Penny Wakida discusses Maui Planning Commission’s ‘huge responsibility’
LAHAINA — In 1971, a young Penny Seaver embarked on a journey that would last a lifetime.
“I was hired to teach at Lahainaluna (High School), and I said, ‘Oh I’ll give it a year, and then I’ll move on to something else,’ “ the adventurous transplant from the Mainland recalled with an affectionate laugh.
“Obviously, I stayed. I got married and that pretty much solidified my residency.”
She married Clyde Wakida, son of the legendary tennis mentor Shigesh Wakida and his wife, Sumie.
Clyde, now a semiretired construction manager, and Penny have two adult children and two grandchildren. They live in Lahaina.
The Wakidas are stalwart contributors to the West Side community — always have been.
Penny retired from teaching 12th grade English at Lahainaluna in 2003, but that didn’t curtail her love of learning.
Flash forward, 40 years later; Wakida is the student this time and undergoing a unique educational experience.
She was recently appointed to serve on the powerful Maui County Planning Commission representing West Maui for a five-year term.
“Both my husband, Butch, and I did recommend Penny for the Planning Commission and believed she would be a good fit,” Donna Soares explained.
“I have known Penny for well over 20 years,” she continued, “and have served on several boards and committees with her. She is very thorough, she is very knowledgeable, and Penny has a real love for West Maui and its people,” Soares said.
“As a retired teacher, (Penny has) a protective kind of love for the ‘aina, for the future for her students. She is a reader, very thorough in review, and will research everything. She is a quick learner and not afraid to speak up if necessary,” Soares added.
Penny has served on the board of the Lahaina Restoration Foundation since the late 1980s and currently serves as the chairperson of the non-profit’s Scholarship Committee.
She is the founding member and chair of the Lahainaluna Historical Preservation Committee (1996).
Louisa Shelton, the executive director of Theatre Theatre Maui, was a student of Penny’s at Lahainaluna in the 1970s.
“As a volunteer, Penny has been involved with the Holy Innocents Church, Theatre Theatre Maui and the Lahaina Restoration Foundation, as well as the Lahainaluna High School Foundation.”
Shelton explained why she supports her former teacher on her new path.
“Penny shares a passion for Lahaina’s historic roots, preservation and responsible, community-oriented action and is not hesitant to ask the tough questions.”
Penny is an eager apprentice.
“The learning curve is just vertical when you start out,” the new panelist admitted, but she has “found it to be way more interesting than I ever expected.”
“We (the commission) are learning more and more. We’ve had some wonderful workshops in the last six months about all kinds of coastal situations,” including flood control measures and the impact of runoff and seawalls.
“One of the big things I’m learning to pay a lot of attention to is drainage, because everything that happens affects the coastline in some way… because any kind of runoff is going to go onto the reefs, and it is going to do a lot of damage,” she remarked.
Penny takes her new commitment seriously.
“First of all, the Planning Commission is the final authority for coastal projects, so we have a huge responsibility to really examine the coastal areas,” she said.
“It’s a very important position,” Penny added. “I have grandchildren who will be living on Maui probably. I want to see that Maui progresses in a way that they also enjoy a quality of life that I enjoy.
“Development is inevitable; growth is inevitable. We all have children that are growing up, and we want them to have some place to live, too. But it has to be done in a way that maintains the quality of life that we like — maintains the open space, so we don’t have urban sprawl.”
Over the past six months, Penny has learned to respect the community she serves.
“I was never involved with the Planning Commission in any way prior to being appointed. Now that I am, I am so impressed by the number of citizens who come out and make their voices heard,” she commented.
“The citizens of West Maui are very protective of West Maui and love it here. I want to have a hand in perpetuating that.”