PUUNENE - Gaylord Kubota, the founding director of the Alexander & Baldwin Sugar Museum, retires this week after more than 26 years of service.
"Probably the reality won't hit until I'm completely retired," the 66-year-old Kubota said last week. His official last day on the job is Wednesday.
"I devoted a good part of my life to this," he said, unable to pinpoint what he'll miss the most about the museum.
The Maui News / AMANDA COWAN photo
Gaylord Kubota (right), director of the Alexander & Baldwin Sugar Museum in Puunene, looks over an exhibit with visitors Greg and Cathy Bailey of New Hampshire on Friday afternoon.
He's not severing all ties with the facility in Puunene, and has agreed to be available to the nonprofit museum as a consultant.
Prior to the development of the museum in the 1980s, Kubota had been manager of the Hawaii Immigrant Heritage Preservation Center at the Bishop Museum on Oahu for five years and had presented exhibits on ethnic groups that came to Hawaii to work on the sugar plantations.
His initial task here was to convert the home of the sugar mill superintendent into a museum that would capture the essence of the sugar industry on Maui.
After four years of planning, research and collecting artifacts, photographs and other materials, the Alexander & Baldwin Sugar Museum opened to the public in July 1987.
Most if not all the objects first displayed at that opening are still housed in the museum.
Kubota's accomplishments include a traveling historical photo exhibit on Paia, which had the distinction of being on display at the National Mall in Washington D.C. as part of the Smithsonian Institution's Festival of American Folklife in 1989. Two other photo exhibits featured the centennial of Japanese immigration to Hawaii and the Puunene camp reunion.
He said he's also happy to see the ongoing development of an online camp registry which includes hundreds of names of people who lived in plantation camps, and an education program which started in the 1990s and has had approximately 38,500 students, teachers and chaperones involved.
The state Department of Education adjusted its social studies requirement for 2nd to 6th-grade to include information about the sugar industry in Hawaii.
Kubota also produced what was called the Plantation Heritage series, which featured interviews with people who grew up in the plantation camps. The series first aired in 2000 on Akaku: Maui Community Television, with interviews continuously being produced through 2006, and then rebroadcast through this year.
Under Kubota's leadership, the museum has received local, state, national and international recognition.
The recognition over the years by museum visitors from across the country and those who lived during the sugar plantation days makes Kubota proud of the job he and his staff have done.
"People come in and they say 'I didn't know that' or 'wow that's interesting,'" he said. "Even Maui people saying that, that's a good thing."
To date, the sugar museum's visitor registry shows some 650,000 people have come through the site since the museum's opening.
Kubota said his life's work helped create "a highly regarded museum which preserves and passes on the sugar industry and multiethnic plantation life heritage that laid the foundation for Maui today. I view this as a way of giving back by making what I hope will be an enduring contribution to the community in which I grew up."
* Claudine San Nicolas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.