Sunday, April 22, 2001

One of two welcoming signs at the north entrance to
Hanamaulu, built as part of the Hanamaulu
Beautification Project.

Hanamaulu ‘mayor’
wields gift of gab

'Uncle Stanley' has a way
of getting what he wants for
the former sugar town

By Anthony Sommer
Kauai correspondent

HANAMAULU, KAUAI >> Stanley Oana threw a party for everyone in Hanamaulu town yesterday and didn't pass up the opportunity to do a little politicking with Kauai County officials.

Technically, "Uncle Stanley," as he is universally called, is the president of the Hanamaulu Beautification Committee.

In reality, he is the unelected mayor of Hanamaulu.

You can bet that when he throws a party for the town's 3,000 residents, he's talked local businesses into donating everything he needs for it.

Oana spent this past week organizing yesterday's celebration to dedicate two new signs at the north entrance to Hanamaulu and, more importantly, the party at Hanamaulu County Beach Park that followed.

The Kauai County Council was invited, but not just out of courtesy. Uncle Stanley had something else in mind.

Oana's talent, his gift, is his ability to talk anybody into anything.

"I love to talk," he said. "That's where I come in."

Even though it's on a main highway and is, more or less, a suburb of Lihue, and the one of the signs dedicated yesterday reads "Welcome to Hanamaulu," the town isn't mentioned in any of the Kauai tourist guides. It doesn't have a single restaurant or business that caters to tourists.

The most scenic part of the town is Hanamaulu County Beach Park, used for the many beautiful beach scenes in "Donovan's Reef," John Wayne's last movie with director John Ford.

"I worked as an extra on that film and my father was director of security," Oana recalled.

But there is no obvious way to get to the beach from the highway and few visitors go there.

And that's how people in Hanamaulu want to keep it. "The way it used to be" is just fine with them.

Hanamaulu was built by Lihue Plantation for its sugar workers and is one of the oldest plantation camps anywhere in Hawaii. It remains a blue-collar neighborhood where people pride themselves on being hard workers.

When Amfac/JMB closed Lihue Plantation in November, the hardest-hit community was Hanamaulu. Even those Hanamaulu residents who weren't Lihue Plantation workers have parents or grandparents who were.

Social service workers are a bit bewildered because only about one-fourth of the 400 workers laid off filed for unemployment.

"They don't want unemployment checks and they're taking all kinds of part-time jobs," said Oana, 66, a retired heavy equipment operator for a trucking company. "They look at unemployment as a handout and they will do anything to keep working."

Unemployment is a major problem, and many of Hanamaulu's young people leave Kauai to find work elsewhere. Oana has five children and none lives on Kauai because of what he calls "the job situation."

Hanamaulu's multicultural population reflects its roots.

"Because of the plantation history, it is a mixture: Portuguese, Japanese, mostly Filipino and some of the few Hawaiians who are left," Oana said.

There also is a blend of families whose roots in Hanamaulu go back many generations and recent Asian immigrants who stay with relatives in Hanamaulu.

The name "Hanamaulu," which means "working together," was dreamed up by the sugar plantation, according to Oana. The area originally was called Hoopili, a "gathering place" popular throughout the island because the stream and the bay at its mouth were protected from the wind and abundant with sea life.

"When I was a kid, I would swim in the river while my grandmother gathered shrimp," Oana said.

The stream has been the major source of dispute between Hanamaulu residents and the county, state and federal governments. Long maintained by Lihue Plantation, Hanamaulu Stream was clogged with fallen trees and silt by Hurricane Iniki in 1992 and the plantation was too broke to clean it up.

Oana said when he put together a crew of volunteers to clear out the river, he was stopped by the government, which refused to issue him permits. The job was left half finished.

"Now it's all overgrown again," Oana said. "My biggest frustration has been our inability to get the permits so we can clean it up the way it used to be."

Which, of course, is why he really invited the Kauai County Council to yesterday's party and why the party was held right at the mouth of the river.

"I love to talk," Oana repeated. "That's where I come in again."

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