Rancher, community leader, philanthropist and equestrienne extraordinaire — Anna Leialoha Lindsey Perry-Fiske left an indelible mark in rustic Waimea, her beloved home for 95 years. A spirited, visionary woman with a heart of gold, she could ride, rope, mend fences, brand calves and round up cattle with the best of the paniolo (cowboys). When the occasion called for it, she slipped from jeans to dresses and exuded all the poise, charm and sophistication of a well-bred lady.
It was Perry-Fiske’s dream to maintain the 110-acre ranch that had been in her family for five generations as a museum honoring the Big Island’s ranching history. To that end, prior to her death in 1995, she transferred her estate into a nonprofit foundation as a gift to the Waimea community.
Opened in September 2007, the Anna Ranch Heritage Center remains a working cattle ranch. Its herd of 50 white Charolais often can be seen grazing on the verdant hillside that provides a magnificent backdrop to the homestead.
The property was listed on the Hawaii State Register of Historic Places in 2005 and on the National Register of Historic Places in 2008. Its grounds, outbuildings and house remain much as they were when Perry-Fiske lived there.
Address: 65-1480 Kawaihae Road, Waimea, Big Island
Hours: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday
Admission: $10 per person; children under six are free
Notes: Guided tours are offered at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. Special tours can be arranged in advance for groups of at least six people. Anna’s Hall can be reserved for wedding receptions, birthday parties, business meetings and other private functions.
Displayed in the house, which dates back a century, are hundreds of treasures, including family photographs; an early 1900s Regina music box in working condition; a stone ball that ancient Hawaiian warriors reputedly stood on to hone their balance and agility; koa furniture (the magnificent dining room table was carved from a single tree); and original paintings, one of which depicts Perry-Fiske astride her horse in an elegant yellow velvet pau.
The American Heart Association presented the striking portrait to her at one of the Old Hawaii on Horseback pageants that she held on her front lawn between 1964 and 1983 as a benefit for the organization. Drawing more than 5,000 spectators, each production featured about 80 riders representing significant figures in Hawaiian history; think King Kamehameha, Capt. Cook, Queen Liliuokalani, Duke Kahanamoku and other dignitaries, all on horseback.
"It took a tremendous amount of work to put on those shows," said Kay Kammerzell, executive director of Anna Ranch. "Anna would write the script, direct it, select the performers, design the costumes and ride herself. She didn’t have a problem getting volunteers to help; no one ever said no to Anna."
Also of note are the boots, whips and saddle that Perry-Fiske used when she raced horses (trophies in her office attest to her skill as a jockey). Adorning a dressmaker’s model in her bedroom is a gorgeous silk gown, hand-painted with night-blooming cereus, the delicate nocturnal flower that borders the ranch’s lawn.
Fashionistas will admire the six stylish hats exhibited in the room — among more than 40 that Perry-Fiske supposedly owned. "Anna loved hats," Kammerzell said. "She attended an Easter Seals fundraiser in Honolulu every year and donated hats she had commissioned from milliners to the auction. She would then go to the event and buy back the hats!"
WHERE’S THE BEEF?
Answer: Anna Ranch — from 3 to 6 p.m. on Aug. 14. That’s when the "Real Beef by Real Cowboys" benefit will be held to support the ranch’s school programs and the Hawaii Cattlemen’s Association’s scholarship fund, which assists individuals interested in furthering their knowledge of the cattle industry.
Cowpokes from 10 ranches will be cooking their special beef recipes at this tasting event, which also will offer Tropical Dreams ice cream, beer and wine from Kamuela Liquor Store, coffee grown by the Onaka family of Kona and fresh bread from Sandwich Island Bread Co.
Bluegrass/country musician Carly Smith will be performing, and among the silent-auction items will be original art by local artists; a quilt with a ranching theme made by the Anuenue Quilters of North Hawaii; and a dinner for eight in the dining room prepared by Merriman’s Waimea and served on Anna Perry-Fiske’s fine china.
Tickets are $40 in advance and $45 at the door. In Waimea they can be purchased at Anna Ranch, Parker Ranch Store, Kamuela Liquor Store and R.R. Olson/Lextron. They’re also available at Walco in Kawaihae. Call 885-4426 for more information.
In addition to safeguarding the precious artifacts, Kammerzell hopes Anna Ranch will become a living museum that invites visitor participation. For example, in one section of the barn on most days, they can chat with blacksmith Ethan Froney as he forges red-hot iron into bottle openers, utility hooks, Christmas ornaments and various objets d’art.
Come mid-August, another area of the barn will spotlight saddle making. "There are only about 15 saddle-makers left in Hawaii who make the noho lio (traditional Hawaiian tree saddle), most of whom are elderly," Kammerzell said. "Albert Moniz’s demonstrations will enhance our ranch experience and give the younger generation an opportunity to learn the art before it’s lost."
In addition to saddles, Moniz will be crafting knife cases, belts, book covers, wallets and bags that can be purchased in the gift shop (formerly the kitchen). Many other wonderful Big Island-made gifts and souvenirs are available there, such as Froney’s wrought iron work, bath and body products, quilted pillows, koa platters, jewelry and crocheted lei.
With advance notice and for a nominal fee ($10 per person, $20 if coupled with a tour of the house), groups of six to 12 people can try their hand at leatherwork. They’ll learn how to use a variety of tools to shape and decorate a take-home bracelet, bookmark or key fob.
Kammerzell plans to expand the ranch’s educational programs to include bird/plant walks and workshops on quilting; lau hala weaving; and feather, wood, shell, floral and fiber arts. "People in Waimea remember how much Anna valued Hawaiian culture and history," she said. "Because of her, we’re bringing an important part of that to life at Anna Ranch."
Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi is a Honolulu-based freelance writer whose travel features for the Star-Advertiser have won multiple Society of American Travel Writers awards.