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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, November 7, 2002

Bill Kirch, 85, was 'orchid king' of Hawai'i

By Walter Wright
Advertiser Staff Writer

Harold William "Bill" Kirch, who gave the world "the orchid of the month" from Hawai'i, died Oct. 26 in Vancouver, Wash.

Bill Kirch brought a world-class collection of orchid species to Hawai'i.
Kirch, who was 85, lived in Honolulu for 60 years, arriving in 1940 on the Lurline to revolutionize the Hawai'i orchid industry, and eventually became known on the Mainland as Hawai'i's "orchid king." He and his wife, Barbara, moved to Vancouver from Manoa in 2000.

Born in Los Angeles in 1916, Kirch was educated in public schools and attended Whittier College and the University of California-Los Angeles.

Interested in plants from an early age, Kirch went to work for the Los Angeles horticultural firm of Armacost & Royston in 1936.

When the firm decided to send an agent to Hawai'i to serve the well-to-do kama'aina families who were among their best customers, they chose Kirch.

He also worked for Castle & Cooke heiress Wilhemina Tenney at her new estate on Round Top, and with her backing, purchased a portion of the Woodlawn Dairy property in upper Manoa to establish Woodlawn Nursery.

After bringing a world-class collection of orchid species to Hawai'i, Kirch combined with six other O'ahu orchid growers to capture a world-wide reputation under the name William Kirch Orchids Ltd., whose clients included Emperor Hirohito of Japan and the Shah of Iran.

His most famous hybrid, a Catellya named after his wife, was honored by the American Orchid Society, while his cross of two rare blues of Vanda orchids won a first class certificate of the Royal Horticultural Society in London.

But Kirch insisted that orchids be available not merely to wealthy collectors, and used the new jet aircraft service to the Mainland for a marketing plan called the "Orchid of the Month Club," offering customers a flowering orchid on their doorstep each month of the year.

The sales helped make the firm the largest exporter of orchids in Hawai'i.

A passionate fisherman, he participated in many billfish tournaments here. He was a founding member and past president of the East Honolulu Rotary Club and served as a judge of the American Orchid Society.

In addition to his wife, Kirch is survived by daughter, Pamela Ver Chapman of Vancouver; and sons Michael Henry Kirch of Lucerne, Calif., and Patrick Vinton Kirch of El Sobrante, Calif.