Anyone on the Westside knows who Benjamin Kali Sr. is, even if they didn’t know it.
Kali could be seen riding his lawnmower on the highways almost daily as part of his job as the caretaker of the Hanapepe cemetery. Kali Sr. in his time took care of many things, including his seven children. He leaves a lasting legacy behind as he passed away at the age of 78 at the Army Medical Center on Oahu on Jan. 31.
Kali Sr. would have certainly been intrigued by the prospect of the county buying up to eight new riding mowers for $345,000, which is on the agenda for the County Council meeting today. There is no need for a new lawnmower in Hanapepe as Kali Sr. assisted the county in that fact.
“They should have bought one for my father, he bought five for them,” his daughter Bernadette Vea said with a laugh. “He bought five lawnmowers in the past five years. Every year he bought one just to clean Hanapepe.”
In an emotional letter, Vea wrote of her father:
“Our dad Benjamin Kali Sr. was a very hard working man as you know. Volunteered his whole life to beautify his aina of Hanapepe. Dad always worked from sunrise to sunset, making his way home just led by his little light on his mowers.”
Her father has been volunteering as long as she can remember.
“He volunteered to clean the Hanapepe Hawaiian Cemetery after his dad died in 1964,” she wrote.
Kali slept at the graveyard for a month so he could work and not have to go home, his daughter wrote. He did that until two days before he went to the hospital.
During hurricanes, he helped by clearing roadways so people in the valley could return to their homes, Vea wrote. He eventually adopted the Hanapepe tennis court park, too.
“He along with his friends spent all their time there,” she said. “He eventually got his first John Deere mower to make his job easier.”
“He was so happy to jump on his mower just to go out and help in any way he could,” Vea wrote.
The newest thing he started was to adopt the Hanapepe town park. He would mow the whole park and the little grassy areas in the town, his daughter said.
“I asked him one day, ‘Why do you work like this? Dad, it’s time to enjoy your life,’” she wrote. “He told me, ‘I do it because I enjoy doing it. If I can’t do it, might as well I die.’”
Her father, she said, is missed and she is asked daily about him.
“The joke is the county better keep up the area, because Mr. Kali no stay already, and we all know who was taking care of the area,” she wrote. “Dad has done so much work and always stood his ground for what he thought should be protected. He did it until his dying day.”