Sunday, September 28, 2003

Derek Haugen II played with his toys outside while a meeting was held about future plans for Honolulu Memorial Park. The grandfather and mother of Deanne Haugen, Derek's mom, are buried at the cemetery.

Cemetery’s future
still unclear

A meeting outlines
fund-raising efforts, but
a shareholder has yet
to donate shares

The association that hopes to take over the Honolulu Memorial Park in Nuuanu is optimistic the cemetery and its landmark pagoda will be saved, but its future is still uncertain.

More than 200 people who have family members at the cemetery attended a meeting at the Kawananakoa Middle School auditorium yesterday to learn about the future of the final resting place of their loved ones.

Attorney Nils Katahara, whose family owns 10 percent of the park, spoke at yesterday's meeting. He said he's only willing to donate his shares if the nonprofit Kyoto Gardens Association, which hopes to take over the park, agrees to a number of conditions, including the formation of a voting system that would allow each plot or niche owner to help decide how the park should be managed.

"I do have a tremendous interest in preserving the cemetery," Katahara said, adding that his family members are also buried in the cemetery.

He said the park's members should decide collectively on whether to demolish or repair the pagoda, which is visible from Pali Highway and is in danger of falling apart. Restoration costs are estimated at about $1 million.

If Katahara does not turn over his shares to the association, the plan to save the cemetery could fall apart, said City Councilman Rod Tam, who is also the group's vice president.

Christian Porter, a lawyer with the association, said there is $1 million in the Honolulu Memorial Association's trust fund, which was set up to cover plots under perpetual care contracts. But the funds can't be used until the nonprofit has all of the park's shares.

The monthly cost of maintaining the park are estimated at $5,000, more than what the trust fund generates, said Vic Hejmadi, the president of the Kyoto Gardens Association.

Hejmadi is looking to organize fund-raising drives and is pursuing large donations from local and mainland organizations to run the park and save the pagoda.

The association is also trying to have the pagoda listed on the National Registry of Historic Buildings, which may make it eligible for federal grants.

So far, volunteers have collected about $80,000 in donations.

Families who have loved ones at the Nuuanu Avenue cemetery have been unsure of its future since December 2001, when the primary owners of the park filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Those shares have been turned over to Kyoto Gardens.

Meanwhile, the cemetery has been officially closed since earlier this month.

Water and electricity have been turned off. With no security, dozens of bronze vases worth about $200 each have been stolen from plots and niches, say their owners.

Nearby, with no maintenance crews on site, trash is piled against the park's fence in a mound almost 3 feet high.

"It's a nightmare," said Glenda Simao, whose mother bought two perpetual care plots in 1958. Simao's grandmother and grandfather are buried at the cemetery.

"We're in limbo. We don't know what to do," she said.

Kimi Isa and her daughter and grandson gathered round their niche -- the final resting place of Isa's father and mother -- with jugs of water and flowers yesterday afternoon. They're one of a minority of owners at the park who have been able to keep the grass around their plot green, trimmed and free of weeds.

"Is it going to continue like this?" asked Isa, looking around at the deteriorating grounds. "Nothing has been taken care of. Dead flowers are left in their vases."


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