The Importance Of Where We’ve Been

‘By preserving the past,’ says Bill Fernandez, Kauai Historical Society board president, ‘you learn how to deal with your future.’ This is an important year for KHS as it celebrates its centennial during a public event May 10 at Kauai Historic County Building

Honoring the past can create a more prosperous future.

“History is a story of people and events that got us where we are today,” says Bill Fernandez, president of the board at Kauai Historical Society (KHS). “If you want to know how you got where you are, with all its trouble and triumphs, you have to know your history.

“By preserving the past, you learn how to deal with your future.”

This is Kauai Historical Society’s centennial year of preserving the island’s history and serving as its archivist of the past.

“We have to preserve our past; we have to preserve our heritage,” urges Fernandez. “We have a duty to preserve the culture of each of the different groups that are here.”

As part of the nonprofit’s 100th anniversary, there’s a celebration planned for May 10 at 4 p.m. at Kauai Historic County Building. Since January, the organization has held monthly events honoring the island’s diverse ethnic groups, but next month’s festival will be a culmination of these cultural celebrations with activities, entertainment and food for all to enjoy.

Fernandez has been working on the centennial celebration for nine months, spending about 40 hours a week on planning.

“The hard work pays off,” he says.

His favorite cultural performance thus far was during the Okinawan Festival in January, where he says performances were conducted in a “spectacular fashion.”

“We received many nice compliments about that,” he says.

The Kauai native appreciates the island’s rich cultural diversity and is thankful for his upbringing in the Aloha State. His personal history and experiences also are impressively rich. After attending schools in Kapaa, he transferred to Kamehameha Schools and graduated from high school. He attended Stanford University, where he studied history and achieved a law degree.

It was his father, William, who inspired him to become a lawyer. William started working at a young age, but fled to Oahu to achieve an education and become an entrepreneur. He eventually went into the film industry and opened Roxy Theatre on Kauai.

“He always felt he should have known law better,” says Fernandez. “He felt he was short-changed in doing business, and if he knew law, it would have been better.”

Fernandez followed his father’s advice, and for decades served as a lawyer in California. He eventually settled in Sunnyvale, where he later went into public service. He not only was the director of the county water commission, but he also served on the city council and as mayor of Sunnyvale, a San Jose suburb. He even was appointed by California’s Gov. Ronald Reagan to serve as a judge in Santa Clara County. Fernandez apparently had made an impression on him after serving as co-chairman for Richard Nixon’s 1968 presidential campaign against Hubert Humphrey. Fernandez was instrumental in organizing an impressive rally of some 35,000 attendees at Buck Shaw Stadium at Santa Clara University, and Reagan happened to be one of the guest speakers that day.

Fernandez retired after 20 years, and by 1989 transferred to contract judging.

“Have gavel, will travel,” he jokes.

But wife Judie, whom he met 32 years ago in California, suggested he finally hang up his robes and travel the world with her. So that’s exactly what he did. They visited places from Turkey and Russia to Germany, Italy and the Galapagos Islands until settling back on Kauai four years ago.

The couple lives in Kapaa in a quaint plantation home that was purchased by Bill’s mother, Agnes, in the 1920s. It has survived four hurricanes and three tidal waves, thanks to its “magical spirit.”

He became involved with KHS three years ago, and recently was elected board president. His Hawaiian ancestry and knowledge of the history and culture of the Islands make him a perfect fit.

“It’s right up my alley,” he says.

Bill Fernandez also has two published stories about Hawaiian history, Rainbows over Kapaa and Kauai Kids in Peace and War. He continues to hone his craft and has just completed editing a third memoir, titled, War and Peace in Hawaii.

He hopes to continue assisting KHS in its expansion of historical record-keeping. The nonprofit currently is documenting records of the plantation companies around the island, and future endeavors include gathering and preserving the county’s numerous records as well.

“We’re bulging at the seams,” he says.

Judie Fernandez also is busy helping perpetuate the island’s history by starting an essay contest for keiki, called “Who Is My Family.” Winners of the contest, which encourages children to learn about their families, will be announced at the May 10 celebration.

“You don’t actually retire, you just get into a new job,” Bill Fernandez says with a chuckle, after explaining the many activities he and his wife enjoy doing for the community. “You’ve got to do something with your life.”

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