Honoring Lives & Legacies – Leina Wender, Bob Hobdy, Ernie Rezents, and Paul Kastner
by Tamara Sherrill,
MNBG Executive Director
Maui Nui Botanical Gardens lost some very important mentors and friends in the summer of 2023. Elaine Wender passed away May 5th, Bob Hobdy passed away on June 4th, Ernie Rezents passed away on June 13th, and Paul Kastner passed away on June 19th.
Elaine “Leina” Wender
Elaine “Leina” Wender was an early founder and activist with the Protect Kaho’olawe ‘Ohana and a frequent presence at community meetings. She lived part time in Keanae and part time in town. I knew her only as a fiber artist. The lei of malo’ulu that adorned her hat at one of our events attracted my admiration, and she invited me to her studio in Wailuku to learn how to make it. That led to the lei being incorporated into our Lā ‘Ulu – Breadfruit Day event as an activity and adornment for participants. That simple act of sharing amplified quickly and was a small example of how Elaine’s actions over her lifetime had wide ranging effects on our community.
This quote from her testimony before the State Commission on Water Resource Development gives a sense of her personality: “I ask you to imagine for a moment what East Maui would look like if the streams flowed free,” Wender said. “Then imagine a company coming in to try to build the system which now exists. I don’t believe that anyone in this room would allow it to happen.”
Robert Wagner “Bob” Hobdy
Robert Wagner “Bob” Hobdy retired from the Department of Land and Natural Resources in 2002 after a 37 ½ year career as a forester. He was even busier in retirement than when working, working as an environmental consultant and serving as a volunteer on the boards of Maui County Arborist Advisory Committee, Hawaii Land Trust’s Advisory Board, the Federal Weed Risk Assessment advisory committee, Maui Invasive Species Committee, and Maui Nui Botanical Gardens. His botanical scholarship was unmatched. He worked with the Bishop Museum for decades by contributing to their herbarium, a global resource for researchers. Bob discovered 12 new native plant species, described two in scientific publications, and had five native Hawaiian plants named after him.
Bob had a comprehensive knowledge of maps and Hawaiian geography, could pinpoint the exact homes of all native plant species, and had beautiful insights into Hawaiian place names that he wrote about in past Garden newsletters. Bob assisted Ernie Rezents in developing the Maui County Planting Plan by creating planting zones based on rainfall and temperature. At Maui Nui Botanical Gardens, Bob was our de facto botanist in residence for more than 20 years and served on the board for 15 years. I have many memories of him sitting on the ground with the Manual of Flowering Plants, sleuthing out subspecies. He helped us sort out the living Loulu palm collection and answered hundreds of questions about plant identification.
Once, upon his return from a trip to New Zealand with his dear wife Doreen, I sat with him to look over the photos of his trip. As we made our way through a sizable stack of prints (this was pre-smartphone), it began to dawn on me that there was not one photo of a person or a view. There was not even a photo of Doreen. Each photo was a single individual plant. By the time we had come to the bottom of the stack I felt as if we had made the rounds of a very complicated cocktail party where I had met all the New Zealand plant cousins. I felt glad I would not have to remember all their names any time soon, but Bob looked as if he had just made fifty new friends. Our board and staff feel the loss of Bob deeply and hope that the continued work at the Garden will be worthy of the botanical knowledge he nurtured in our entire team.
Ernest “Ernie” Rezents
Ernest “Ernie” Rezents was a beloved scholar, horticulturalist and arborist. He started the horticulture program at UH Maui College in the 1970’s and taught math, science, and physics in Maui schools for many years before that. He taught the arborist certification program at the college and I was a student in his last class in 2004. After retirement from UHMC, he worked as a consulting arborist and created the Maui County Planting Plan. In his own words, “The Maui County Planting Plan is a guide that can help anyone select a tree to fit their environment and needs, and learn how to plant, stake, prune, water and maintain plants... There are no invasive species in this guide and people can use this guide to find helpful information about installing parking lot trees, planting and pruning trees with illustrated pictures.”
I have referred hundreds of people to this guide when they are trying to figure out which native Hawaiian tree will fit their site and grow without irrigation. Ernie was a true delight to talk to, with a ready laugh and enthusiasm for his subject that seemed to lift him straight into the air. Ernie has always been for me the quintessential teacher, the one you wish you had through all the grades.
Paul Kastner has been an essential member of the weekly Weed and Pot Club squad at Maui Nui Botanical Gardens for the past 15 years, along with his loving wife Phyllis who helped with all our events. Paul brought amazing food to share, rarely the same thing twice. Paul racked up more hours than all other volunteers, year after year. He was noted for doing the heavy lifting others would or could not, and always showed up before, during, and after an event to help even if he was the only one. He characteristically showed up on May 5th to help plant 3 Kanaloa kahoolawensis into permanent planters that now inhabit two of the green concrete huts at the Garden.
Ka Palupalu o Kanaloa is a critically rare, precious native Hawaiian plant with only 20 individuals in existence, and we trusted Paul completely to help us handle them. When Paul received accolades in 2018 as a County of Maui Volunteer Hero, we recognized his innate leadership ability and his steadiness. That steadiness helped us slowly build and improve on the plant display here at the Garden and his work lives on with us in the health of the plant beds he helped to create.