Waimea’s Ambassador

The hulking structure of the former Waimea sugar mill comes alive at the Waimea Town Celebration. DENNIS FUJIMOTO PHOTOS

It’s only fitting that Brian Yamase, who helped beautify and maintain the town’s corridor for so many years, will be honored with the Ambassador of Aloha award at Waimea Town Celebration.

One of Waimea’s proudest sons will be honored with the Ambassador of Aloha award during this year’s Waimea Town Celebration, which kicks off Saturday (Feb. 15).

Brian Yamase, a third-generation descendent who was born and raised in the small town that features the historic Yamase building, will accept the annual award that recognizes an individual’s community contributions and aloha spirit.

“I am honored and humbled to be the recipient of this award,” says Yamase. “Through the years, I have had the desire to give back to the community in which I was raised, (and) I especially like that the rural westside community is close-knit and supportive.”

Brian Yamase, at left,this year’s Ambassador of Aloha honoree, huddles with event specialist Thomas Nizo.

Yamase is the third of seven children born to Sueichi and Tsuneko Yamase.

“I had great role models in my father and his many friends, who were always willing to participate in community projects, such as the building of the Waimea swimming pool and (who supported) the fundraising efforts of various youth sport groups in Waimea.”

Recalling his family’s deep ties to the town, Yamase tells the story of the building that shares his name and is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

“(The Yamase building) was our family’s building back in the ’40s. The story that I know about that building is that my grandfather was the oldest (son) that came from Hiroshima, but my dad was only 1-year-old when my grandfather passed away, so that building went to one of (my grandfather’s brothers).”

There’s plenty of food and entertainment at the annual Waimea Town Celebration.

From the history of his grandfather to the more recent memories of his three sons, Davin, Scott and Troy, Waimea is more than a town to Yamase — it is his home.

There’s the track where he watched his son make the Waimea High School relay team that would eventually go on to hold a state record. There’s the baseball field where he proudly coached his other two boys.

Yamase graduated from Waimea High School in 1973 before attending University of Hawai‘i at Hilo, where, as a member of the Hilo Vulcans baseball team, he was awarded the MVP award in 1977, its inaugural year.

After earning a bachelor’s in business administration, he returned to Kaua‘i in 1981. Today, standing along the town corridor, Yamase can see the First Hawaiian Bank building where he served as branch manager for 20 years. In 2009, he was recognized as Best Bank Manager by Kaua‘i’s Best of the Best People’s Choice Awards.

Stel Pimental and her family have been selling gifts and novelty items at the town’s celebration for many years. DENNIS FUJIMOTO PHOTOS

“The camaraderie of the staff and management was instrumental in my success at First Hawaiian Bank,” notes Yamase, who went on to become senior vice president and region manager, responsible for financial oversight and business development of the seven First Hawaiian Bank branches on the island.

During his time at the Waimea branch, he says, “I did a lot of community service cleaning up the town.”

While most people may spend their weekends at home working in their own yards, for Yamase, the entire town was his home. That’s just one of the reasons why he was constantly there, working on the landscaping throughout the town center.

Rotary Club of West Kaua‘i members fry up pronto pups.

“Every weekend,” he remembers with a smile, “mowing the grass, doing irrigations because, born and raised in Waimea, you know without water everything turns brown — so I would put in irrigation systems,” recalls Yamase, who was awarded the Betty Crocker Landscape Award as Volunteer of the Year in 2008.

“In 2000, I began a personal irrigation project to install sprinkler systems along Kaumuali‘i Highway. Eddie Lacro and I worked very hard to maintain this Waimea Town corridor for over 15 years.”

Aside from his years as a volunteer, Yamase has been a longtime and enthusiastic supporter of West Kaua‘i youth baseball programs. He’s also been a member of West Kaua‘i Lions Club for 32 years, having served as the club treasurer for more than half that time.

Members of the Farrington High School Governors softball team take in the sights and sounds of last year’s event.

In his busy retirement, he is still an active member of Waimea Educational & Cultural Association and continues to serve as the treasurer for Waimea Betterment Association.

Yet, when asked why he thinks he was given the honor of the Ambassador of Aloha award, Yamase replies with a humble chuckle, “I don’t know,” shaking his head and shrugging. For Yamase, his life was never about awards or honors — it was about family and community.

“I am most proud of my family … to have a supportive wife and to have sons who will continue our family legacy is very important to me,” he notes.

Of his wife, Colleen, who he has known since 1969, Yamase says, “She knows my life story better than I do.”

As a father and grandfather, his hopes for the future are simple and straightforward.

A vendor brings her brand of omelettes to the festival.

“To continue to be a great role model for my family members (and) continue to serve the community.”

Celebrating The Island’s Oldest Festival

The 43rd annual Waimea Town Celebration, Kaua‘i’s largest and oldest festival, is a nine-day event that runs Feb. 15-23 in the town’s corridor. This year, the event plans to honor the rich history and culture of the West Kaua‘i community, and features a number of notable performances, including Grammy Award-winning musician Josh Tatofi, who’s scheduled to perform at 6:30 p.m. Feb. 19.

Other scheduled performers include Hapa and Ten Feet (7:30 and 8:45 p.m. Feb. 21, respectively) and Natural Vibrations and Ekolu (8:30 and 10:15 p.m. Feb. 22). A schedule of the entire week’s festivities may be found at waimeatowncelebration.com.

The annual event is hosted by the nonprofit organization Historic Waimea Theater and Cultural Arts Center. Proceeds from the event raises money for HWTCAC projects, including Historic Waimea Theater and restoration of the Hawaiian Fort at P˚‘ula‘ula.