By Craig T. Kojima, Star-Bulletin
lives up to her
Abigail KawananakoaBy Pat Omandam
has been president of the
Friends of Iolani Palace
Some view Abigail Kinoiki Kekaulike Kawananakoa's remarks over the management dispute at Iolani Palace as condescending -- statements such as "I'm the big cheese" and "I'm the one, my heritage demands it."
But others, including those who have known her for years, say the 72-year-old Honolulu native of royal descent and Campbell Estate heiress is just being herself.
What do you expect from someone whose great-granduncle, King David Kalakaua, built the palace in 1882, asks Roy Benham, Oahu president of the Kamehameha Schools Alumni Association.
"She never lets you forget she's from that family. Never," he said.
"Ever since I've known her ... everyone would say that's Kekau. That's the way she is, that's the way I've seen her."
Kawananakoa, president of the Friends of Iolani Palace since 1971, could not be reached yesterday to discuss her background or the recent resignation of longtime palace curator Jim Bartels. That resignation stemmed from a disagreement between Kawananakoa and Bartels over her sitting on the throne at the palace for a Life magazine photograph.
The Friends board meets again tomorrow to discuss the matter.
Kawananakoa is the great-grandniece of King Kalakaua and Queen Kapiolani, and the granddaughter of Prince David Kawananakoa and Abigail W. Campbell, according to news stories. As the great-granddaughter of James Campbell, she is the top heiress to the vast estate when it dissolves in 2007.
As a girl, Kawananakoa was legally adopted by her maternal grandmother, Abigail W. Campbell. Kawananakoa has said she and her three cousins -- including Virginia Poomaikelani Kawananakoa and Esther Kapiolani Kawananakoa Marignoli -- could have been in line for the Hawaiian throne had it continued.
A fourth cousin, Edward A.K. Kawananakoa, died in June 1997. Among his sons is state Rep. Quentin Kawananakoa.
Longtime friend Ivanelle Mountcastle Choy agrees that Kawananakoa, known as "Kekau" to friends, made it a top priority because of her heritage to preserve Iolani Palace. Choy said she is the most generous person she knows, and has supported many families and causes, most times anonymously.
"She is very knowledgeable about many subjects, probably knows more about our Hawaiian culture than most Hawaiians."
Choy also praised Kawananakoa's athleticism, saying the expert horsewoman could have reached Olympic gold in any sport if she had chosen that path. She is the owner of a ranch and racing quarter-horses.
She attended Punahou School and Shanghai American School in 1938-39, before graduating from Notre Dame School in Belmont, Calif., in 1943. She attended Dominican College in San Rafael for two years before transferring to the University of Hawaii.
Kawananakoa, who has homes on Oahu and on the mainland, worked in the state Legislature from 1945 to 1947. She became a board director of the Friends of Iolani Palace in 1969 and was named president in 1971.
Although a lifelong Republican, she made a public appeal in 1986 to support Democrat and then-Lt. Gov. John Waihee, who is part-Hawaiian, for governor.
In June 1992, Kawananakoa pleaded with activists to hold further sovereignty demonstrations away from the palace after 32 demonstrators attempted to enter the building.
In February 1997, Kawananakoa filed for bankruptcy protection from creditors. Debts listed in the Chapter 11 filing included more than $5 million to the IRS for taxes, penalties and interest. The money is in dispute.
Henry Kramer, a palace volunteer for 16 years who still serves on its acquisitions committee, said Kawananakoa is a dear friend who is kind to palace docents.
He believes the dispute with Bartels has been blown out of proportion, and has to do more with palace management than her relationship with Bartels.
Meanwhile, Choy said Kawananakoa is great company, whether camping or enjoying a good party.
"And are you ready for this? She's a good cook," she said.
Kekaulike KawananakoaPosition: President, Friends of Iolani Palace.
Education: Punahou School, Dominican College, University of Hawaii
Background: Heiress to Campbell Estate; great-grandniece of Hawaiian King David Kalakaua.