An eye for the island

KAPAA – Millie Saunders spent most of her childhood in Ponce, Puerto Rico. She loved swimming in the clear waters of the Caribbean Ocean.

She couldn’t wait to try the waters off Kauai.

“The first thing I did was jump in the ocean when I got here at 10 at night,” Saunders recalled. “Then I woke up the next morning and saw how dangerous it looked.”

At one of the first jobs at a rental car company she discovered something she hadn’t anticipated.

“You don’t realize how many people come here for other reasons besides vacation,” Saunders said. “They come here to spread ashes or bring someone who is dying. I ended up with a lot of people crying in my arms.”

It could be difficult trying to keep impatient, even grief-filled customers happy.

“I’d give them candy and directions,” Saunders remembered.

Living on Kauai is a lot different than Saunders old stomping grounds, San Francisco and New York, when she worked in the fashion industry.

“In the early 80s, it was all about how you looked and who you knew,” Saunders said, remembering the times she rubbed elbows with Billy Idol, Calvin Klein and other big names on the night scene.

Instead of fashion, she’s all about Kauai’s beaches.

“My whole apartment has this surfer theme to it,” Saunders said, adding she loves spending time on her boogie board. “It reminds me to put on my suit and go to the beach.”

Saunders is studying to earn her Bachelor of Arts degree in photography. It’s no wonder she spends her mornings shooting family photos at her favorite beaches.

“The lighting is perfect,” Saunders said of the 6 a.m. shoots. “I take the families to Hanalei or Coconut Beach.”

Her other pleasure is selling fine jewelry at Grandes Gems.

“I meet people from Australia and China. Everyone is pretty much the same and everyone is happy they are here. So, we can share our happiness together. And be in the moment with them. I love it,” Saunders said.

At night, her favorite pastime is watching a good movie, curled up on the couch with a glass of wine or watching the rain come down on the lanai.

“I can be free here,” Saunders said.


This is an ongoing weekly feature in The Garden Island. It focuses on everyday people who reflect the spirit that makes Kauai the place it is today. If you know of somebody you’d like to see featured, email features and education reporter Lisa Ann Capozzi at


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