Leading by example (again)

You could say Maryanne Kusaka has done more than her fair share for Kauai.

She taught school here.

She served as mayor.

She’s given her time and talents to countless community organizations.

She’s one of Kauai’s vocal advocates.

And she’s still going strong.

Kusaka recently accepted the role of board president for the Kauai Museum, which is celebrating its 53rd year.

“I help as much as I can in the community by belonging to nonprofits,” she said.

She’s a strong supporter of museum director Jane Gray, and believes the museum has made many improvements and will continue to do so.

“We’ve done a lot in the past three years, and there’s a lot to do,” Kusaka said.

When Kusaka moved to Kauai in 1964, there were 20,000 people here. Since her arrival, she’s influenced a generation, teaching at the elementary school level, and to this day, she still sees her students stand out here and abroad.

“That makes me very proud,” she said.

Kusaka retired from teaching in 1994 and that same year, ran for mayor — after being encouraged to do so by colleagues who saw her keen interest and influence in politics — and won.

She served eight years, guiding Kauai as it rebuilt and recovered from the devastation of Hurricane Iniki.

Her time as mayor was challenging, rewarding and at the same time, not without heartache.

“I really, really enjoyed it. I love people. I love helping people. Like any other situation of leadership, there’s always ups and downs. But I always thought positively. I had a wonderful team.

“I didn’t have any changes on my cabinet but three in eight years. I’m very proud of that. It can be a swinging door. I think we accomplished a lot. We took over right after Iniki, our island was devastated.”

With Kusaka’s leadership, Kauai recovered.

These days, Kusaka is a Realtor with Re/Max Kauai and tends to orchids at home. Driven, she always wants to do more for the island she loves.

Asked about political aspirations, she laughs and says, no more.

“I’m too old,” she said.

But never too old to keep volunteering, she says. It’s just who she is. It’s in her blood.

Why did you agree to be board president of the museum?

Maryanne Kusaka: I’ve been on the board as one of the trustees for three years now. I have an educational background, so I’ve always appreciated history. I love history. The preservation of our culture is certainly centered here at our museum and the Kauai Historical Society. I’m on both boards.

Years ago, as mayor, the Historical Society was looking for a new home. They had no place to go. We were moving over as a government to the new building, the round building.

I worked with them and the council to get them a long-term lease in the mayor’s office. That’s why they’re there today.

That was one way I could show we want to preserve the history and documents of our island. We do sort of the same thing at the museum. And right now, both facilities are too small. They’ve outgrown their use, so both facilities are looking to expand.

I was asked by the board if I would consider being the president.

And you did it, although you’re already pretty much busy with work and other volunteer activities?

MK: You know, my belief is we all need to step up when we can. I belong to so many organizations, I just think if you are a member, it comes a time when it’s your turn to lead, and we shouldn’t be members if we’re just occupying space. We should take a position and we should work hard to make that board a better board than when you found it, than when you leave it.

With this in mind, I always carry that mantra, I feel it’s my turn. If they want me, I feel it’s my turn to step up and I’ll do what I can in the best way possible, with as much outreach as I can.

I have a lot of influence in the community and at the legislature, and locally, I think that will benefit our historical society and our museum. I intend to use that to the best of my abilities.

Why is the museum important to this community?

MK: The mission of the founders of this museum is to preserve the culture of the island, and certainly, in that view, I feel it’s really important to keep the culture alive for our younger generations, to help them understand the past so they can understand the future.

Does the museum have expansion plans?

MK:  We do have expansion plans that are now at the county. We have an architect who is doing pro bono services for us. We really need to add an elevator for the second floor to comply with ADA requirements. Right now, we’ve kind of shut off that second floor. We have a lot of exhibits up there, but we really aren’t able to fully second floor to comply with ADA requirements. Right now, we’ve kind of shut off that second floor. We have a lot of exhibits up there, but we really aren’t able to fully exhibit them, so they really can’t be appreciated by the public who have no way to get up to the second floor except through the stairs, and that does not make us ADA compliant.

What will it take to make the changes necessary?

MK: I worked with a legislator asking about a grant for the museum. So I’ll work in that direction, work with all of them and see if that is possible, because it’s a requirement that could shut down the museum. That’s my No. 1 priority so we can fulfill that commitment to open up the upstairs.

How many members do you have?

MK:  We have over 500 members.

We keep working on that. Every function we have  there we ask people to join us. Many people love the museum, but they just have not been asked to be a member. And it’s very reasonable.

How much time will you invest in the museum as president?

MK: I intend to stop by the museum every week and see what I can do. And we have our regular meetings the first Monday of the month. I’ll probably be there to meet with the finance committee on another day. We have a wonderful treasurer and great secretary who have been there. We have good people on board, so I enjoy working with them.

It could take quite a bit of time, but that’s fine.

How long will you serve as board president?

MK: One year is the term. Usually, people get re-elected, but that’s totally up to the board. And certainly if I haven’t done a good job, I’ll be booted.

Are there other exhibits to show off that haven’t been displayed as well?

MK: I’ve always been pushing as a member of the board to move the Hawaiian collection we have in the back building annex to the front building.

I have to convince the curator and the director to move a few collections there in the front part of the building and replace it with things Hawaiian. I think that is possible. We’re going to work on it.

We have many, many artifacts that are put away and some of those things, it’s felt they’re not good enough to show, they’re not quality. To me, everything that anybody has given to the museum, it was given to us for a purpose, and it has its own personality and its own quality. If space is available, we need to show that, and we describe it to the public so they can understand it and so our children can understand it.

What takes up a lot of your attention as board president?

MK: A lot of what’s on my platter as board president is to get money to fulfill our expansion and bring us up to date and work at moving the Hawaiian collection forward.

How is the museum’s budget?

MK: It’s a very small budget, and we primarily survive on memberships. That’s why we’re always out there trying to get new members and we’ve done well. We’ve picked up a lot of new members and I hope that continues.

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