Koloa Plantation Days internship connects Lawa‘i girl with her roots

PO‘IPU — After recently graduating from Pepperdine University, Chelsea Smith-Wishard has come full circle by returning to intern on Kaua‘i.

On Monday night, she was unloading her car with an armload of historic photographs from the Grove Farm Homesteads Museum. The vintage shots were for the historic film night and exhibit at Kukui‘ula Village, part of the ongoing Koloa Plantation Days festival.

“My grandma worked for Grove Farm and my grandpa worked with one of the original workers at Grove Farm,” Smith-Wishard said while leafing through the large volume of photographs with Melissa McFerrin, the event coordinator for the nine-day celebration of plantation roots. “My grandparents were involved in sugar and this celebration is about Koloa and the sugar industry.”

Smith-Wishard, who majored in public relations with an emphasis on sports marketing, said volunteered to be an intern for Koloa Plantation Days.

“I got to walk during the Pepperdine graduation, but I still have this last assignment to complete before I get my degree,” Smith-Wishard said. “Sugar made Kaua‘i what it is today and since my grandparents were a part of it, I can do something which connects me to my family and satisfy my graduation requirements.”

McFerrin said the historic exhibit is part of Phyllis Kunimura’s vision of creating an archive of the sugar industry and its legacy in Koloa and the South Shore.

“She hopes to add more to the collection each year,” McFerrin said. “This year, we have Carol Ann Davis adding a selection of prints to the collection which started with Tim Dela Vega’s prints last year.”

Davis, an award-winning photographer, said Monday marked the first of two openings she’s working on this week.

“I really wished I had more time to go through the thousands of images,” Davis said. “I spent almost three months when the Grove Farm mill closed and I’ve been to the closings of McBryde Sugar, the Lihu‘e Plantation and Gay and Robinson.”

But Davis said time was not a luxury this year since she’s also working on the opening of a show Friday at the Kaua‘i Society of Artists’ gallery at Kukui Grove Center.

For Smith-Wishard, the internship with Koloa Plantation Days connects her to her past with the sugar industry, but her connection doesn’t end there.

“I’m going to try and help Richard Matsumoto, the Kaua‘i High School cross country and track coach,” said Smith-Wishard, who grew up in Lawa‘i. “I’m missing practice because of this exhibit, but I’ve already attended a few practices and I’ve got the runners working pretty hard.”

Smith-Wishard, who ran cross country and track for Kaua‘i High School and Pepperdine University, is the current holder of Kaua‘i Interscholastic Federation records in the Girls 800 meter and 1,500 meter runs.

Visit www.koloaplantationdays.com for information on the events for the week which climax with the annual parade and ho‘olaule‘a, Saturday.

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

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