Palm stolen from garden was memorial to wife
By Dan Nakaso
Advertiser Staff Writer
Gilbert Lum long ago got used to crooks and vandals stealing the plants and trees that he has lovingly tended at the foot of Diamond Head for the past 12 years. But Friday night's theft of a ponytail palm tree that Lum planted after his wife's death shook him like nothing before.
"They took my wife's memorial plant," Lum, 84, said yesterday. "They always take stuff — or uproot and throw plants around. Minor, minor stuff. But this is the worst one."
As he does most every morning, Lum showed up at 5:30 a.m. Saturday at the 1-acre plot of state land that he has turned into a garden enjoyed by thousands of surfers, joggers, tourists and others over the years.
Lum realized something was wrong on Saturday when he saw the stump of what had been a 6-foot-tall Manila palm that had been snapped in half.
"They tried to dig it out, wiggling it back and forth, and it broke," Lum said. "Then they threw it over a wall."
And then Lum's eyes searched for the 5-foot-tall ponytail palm that he and his late wife, Jennie, nurtured in a pot in their Mānoa home for years.
After 55 years of marriage, Jennie died in her sleep in 2006. Lum then planted the ponytail palm in the beloved garden that he visits every morning.
"I realized the palm — she was gone, too," Lum said. "What happened? She (Jennie) literally nurtured that plant, and they just dug it out."
The thieves ignored most of the other 200 plants, shrubs and other trees and headed directly for the most valuable 20 plants and palm trees.
"They knew what they were doing," Lum said. The ponytail palm alone was probably worth $500. "It's hard to grow 'em that big."
Lum, a retired Hawaiian Electric Co. instrument maintenance worker, spends hours every morning watering and tending to the plants and trees right near his favorite surf spots, "Cliffs," "Right Hand Cliffs" and "Mansion."
Over the years, Lum lost count of the number of times vandals cut up his garden hoses and threw plants and shrubs around the garden.
After Saturday's theft — just like all of the times before — Lum didn't bother to file a police report.
"They say they have to catch them in the act," Lum said.
So Waikīkī resident Deborah McGuire yesterday set up a special bank account so people can donate to help Lum rebuild his garden.
Donations can be made at any Bank of Hawaii branch to the "Diamond Head Garden Fund."
"Gilbert never asks for anything," McGuire said. "He buys all the fertilizer, everything — all on his own. He will never, never, never ask for money."
On Saturday night, McGuire knew something was wrong when the normally laid-back Lum called her "really, really, really upset," she said. "He was most upset because it was his wife's tree.
"He doesn't do this for glory," McGuire said. "For Gilbert, it's totally a 100 percent labor of love."