History today, better tomorrow

The Kauai Historical Society isn’t always looking back. It’s looking ahead. And these days, specifically, it’s looking to celebrate its 100th anniversary.

Because history, said the nonprofit’s president, is happening every day. It’s about more than reading old books, looking at old pictures and listening to old music.

It’s about a better tomorrow.

“I think preserving heritage, preserving your history, helps guide those of us who are living today to have a better future,” Bill Fernandez said.

The Kapaa man was the first Hawaiian to be named president of the historical society, after serving as a trustee nearly three years.

He notes that Maryanne Kusaka, recently named president of the Kauai Museum, was also the first Hawaiian to hold that post.

“That to me, is a very important point in our story,” he said during a recent interview at his home.

The Kauai native is proud to step up as KHS, founded May 7, 1914, continues planning its centennial celebration.

It will be, Fernandez said, a “festival of cultures.”

“We want to honor and showcase the different people that made this a wonderful, multicultural society in Hawaii,” he said.

Plans call for monthly events, starting in January, to honor those cultures that have called Kauai home, including Chinese, Japanese, Tongans and Okinawans.

A question, Fernandez said, that must be asked in looking at Kauai’s history is, “What brought Caucasians here?”

“Certainly at one time it was because of surfing. And these surfing men and women decided to make a home here on Kauai.”

The celebration will be highlighted with a festival week in May outside the KHS headquarters in the Historic County Building. KHS, which at one point had its headquarters at Coco Palms, is housed in the former mayor’s office. But space there is a premium. KHS is running out of room for its records that include books, photographs, paintings, newspapers, recordings and rare documents. It needs a permanent and bigger home.

Preserving and continuing to uncover the island’s history is critical, Fernandez said.

“We need to have a place for people to come see it,” he said. “We need to expand.”

Coco Palms, which might be renovated after sitting since Hurricane Iniki ravaged it in 1992, would be a wonderful place, again, for a historical society center, Fernandez said.

“A place where people could come to not only find their heritage, but to see what their heritage is,” he said.

Fernandez, a graduate of Kamehameha Schools, and Stanford University, was an attorney, judge and mayor before retiring. He has written books about growing up on Kauai, including “Rainbow over Kapaa,” and “Kauai Kids in Peace and War.”

He loves Kauai and wants people to know it not just as it is today, and how it once was. Kauai’s story, he said,  is one of Hawaiians, of ethnic groups who came to labor in the plantation fields, and of missionaries who came to help. Fernandez doesn’t want them forgotten.

“With time, you lose things. It’s always important historically to preserve what was important to the people who came to live here,” he said.

His wife, Judie Fernandez, would love to have an essay contest at the high school level that asks students to interview family members.

History, she said, is inclusive — it’s not just for older people.

“I want to get kids and families to understand, they’re all part of the historical society,” she said.

As KHS president, Fernandez would love to see more people involved in preserving their heritage, and joining the KHS, which has about 150 members. Each person on Kauai has a story to share that reflects on the island’s past, present and future.

“Everybody’s family is history,” he said.

“It is so important in terms of making youth understand you have a heritage and somebody made it possible for you to get where you are today.”

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