Maui Connections

There are many reasons Kula Community Association meetings are high on my list of favorite free things to do on Maui.

They are reminders that for all the open space, there really is a community on the verdant slopes of Haleakala. It comprises a unique, multiethnic blend of families, many stretching back through generations of hard work in these glorious surroundings, learning the wisdom of the land along the way.

The meetings are part social studies, part civic duty, part history lesson and always enjoyable. But since I’m still off-island, it fell to trusty sources to be my eyes on the ground at last Wednesday’s meeting. It was all smiles and hugs, they report, as friends gathered to hear talks by Dr. Jack Lewin, Pastor Heather Meuller and author Jill Engledow.

Lewin, a Kula Hospital doctor in the 1980s, regaled the crowd with stories about the beginnings of Kula Sanatorium during the early 1900s when fear of tuberculosis was widespread and people found Kula and Keokea to be healing places. Designed by master architect Charles Dickey, and opened in 1937, Kula San not only provided care for TB patients but also grew its own food and livestock. A cure for TB was found in 1950 and the hospital deteriorated in the following decades.

In 1980, Dr. Lewin began working at the hospital and headed a community-action fundraising effort, culminating in the historically significant hospital becoming fully renovated and certified. Visiting from New York, he came specifically to attend the meeting and to reconnect with old friends. Dr. Lewin was Hawaii’s state director of health from 1986 to 1994 under Gov. John Waihe’e. Among his many noteworthy state and federal positions, he now serves as chairman of the National Coalition on Health Care in Washington, D.C., whose goal is to achieve a more effective, efficient and responsive health system for all.

Engledow’s slide presentation of the history of Haleakala was fascinating as she explained, with rare vintage photos, the massive amount of work and energy it took to make Haleakala a national park.

Moving back to Maui after eight years (from Jerusalem, the Big Island and most recently, California), the Rev. Meuller’s talk was about the early days of the Kula Community Association and the many people who were involved in the beginning (1985). Originally, residents were concerned about the closing of Kula Hospital and organized the KCA to cull fact from fiction about the clinic. Its early goals remain today’s goals: to speak for the residents of Kula, to be a vehicle for resolving community issues and to improve the lives of its residents. Names were called out as the group remembered early members Roger Knox, Kimmie Lane, Dollie Griffiths, Virginia Lott, Bob and Mary Monden and Lottie Hughes.

Among the many enjoying camaraderie at the KCA meeting were association V.P. Dick Mayer, Harlan Hughes, Sally and Bill Worchester, John, Donnette-Gene and Sean Wilson, Carolyn and David Isrealite, Jim and Linda Howlett and Marge and Dale Bonar.

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Maui connections abounded at the Oscars on Sunday night. While the rest of my family kept checking their ballots, I kept a tally of how many of the nominees, presenters and films had shown up on the island in recent years. Hilarious early presenter Maya Rudolph had been here for the “Angry Birds” junket at the Four Seasons Resort in 2016. “Free Solo” showed at FirstLight last December, en route to its much-deserved win for best documentary.

Presenter Angela Bassett was an early Maui Film Festival honoree. Things were so casual then, I interviewed her at a table in the Yokouchi Courtyard.

“BlacKkKlansman” supporting-actor nominee Adam Driver and I became BFFs for 13 minutes at his 2015 Celestial Cinema tribute. A few nights later I shared the same stage with luminous Laura Dern, who “previewed” the soon-to-open Academy Museum during the ceremony.

Another early MFF honoree who went on to direct “SuperMensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon,” Mike Myers introduced the multi-award-winning “Bohemian Rhapsody,” in which he co-starred.

When Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper wowed the crowd singing the eventual best-song winner, “Shallow,” was that Lukas Nelson backing them up? He and his band, Promise of the Real, were their co-stars in “A Star Is Born.” Brie Larson was barely known when we did an impromptu interview at the 2013 festival; now she’s the Oscar-winning next “Captain Marvel,” who handed out the screenwriting prizes.

Another recent festival honoree on the same stellar trajectory, Michael B. Jordan, helped award the Oscar for Best Score to “Black Panther,” featuring his own star turn.

The 20th Maui Film Festival returns June 12-16, promising a preview of Oscar celebrations for years to come. Visit for details.

* Rick Chatenever, award-winning columnist and former entertainment and features editor of The Maui News, is a freelance journalist and documentary scriptwriter/producer. Contact him at