The Outdoor Circle’s Centennial

I recently spent time with a friend who came to visit all the way from cold, snowy Finland. We did what tourists do, which as a local I find refreshing and fun. In fact, everywhere we went my friend Mia pointed out things I had almost forgotten to appreciate. The colors, she exclaimed, over and over. And look, it’s so green! Wow, the view! We don’t have anything like these mountains in Finland! And on and on.

We forget, sometimes, that we live in paradise. Which is why the subject of today’s column is so appropriate, and so deserving.

The Outdoor Circle is one of those organizations we locals take for granted, yet it’s largely responsible for the beauty my friend came to Hawaii to appreciate. It’s been around for as long as most of us can remember – in fact, we are closing out the year of its 100th anniversary.

Most of us know The Outdoor Circle plants trees and saves trees. We also know it as the muscle behind the law that keeps our islands free of the blight of billboards.

What most don’t know is the history of The Outdoor Circle as a powerful grassroots vehicle for the strength, determination and vision of women. Three women started it all: Mrs. Henry Waterhouse, her daughter Elnora Sturgeon and Honolulu school-teacher Cherilla Lowrey. The year was 1911. The ladies were in Paris taking inspiration from the Gardens of Versailles. They vowed that when they returned to the Islands they would dedicate themselves to turning Hawaii into a place of beauty.

The Outdoor Circle was born in 1912. Its first president was Cherilla Lowrey. According to Bob Loy, director of environmental programs at The Outdoor Circle, “The task was daunting – transform dirty, dusty and by many accounts ugly urban Honolulu into a place that would instill pride in its residents and raise the quality of life for everyone.”

The original goals:

* Clear away front-yard empty cans and other rubbish.

* Make a flower bloom where a broken saucepan held sway.

* Border thoroughfares with flowering trees.

* Discourage unsightly structures.

* Convert careless householders to beautifiers.

* Snip government red tape in the cause of beautification fight against ugly billboards.

The Outdoor Circle recruited hundreds of members – all women – who even before suffrage “were determined to stand up, speak out and change the face of their community.”

Which is exactly what they did.

Today both men and women volunteer for The Outdoor Circle, and they are all still standing up and speaking out for a clean, green and beautiful Hawaii. The old organization is pushing forward and has a new face as president, Marti Townsend, an Aiea girl, Boston University alumna and graduate of the UH law school.

Townsend, who cut her environmental teeth as an intern for The Outdoor Circle back in the days when it was battling HECO over power lines at Waahila Ridge, says she’s committed to the mission: “My hope for the organization is that we continue to modernize and evolve.”