Seven nights in Maui sounds pretty inviting with warm ocean breezes, long walks on the beach and an umbrella drink to toast your good fortune. I have had the opportunity to visit the islands through the years, usually for my husband's business. Having a meeting in March in Hawaii tends to spike attendance to the yearly convention, for those who are trying to escape mounds of snow and subzero temperatures that wreaked havoc on the Midwest and East Coast this winter.
Prior to departure, Maui’s forecast showed rain and clouds for the entire week. Really? Surely they were talking about some other part of the island. Unfortunately, the Weather Channel was spot on with gray days, gale force winds, solid rain and unusually cool temperatures. Hawaiian attire had to be layered with raincoats and souvenir sweatshirts. For some reason, I had packed a pair of boots, never really thinking that I would wear them, but on three occasions they replaced my open-toe sandals to the wonder of my companions. Who brings boots to Hawaii?
This year’s national MCAA convention attracted close to 3,000 snowbirds, who came for beach time but also to hear a wide range of first rate speakers, including Leon Panetta, Dr. Robert Ballard, who discovered the Titanic on the ocean floor, and sportscaster James "JB" Brown. The finale evening starred Jennifer Hudson performing in concert with her soulful voice that rocked the hotel ballroom.
One of the highlights was an opportunity to visit Leona Rocha Wilson’s palatial home at the top of Wailuka Heights. This was the first time Wilson had opened her home to visitors, besides local schoolchildren that she frequently hosts. Her message to these children is that getting a good education makes anything obtainable. The 10,000 square foot home is carved out of the mountain with spectacular 360-degree views from every room. Wilson and her third husband, Bill, bought the land and spent two years preparing the site for the Mission-style home. The interior is filled with an eclectic mix of furniture, valuable art and quirky accessories, like a Wurlitzer jukebox and lifelike butler that greets visitors at the front door with a faux martini. But her prized possession is her grandfather's kau kau tins, which she displays prominently in her front room. She told the story of how the plantation workers used the metal double-decker lunchboxes to bring their mid day meals to work, sharing the contents with other workers.
Wilson's story is as dramatic as her home, from humble beginnings at the Hamakuapoko (H-Poko) sugar-plantation camp on Maui's north shore. There was no money for college, so her mother encouraged her to enlist in the military to qualify for the G. I. Bill that eventually financed her education. Wilson credits her mother with instilling her with the drive to succeed. From taking a sewing class at the YWCA at Ft. Sam Houston, Texas, where she was stationed with her first husband, she discovered an aptitude for making clothing. She moved to New York City with husband number two and graduated from the Fashion Institute of Technology with honors while working full time as a secretary. It was fascinating to hear her talk about making clothes and inventing the fashion ruler, which is still used today for pattern alteration. She became the national spokesperson for Simplicity Patterns and starred in her own television series, teaching sewing to a national audience. She was hired away by Vogue/Butterick's president Bill Wilson, whom she eventually married, and moved back home to Maui to build Leona Ridge.
Wilson’s hands show her commitment to the land, trading fashion for farming on the property’s six acres. Her brilliant smile reveals her fairy tale life from H-Poko to Plantation Princess. It turned out Hawaii was more than sunshine and a choice seat at the pool, but a chance to meet people who never give up looking for the end of the rainbow.