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A Kipuka Garden will grow: $200,000 gift to ‘Imiloa honors Patricia Ann Weber Lee

  • Courtesy photo

    The family of the late Patricia Ann Weber Lee, shown with her husband, Francis Kainoa Lee, donated $200,000 toward a garden in her memory at the ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center.

The prominent native garden in front of the restaurant at the ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center has been named in memory of Patricia Ann Weber Lee through a $200,000 gift made by her husband, Francis Kainoa Lee, and their sons, Kainoa Christopher Lee and Keali‘iaea Kenneth Lee.

With the generous gift, received Sept. 20, ‘Imiloa is launching a campaign to fund the creation of an outdoor “classroom” to educate visitors about the natural and cultural history of the unique ecosystem represented by this garden.

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The Patricia Ann Weber Lee Kipuka Garden is located in front of ‘Imiloa’s Sky Garden Restaurant, a unique setting which provides an unrivaled view of Hilo Bay and the Hamakua Coast.

The site features an oasis of native plants retained during the center’s 2004-06 construction — thus the name “kipuka.” The garden is filled with 50- to 100-year-old hala and ‘ohi‘a trees which grew on top of the 1881 lava flow that covered the Mokaulele region of Hilo, famed in legends and chants for its multicolored ‘ohi‘a lehua blossoms. Beneath the garden lies its most dramatic feature, a partially collapsed lava tube.

“What a privilege for ‘Imiloa to receive this generous gift in honor of Pat Lee, remembered by so many of us on the Big Island as our ‘Aunty Pat,’” said ‘Imiloa Executive Director Ka‘iu Kimura. “We look forward to using the Lee family gift to begin transforming our native landscape gardens into an outdoor extension of our exhibit hall, a vision we’ve long aimed to fulfill.”

Weber Lee (1946-2016) was born and raised in Philipsburg, N.J. She graduated from Juniata College in Pennsylvania, then traveled to Hawaii in 1969 in preparation to join the newly established Peace Corps. She became captivated by Hawaii and its unique culture and landscape, and ended up deciding to remain here, working at various jobs on Oahu, including serving as a dorm parent at Kamehameha Schools, Kapalama campus.

In 1974, she married Francis Kainoa Lee, a native of Hilo. In 1986, Pat and Kainoa settled in Waimea where she began a more than 20-year career with Parker Ranch.

‘Imiloa’s eventual vision for the Patricia Ann Weber Lee Kipuka Garden is to construct walkways and steps leading down to a lava-paved education terrace where visitors will be able to look into the lava tube and learn about the cultural and natural history of the kipuka and the plant communities that inhabit or survive lava events.

The estimated cost for construction is $500,000 and includes communications infrastructure to provide digital support for the outdoor learning station.

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To augment the Lee family gift and help complete the educational vision for ‘Imiloa’s kipuka garden, consider a tax-deductible contribution to ‘Imiloa through the University of Hawaii Foundation at www.uhfoundation.org/ImiloaLandscapeFund.

For more information, contact Margaret Shiba, director of institutional advancement, ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center, at 932-8921 or mshiba@hawaii.edu.