Monday, August 6, 2012

Hawaii Tropical Orchids Everywhere

Hilo Orchid Society's Mission to Help Everyone to Grow Orchids

Stay at Hale Moana Bed & Breakfast and enjoy our house and garden filled with beautiful orchids everywhere:

 …By Denise Laitinen…
Julie Goettsch wants to set the record straight. The president of the Hilo Orchid Society (HOS) wants people to know that growing orchids isn’t complicated or difficult to do, especially here on an island known as the “Orchid Island.”

“I’ve talked to so many people who say, ‘I have such a brown thumb, I couldn’t possibly come to the Orchid Society,’” says Goettsch. “We always reply: ‘you are the ones we want to come to our society because we can help you become successful at growing orchids.

“Orchids have become such as passion for so many people who thought they could never grow them but because of our climate, in Hilo especially, anyone can excel at orchids. A lot of people get orchids as gifts, and after it finishes blooming they say ‘what do I do with it now?’” says Goettsch. “They don’t know what to do to keep it growing and blooming.”

“You can have better and more beautiful orchids if you know a little bit about caring for them,” says Sheryl Rawson, another member of the society who is passionate about helping others.

In addition to their monthly meetings and annual orchid show, the HOS offers special member tours of local greenhouses several times a year. “The greenhouses open their doors to us and talk about everything they are doing. People wouldn’t have a chance to do this otherwise. Plus they [the growers] give us the opportunity to buy their plants, which are not normally available to the public,” says Goettsch.

To say that members look forward to the tours is an understatement. In fact, so many members come prepared with cardboard boxes [to hold all their orchid purchases] that the group has a volunteer follow them in a truck to hold all the orchids members buy along the tour. “What you’ll see at some of these places are very unusual orchids,” adds Goettsch. “Everyone is so happy at the end of the trip. It’s just the most wonderful thing.”

“It’s a good group,” says Sheldon Takasaki, owner of Carmela’s Orchids in Hakalau, who has been active in the Society for more than 35 years. “Nobody thinks that they’re too good. Everybody helps out each other. People will teach you whatever you need to know.”

Sheldon says his father Yasuji Takasaki, who founded Carmela’s Orchids, would take him to meetings when he was a teen. “My dad was part of the club for 50 years,” says Takasaki. “He used to really enjoy learning from all the old timers. “Ayito Tanaka and Masaya Miyao were the old timers when I was starting out [with HOS]. We learned a lot from them.”

“When I first joined [in the 1970s] we met at someone’s house, maybe 20 members all in one backyard,” adds Takasaki. “Then we moved to the university—the facilities were nice—and more people joined.”
“We’re not really sure how old the Society is,” says Goettsch. “This year is our 60th annual show—we know that. We know it started sometime before World War II, but it was suspended off and on during the war and then came back to life again after the war.”

The 200 or so members of the club range in age from 19 to folks in their 80s. At 19, Jurahame Leyva is the youngest member, and he’s been growing orchids for 15 years! “I actually started growing orchids when I was 4,” says Leyva. His mother owns a daylily nursery, and he would accompany her on trips throughout the state to buy and sell plants.

“Most 4 year olds do not have that long of an attention span,” he explains. “I would often look at the plant displays at other booths. I came across an [orchid] plant and I just thought it was cool. I asked my mom if I could get it and she said yeah. I’m sure my mom thought the plant wouldn’t last two weeks,” he adds with a chuckle. “I brought the plant back to her three months later with eight stems on it and 47 flowers.”

Leyva’s love of orchids has continued to grow ever since. At age 12, he joined the Hilo Orchid Society. He recalls how membership to HOS was his birthday present that year. “I showed up and started listening to the lectures and going on nursery tours and things like that,” he says.  Leyva, who will be a sophomore this fall at UH Hilo with a double major in astronomy and tropical horticulture, is currently on the society’s board of trustees. This year marks the seventh year he’s on the planning committee for the orchid show.

“Being a member of the Hilo Orchid Society is a lot of fun,” says Leyva. “There are folks in the club that are tremendously knowledgeable. They’re great fun to be around and they are always happy to talk about orchids. The highlight of my year is participating in the Hilo Orchid Show,” he says. In 2005
Levya’s display won the Mayor’s Trophy for best display (at the ripe old age of 12).

The society meets on the second Saturday of every month from 2 to 4 p.m. at the Kamana Senior Center in Hilo. Each meeting features both educational opportunities and time to chat with friends. Various commercial growers often bring orchid plants to display and offer practical tips on caring for plants. “It’s really educational,” says Sheryl Rawson. There’s a potluck break where members talk story about orchids, and many orchid plant varieties are for sale during each meeting.

It is the speaker presentation that’s the main attraction. “The club brings in speakers from all over the island and the mainland,” says Rawson. But sometimes the meeting might feature something as practical as a hands-on demonstration on how to pot an orchid.

You do not even have to be a member to attend the monthly meetings, which are free. While some members are orchid hobbyists and others are commercial growers, some folks just want to figure out what to do with their plants.

Other members echo the sense of camaraderie. Hilo residents Lottie Haspe and her husband Pete have attended meetings since the 1970s and formally joined in the1980s.

“It was like a family thing when we started coming,” explains Haspe. “We always look forward to the meetings because they [the members] become like extended family. You meet so many friends and so many different people that share a similar interest. We’re able to go to different islands and meet all different kinds of people. I was born in the Philippines and to meet all these different people from all over the world,
it’s so interesting.”

Haspe has served in a variety of capacities with the organization throughout the decades, including stints as president, secretary and treasurer. It was her husband Pete who introduced her to orchids.
“My husband loves orchids,” explains Haspe. “He got his first orchid plant when he was still single and we’ve been married for 58 years.” The couple has participated in the annual orchid show for more than two decades.

“One day in the late 1980s, Sheldon Takasaki’s daughter suggested I have my own display [at the annual orchid show], which back then used to be in the old Butler Building,” she explains. “From then on, every year we’ve faithfully made a display—every year, except for one or two years we didn’t participate because I got sick.”

Not all orchid society members have displays at the annual show. Some folks just like coming to the monthly meetings because they want to learn more about orchids or spend time with people that have similar interests. This year’s Hilo Orchid Show is August 3-5 at the Edith Kanaka‘ole Tennis Stadium.
Aimee Takamoto, current corresponding secretary and a member of the group for more than a decade, says she became hooked on the organization after her first meeting.

“I came to the first meeting and it’s like a virus—you just want to come,” she says. “When you buy orchids you just want to buy more and more,” Takamoto adds with a laugh. The Hilo native says she has always liked orchids, but that her interest has grown as the years go by. Takamoto explains that the rest of her family does not share her interest in orchids, so for her the society is a good place “to see people with the same interests and share the same passion as you do.”

The organization also holds various fundraisers throughout the year, enabling it to provide annual scholarships. Their annual orchid show is the biggest fundraiser of the year. “The fundraiser goes toward providing scholarships to UH Hilo students studying tropical agriculture,” says Goettsch. This year the society awarded two scholarships of $1,500 each. Orchid Society members are hoping for a good turnout this year to raise funds for next year’s scholarships.

With such enthusiasm, it’s easy to see that Hilo Orchid Society may very well keep going for another 60 years. ❖

Contact writer Denise Laitinen:

For more information:
Hilo Orchid Society
Monthly meetings: second Saturday of the month,
2-4 p.m. at the Kamana Senior Center, 127 Kamana Street, Hilo

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