Old Maui High picked for registries
By VALERIE MONSON, Maui News  6/2/06

WAILUKU – Old Maui High – the first modern public high school on the island and the place that molded a young Patsy Takemoto Mink into a national leader of women’s rights – has been nominated to the State and National Registers of Historic Places.

With volunteers clearing away wreckage left by vandals and a fire, including the crumbling roof, the Old Maui High School’s administration building, designed by famed architect Charles W. Dickey, remains structurally sound and ready for restoration. Papers have been completed to nominate the school to the State and National Registers of Historic Places. Supporters of the project hope to restore the exterior and modernize the interior.

The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo 

The Maui County Cultural Resources Commission unanimously endorsed the application presented to them Thursday by Barbara Long, president of the Friends of Old Maui High.

“I think we should support this nomination 110 percent,” said commission Chairman Sam Kalalau III.

Backed by displays of photographs showing the school’s proud history, Long read portions of an extensive application prepared by historian Don Hibbard that detailed why Old Maui High should be included on the elite list of the most significant buildings in the history of the state and the nation.

“When I go out there and walk around, it’s like being at a temple,” Long said after the meeting. “What moves me is the power that the school has and the power it had on the kids who went there and who went on to so many great accomplishments.”

The outer walls of the Old Maui High were covered with ivy during the school’s heyday in 1937 in this photograph that appeared in the Silversword, the school yearbook.

The nomination papers now must be signed by Mayor Alan Arakawa, himself an Old Maui High graduate. If all goes well, the Hawaii Historic Review Board could add the school to the State Register when it meets June 24.

The centerpiece of the campus was the former administration building designed by master architect Charles W. Dickey in 1921, seven years after the school had opened its doors in more humble surroundings. With its promenade of graceful archways and ornamental carvings, the white-washed cement structure seemed more like an art gallery than a school.

“It was the first building of its type in Hawaii,” said Long.

At that time, Old Maui High was part of the bustling plantation community of Hamakuapo-ko. The school quickly changed the lives of families for miles around.

“It used to be that you would go straight from the 8th grade to the plantations,” said Long. “Enrollment at the school grew because parents realized that here was a chance for their children to get an education and have a better future.”

Among the noteworthy graduates: Family Court Judge Hariette Holt and Mayor Elmer Cravalho (both classmates of Mink); Hawaii Supreme Court Justice Soichi Ogata; Circuit Court Judges Kase Higa and George Fukuoka; Maui County Council Member Velma McWayne Santos; state Sen. Mamoru Yamasaki; Bank of Hawaii President Wilson Cannon; renowned ethnobotanist Beatrice Krauss; James Y. Ohta, first Asian-American to be named as an executive in the Boy Scouts of America; and Robert Hughes, director of the Hawaiian Sugar Planters Association.

When the population shifted to Central Maui, the plantation village was phased out and the school closed in 1972, relocating to Kahului. Over the years, the building – now alone in the midst of sugar cane fields – gradually fell into disrepair, suffering from vandals, fire and the elements.

About 2? years ago, Community Work Day leader Jan Dapitan began a grass-roots effort to restore the historic structure and turn it into a training and educational center for those in need of a skill. Because the purpose was in line with the social programs championed by Mink, it was proposed to name the center after the congresswoman who had died a year before.

Long was among the early supporters of the project. Once word got out, hundreds of alumni joined the cause, too. Long said the goal is to restore the exterior of the building and to modernize the interior, using environmentally friendly construction methods. As much lumber as possible has been saved during cleanup projects to be used in the restoration.

The nomination papers also list Mink as the “significant person” connected with the school. Raised in Hamakuapoko, Patsy Takemoto graduated in 1944 as class president. She later recalled how Old Maui High and its free-thinking faculty inspired her to realize that she was not limited by her gender – an uncommon attitude in those days.

Principal Malcolm Clower “played a very significant role in my development – my self-confidence as a person,” Mink told Sue Davidson in the book, “A Heart in Politics,” published in 1994.

“It made no difference to him that I was a girl student. He never indicated the slightest preference in deciding various tasks – that it had to be given to a male or that it couldn’t be done by a female. I think it was a mark of exceptional ability on his part to rise above the normal stereotypes of the day.”

A school leader from the instant she stepped onto the campus as a freshman, Mink went on to represent Maui in the Territorial and state Legislatures and U.S. Congress. She was the first Japanese-American female to be elected to the Territorial House of Representatives and was the first Asian-American woman elected to Congress.

From the beginning, Mink was known for defending her ideals, no matter what others thought.

“It is easy enough to vote right and be consistently with the majority, but it is more often more important to be ahead of the majority,” she told Davidson. “This means being willing to cut the first furrow in the ground and stand alone for a while if necessary.”

A fierce opponent of the Vietnam War, Mink ran for president in 1972 strictly on an anti-war platform. A year later, on the floor of Congress, she became the first lawmaker to publicly call for the impeachment of President Richard M. Nixon.

Mink’s legacy, however, will probably always live on in Title IX, the landmark legislation that ensured equality for girls and women in athletics and academics. The bill officially was named “The Patsy T. Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act” four years ago. Mink also has been credited with increasing the number of women practicing medicine and law today.

In 2003, Mink was named to the National Women’s Hall of Fame located in Syracuse, N.Y. Chris Moulton, assistant director for the organization, talked about Mink in an interview with The Maui News.

“There are so many reasons Patsy Mink was chosen,” said Moulton. “For all the work she did on behalf of women, immigrants and others who might not have had a voice. And for her determination in everything she undertook – she didn’t just start something, she followed it through.”

And it all began at Old Maui High.

Valerie Monson can be reached at vmonson@mauinews.com.