celebration of his life will be held June 13 at St. Catherine’s Church in Kapa‘a with visitation from 9 to 11 a.m. when Mass will be celebrated. Burial will follow at the Hanapepe Veterans Cemetery.

• Dennis Fujimoto can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 253) or dfujimoto@ thegardenisland.com.


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