Talk Story: Hank Soboleski

Every Sunday since 2006, Hank Soboleski has penned “Kauai Island History” for The Garden Island newspaper.

That comes out to nearly 475 columns, accompanied weekly by photographs or illustrations.

Now, every one of those Kauai Island History columns has been compiled into one book. And, naturally, the title of that book is “Kauai Island History.” In fact, those are the only three words, in gray, against a purple background, on the book cover. There’s no table of contents. No index. No introduction. Nothing about the author. Nothing but history. One column after another — well spaced, large print, easy to read — highlighting people, places and events that comprise this island’s history.

If you want to enjoy short, fun, informative pieces about Kauai, its influences from the past, then this book is for you.

As you turn the pages of “Kauai Island History,” you’ll uncover tales about Samuel Mahelona Memorial Hospital. You’ll learn about photographer Ray Jerome Baker. You’ll read about Wainiha Valley. There are stories with titles “UFOs reported over Kauai,” “The Kalalau Descent of 1962,” “The Story of Sugar,” and “Honolulu Harlot Jean O’Hara.”

Each story is concisely written. There are no wasted words.

The 542-page publication came out Monday and the author is quite pleased. Soboleski, who has called Kauai home for more than 50 years and lives in Kapaa with his wife Ginger, puts his meticulous record-keeping skills, insistence on digging for details, passion for accuracy and desire to uncover all the history he can, on display.

“I felt the people interested in history would like to have a book such as this, where they could have all the stories put together in one place,” he said.

What’s the range of history you cover?

All of the articles in there, the topics, interested me. The range goes back to early Hawaiian times all the way up practically to the present. It covers the early Hawaiians, it covers the early explorers, traders, Western settlers, missionaries, sugar planters and various immigrant groups that were brought to the Hawaiian Islands for the purpose of becoming laborers for sugar. There’s some political things there, too.

I’d like to say also that many of the stories in there, this is the first time they’ve been published in a book. They’re unique. There are a number of stories that are interesting, they published here for the first time since the original source was published. So I think they’re special. I think that’s some of the appeal people have for the column. They don’t just read the same old thing rehashed over and over again.

How do you find material for your column?

Some of the most important sources originally were the archives of The Garden Island newspaper, which were available on microfilm and, I found out recently, online. And I would just go through them from the beginning to the end, picking out things that interested me. I thought to myself, if it interested me, it might interest somebody else. Additionally, there are other newspapers, most of them defunct, that were in operation in Hawaii. They were also a good source. People that I’ve come across have shared with me their experiences in the history of Kauai. And that’s where some of the uniqueness is in that book.

I’ve been going through practically every published source, some of the pretty obscure places, books, manuscripts, papers, even things like calendars. I continually keep my ears and eyes open for this sort of thing.

Why did you want to publish all of your columns in one book?

Several people over the years had asked me when I would do a compilation. I decided to do so. My original plan had been to wait until sometime in the future when the column would be finished. It’s by no means near that time. There’s enough stories out there. Tourists coming may know about pineapple or sugar cane but they can’t see it anymore. This kind of thing, in a sense, it makes it alive to the reader’s mind. That’s kind of nice, too.

Does this require a lot of fact-checking?

I’ve very careful in checking to make sure that what I’m about to write is accurate.

If I’m in doubt over something, I try to get at least two sources that match or closely match. Particularly on the Internet. I’ve come across some errors.

I take whatever time it takes to get that individual story done checking the fact, making sure they’re accurate, making sure the story is the best that I can write it.

Where does your interest in history come from?

I think it has to do with where I was a kid and it just carried on through that. I was born and raised in Connecticut, a very historic area. I just was fascinated by all sorts of things in my environment. For instance, stonewalls. They were there in fields and many of them were broken down, actually within new growth forests. I knew at one time there were farms there. Every year, the farmers plowed up stones and put them along the side. Furthermore, my neighbors across the street were American Indians.

We were friends with them. They would show me and my brothers where the Indians used to make their arrowheads long ago.

It was just a natural interest in that sort of thing. So when I got here, I picked up on the same source of thing.

Can you imagine a place where there was a king and queen that had royalty? And who were these missionaries, these people with the black frock coats with the funny hats?

My wife was born and raised there. It just captured my imagination. I wanted to write. It was when I had the opportunity to combine the writing with the history that I was able to get published on a regular basis. Of course, it always feels good to get published.

Are there some particular times in history that really stand out for you about Kauai?

I thought the building of the tunnel through the Hapu range by Grove Farm was very interesting. It was an engineering marvel. I think it was about a half mile long through solid rock. It connected Puhi into Koloa. Prior to that, there’s no way you’re going to get around by the oceanside. You have to go through that gap where the Tunnel of trees is. That’s a long way around.

Do you spend a lot of time studying history?

History in general and more particularly, history in Hawaii. Especially interested in the history of Kauai. There’s just so much there. It’s not only broad, there’s depth.

Is there a particular process you follow in putting together your column?

As material becomes available, I write the story. I complete it and put it in a ready file and then every week I go through that ready file. I’m not writing week to week. I choose which one I think is the best.

The advantage to that is, I can look at that story later on or whatever time it is, I’m always going to find someway to improve it. Something that could have been said a little more clearly, something that could read more smoothly.

Do you think it’s important to keep the younger generation interested in history?

I do. One of the reasons is, if it doesn’t occur, it becomes lost. What we know of history, relative to the total experience of what went on, is very tiny. If it isn’t put down in books, if it isn’t shared in some way, it will be lost.

And the other thing is, it’s good to know about the past. This has has been mentioned many, many times. If you know the past, you can determine the future, because everything repeats itself, generally. It’s the details that change. You can find patterns that way. But most of all, I think kids would just find it so interesting.

Anything more to tell folks about Kauai Island History?

There are over 460 stories, illustrated, short, cover a good range of Hawaiian history. It’s just a good read.

Will we see another history book?

There will be another one, when I have enough (columns).

What about your column? Will you keep writing it?

If I can’t continue to find unique material, that’s the day I’ll stop writing the column.

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Kauai Island History is $50 and is available at The Garden Island newspaper, 33137 Kuhio Highway.

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