Pahoa farmers market, Dottie Thompson bills clear council committee

  • A bill to name a building housing the Merrie Monarch Festival office after Dottie Thompson, its late director, cleared a Hawaii County Council committee on Tuesday.

    HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald

    A Hawaii County Council committee advanced a bill Tuesday allowing a farmers market at the Pahoa District Park.

A Hawaii County Council committee advanced bills Tuesday allowing the Pahoa District Park to host a farmers market and renaming two park facilities, including one in honor of the late Dorothy Thompson.

The farmers market bill is intended to help bring back a market to Pahoa, which has lacked one since a fire destroyed Akebono Theatre and Luquin’s Mexican restaurant a year ago. The market was located in the theater’s parking lot.

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Puna Councilwomen Jen Ruggles, who introduced the bill adding the park to the county’s list of authorized market locations, and Eileen O’Hara noted the large facility is underused and has more than enough space.

Ruggles said she came to a “mutual agreement” with the Department of Parks and Recreation that would allow the department to have full control over the details. A memorandum of understanding would be needed between the department and a nonprofit organization.

“I think this is going to greatly improve the quality of community in Pahoa,” she said.

Mark Hinshaw, who spoke on behalf of three Pahoa community organizations, said the bill is about “rebuilding the town and getting it on a good course.”

“It is really important that we have a farmers market back in the core of our town,” he said. “It’s about the future of our children and them having a safe place to go. The park is an ideal place for that.”

The council Committee on Public Works &Parks and Recreation voted unanimously in favor of the bill in addition to other measures to rename a building in the Ho‘olulu Complex after Thompson, the late director of the Merrie Monarch Festival, and a ball field at Honokaa Park after Lala Epenesa Jr.

Hilo Councilwoman Sue Lee Loy, who introduced the bill honoring Thompson, said the building, currently used as an office for the festival, would be renamed the Aunty Dottie Thompson Hale on May 16, which is Thompson’s birthday.

Thompson oversaw the transformation of the Merrie Monarch into a world-class hula competition as its executive director from 1968 until her death in 2010. She also was a Department of Parks and Recreation employee for more than 30 years.

The festival is run by her daughter, Luana Kawelu.

Lee Loy said she first began working on the idea in 2016, but it was put on hold when there was a “bit of a hiccup with the Merrie Monarch Festival and use of the gym facilities.”

“I just felt that the timing wasn’t right, and I didn’t want to move something forward that appeared maybe spiteful, because our culture, we don’t do that,” she said. “We do things, we name things with meaning.”

Hilo Councilman Aaron Chung noted the building is located next to Aunty Sally Kaleohano’s Luau Hale, named after a former Parks and Recreation employee. In both cases, he said it’s about honoring more than a single person.

“Aunty Dottie is a very famous individual and she means so much to all of us,” Chung said. “At the same time, it’s more than that. It’s all the people who have worked for the Merrie Monarch for many years and many of them are gone already. They work tirelessly to make the festival what it is today.”

County Council Chairwoman Valerie Poindexter, who represents Hamakua, introduced the bill honoring Epenesa, a volunteer coach who also worked as parks maintenance supervisor from 2010 until his death last month. The lower ball field, also known as the Little League ball field, at Honokaa Park would be named after him.

“He was at the park every day,” Natalie Epenesa told the committee. “He never stopped coaching. He didn’t do it because he would have expected this or any recognition. Honestly, he just did it because he loved what he did.”

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Each bill requires approval at a regular council meeting.

Email Tom Callis at tcallis@hawaiitribune-herald.com.