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Hiraga takes reins of Lahainaluna High School Foundation

By Staff | Aug 27, 2009

Taking the paddle from Diane Delos Reyes (left), Leslie Hiraga is now steering the Lahainaluna High School Foundation. Photo by Louisa Shelton.

LAHAINA — Lahaina resident Leslie Hiraga defines being pono — simply put, doing the right thing to make things better for all.

In looking at Hiraga’s lifelong endeavor to contribute to the welfare of the West Side community and to the island environment in general, we quickly see how she does it.

Graduating from Lahainaluna High School in 1977, Hiraga moved on to Maui Community College to study horticulture. Two years later, she signed on with Kapalua Resort and led the nurturing of a botanical garden there focusing on Native Hawaiian plants.

Hiraga moved up to a supervisory position, then on up to be the director of landscape maintenance at Kapalua. During her 15-year tenure at the blossoming resort, the landscape department received recognition from the National Audubon Society in certification of their creation of environmental procedures conducive to wildlife preservation, particularly in regard to limited use of pesticides during an era long before it became politically correct to do so.

After leaving Kapalua to help her parents, Connie and Chuck Sutherland, at the family business in Lahaina, Leslie also began working part-time at Lahainaluna in the Agricultural Learning Center on the historic campus. She also married Nelson Hiraga (Lahainaluna Class of 1974), and they began raising two sons at their home in Napili.

While helping the horticulture program at the school, she also became involved in the restoration of Hale Pa‘i, the printing press facility on campus.

“I always felt rooted in this community and in this school (Lahainaluna), and I always felt the need to come back and be involved. That’s when I got started with the 150th anniversary celebration for Lahainaluna and began working with people like Hazel Mahoe, Pua Lindsey, Mary Helen Lindsey and Herman Adler in projects like the restoration of Hale Pa‘i,” Hiraga explained.

When the family sold their Whaler Ltd. business, Leslie moved over to the facilitator’s position of the Lahainaluna Parent Community Networking Center (PCNC) in a part-time role.

Then, when Lahainaluna High School Foundation Executive Director Diane Delos Reyes announced her retirement earlier this year, Hiraga was selected to be her replacement.

It’s a natural progression to complement her PCNC position and, moreover, to continue to malama the cherished culture of Lahainaluna High School.

“There is a lot going on here at the school,” she said last week. “There are 969 students enrolled and 11 new faculty members. One of our major concerns is to retain our accreditation, so that the grades the kids earn here are recognized by colleges and universities, as well as transferring to other schools. It is taking up the time of the administration, faculty and staff to prepare for the review in February. We also did not meet AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress) of No Child Left Behind benchmarks, so now the school is in the restructuring process,” she explained.

Hiraga is limited to 17 hours in her PCNC position. She leaves her campus office at lunch time and “puts on another hat” at her LHS Foundation chair at 505 Front St.

There, she scurries about alongside Secretary Louisa Shelton, Development Coordinator Jeff Rogers and outgoing Director Delos Reyes in learning the ropes of her new endeavor.

According to Hiraga, the duties will include operating the office, taking care of correspondence, coordinating projects, overseeing finances and interfacing with the community, school and the board of directors of the foundation.

“I am really excited and couldn’t be happier to be working in another Lahainaluna associate. The board is so supportive of me. I don’t want to disappoint anyone,” Hiraga concluded.