The Kauai Historical Society did not mince words in a letter to its members last month. It got right to the point. For good reason.
“We are calling all members to action to keep the Kauai Historical Society operating. Funding for nonprofits, especially those dedicated to the humanities, has and continues to be, severely reduced. In our 103 years of collecting, preserving and disseminating the history of Kauai and Niihau the number of nonprofits competing for shrinking grants and funding has exponentially increased. Reliance on memberships and fundraisers are even more important in 2017.”
When a nonprofit basically asks for money to stay in operation in the first line of a letter to members, you know the situation must be somewhat grim. Usually, you lead with the good news.
It’s unfortunate such a wonderful and important organization is facing economic struggles. The folks at KHS are all heart when to comes to preserving history — but that doesn’t always translate into financial stability.
The historical society is, for all purposes, the primary archiver of historic documents and maps for Kauai and Niihau. Without KHS, key parts of these islands’ stories could be lost.
The historical society has been under the leadership of Helen Wong Smith, who came on board in the summer of 2015 to replace the retiring Mary Requilman, who held the post for 15 years.
Requilman was 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 Historic County Building. She wasn’t a brilliant archivist, but under her guidance KHS completed more than 60 archive projects and scanned thousands of photos.
In an interview with TGI about her retirement, Requilman laughed 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.”
That hasn’t changed.
What changed in recent years was that grants shrank and those seeking them, like KHS, increased. In other words, there was even less money to go around for more nonprofits.
Wong Smith’s strengths are archiving and organizing history. In fact, she’s one of the best at what she does. She is a certified state archivist. She served as archivist at Queen’s Medical Center and worked at Kamehameha Schools digitizing its historic photo collection, was the Hawaii collection librarian for the University of Hawaii-Hilo, and worked with the National Park Service, archiving its Pacific collections.
Raising money was not a strength. The Hilo resident also lived on Kauai part time, flying in and out each week to serve as KHS director, which increased the difficulty of making those connections necessary for fundraising, especially on an island as small as this one.
Wong Smith turned in her resignation recently, but has been staying on to help in the interim as best she can. KHS is seeking a new executive director, but a financially troubled nonprofit pleading for help is not going attract the strongest field of applicants.
Which brings us to what we can do.
KHS basically makes money through donations, grants and membership. Grants, as KHS has said, are fewer and tougher to get.
If you can, volunteer to help with cataloging and scanning its more than 10,000 historical photos. The historical society has only three active volunteers and a few part-time workers, who somehow work their magic day in and out.
The society also needs enough qualified staff to continue providing public services like managing in-depth historical collections and fulfilling detailed research requests.
We encourage people to donate to this fine organization. Join it as well. Another way to make a difference is to buy tickets for next weekend’s KHS fundraiser, “The Threads of Kauai’s History,” on Saturday at the Kauai Marriott Resort & Beach Club, Kalapaki.
This promises to be something special.
The Kauai Historical Society will celebrate clothing that reflects diverse cultures of the island by asking guests to wear their historical threads on the runway.
Every culture in Hawaii will be on display, from kapa (cloth from mulberry bark) made by Native Hawaiians and ranging to cotton and silk favored by Chinese immigrants, Japanese and Okinawan kimonos and handmade shoes, denim palaka (plaid) shirts worn by paniolos, Filipino terno dresses and barongs (embroidered shirts), festive skirts and aprons brought out for Portuguese festas, and other styles of everyday and special-occasion “threads.”
A few prized examples of quilts from the Kauai Historical Society collection that preserve history and culture will also be displayed.
Honored guests will be Phyllis Kunimura and Bob Schleck, who spearheaded the restoration of the Historic County Building on Rice Street, a project that took over 20 years to complete.
A new video documentary featuring the two community leaders tied to Kauai’s history will be premiered at the fundraiser.
There will be music, dinner and prizes.
Reservations are required, and prices range from $40 for students to $75 for non-members. For tickets, go to www.kauaihistoricalsociety.org/events or call 245-3373.
Our good friends at the Kauai Historical Society are asking for help, which could not have been easy to do. We urge our community to respond to this call and keep KHS doing what it does best: looking after our history.