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The Centenarians

Over the past year, a surprising number of major local institutions have turned 100—from farms to schools to military bases. What does it take to last a century?


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The Uchida family portrait in 1938.

Photo: Courtesy of the Kona Historical Society photo archive

D. Uchida Coffee Farm

Kona coffee, now famous worldwide, was first cultivated on family farms on the Big Island more than 100 years ago, such as that of the Uchida family. Daisaku Uchida arrived in Hawaii on Kauai in 1906, eventually making his way to Kona in 1912. The following year he leased the 5 1/2-acre farm from Arthur Nicolas Greenwell, who had started growing coffee there six years earlier. There, Uchida built a house and raised five children, all of whom worked on the farm.

Uchida leased the small coffee farm for 81 years before returning it to Sherwood Greenwell, who donated the farm to his founding organization, the Kona Historical Society in 1994. Originally the land was scheduled to become a housing tract. “We’re so grateful to have received the farm,” says Sheree Chase, consulting curator for the Kona Historical Society. “It would have gone under the bulldozer like many other places of that era did.”

The farm might not have survived at all, let alone been so well suited for historic interpretation, were it not for some unique circumstances. For one thing, Uchida never modernized. For another, his lease with the Greenwells was less onerous than leases other growers had taken out with Bishop Estate. The Greenwells even provided Uchida a cash job working on Kealakekua Ranch in the off seasons, which helped him keep the ranch going.

The historical society now runs the farm as the Kona Coffee Living History Farm, and its three costumed interpreters go about the daily business of growing and harvesting the coffee, as well as caring for the farm’s chickens and donkey, much as it would’ve been done in Uchida’s time. Right now the farm is at one of its busiest times—harvesting season, which occurs from late summer to early January. 


Kawaiahao Hall, originally a girls dormitory, completed in 1908.

Photo: Courtesy of Mid-Pacific Institute.

Mid-Pacific Institute

What is now mid-pacific institute was formed from two separate schools: Kawaiahao School for Girls and the Mills Institute. The all girls school was founded in 1864, and the Mills Institute, an all boys school, was founded in 1892. Both schools began in the homes of strong evangelical missionaries, but as the enrollment grew, so did the need for bigger facilities. 

The Hawaiian Evangelical Association negotiated a merger between the two schools—although they would each remain same-sex—in the early 1900s and made the move to Manoa in 1908. “They wanted to form a stronger, more financially secure school,” says Scot Allen, the institute’s director of communications. He adds that the board originally considered Palolo Valley, but ultimately decided upon the Manoa campus for its space, beauty and agricultural values for its 110 student residents. 

“The school was nicknamed ‘the farm,’ as it provided produce and eggs for the school’s dining halls and offered work opportunities for students,” says Allen.

Students dormed at the school until the 1970s, with separate living facilities for girls and boys, but today Mid-Pacific is coeducational. The two dormitories, Kawaiahao Hall (for girls) and Wilcox Hall (for boys) were twin stone buildings completed in 1908. “The two structures once served as a ‘gateway’ to Manoa Valley,” says Allen. A fire later destroyed Wilcox Hall—originally called Mills Hall—in 1950, but the original Kawaiahao building still serves the school as its fine arts building.

Mid-Pacific’s 1,515 students, from preschool to 12th grade (including the acquisition of Epiphany School in 2004), is celebrating its centennial with a video chronicling the institute’s history as well as the student play, 100 Years in Manoa.

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Honolulu Magazine October 2018
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