Kauai’s keeper of history retiring

Not many executive directors would include Dumpster diving as one of their duties.

Mary Requilman does. Because when it comes to saving pieces of history, sometimes that’s what you have to do.

“Somebody called us, ‘Do you know this stuff is being thrown away?”

That stuff was from the old Kekaha Sugar Co. that closed in 2000.

When she hung up the phone that day, Requilman and friends raced there and started going through what had been tossed out as trash.

“They were already throwing everything away,” she said. “We went and grabbed everything we could find. We ended up getting tons of materials.”

Saving pieces of Kauai’s history, carefully recording its past so it can live on into the future, has motivated Requilman since she came on board with KHS as a bookkeeper when it was still headquartered at Coco Palms. Later, she became executive director, a post she’s held for about 15 years.

It was a job for which she has little prior experience, so she had to master new skills — fundraising, grant writing, archiving, cataloguing and, when necessary, trash sorter.

Turned out to be the best of jobs.

“The people that I met are phenomenal people that I would never have met in any other job,” she said. “What I’ve learned over the years, I would never have learned otherwise.”

The 67-year-old Requilman, though, is retiring, effective the end of May. It would be nice, she said, to spend a little more time with her husband of 40 years, Robert. And she has plenty of hobbies and interests to keep her busy.

A search for a new director is underway and Requilman will help with the transition.

“It’s time to get some new blood in here,” she said.

Bill Fernandez, who has known Requilman several years through his role on the KHS board, said she’s a special person who has done a wonderful job preserving the island’s history.

“She has a lot of good knowledge about this island and its people,” he said of Requilman, who has called Kauai home since the 1970s. “I think that’s one of the great attributes Mary has.”

The historical society is a record-keeper of Kauai’s past. It has protected and archived thousands of letters, documents, photographs, books, manuscripts, maps and newspapers that chronicle key times on the island.

Many of the items are fragile.

“It would be lost if we didn’t do what we do,” she said.

And it has done so with one full-time staff person, that being Requilman, and a part-time person, RuthAnne Jackson, administrative assistance. But Requilman is quick to point out they couldn’t do it without the many volunteers who pitch in.

“Our volunteers are critical,” she said.

Then, there’s the aspect of money.

KHS operates on grants, fundraisers, donations and memberships.

Requilman became quite good at raising money, applying for grants to fund specific projects, and encouraging people to join the society, whose modest home today is in the Old County Historic Building.

She did her job well, said Donna Stewart, KHS consultant, and helped the public know more about the organization and what it does.

“She let people know what they’re doing and why it’s important,” Stewart said.

Requilman laughs as she repeated a statement she used often over the years to describe the challenges the society faced: “We have not enough money and not enough space and not enough people.”

But it has more than enough heart.

Requilman takes pride in her efforts.

Under her guidance, KHS completed more than 60 archive projects in her tenure, which is critical, again, to maintaining orderly records of Kauai’s history. She’s proud the society has scanned thousands of photos.

She encourages people to visit its website, too, and use the browser to find aids for their research. She built strong relationships with other nonprofits and community groups in Hawaii. And many residents have donated historical items to the society, too.

“I think what we’ve been able to archive and accomplish over the years is phenomenal,” she said. “I always say, ‘We’ve come a long way, girls.’”


Bill Buley, editor-in-chief, can be reached at 245-0457 or bbuley@thegardenisland.com.


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