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Joan McKelvey’s life centered on her family and the community

By BY LASHAWNA GARNIER - | Sep 17, 2021

Joan McKelvey was honored at LahainaTown Action Committee’s 25th anniversary celebration in 2013.

LAHAINA — On August 4th 2021, we said goodbye to a Lahaina legacy. Joan McKelvey passed away at the age of 95 with her two boys, Ian and Angus, holding her hands.

Joan made countless meaningful contributions to her community, and they are remembered by all of Lahaina. From being a founding member of Lahaina Yacht Club, to laying the groundwork to rebuild Sacred Hearts School after a devastating fire in 1971 and later starting the Sacred Hearts Bazaar, to saving the Lahaina News from going under in the 1990s, Joan was always centered on community.

And guess what?! Remember the Lahaina News column “Up Front Lahaina” penned by a mystery writer who liked to stir the pot? That was none other than… drumroll please… Joan McKelvey.

Many business owners remember Joan for tirelessly raising funds for the Lahaina Town Fourth of July Fireworks Show. She loved the fireworks!

Joan McKelvey was a woman of the world who loved adventure. Born in Australia the eldest of ten, she moved to Tokyo in the 1950s and then to Honolulu, when she was elevated to vice president of her company. Along with Joan Crawford of Pepsi Co., she was one of the world’s only female business executives at the time.

She became close friends with Duke Kahanamoku, who introduced her to a retired WWII Spitfire fighter pilot named Mac McKelvey. Duke and his wife Nadine invited Mac and Joan to their beachside bungalow in Honokowai, and that is where Mac and Joan fell in love with each other and Maui.

They were married in the Lahuiokalani Congregational Church in Honokowai with “The Duke” giving Joan away.

During their years on Maui, Mac started the Lahaina Kaanapali Pacific Railroad, what we’ve all known and loved as “The Sugar Cane Train,” and Joan opened up an intriguing Front Street shop called The South Seas Trading Post.

Joan first had the idea to open her shop when she was given heaps of gifts from the chief of a remote South Pacific island. As Joan sipped cocktails one evening while visiting the southern island, she noticed a tiny spot on the horizon and pointed it out to the villagers she was conversing with. They sent a reconnaissance team, and the tiny spot turned out to be the only remaining son of the chief, broken down and adrift.

The chief had recently lost his eldest son to the sea and was so grateful to Joan that he showered her with gifts of gratitude. This inspired her to open the South Seas Trading Post, which many remember from the iconic statue of a mongoose fighting a cobra.

Joan McKelvey was an adventurous soul who loved to travel and dance, and was never afraid to tell it like it is.

She is now released from the burdens of this Earth, her ashes scattered offshore of the Lahaina waterfront on Saturday, Sept. 4th.

I have no doubt she is dancing the jitterbug into her new adventure with her husband Mac by her side. We will miss you, Joan, and your sweet, sparky ways. A Hui Ho!!