NANCY BANNICK / 1926-2008
Preservationist championed isle landmarks
» More obituaries
Nancy Bannick's legacy lives on in the charm of historic Chinatown, the wide-open feel of Kapiolani Park and the sounds of violins at Blaisdell Concert Hall.
Without her dogged advocacy and personal generosity, they literally might not be there.
The journalist, preservationist and patron of the arts will be remembered at a service Thursday at 3 p.m. at Central Union Church. She died Tuesday at age 81.
"I've never encountered anyone who as a purely private individual has had such an impact on the community they live in," said Michael Titterton, president and general manager of Hawaii Public Radio, one of Bannick's many causes.
Bannick had been ill for several months, but to the end, she was placing calls and pecking at her typewriter despite the pain in her hands, plugging the Honolulu Symphony as well as efforts to keep the Ossipoff-designed Hawaii State Medical Library from the wrecking ball.
Bannick was born in Iowa and grew up in Rochester, Minn., where her father was a surgeon at the Mayo Clinic. She graduated from Stanford University with a journalism degree and moved to Honolulu in 1950, where she joined the Honolulu Star-Bulletin.
As Hawaii editor for Sunset magazine from 1952 to 1974, she spotlighted what was distinctive about the islands, and she went on to devote her life to Hawaii's special nature.
"She was an early preservationist before it was front-of-mind for a lot of people," said Kiersten Faulkner, executive director of Historic Hawaii Foundation, where Bannick was a charter member.
Bannick led the battle to block bulldozers from destroying Chinatown "back when no one thought Chinatown was worth saving," said Wes Kinder, her friend and neighbor for 50 years in a building bordering Kapiolani Park. "She never gave up on the Natatorium even though it didn't look promising. With Nancy, there was no such thing as 'can't do.'"
A board member of the Kapiolani Park Preservation Society, Bannick was passionate about keeping the park free and open to the public as intended by King Kalakaua, without allowing the commercialism of Waikiki to encroach upon it. She loved the gnarled beauty of its thornless kiawe trees, some nearly 100 years old, said horticulturalist Heidi Bornhorst.
Bannick helped persuade officials at City Hall to create a concert hall and later pumped life into the Honolulu Symphony when its future was in jeopardy. A charter supporter of Hawaii Public Radio since it was launched in 1981, Bannick also is credited with helping keep it alive through some tough years.
"She was a tiny person, but she was huge in determination," said David Cheever, a fellow preservationist and co-author. "She was brusque, and some people could be offended by that. I don't think Nancy had any time for herself. She didn't have time for anybody who wasted her time."
A talented writer and photographer, Bannick was co-author with David and Scott Cheever of "A Close Call: Saving Honolulu's Chinatown." She was also the chief contributor to "Pohaku: The Art and Architecture of Stonework in Hawaii."
"She lived modestly, but she gave generously to all causes," said Kinder, a retired architect who worked with Bannick to preserve Diamond Head from development and often swam with her. "Not only did she give money, she gave time. She worked and worked and worked. If you wanted something done, you gave it to Nancy."
Other nonprofits Bannick supported included Chamber Music Hawaii, Hawaii Opera Theatre and the Contemporary Museum.
"In all honesty, we're still trying to adjust to the reality of a world without Nancy in it," said Titterton. "When you're around somebody like Nancy, it's like the sun coming up in the morning. She was a force of nature, an absolute force of nature."