Vision & Mission

Hui o Laka is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that operates Kōkeʻe Museum as a visitor center for Waimea Canyon & Kōkeʻe State Parks, and the historic CCC Camp as a volunteer and research field station. It is supported by earned income at the Museum Shop and CCC Camp, membership donations, and program grants. The organization sponsors a volunteer program, festivals, hikes, and workshops.

The vision of Hui o Laka is to connect people with the spirit of Koke`e. The organization and its members illuminate, celebrate, and nurture the essence of Koke’e, engaging all in a spirit of appreciation and service.

We are excited to report that Hui o Laka / Koke`e Natural History Museum is working through a strategic planning process. The board of trustees and the staff together have refreshed the organization’s vision, mission, values, and strategic priorities. A transition grant from the Hawai`i Community Foundation is supporting this thoughtful and time-intensive process, facilitated by Leslie Mullens of PlayBook Consulting Group.

Ho`opili na kanaka i ka mauli o Koke‘e

Vision Meeting

HUI O LAKA: HISTORY

THE ROOTS OF OUR FOREST ‘OHANA

In 1952, Joseph M. Souza, Jr. “Kōkeʻe Joe” to many, engaged two Kauaʻi women, Ruth Knudsen Hanner and Isabel Fayé to help organize “Hui o Laka” for the purpose of creating a visitor center for Koke’e. Koke’e was a Territorial park with no visitor amenities. Souza engineered the relocation and rebuilding of two World War II buildings two miles up the road, bringing them to the north edge of Kanaloahuluhulu Meadow. He turned them into what are now The Koke’e Lodge and Koke’e Natural History Museum. In the meantime, Hanner and Fayé rallied community support and designed and created the first exhibits.

Costs for this boot-strap community effort were supported by over 300 Kauai residents and visitors who became members of Hui o Laka for a donation of $2. That early handwritten membership list, preserved by Hui o Laka, is a treasure trove of old time Kauai residents – it even includes Eric Shinseki, a famous Kauaian who went on to become the U.S. Army’s Chief of Staff. Charter Lifetime Members donated more to the cause.

On November 28, 1953, proud founders Joe Souza, Ruth Hanner, and Isabel Fayé joined friends and well-wishers in opening the doors of the building that has served over five decades as the visitor and activity center for the park. Rustic touches like ohi’a posts and railings, as well as handcarved redwood signs framed in pine, softened the utilitarian structures.

The building Souza turned into the Koke’e Lodge is operated as a for-profit concession, currently Kikiaola Land Company. The Koke’e Museum is operated by Hui o Laka.

THE PHILOSOPHY BEHIND IT ALL

What inspired Hui o Laka’s founders to go to so much effort to initiate a natural history museum in an isolated and then, not much used, mountain park on Kauai? All three loved and were deeply committed to the Koke’e region. Both Ruth Hanner and Isabel Fayé’s family figured in the 20th century history of these upland watersheds, indeed of the whole island. And Souza was determined that Kauai’s parks would be among the best in America and the world.

It was after a trip to Calfornia that Souza, long the ranger for Koke’e, came home fired up to bring what he had learned to his beloved Koke’e. In 1951, he had visited numerous state and national parks in Calfornia, looking behind the scenes at all aspects of park operations and visitor services. Inquiries, replys, and thank yous from that exploratory trip are still archived in the library of Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park.

Over five decades since the founding, Hui o Laka continues to serve visitors to these mountain parklands, both every day at Kokee Natural History Museum, as well as through festivals, guided hikes, and an active volunteer stewardship program, Kokua Koke’e.

JOSEPH M. SOUZA JR.

Joseph M. Souza Jr., a one-time Kōke‘e forest ranger who became Hawai‘i State Parks’ first administrator, was one of Hui o Laka’s three founders. He was President of Hui o Laka board at the time of his death on Jan. 7, 1990.

Born in the McBryde Mill Camp on one of Kaua‘i’s sugar plantations, Souza never graduated from high school but eventually was appointed state park administrator because of his ingenious park work and love of Hawai‘i’s public lands. He started his working life with Kaua‘i Electric Company and McBryde Sugar Company. He entered the merchant marine service in World War II, later recalling, “My travels at sea and seeing resources in different parts of the world influenced me to get into parks.” By 1944, he had ended up in Kōke‘e, then a territorial park.

It was in these mountains that Souza began his 35 years of park service, initially as a ranger for the Territory of Hawai‘i Department of Forestry and Agriculture. He spent 18 years working at Kōke‘e and other Kaua‘i areas, proving adept at completing difficult (some would say impossible) projects and hosting many famous researchers doing field work in the region. Souza, a colorful mountain icon known as “Kōke‘e Joe” to many, gained a reputation as an effective and visionary park manager. He brought the first visitor services to Kōke‘e with the founding of Kōke‘e Natural History Museum and the Kōke‘e Lodge.

In 1964, then-Governor John Burns asked Souza to take over the helm of the new state’s fledgling park system. Souza, hesitant to trade Kōke‘e for a Honolulu office, initially declined, but took the position in September that year, when Governor Burns told him, “Joe, if you don’t take it, I’ll have to get someone from Oregon! ”

At the time, Hawai‘i’s parks, not even a system yet, consisted of 22 parks covering 6,400 acres. Souza helped to roughly triple the number of parks during his 14 years as director. When he retired at the end of 1978, Hawai‘i’s State Parks system included 64 parks, encompassing 20,295 acres.

One of his major contributions was giving the new State Parks Dvision credibility within State government; without Souza, it would have remained a step-child of Division of Forestry and Wildlife. Both Divisions were carved out of the old Territorial Board of Forestry and Agricultural. Souza built the new division from scratch; tough and fair, he gained a reputation for blazing public integrity. “Kōke‘e Joe” never forgot he was working for the people of Hawai‘i.

Despite extraordinary growth of the State Parks during Souza’s tenure, he always believed that the state parks system was inadequate in the number of acres within it. He attributed this to the requirement to seek legislative mandate and funding for each project on an incremental, piece-meal basis: “To make it a good, sound program, we should have advance planning. The approval and completion of a statewide plan should allow the parks division to develop long-range parks programs and seek funds to carry them out.” Almost 30 years after Souza’s passing, planning for State Parks continues to be a flawed, inconclusive process.

Souza viewed parks as a central component of the tourism industry upon which Hawai‘i’s economic health depends. He observed, “I feel when we wanted statehood, and accepted statehood, that our people accepted responsibility for the land. It gives the state prestige in being able to develop its resources as an asset for residents and visitors.”

In 1971, Souza received the Cornelius Amory Pugsley State Medal Award (Pugsley Award) for “exceptional leadership in expanding and developing the Hawai‘i State Parks system.”

Souza was also known locally as a skilled craftsman in whatever he set his hands to. His fragrant redwood holiday wreaths became famous. He strung pipipi shells into a style of lei that is unique and so far, uncopied. His craftsmanship still shows in signs in Waimea Canyon and Kōke‘e State Parks – watch for the routed redwood signs held up by faux cement logs. They’ve lasted over 50 years since Souza made them himself, the sole exception being the Kōke‘e State Park sign which was damaged in a car accident at the site. (Note: Since this was originally written, State Parks Division has replaced the old “Joe Souza” signs in 2013.)

Until his death, Souza served on the Board of Trustees of Hui o Laka, serving as President the last 45 years of his life.

Currently in Koke`e, Hawai`i: