Makawao library marks 45 years as ‘backbone of the community’


Makawao Public Library opened nearly half a century ago and, despite drastic changes in technology and views, the library has remained a fixture in the small Upcountry town.

On Saturday, dozens of families and residents celebrated the library’s 45th anniversary with food and entertainment. Attendees were treated to face-painting and a magic show in the morning, and music by the award-winning Hula Honeys in the afternoon.

“Today’s a very exciting day for us because we get to just have fun with the community,” head librarian Glenda Berry said. “They’re even allowed to eat and drink in the library today.”

While guests enjoyed refreshments and entertainment, the celebration also highlighted life before the library.

From 1922 to 1947, books were held at Makawao School and a United Service Organization building where Casanova’s currently sits. Books and materials were later transferred to the old Makawao Community Center, now the post office, where they stayed from 1947 to 1969.

In the final years at the community center, though, the state acquired 26,696 square feet of land from Gussie M. Smith to build the Upcountry library.

The 5,632-square-foot building took about a year to build and $222,000 to complete, and was completely air conditioned. The hollow-tile, moss rock design was created by Lahaina-born Edwin T. Murayama and the building opened on Feb. 22, 1969.

One of the original staff members at the current library, Miyoko Onaga, attended Saturday’s celebration and, at 92 years old, she vaguely remembers working at the old Makawao Community Center.

“I used to help my friend but we didn’t have too many things at that time and it was smaller,” Onaga said, comparing the center to the current facility. “All these things over here, it wasn’t. There’s so many books and all kinds of things.”

Onaga, who lived in Haliimaile with her husband and four children, used to split her time between the Upcountry library and one in Paia. She said that her children would regularly stop by the Makawao library after school at St. Joseph School.

Although Onaga said she was never a librarian, former Makawao head librarian Carla Mauri, had always dreamed of being one.

Growing up in Indonesia, Mauri moved to Maui in 1968 with her husband and two young sons to avoid the “political turmoil” in her native country, where she said more than 500,000 people were killed in mass murders during the mid-1960s.

“We wanted a place where they could grow up that was more peaceful and we ended up here,” she said.

Upon moving to the islands, she attended the University of Hawaii at Manoa and received a master’s degree in library science.

“We didn’t have libraries in Indonesia and I always wanted to be a librarian,” she said. “I was lucky enough to get this position.”

Mauri served as head librarian at Makawao Public Library from 1976 to 2010, and said she is still “amazed” that people remember her.

“Everywhere I go I meet somebody and they’ll say, ‘Oh you’re from the library,’ ” she said. “I did not realize how many people come to the library, and they’re from everywhere, from Kihei and Wailuku. They came when they were small and now they go with their kids and now I see they have become grandparents and the grandkids are coming.

“It’s whole generations that keep on coming, which is good.”

Mayor Alan Arakawa, who called libraries the “backbone of the community,” gave a short speech at the celebration and also recalled going to the library as a child.

“My mother used to be a librarian so I was pulled in on a regular basis and had a steady digest of books,” Arakawa told the crowd of about two dozen. “We didn’t have a TV and being out in the middle of the Pacific we didn’t really have a radio either. Reading became the only real enjoyment we could have.”

State Sen. J. Kalani English, who represents East Maui, Upcountry, Molokai and Lanai, congratulated the Makawao library, which circulates more than 123,000 books and materials, in a written document signed by other state legislators.

Berry thanked the community for supporting the library, and said staff members “want everyone to feel welcome” and “really try to be central to the community.”

“We will have an even bigger party for the 50th,” she said.

* Chris Sugidono can be reached at