Lesther’s birthday wish

PUHI — Lesther Calipjo, president of the Kauai Philippine Cultural Center, had a special day Tuesday afternoon at the site of the cultural center in Puhi.

“Happy birthday, Lesther!” said Charlmaine Bulosan, president of the Kauai Filipino Community Council. “It is only fitting that we are having the groundbreaking for the KPCC, today — Lesther’s birthday!”

The audience of several hundred people, including Gov. David Ige and Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, took time to sing the familiar birthday anthem to Calipjo after enjoying the excitement of turning the ground for phase one of the project.

“Today is, and will become, a significant day,” Calipjo said.

“We have waited a long time for this day. We overcame a lot of challenges, but we had a lot of support because the County of Kauai believed in us, the state of Hawaii showed its support with the appropriation of $1.5 million, and we got the support of the many partner Filipino clubs and the community through the KPCC fundraisers,” Calipjo added. “Today, we move some dirt; tomorrow, the dream comes true. Mabuhay!”

Calipjo said the work on the building will be done by three contractors — Cushnie Construction Co., E. Bueno Construction, and Taufatofua Masonry — and all agreed to donate part of the work.

Ige lauded the KPCC as “a place for all” community center.

“This is a classic demonstration of the Bayanihan spirit,” said Consul General Gina Jamoralin. “Everyone coming together for a common goal.”

Congresswoman Gabbard said in Hawaii, you can’t grow up without being next to a Filipino.

“A center like this does not happen without the community coming together,” Gabbard said.

“The center is not about them — the people who organize it — the motivation is to invest in the next generation, and the entire community learns from those who came before us. Dr. Jose Rizal would be proud of what is taking place. To quote the famous doctor, ‘he who never looks back will get to his destination.’”

Plans for the two-phase project include two buildings, a tropical garden, a parking lot and a footbridge. It covers two parcels totaling about 15 acres.

The county granted the nonprofit a 99-year license to lease 3.6 acres of property for $1 a year. Grove Farm Company granted a 100-year lease of the adjacent 12 acres.

Phase one, estimated about $2 million, will include a basketball court, a one-story building for offices, a commercial kitchen, and an event hall.

The second phase includes the construction of a main hall.

Hawaii Senate President Ron Kouchi said everything started when he and Rep. Jimmy Tokioka were still serving as Kauai County Council members.

Grove Farm came forward seeking a zoning change to urban — a move which resulted in the construction of the Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School, the Olympic size swimming pool at the YMCA, and now the Kauai Philippine Cultural Center, Kouchi said.

Mike Hinazumi, a Grove Farm vice president, added that each of the projects had their share of challenges, which needed to be overcome.

“The reason it took so long to get to this place is because Lesther put up the ‘A Place for Everyone’ banner,” Tokioka said. “We needed to get the infrastructure, like the highway widening project, in place. But the commitment of the KPCC board is unwavering because on Easter Sunday, while on the way to brunch at Gaylord’s, I see Lesther and the board getting this place ready.”

Kouchi said it is very gratifying to see the dream come to fruition.

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Dennis Fujimoto, staff writer and photographer, can be reached at 245-0453 or dfujimoto@thegardenisland.com.

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