By Dr. Billy Bergin
Once PPS had the stables under lease, many of the improvements were initiated at the advice of Dr. Tom Woods. Of course, some basic structural conditions were in need of immediate attention, including re-roofing the building and Hale ‘Āina.
Settled in, the first neighborly visit was made to the residents of Holoholokū. Nancy Stephenson, then president of the Holoholokū Community Association (HHKCA), graciously welcomed PPS as neighbors and PPS asserted its position of being considerate of the folks next door. A clear mandate was agreed to notify HHKCA of any major changes planned at the stables including traffic, noise, parking, and physical improvements to the property. This congenial interrelationship continues forward with mutual consideration.
It wasn’t long before the entire stables were thoroughly policed of clutter. Thorough water pressure washing was in order followed by fresh coats of paint.
The Paniolo Museum began to take shape in the form of vintage saddles, chaps, and leggings that decorated the southeast wing of the building. Historic photographs graced the walls along with shadow boxes displaying horse bits and spurs from the vaquero era to the 1950s.
The central stalls were still dirt floors requiring excavation and cement finishing that opened more display space. The adjoining 60’x60’ hall was christened “Hale ‘Āina,” a dining area that could accommodate large baby lū‘au, family gatherings, and conferences.
Anthony Roberts, former head of Parker Ranch’s Visitor Center, came on board as PPS’s general manager in 2011. He brought in needed organizational skills especially regarding web management. Roberts oversaw continued improvements to the wooden flooring throughout the stables that made space to expand the Paniolo Heritage Center Museum. The Paniolo Hall of Fame photographic array of honorees was a welcome addition to the Paniolo Heritage Center, continuing as an ongoing, progressive celebration of the Hawaiian cowboy.
Through these early years, Parker Ranch was genuinely supportive in many regards, most notably extending the lease footprint toward Kona, which provided additional parking.
In December of 2015, Roberts and I were invited to meet with Robert Nakamoto of the Waimea Midweek Market organization. An agreement was struck, and the Wednesday group has been a mutually beneficial enterprise.
Not long after, Roberts and I were called to meet with a new farmers market organization led by Stacy Aurway and by the New Year, PPS engaged a second farmers market called the Kamuela Farmer’s Market. With both entities underway, PPS developed a sound economic base, while income from events, donations and grants continued to enhance the society’s financial base.
In the period between 2012 and the advent of the pandemic, PPS was active in developing public awareness of the paniolo genre. Several events became annual functions. The Silver Spur Award honored aged but notable cowboys for their lifetime contribution to Hawai‘i’s ranching history.
Several Paniolo Artisan Showcase conferences headed by saddle-maker and rodeo competitor Alvin Kawamoto celebrated the saddle makers, rawhide braiders and most notably the artistic but functional ‘awe‘awe rigging unique to the Hawaiian tree saddle.
Another noteworthy celebration was the Ranch Women of the Far West event in which seven ranch women were recognized for their contributions to business and family ranching enterprises. Recipients included Big Islanders Paula DeSilva, Christine Correia Carlton, Sally Rice, Dorothea Siu-Len Yee Miranda, Elvira Lucas Miranda, Josephine Castro Boteilho and Maui cowgirl Rose Cambra Freitas. This recognition led to the Wahine Holo Lio Pā‘ū Museum initiative in the north wing of the stables giving due credit to women.
With a sound economic base, PPS began to explore expansion of the little used north wing of the stables. This led to founding director Pat Bergin’s effort to establish a Pā‘ū Museum. With a circle of respected pā‘ū riders, notably Barbara Nobriga of Kona, the vision was inclusive of a life-sized horse model mounted by a mannequin (affectionately dubbed a wahinekin) while the horse was purchased from noted artist Patrick Ching. When it arrived it was pure white primer in color. As is typical of the artist, he came to the Big Island and gathered a group of art students and with artistic magic turned it into a beautiful Palomino horse.
Waimea seamstresses Erin Lindsey and Sandy Sproat crafted a magnificent red and gold pā‘ū skirt and kepola donating their services without charge to PPS. Dressing and mounting the wahinekin was no easy task. Cultural practitioners and Hawaiian authorities such as Pomai Bertelmann, Chad Paishon, Deedee Lindsey Bertelmann, Robby Hind, and both seamstresses accepted the challenge. Before long, our wahinekin materialized into a lovely pā‘ū rider with lei po‘o, neck lei and horse lei. The rider is mounted on a genuine Hawaiian tree saddle made by Daniel Kamelamela Sr., longtime sheriff of Kalapana.
In 2018, Momi Naughton and her team skillfully adorned the walls of the newly christened Wahine Holo Lio Pā‘ū Museum with historic and current images of great pā‘ū ladies including Anna Perry-Fiske of Waimea who established the historic Old Hawaii On Horseback pageant, a tradition continued by PPS today most recently in 2019 at Waiki‘i Ranch Polo Grounds. Plans are in place for the event to occur in 2023 at the same location. Both the Paniolo Heritage Center Museum and Pā‘ū Museum are open to the public free of charge Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday: 8 a.m.–3 p.m., and Wednesday. Saturday 8 a.m.–2 p.m.
A major addition to the Paniolo Heritage Center was the retail store established within the museum, featuring PPS branded shirts, jackets, vests, and ball caps. In addition, books, artwork, kitchenware, children’s clothing, toys and books are also available. Future merchandise will include exclusive Parker Ranch branded clothing and products. The retail store evolved into an economic asset matching that of the Farmer’s Markets.
In 2020, Parker Ranch extended our lease footprint to the east which included a Quonset and old Blacksmith shop. This immediately provided much needed parking for farmers market concessionaires. While the Quonset is beyond salvage, the Blacksmith shop has been examined for possible restoration and repurposing. Among the ideas under consideration are including a forge, anvils, tongs, hammers, and chisels. Architect Paul Donoho has done a preliminary review in consideration of historic preservation approaches to the building. The west end of the 30’x80’ building needed some demolition attention to remove unsafe beams and rafters. In the process, PPS excavated and refloored with concrete a 35’ x 30’ area to accommodate 2 twenty-foot Matson containers for badly needed storage.
Despite the pressures of the pandemic, the Paniolo Heritage Center and its two museums has weathered the storm physically and financially. A return to public awareness initiatives, periodic roping clinics led by Mike Beers has strengthened the PPS alliance with Hawaii High School Rodeo Association, a long-standing strategic ally. With Justina Wood at the helm managing the Paniolo Heritage Center, the future of PPS looks bright promising more good things to come.
In closing Part 3, appreciation is heartfully expressed to Manfred Branco and to Darby Irons who have kept the entire premises in tip top shape. Manfred is a cowboy at heart and takes special pride in the Paniolo Heritage Center and its premises.
In due time, the transition of ownership of Pukalani Stables from Parker Ranch to PPS will be chronicled in detail in the forthcoming Part Four.
Stay tuned for Part 4, coming in May, 2022!