NAWILIWILI — About 200 associates and dignitaries celebrated the Kauai Marriott Resort’s 20th anniversary Wednesday evening.
And the event turned out to be quite a stroll down memory lane.
Maryanne Kusaka, who was the mayor during the resort’s re-opening following the devastation on Sept. 11, 1992 from Hurricane Iniki, said her task was to rebuild the island.
“I was invited to the grand opening because I worked for Mayor Tony Kunimura,” Kusaka said. “After Hurricane Iniki, there were only two hotels operating, and the Kauai Marriott was not one of them. Our tourism numbers were at 36 percent and our job was to get new people to come to Kauai and get our people working again.”
The history of the Kauai Marriott is rooted back to the days of Kauai Surf and before that.
“I remember walking the beaches when there was no hotel here,” said Kauai County Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura who was the mayor when Hurricane Iniki struck Kauai. “During my college years, I remember walking through the gardens of Kauai Surf and was asked to leave because we did not have room reservations at the hotel. A week before Hurricane Iniki, we celebrated a reception on these very grounds with Steven Spielberg — those were the early days of the Kauai Film Commission.”
Sue Kanoho, executive director of the Kauai Visitors Bureau, remembers the impact of Hurricane Iniki and the resort on Kalapaki Bay.
“We spent the hurricane here in the ballroom, and I remember Kaupena Kinimaka’s words well as he saw the Spielberg crew capturing the storm,” she said of the footage that became a part of the “Jurassic Park.”
Yukimura said it was the work of everyone at the Kauai Marriott which enabled it to become No. 1 in the Marriott ohana in the state, and No. 4 in the region in terms of occupancy — Sous Chef Rey Montemayor noted the resort is currently at 90-plus percent occupancy.
Phyllis Kunimura, widow of the late Tony Kunimura, remembers the opening of the Kauai Surf Resort, the forerunner of the current Kauai Marriott.
“The opening of the big hotel was exciting,” said Phyllis, then a kindergarten teacher at Koloa Elementary School. “It was important for the children to have the experience of riding an elevator during school field trips, and to press their faces up against the glass of the Golden Cape. This was the first tall building on Kauai.”
Phyllis said when Chris Hemmeter brought the Westin resort to Kalapaki, it was another important step for the children who could now experience an escalator.
“Uncle Tony had a project of restoring the historic County Building,” Phyllis said. “It was Chris Hemmeter who put in the seed money to have the project going and eventually completed.”
Current mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. said he got “the call” in 1985.
“I just got out of Florida,” Carvalho said. “The phone rang and I was told ‘to come home to take care of the kupuna and keiki.’ That phone call was from Uncle Tony. Regina and I had no plans of coming home, but on Dec. 28, 1985, we got married at the Golden Cape.”
His mother, a Miss Kauai 1960, worked at the Kauai Surf.
“We celebrate today,” Carvalho said. “It’s important to hold on to the past and to remember the connection to people.”
Isaiah Ulanday, the lead cook in culinary, earned the supervisor employee of the quarter award during the celebration. Chyson Aguano, resort restaurant manager, earned manager award.
Dahlberg and Higa were among the 140 charter associates honored for their service to the Kauai Marriott since it opened in July 1995.