Nisei veterans center breaks ground on new pavilion
Facility will help expand visitor space, capacity for research
To continue sharing stories and carrying on the legacy of nisei soldiers, the Nisei Veterans Memorial Center is in the process of expanding the campus to accommodate more visitors, educational workshops and research opportunities.
A performance by nonprofit Zenshin Daiko, a blessing and the folding of peace cranes kickstarted the groundbreaking ceremony on Saturday for the enclosure of the Stanley Izumigawa Resource Center Pavilion at the veterans center in Kahului.
“This is a very, very special day for all the board members,” said Kyoko Kimura, president of the center’s board of directors. “This is a house of heroes.”
With the current center receiving more than 3,000 visitors per year and more than 300 requests for research, the new Stanley Izumigawa Resource Center will double the current capacity space for visitors, Kimura said.
The Nisei Veterans Memorial Center serves as a venue for sharing history and personal stories of veterans as well as a home to many artifacts. Now the new pavilion will provide a place where people from “all different backgrounds can find common ground,” she said.
The veterans center also manages one of Hawaii’s few intergenerational facilities, with Kansha Preschool and Maui Adult Day Care Center also on the premises.
Arisumi Brothers Inc. is the general contractor and has already begun work on the new pavilion. The entire project should be complete by the end of the year.
Leonard Oka, president and founder of Maui Sons and Daughters of Nisei Veterans and co-founder of the veterans center, said that veterans would be “singing and partying knowing that there was more than just buildings” that will come with the next phase of the center when it’s completed.
The conclusion of the resource center represents a longtime dream and ongoing mission, which aims to “ignite human potential by inspiring people to find the hero in themselves” and making the community a “better place for everyone,” Oka said during his speech.
For the past 40 years, Oka said that it has been his mission to preserve the stories and legacy of those who fought in the war, including his father, Clarence “Hekka” Oka, who was a veteran of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team.
“I want to honor all of those veterans, honor those heroes, who have gone before us and left us a legacy we can all enjoy — the freedoms that you and this country have worked so hard to put together,” Maui County Mayor Michael Victorino said on Saturday. “So, God bless you. May you always be remembered, and not only this resource center, the senior center, preschool, and everything else the county has continuously supported, financially and with our will, we’ll continue to thrive.”
Due to financial shortfalls in the county budget caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the council had to make many cuts, but negotiated to leave in place supportive funding for the veterans center, Victorino said.
Seeing the project’s vision become a reality, Council Member Yuki Lei Sugimura, also a niece of a nisei veteran and former veterans center board member, said, “I’m so thrilled that this is happening.”
Central Maui state Rep. Troy Hashimoto said Saturday during the ceremony that this project is an important piece of Maui and for “future generations who will be able to come through here and to really learn about what the nisei veterans did for us in Hawaii and throughout the country.”
Their stories are historical moments that “everyone needs to hear,” said Hashimoto.
“I’m very excited to see when this is completed and I’m very excited for when we can get back to in-person programming and to hear from more speakers and to carry on the legacy of leadership, because I think that’s what this center is all about, is carrying on that torch of leadership,” he added.
Oahu state Sen. Jill Tokuda helped to spearhead the pavilion project after visiting the center and learning about her grandfather through resources available.
“Whether you had a family member that served or not, everyone has a connection to the people and the stories and the values nisei really perpetuated,” Tokuda said. “It was very easy to say, ‘What can we do to help?’ because this place has given so much to so many of us.”
Central Maui state Sen. Gil Keith-Agaran said that he’s happy that the Legislature was able to contribute to the improvement and expansion of the center, noting “this is an important place because it remembers the heritage that those of us are going to be the beneficiaries of.”
Knowing the amount of community support and gratitude that would result from the Stanley Izumigawa Resource Center, Keith-Agaran added that “this is one of the most worthwhile projects we have funded.”
The construction project for the new pavilion is made possible by a State of Hawaii grant of $300,000, a Maui County grant of $100,000, and support from the Freeman Foundation, Maui Sons and Daughters of Nisei Veterans, Atherton Family Foundation, Munekiyo Hiraga, Arisumi Brothers, Abbey Carpet of Maui, Roy and Lorraine Okamura Foundation and other donations from the community.
To donate and support the project, visit nvmc.org or call the center at 244-6862. Naming opportunities are available.
* Dakota Grossman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.