Group celebrated for far exceeding mission

For 50 years, “warmth and aloha” have been delivered to Kula Hospital by dedicated volunteers who beautify the facility, raise money for projects and most of all are friends to staff and residents.

“We’re just blessed to have them here with us for such a long time,” said Kula Hospital administrator Nick Hughey, who spoke highly of the Kula Hospital Auxiliary, an award-winning group that celebrated its golden jubilee this week.

The group far exceeds its mission to bring cheer, care and comfort to hospital residents, he said.

“They do that and much more,” Hughey said.

Over the years, the group’s members have planted gardens, raised money to buy vans for patients, brought flowers to brighten up the hospital, purchased newspaper subscriptions and paid television cable bills. They’ve also folded patients’ laundry, transported patients when needed to medical appointments and helped with office work.

The group is probably most known for its Kala Iki Thrift Stores (little or small money store) where the auxiliary grosses about $2,000 to $2,500 in sales a month for hospital projects and equipment, including wheelchairs, bedside tables and other items that the state cannot pay for, said auxiliary President Alberta Canha, a retired Kula Hospital employee who still works there part time and has been the group’s president for 10 years.

Canha and about 55 other auxiliary members celebrated the 50th anniversary milestone with the hospital patients Wednesday. They enjoyed a paniolo picnic and entertainment on the hospital grounds.

The group’s roots go back to May 25, 1962, when prospective members of a University Extension Club of Kula and Kula Home Demonstration Council met for an organizational meeting. Officers were elected and eventually the name “Wahine O Kula” was chosen for the group.

According to Canha, who researched the group’s background, the women formed the first hospital auxiliary in the state in 1963. At that time, the organization was necessary because its members worked to ease the plight of tuberculosis patients at the former Kula Sanitarium. The patients’ treatment was long and painful, news stories reported.

The sanitarium changed its focus after drugs were developed to control tuberculosis. Nevertheless, the auxiliary continued serving the facility.

Wahine O Kula also had paved the way to raise money for the hospital with a Puunene bazaar and another such event on the hospital grounds. The fundraising efforts eventually grew into the Kala Iki Thrift Store.

In 1981, the organization changed its name to the Kula Hospital Auxiliary. In that year, membership was opened to men. Currently, there are nine men and 47 women members. They include hospital employees and retired hospital employees.

In an email interview, Canha said that she believes that the auxiliary has been successful over the years because of its commitment and dedication to its mission as well its willingness to help provide educational opportunities for the employees and assist the hospital with purchases when necessary.

“We exist to serve the residents,” she wrote. “The volunteers who come in contact and provide whatever services we can give to the residents, consider them as family.”

Canha said many of the hospital’s residents do not have family or visitors who visit daily or even weekly, so volunteers fill that void.

Longtime auxiliary member Marilyn Ballester echoes the sentiment of taking care of the hospital’s residents.

“You want it to be the best of life for those people there,” she said of the critical-access hospital that also provides long-term care for residents.

Ballester is one of the managers at Dollie’s Hale, an arm of the Kala Iki Thrift Stores. (Dollie’s Hale was was named after founding president, the late Dolores Griffiths). Ballester said that she believes every volunteer knows they are doing something good.

She added that she finds fun in the work.

“It’s an enjoyment. It’s not a job,” she said.

The Pukalani retiree described the care that the volunteers take with the thrift store items, including polishing, cleaning and shining the donations. Ballester added that one woman who manages the baby department takes home all the baby clothes and washes and irons them, if needed, before anything goes on sale.

Ballester recalls a woman walking into the thrift store and saying: “This is the Macy’s of Upcountry.”

“We just kind of laughed at that,” Ballester said. “It’s important to have things that are clean and in working order.”

Ballester thanked the community for donations that make the store possible.

Other accomplishments include the auxiliary’s Supplies to India project in which two 40-foot containers with hospital supplies were shipped to Mother Teresa in India in the 1980s.

The group also established the Johnson and Johnson Memorial Garden that converted a barren plot of land into a miniature park, which is an outdoor environment for residents, staff and visitors. The group won a governor’s Kilohana Award for outstanding volunteerism for the project in 2001. The memorial is named after Blanche and Robert Johnson, two now-deceased volunteers who met while working with the group.

A Circle of Joy Fountain and garden were built in front of the hospital with concrete walkways for wheelchairs. A concrete stage was built for outdoor entertainment and performances.

In 2010, when Kula Hospital celebrated its 100th anniversary, the auxiliary sponsored the Centennial Book project and the Hoolaulea. This past fiscal year, the auxiliary renovated the hospital chapel and fixed the leaking roof at the thrift store. That project cost more than $20,000.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at