Local Connections: Mari-Ela David and Waipio

Local Connections: Mari-Ela David and Waipio

By Mari-Ela David - bio | email

WAIPIO (HawaiiNewsNow) - Our next "Local Connection" takes us to Waipio, Mari-Ela David's home-base when she first moved to Hawaii.

The community has humble beginnings, but its growth spurt has residents hoping development is not too unsettling for this family-friendly town.

It's dubbed as the "not too anything" town. It's not too big. It's not too small. It's not too close, yet at 14 miles it's also not too far from town. It's also not too crowded for shop-a-holics.

And my favorite is that it's not too far from a drive-thru Starbucks.

There's also not too much traffic.

"It's just a great place to live," said Barbara and Brickwood Cummins, Waipio residents. "We still can park our cars on the street."

That's because there's not too much crime, and that's all by design. If you take a look, nearly all the residential streets out here are dead ends.

It's designed that way, so it's easier for neighbors to spot strangers. Ask anyone here and they'll say safety is Waipio's middle name.

"I've never had a break-in at my house since I lived here 44 years," said Lola Dela Cruz, a Waipio resident.

"It's very safe," said the Cumminss. "We're retirees, and we watch out for each other and they watch out for us."

The Cummins' is one of the first families to move in when Waipio was born. They live at the Crestview subdivision -- Waipio's very first community.

"We bought our house in 1965 at a very cheap price," said the Cummins'. "It was $22,000."

Their three bedroom, two bath home is now worth about half-a-million dollars. But those who started here intend to stay.

"Most of it is the same people I've grown up with," said Dela Cruz. "My aunty next door, my neighbors, my neighbors across the street..our road is pretty much the same people from the original."

There are big changes coming, though, for the subdivision next door. In 1972, the late Tom Gentry bought 510 acres of an abandoned pineapple field from Castle and Cooke. By 1978, Gentry broke ground. He built 3,500 homes, a neighborhood shopping center -- with Foodland as the anchor tenant -- and a 130-acre light industrial park.

"It's a family community," said Gentry Pacific president, Norman Gentry. "It's really what it was designed for, and hopefully if they have some employment at the business park, they can live work and play right in the same area."

It was among the many projects that landed Gentry into the Building Industry Association's 2008 hall of fame -- an honor he did not live to see. In 1994, Tom Gentry was severely injured in a speedboat racing accident. After four years in a coma, he passed away.

Dubbed as the fastest man offshore for shattering numerous world speedboat racing records, his legacy lives on and his work as a developer continues to grow.

In 2000, Costco moved into Waipio and a business park grew around it.

"The thing about Waipio is that I think we have all the facilities that we need," said the Cummins'

The next target for growth is 10,000 homes, slated to go up just across the H-2 in the Waiawa and Koa Ridge project.

"The only concern I really have is the traffic," said Dela Cruz. "That's the biggest concern."

But residents realize change is inevitable. From a plantation to a suburban town, Waipio continues to evolve. One of its proud moments is capturing the 2008 Little League World Series crown. Even Hawaii's Okinawan community has made Waipio its home base.

"We were looking for someplace that was a center of Oahu and, of course, Waipio at the time was being developed and we realized it's the center of Oahu," said architect Maurice H. Yamasato.

In 1990, two buildings opened. One was shaped like a turtle.

"And that symbolizes long life, longevity, and then we have this office building," said Yamasato.

That building is shaped like a crane to symbolize prosperity and good health. Together, they make up the Hawaii Okinawan Center, a living tribute to the first Okinawan immigrants to land in Hawaii.

"For us to be able to honor them and their tradition, the values and everything that they have taught us," said center executive director Jane Serikaku.

It's a cultural treasure in the heart of this not-too-anything, yet has everything town.

And Waipio means "curved water," so the town's name is in reference to Kipapa Gulch and Waikele Stream, both of which border Waipio.