After a career with the city Department of Parks and Recreation as a recreation director and arts educator, Marie Leilehua Adams McDonald didn’t follow the retirement path that most would. Instead, she moved to Hawaii island and started a farm.
Established in the 1970s, Honopua Farm started as a way to cultivate Hawaiian flowers and plants for lei and turned into an organic vegetable farm, which McDonald’s daughter Roen Hufford and her husband took over in the 1990s when McDonald retired for good.
A longtime supporter of Honolulu Botanical Gardens, an award-winning lei maker and kapa artist, McDonald died Aug. 4 at home in Puukapu, Waimea. She was 92.
Throughout the years, she was very involved with the Friends of Honolulu Botanical Gardens, participating in the Flora Pacifica shows and Foster Botanical Garden’s Midsummer Night’s Gleam garden events.
She also helped and encouraged the late Paul Weissich, director emeritus of Honolulu Botanical Gardens, in acquiring the land and brainstorming on the landscape and botanical planning for Hoomaluhia Botanical Garden.
Encouraged by Weissich, McDonald wrote “Ka Lei: The Leis of Hawaii” in the 1970s, and later the pair co-wrote “Na Lei Makamae.” Both books have inspired and educated generations of lei makers and Hawaii gardeners.
Born in Waikele on Oct. 13, 1926, McDonald was one of 10 children born to John Quincy Adams and Etelka Mahoe Adams. As a child, McDonald inherited a love for flowers from her mother, an avid gardener. After college, as a young adult in 1950, McDonald landed a job with the city Department of Parks and Recreation. She was a recreation director at Wahiawa District Park and retired as a recreation specialist in arts and crafts 23 years later.
While working, she often frequented the Wahiawa Botanical Garden adjacent to the park’s playground, which fueled her interest in horticulture. She became involved with the city Parks Department’s annual Lei Day Celebration in Kapiolani Park, helping the event grow and flourish over the years.
In addition to growing flowers at Honopua Farm, she grew wauke (paper mulberry) and learned to make and decorate kapa. She won many awards for this, displayed her work in art shows and shared her skills with others.
One special note that Hufford shared with me was how she, her mom and her tutu grew certain flowers and plants that had been passed down through the generations. They shared these heritage plants with ohana and friends. Plants like these, when cultivated in our gardens, are living remembrances of those gone from this Earth.
A hui hou, Aunty Marie, you will be missed, but you will live on in our gardens.
At McDonald’s request, no services will be held. Donations in her honor may be made to the Friends of Honolulu Botanical Gardens (friendsofhonolulubotanicalgardens.com).