Auntie Dottie Thompson's tireless efforts
keep the beloved festival hopping

Leimomi Ho, left, and Auntie Dottie share a laugh in Thompson's office.
Photo by Dennis Oda, Star-Bulletin

By Nadine Kam
Assistant Features Editor

HILO - There's one destination hotter than Volcanoes National Park for those involved with the Merrie Monarch Festival.

It's not Ken's House of Pancakes or the Wednesday and Saturday Farmer's Market either. It's Room 234 at the Hawaii Naniloa Hotel.

There, in one of its two chambers, resides the "queen" of the festival who everyone calls auntie.

Auntie Dottie Thompson has presided over the Merrie Monarch Festival since adopting it in 1969, when the festival was about to be dropped by the Hawai'i Chamber of Commerce due to a lack of interest in overseeing its concerts, Pentathlon of Hawaiian games and mustache-sideburns contest a la King David Kalakaua.

Today Thompson is the heart and soul of Merrie Monarch, and in her suite, the nerve center of the festival, her head whips left and right as she is bombarded with kisses, questions, and mostly, requests.

If anyone can grant requests, she can, working from binders colored blue for notes, green for history and as for red, what's in it is "everything," Thompson says.

"It's my Bible. I've had it for years and years and years."

On TV:

6 to 11 p.m. today and tomorrow;
6 p.m. to midnight Saturday;

Favor-seekers include desperate ticket-buyers off the street, such as Edward Keller, who rushed in from Pahoa when he found out two tickets for the sold-out weekend competitions had become available; to a former pa'u queen in need of a festival program and sweatshirt to comfort her during a hospital stay.

"What are we, delivery service?" Thompson chides with a tone of authority over the phone, before melting into a good-natured laugh.

Of course she is happy to comply, carrying out all her administrative duties, and then some, for no pay, just for a love of the arts.

The 74-year-old Thompson retired in 1980 from a county job as director of culture and the arts, but keeps regular weekday hours as head of the nonprofit festival organization.

It's typical to find her on the phone from 8 a.m. chatting with media from Wales and other points east and west.

"I was on the radio live in Australia this morning," she reports enthusiastically, as if new to the media game.

"Then Ken Okano from Japanese TV in New York wants information and a videotape.

'New York, New York' called in also!""Who's that?" ask those milling around the office."I don't know!" she chuckles.

Closer to home, Kaniu Kinimaka-Stocksdale of Big Island Production Services is discussing with Thompson the details of television coverage for the Discovery Channel, which plans to air an hourlong "Travelers" piece that will air in North and South America, Asia, Africa and Europe.

"This is our chance to show what we're about. We're not about Waikiki and Don Ho," Kinimaka-Stocksdale said in exasperation over what has generally passed for Hawaiian culture in the national and international press.

"The reason there is so much misinformation about Hawaii is the media don't take the time to get their research done. They just whoosh over here and want to get their jobs done quickly.

"They try to haolify and put unnecessary glitz and glamour into it, when there's no need to sensationalize what we do."

No sooner does Kinimaka-Stocksdale finish up and depart, when Kumu Hula Leimomi Ho steps in to take care of her business with Thompson. And after that, who knows? The phone calls keep coming.

The procession never ends.

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