Our Community Never Closed

Grand opening at new Maunaloa Community Center   

By Melissa Kelsey

Kristina Cacpal of Maunaloa was in kindergarten at Maunaloa Elementary School 14 years ago when she and her classmates wrote letters and drew pictures to Molokai Ranch, depicting their dreams for a new community center for Maunaloa. Some of the children wanted a place to take ukulele lessons, and others wanted a place to play games.

Two years ago, when Cacpal and her classmates graduated from Molokai High School, she and several of her classmates gathered with shovels to break ground for the new community center, which had been making slow progress over the years.

Last Wednesday, the wishes voiced in the letters years ago came to fruition as community members from keiki to kupuna gathered to celebrate the grand opening of the Maunaloa Community Center. Former Molokai Ranch employee Reverend Jimmy Duvauchelle spoke the blessing.

In addition to activities for children and seniors, the Maunaloa Community Center will be used for parties, meetings and gatherings, according to Maunaloa resident Janice Pele. And for a town where major businesses were boarded up after Molokai Ranch shut down last year, the community center’s opening symbolizes a bright new beginning.  

“This center is bringing life into the community after the closing of Molokai Ranch,” said community member Kehau Pule. “Even though things closed down, our community never closed.”

Cacpal reminisced about a trend she has observed over the years of families moving away from Maunaloa, especially since the closing of Molokai Ranch. However, she hopes the opening of the new center will be a magnet to help the community grow.   

“With the new center and new homes being built, I think people will start coming back,” said Cacpal.    

Maui County Mayor Charmaine Tavares, who attended the opening event, said the building of Maunaloa Community Center was a cooperative effort between Maui County and Molokai Ranch. The County gave the Ranch funds to hire contractors to construct the building, and the Ranch donated the land and the building back to the County.   

Current Molokai Ranch employee Raymond Hiro, who worked closely with the project, explained that Maunaloa needed a new community center after an old recreation center in the same location was torn down as a result of structural rotting and termites. The building that housed this first recreation center had originally been built as a central meeting location for pineapple plantation workers, according to Hiro. One of the original center’s rooms had been the plantation cafeteria.   

Pele remembered kupuna who had advocated not only for the center, but for the entire community, who passed away before they could see the center open. Josephine Espaniola (Jojo), Mercedes Espaniola, Joseph Pele, Angie Garces and Joanna Ramos were some she mentioned by name.       



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