Feature Stories

Jane Vegas: Quilting Hawaiian Style

Jane_Vegas_with_Haleakala_Highway_quilt_for_Kauai_StoriesJane Vegas so loved making Hawaiian quilts, that when she was raising her seven children, she often lost all track of time while she was sewing, sometimes quilting as many as eight hours per day.

“Sometimes I forgot to cook. My kids would ask me, ‘We’re not going to eat tonight?’ and I had to stop and go and cook,” she says with a laugh.

Sitting in the house in Lawai on Kauai’s south shore that her husband, Solomon, built for their family in 1947, Jane speaks softly in a blend of standard and Pidgin English, switching back and forth between past and present tense while talking about past events.

Now 91 years old and receiving Hospice care, Jane looks back on how her passion for quilting led her to create a career, that as a young girl working in the sugar plantation fields, she had never known was possible.

Bob & Bev Gill - Aging Happily into 2015

Bev_Bob__Lincoln_Gill_bday_dinner_2014 for Kauai StoriesBev and Bob Gill celebrated their birthdays at an Irish pub near their home, having dinner and drinks, a beer for him and a Brandy and Seven for her. 

At 91 and 93 years old respectively, nothing stops this couple, not the zero degrees it was outside that evening in Minnesota (minus 24 degrees including the wind chill factor), not the holiday crowds and certainly not their ages.

“I don’t feel 93,” Bob tells us that night. “I feel good every day.”

Ed Kanoi - Home on Kauai Radio

Ed_Kanoi_in_studio_for_Kauai_StoriesWhen disc jockey Ed Kanoi moved to Kauai from Oahu in the early 1980s for a radio job, his plan was to stay on the Garden Island for one year while connecting with the place where his mother was born. 

“My mother, Virginia Bonilla, was from Kauai. She died when I was five years old. I thought it would be a good time in my life to come here for a year, walk the land and get to know the place where my mom grew up,” he says. “Then I fell in love with a woman and I fell in love with the island.”

Thirty years later, he has friendships with relatives he never knew existed, and has made a home for himself on Kauai radio as general manager and program director for HHawaii Media.

Kanoi oversees HHawaii Media’s three Kauai stations, Rooster Country 99.9 for which he is the “morning guy,” Island Radio 98.9 and Jamz 98.1, and also does announcing for one of the company’s Maui stations. He is so at home in a radio studio that he instinctively leans into his microphone while chatting with a visitor, even when not on the air.

Andy Johnston & Bruce Pleas: Reopening Polihale Beach

Andy Johnston__Bruce Pleas_at_Polihale_Bridge_for_Kauai_StoriesKauai people don’t take “no” for an answer – especially when state government shuts down the only access road to a favorite beach and surf spot indefinitely, not only telling the public it will be a minimum of two years before repairs will be made, but making it illegal for people to traverse that road even by bicycle or on foot.

That’s what happened in 2008, when a torrential rainstorm completely washed away a portion of the four-mile unpaved access road to Polihale State Park on Kauai’s west side, leaving a 10-foot hole that no vehicle could navigate.

State of Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) personnel told the public that it would take at least two years and two to four million dollars to reopen the road to the pristine seven-mile white sand beach.

Finding that unacceptable, dedicated Polihale surfers Bruce Pleas and Andy Johnston spearheaded an effort for members of the Kauai community to do the work themselves.

From start to finish, an all-volunteer force of Kauai contractors and surfers, using donated machinery, completed the repairs in 10 days.

Charlie Pereira Blake: Fishing Nets with Aloha

Uncle Charlie Pereira Blake for Kauai StoriesCharlie Pereira Blake has been making fishing nets since he was 12 years old, keeping alive a Hawaiian tradition that dates back centuries when most people fished to feed their families. 

All day long, “Uncle Charlie,” an exuberant 85-year-old, sews his nets, his large weathered hands expertly manipulating nylon line around, over and under bamboo needles. When he’s done, the net he has created is perfectly-sized to be tossed into the ocean to capture fish.

Uncle Charlie’s nets are so coveted that he’s got a waiting list. The man himself is such a treasure, that no fewer than four songs have been written about him.

“Oh, there are a lot of songs about me! One says, ‘If you want a net from Charlie, get yourself in line,’ ” he says, with a broad smile. “Oh, those songs are good!”

Sueoka Store: The Heart of Koloa

Rod Sueoka__some_of_Sueoka_Store_employees_for_Kauai_StoriesWalking through Sueoka Store in downtown Koloa on Kauai’s South Shore is simultaneously an experience in modern grocery shopping and a flashback to the sweetness of the Garden Island in the 1930s and 1940s, when you knew the owners of all the stores in town and they knew you.

Instantly you feel connected with generations of people who have shopped in this store since it was established in 1918 by a Japanese immigrant who wanted to provide a better life for his wife and children than was possible on his sugar plantation wages.

Today, Sueoka Store is run by founder Mankichi Sueoka’s grandchildren, Rod Sueoka and Rod’s cousin Wendy Kawaguchi, with a helping hand from Rod’s mother, Betty Miyazaki.

Most days you can find all three working from the tiny second floor office that overlooks the cash registers at the front of the bustling store. But don’t be surprised if you see Rod or Wendy bagging groceries or Betty giving directions to a customer who seems a bit lost walking the aisles. It’s second nature for them to help wherever needed.

Melissa Mojo & Judah Freed: Opening their hearts on Kauai

Melissa_Mojos_rock_heart_for_Kauai_StoriesTen days into her first-ever visit to Kauai, Melissa Mojo experienced a phenomenon that made her leave her lifetime home in New York and move 5,500 miles away to the Garden Island.

Sitting in the living room of her vacation rental, she had experienced a “fit of well-being,” in which a light, joyful energy infused her entire body, beginning in her heart.

“It was really different from the emotional heaviness I had always carried,” she says. “I was wrapped in happy contentment for a few lovely hours. I hadn’t felt so good since childhood.”

Returning home to New York, Melissa, who had given up her high-powered corporate career four years earlier, sold her house, shipped her belongings and moved to the island in 2006.

Within one year on Kauai, things that had been brewing in New York quickly came to a head: her 16-year marriage fell apart, she was filled with loneliness and she was slowly dying of cancer.

Xinara Strong

Xinara Genovese for Kauai StoriesThree days after their daughter Xinara Leinani Harumi was born, first-time parents John John and Liana Genovese were told that their baby girl had only 30 percent of her right brain and 10 percent of her left brain, a result of her experiencing something similar to a stroke while she was in the womb.

Liana and John John, who was given his double-moniker as a child to distinguish him from his father, John Jr. and his grandfather, John Sr., were told by doctors that Xinara would likely die by the time she was three or four months old, and that she would remain in a vegetative state until she died.

“We were sitting in the hospital thinking, ‘What are we going to do?’ My mind went into ‘business mode,’ ” John John says. “I said, ‘Well, we’ve got to feed the baby in 15 minutes. Then we’ll figure out what we’re going to do tomorrow, and we’ll do whatever needs to be done.’ 

Keao NeSmith: Saving Grandmother’s Hawaiian

Keao NeSmith & Odetta NeSmith for Kauai StoriesWhen Hawaiian language instructor Keaoopuaokalani “Keao” NeSmith was growing up in Kekaha on the west side of Kauai in a large Hawaiian family, no one in his household spoke the Hawaiian language, a carry-over from laws passed in the 1800s that caused many Hawaiians to abandon their own culture in order to feel safe.

Although the laws hadn’t specifically banned the language or culture, the shaming for being Hawaiian was so severe that Keao’s mom, Odetta NeSmith, recalls “scrubbing off the Hawaiian at school because we were the bottom rung.”

Keao’s grandmother talked about being “swatted at school for speaking Hawaiian,” Odetta says. “My mother didn’t want us to be in that struggle, so the easiest way to do it was don’t speak Hawaiian at all. We all grew up that way.”

Keao explains: “My grandmother’s generation realized in order to survive, you had to give up speaking Hawaiian and being Hawaiian.”

But Keao had always longed to chat with his beloved grandmother in her native tongue, as well as to his neighbors in Kekaha who were originally from the island of Niihau and spoke Hawaiian fluently.

A Love Story: Odetta & Bill NeSmith

Odetta and Bill NeSmith were destined to be married long before they ever met. BillOdetta_and_Bill_NeSmith_wedding_for_Kauai_Stories knew the moment he set eyes on her. But it took 10 years, both of them serving in the U.S. military with time on the U.S. mainland, Puerto Rico and Europe, before Odetta knew it, too. 

When she was growing up in Hilo, Hawaii and then Kaneohe, Oahu, the fourth of 11 children, Odetta was responsible for younger siblings and household chores. She learned early on what her life would be like if she didn’t formulate a plan.

“I have a photograph of me at about 11 or 12 years old, the ugliest, skinny kid, wearing shorts and a bandana, carrying my empty laundry basket, coming from the clothesline out back of our house after hanging up at least 10 feet long of cloth diapers,” she says. “Think I was anxious to go have babies? Of course not!”

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