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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, July 31, 2003

New generosity rises from ashes

By Will Hoover
Advertiser North Shore Writer

WAIALUA — A forlorn Tim Littlejohn surveyed the burned-out shell of the annex to the old Waialua Sugar Co. administrative building yesterday morning and lamented what had been lost.

Waialua librarian Tim Littlejohn surveys what's left of the Waialua Sugar Co. administrative annex building while fire investigator Terio Bumanglab Jr. secures the property, which is a block away from the public library.

Richard Ambo • The Honolulu Advertiser

Some 2,000 books belonging to the Friends of the Waialua Library had been stored there along with tables, tents and other equipment. But fire raced through the building Tuesday evening and destroyed it all.

The permanent collection of books at the public library, a block away, was safe and fully insured. But the community Friends group, which sold used books to raise money for the library, suffered a tremendous loss, said Littlejohn, who is the Waialua librarian.

"It's all gone," he said. "It wasn't insured. We didn't have the extra funds to insure it."

By afternoon, the day of sorrow had turned into a spontaneous expression of old-fashioned good will as folks reached out to help.

Cheryl McDonald stopped by with an armload of novels.

"I was sorry to read about the loss of your books," McDonald said. "Here's some to start your new collection. We love our library — it's the center of our community."

A church donated 16 boxes of books.

A woman walked in with $25 in cash. She said it was part of her grocery money.

Stanley Matsumoto of Hale'iwa delivered a check for $500. Caroline Spencer, retired director of the Hawai'i State Library, called from Kapolei to donate $2,000 — an amount that was matched by husband Bill's R.M. Towill engineering company.

Phillip Thatcher, a Friends member, stepped up to say he would personally pick up books donated by anybody on O'ahu.

Book pickup

• Phillip Thatcher has volunteered to pick up donated books anywhere on O'ahu. Call him at 227-0837.

All day, Littlejohn and others fielded calls from folks who wanted to donate money, books, time and just about anything else the Friends could use.

Marge Russell, president of the Friends of the Waialua Library, was flabbergasted.

"At first your heart just sinks when you see it all burned out and you think of all the hours that volunteers put in," she said. "And then when you find support like this — it's just astounding."

Russell said that off all the backers of the respective library branches, her group is the largest Friends organization, with more than 500 members.

And it's been instrumental in the library's success.

In 1997 it was named Best Small Friends Group in the nation. That same year the Waialua Library was named the country's Best Small/Rural Library.

Books collected by the Friends are used for monthly sales, with proceeds going to the library to buy books, videos and CDs. Such sales are among the Friends' many fund-raising activities throughout the year.

"We'll start over," said Salita "Petie" McManus, who heads the Friends' four annual art shows.

"We have a very active, generous group. The trouble is storage space. We don't have any."

John Stiles, chief scientific officer of Integrated Coffee Technologies Inc., which has offices in what used to be the main Waialua Sugar administration building next to the destroyed annex, solved that problem.

He told Littlejohn that he had more than enough extra room to store books or anything else for the Friends.

The generosity of so many was matched by the sorrow of others who congregated near the ruins of the annex, which was built in 1938. Residents said it served for many years as a social center for dances, parties and other special occasions.

"My mom had her 16th birthday party in there," Gina Oga Smith said. "It was a historic place."

Jeanine Pasoquen, who wanted to see the annex turned into a community learning center for arts and culture, stood next to the gutted structure and wept.

"I've been working for three years to get grants to restore this building," she said. "We were almost there. I can't believe this."

Honolulu Fire Department Capt. Kenison Tejada said contents valued at $52,000 were lost in the fire, including the Friends inventory and 35,000 pounds of coffee stored by Dole Food Co., which owns the building.

Tejada said it would cost about $700,000 to rebuild the annex, although there are no plans to do so.

One person who expressed sorrow about the fire was Ginger Peterson, national film location manager for Peterson Productions.

"We have lost a classic film location," she said.

Peterson said she scouted the building for an episode of "ER" that aired this season. She said viewers can get one last glimpse of the building on Sept. 25, when it will again be featured in the season opener of "ER."

"We converted the building into the Kisangani Hospital," said Peterson. "It looked just like an authentic Congo building. Noah Wyle, the show's star, has a big scene in it."