Vision & Mission

Hui o Laka is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. It was formed in 1954 to operate the fledgling Kōkeʻe Natural History Museum.

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



In July 1951, 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 museum of natural history" for Kōkeʻe. Kōkeʻe 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 Kōkeʻe Lodge and Kōkeʻe Natural History Museum. In the meantime, Hanner and Fayé rallied community support and enlisted help organizing the museum from the Kauaʻi Historical Society which designed and created the first exhibits.

Costs for this boot-strap community effort were supported by over 300 Kauaʻi residents and visitors who became members of Hui o Laka for a donation of $2. 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 in 2023 will have served seven decades as the visitor and activity center for the park.


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 Kauaʻi? All three loved and were deeply committed to the Kōkeʻe region. Both Ruth Hanner and Isabel Fayé’s family figured in the late 19th & early 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 California that Souza, came home fired up to bring what he had learned to his beloved Kōkeʻe. In 1951, he had visited numerous state and national parks in California, looking behind the scenes at all aspects of park operations and visitor services. Inquiries, replies, and thank yous from that exploratory trip are still archived in the library of Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park.

70 years since the founding, Hui o Laka continues to serve visitors to these mountain parklands, both every day at Kōkeʻe Natural History Museum, the Kōkeʻe Civilian Conservation Corps Camp, and in service around the park as Kōkua Kōkeʻe Projects.


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. ouza had served on Hui o Laka’s Board for 45 years and was president at the time of his death on January 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 innovative park work and love of Hawai‘i’s public lands. He started his working life with Kaua‘i Electric Company and McBryde Sugar Company. Souza 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. Souza designed redwood signs held up by faux cement “log” posts with routed lettering.

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