Field Notes: The Hawai‘i Men’s Shed Helps Keep Retirees Busy and Active
Field Notes explores Honolulu’s vast and varied scenes and subcultures. This month: The Hawai‘i Men’s Shed.
photos: david croxford
What it is
There’s an air of can-do about The Men’s Shed, the hackerspace on Pier 19 that’s part of a world movement to give retired men an alternative to the lounge chair and television remote. Inside the cavernous warehouse are tools and clamps in open-air racks, tables rigged with vises and drills, and a busy bike repair station that supplies wheels to the homeless. A dozen older men bend over machines or huddle in small groups, easily talking over the shriek of power saws. Many are working on charity projects—such as building a playhouse for a children’s medical center, which, on our visit, lay around in pieces awaiting assembly.
How it started
The first Men’s Shed took off in Australia after a Men’s Health Conference in 1995 found alarming health declines among the retired, laid-off and lonely. “My wife showed me an article about it in November 2015,” says founder Glenn Sears, 83, a retired civil engineer whose first job out of the University of Hawai‘i 50 years ago was building the Byodo-In Temple in Kāne‘ohe. “I’ve seen a lot of guys check out after they retire—their friends fall by the wayside, they don’t know what to do with themselves except watch TV and, worse, drink.” The Hawai‘i Men’s Shed, the first in the U.S., opened in 2016.
How it works
Anybody—including women and the unretired—can join for a $25 annual fee. The space at 619 Kukahi St. on Pier 19 is open Wednesdays and Saturdays from 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. (Enter makai off Nimitz Highway between West Marine and Liliha Bakery.) Parking is a problem, but pull up and somebody will figure out a solution.
The promise of a place to putter, tinker and make things—often for a good cause—proved an instant draw. “People are donating entire sets of tools,” Sears says. Membership grew from a dozen to 40 to more than 55. Men’s health is front and center, allowing frank discussion of subjects men may shy away from out of embarrassment. Educational pamphlets, simple friendship and a bottomless coffeepot are on hand, too. “Men die five years earlier than their wives and there’s a reason for it: boredom,” Sears adds.
During our tour, we run into Michael Titterton, president of the Hawai‘i Symphony Orchestra and former president of Hawai‘i Public Radio. “After leaving HPR, I wanted to get as far as I could from radio,” he says. “I was one of the first three or four to join.”
Ron Bergman is a steelworker who, seriously injured in a fall, had trouble with memory and speaking. “He’s really come back since coming here,” says Sears, as Bergman takes a violin bow to a saw and plays an eerie “Fly Me to the Moon” to an admiring crowd.
The group lost its original space in late 2017. With 10 days to closing, state Sen. Brickwood Galuteria, whom Sears calls “our patron,” came through with the Pier 19 warehouse, administered by the Harbor Division. For 2018, the Men’s Shed lives on borrowed time in donated space. “We need a long-term lease,” says Sears.
Michael Titterton, 70
President, Hawai‘i Symphony Orchestra
“I really value what we do with opposable thumbs.”
Frank Smith, 74
Former owner, Island Triathlon & Bike
“I sold the store four years ago. We’re refurbishing bikes and giving them to the homeless. This place is a fun thing for me.”
Ron Bergman, 72
Former high-structural steelworker
“I had a bad fall. Now I have a hard time remembering things. But coming here has really helped me. It’s coming back.”