On July 6 and 7, the district of Puna honored Richard Koob’s retirement. The ceremony will be part of the Ānuenue Celebrations at Kalani.
Koob co-founded Kalani and acted as Executive Director for 38 years.
Now Hawaii’s largest retreat center, Kalani was founded in 1975 by Richard along with his partner Earnest Morgan, and fellow dancer Trina Nahm-Mijo.
Richard and Earnest were drawn to the beautiful and isolated southeast coast of the district of Puna, drawn by the presence of all elements – fire, earth, water and air – especially with the energy of the nearby volcano deity Pele.
Earnest and Richard saw this large conservation coast as the ideal environment for a center that encouraged visitors to embrace the vitality of nature in becoming fully realized in the cradle of heaven and earth, hence the original name, Kalani Honua.
“We had searched many places for a location to realize our dream of a retreat center focused on nature, culture, and wellness – and Puna called to us on a profound level,” Richard said.
The location is home to archaeological sites, including a heiau – a temple believed to be dedicated to Lono – and a halau, the Kama’ili School, which was in active use until 1900. These two important heritage sites, carefully preserved and stewarded by Kalani, inform the use of the property.
“We wanted to honor the traditional use of the land, and so we focused on providing opportunities for education, and for personal and spiritual growth,” Richard said.
Beloved Auntie Edith Kanaka’ole was the first of the many hula kumu who shared Hawaii’s cultural heritage with Richard and Earnest.
“She helped us see that these native sites were auspicious indicators that we were being welcomed as stewards of the property and the land’s resurgence of community after decades of minimal tenure,” Richard said.
Auntie Edith, and other locals familiar with the land, conducted ceremony at these sites, helping to honor the rich heritage as the land transitioned into Kalani.
Today, Kalani has grown to become the largest retreat center in Hawaiʻi – primarily through community participation and membership support for sustainability efforts.
The retreat center has been built over the past 38 years in collaboration with Alu Like (Native Hawaiian employment training program), local contractors and volunteers from all over the globe, eager to help create space for creativity and healing while enjoying the atmosphere, accommodations, activities, and delicious healthy meals.
As a 501(c)(3) educational nonprofit, Kalani now also has the distinction of being the largest nonprofit providing services to the district of Puna, the poorest district in Hawaiʻi, with all proceeds from guest stays going into Kalani’s community programming and services.
“Our goal has never been profit or gain. Our goal was to create a space where people’s lives can transform, and that has extended into the surrounding district with our community programs,” Richard said.
Richard has been a pioneer of “social enterprise,” a hot trend in the nonprofit sector today, defined as applying market-based strategies to achieve a social purpose.
Kalani’s extensive Community Arts Program presently delivers more than 50 classes a week free or by donation to local residents, ranging from twelve styles of yoga, to Hawaiian culture classes, dance and performing arts, wellness, and personal growth.
Kalani also stewards art shows and festivals, including the Puna Music Festival, Puna Culinary Festival, Illuminato, and this year’s addition, the Hawaiʻi Yoga Festival, with support from the County of Hawaiʻi and Hawaiian Tourism Authority.
Richard is animated when he speaks about the substantial contributions Kalani makes to the surrounding community. “We buy as much produce as we can from local farmers, with many farmers growing specifically to supply Kalani’s needs. The majority of our expenditures stay here in the state. We’ve calculated that more than 90 cents on every dollar stays in Hawaiʻi, and nearly 80 cents of that here on Hawaiʻi Island.”
The annual economic impact of Kalani has been recently estimated at nearly $10 million, bringing much needed dollars into the district of Puna. A quarter of a million dollars goes into community events, festivals, and programming.
Retirement: “Stepping Up”
When asked about his retirement, Richard smiles and says, “I like to say that I’m not stepping down, I’m stepping up.” People in the community find it hard to believe that Richard, a bundle of energy to say the least, will actually retire – but he makes it clear that it’s true.
“I’m finishing stewarding Kalani’s second 30 year plan through County and State permit processes, and then I am looking forward to re-fire-ment: stoking flames for my next book, Ascend in Love, and enjoying my passions such as visual art, swimming, yoga and volleyball, and beloved friendships.”
Taking Richard’s place at the helm is the talented and energetic Lester John Bates III, the result of an extensive executive search resulting in more than 75 applicants. By unanimous vote of the Kalani Board of Directors and management team, Lester John Bates III became Kalani’s Executive Director in November 2012.
Bates has a strong history of service to the Hawaiʻi Island nonprofit community in various roles: Executive Director, VASH Hawaiʻi Island, Vice President / Executive Director of the Island of Hawaii YMCA / Kona Family YMCA, Treasurer on the Board of Directors for the Hawaii Island HIV/AIDS Foundation, and as a member of the Rotary Club of Kona.
“Can you imagine filling the shoes of Richard Koob?” quips Bates “I’m honored to do so, and have made a commitment to lead Kalani responsibly, building upon Kalani’s history of transformation and community development.”
Richard is thrilled with how Bates has taken the reigns of Kalani thus far. “I feel so blessed to have talented people to whom I can pass the flame. Bates, and the rest of our management team, are poised to steward Kalani with passion and precision. I can move into this next phase of my life knowing that Kalani is in very good hands.”
As Kalani embarks on its new 30 year plan, the center has plans to continue providing much needed services to Lower Puna, and attracting international guests for this unique combination of yoga, healing space, and exuberance.
Bates highlights an exciting focus on furthering sustainability. “We wish to model the ahupua’a system as much as possible as we move forward. I am excited to drive initiatives focused on food sustainability, resource conservation, and responsible land stewardship which we hope will be a model for others.”
Richard, often a renegade visionary with no shortage of creativity, goes down to the smallest unit when reflecting on his true hopes and dreams for the Kalani of the future.
“It’s about the person. My true hope is that as many people as possible can experience growth, transformation, and healthier models of living here,” Richard emphasized. “As we transform with aloha, we increasingly love life, respect others and care for home, local and global.”
Celebrating 38 Years of Service
In honor of Richard’s 38 years of service to Kalani and to the district of Puna, a celebration was held the weekend of July 6 and 7. Celebrations included a special dinner and “Stepping Up Gala” at Kalani, featuring performances from a wide range of local artists.
Richard is honored to have also been named Grand Marshal of Hawaiʻi Island’s first ever Pride Parade and Festival, held July 6th in Downtown Hilo. “The Pride committee is pleased to honor this wonderful gay man who has contributed so much to our island over the past 38 years,” stated Natasha Johns, committee chair.
Additionally, a selection of Richard’s art is currently on display at the East Hawaii Cultural Center.
The annual Ānuenue Freedom Festival celebrations at Kalani were held on July 7th, and featured a special celebratory Ecstatic Dance, as well as a 70’s themed pool party.
Before the celebration, Bates reflected on Richard’s legacy. “Our community will be out in full force to celebrate Richard. He is the living example of ‘thinking globally and acting locally.’ We are so glad to be able to honor his work.”
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