Kokee Forest Ranger Joseph M. Souza Jr.

Born on Kauai, Joseph M. Souza Jr. (1913-1990) worked for Kauai Electric Co. and McBryde Sugar Co. before joining the Merchant Marine and serving in the Hawaii Army National Guard during World War II.

In 1944 he was hired by the forestry section of the Territorial Department of Agriculture as a forest ranger at Kokee under forester Albert W. Duvel.

His devotion to duty, hard work, and his love of Kokee was rewarded years later in 1964, when, despite his lack of a high school diploma, Gov. John Burns appointed him state parks administrator.

During his tenure as head of Hawaii’s state parks, the park system grew from 22 parks covering 6,400 acres to 64 parks comprised of 20,295 acres by the time he retired in 1978.

At Kokee, his duties involved tree-planting, trail maintenance and, as a deputized warden, surveillance primarily aimed at enforcing hunting regulations.

Over the years, Souza planted thousands of Methley plum trees in Kokee — a Japanese plum variety of Chinese origin that produces abundantly in Kokee’s cool climate and is picked during the summer.

In 1953 alone Souza planted 3,168 of these trees.

Earlier, between 1937 and 1941, men of the Civilian Conservation Corps, a public works relief program in operation from 1933 to 1942, had also planted many Methley plum trees at Kokee.

And, even earlier, George Cliff (1896-1973), who lived and worked in Kokee as a mountain guide, tree planter and museum caretaker for nearly 40 years, planted thousands of Methley plum trees, beginning in the late 1920s.

Although it was Duvel who introduced the Methley plum into Kokee, it was George Cliff who learned he could propagate them by cutting shoots from their branches and planting them.

Cliff’s nickname was “Johnny Plumseed,” a moniker adapted from his mainland counterpart John Chapman (1774-1845), better known as “Johnny Appleseed,” who long ago planted untold numbers of apple trees along the Ohio and Indiana frontiers.

Souza is also the co-founder, with Ruth Knudsen Hanner and Isabel Fayé, of the Kokee Natural History Museum, which opened in 1953.

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Hank Soboleski has been a resident of Kauai since the 1960s. Hank’s love of the island and its history has inspired him, in conjunction with The Garden Island Newspaper, to share the island’s history weekly. The collection of these articles can be found here: https://bit.ly/2IfbxL9 and here https://bit.ly/2STw9gi Hank can be reached at hssgms@gmail.com

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