LAHAINA - "People who help the land and the culture, who give unselfishly for the sake of the land, they are the heroes, the real warriors," the late Ed Lindsey, founder of Maui Cultural Lands (MCL), once said.
On Oct. 13, the volunteer warriors of Maui Cultural Lands were recognized at the Lindsey 'ohana home in Lahaina with a lovely sunset, fresh offshore breezes, oceanfront dining, music, delightful company, a video tribute and lots of gifts of appreciation.
It was an eclectic mix of honorees, among them a teacher, boy scout leader, songwriter, transplant from Brooklyn, Sierra Club spokesperson, corporate ambassador, former radio show sex therapist, a cousin from Iao Valley and a lady from Haiku with a chain saw.
Although from all walks of life and corners of the planet, they all had one thing in common - their respect for Ed Lindsey and his message: "Malama Ka'aina."
"We have that responsibility to maintain and to regenerate the spirit of the land. Everybody can participate in this if they allow the culture to survive," noted Lindsey, whose words were captured in an an OluKai USA video tribute of the community leader.
The spirit of Lindsey was pervasive throughout the Saturday night celebration, and the MCL board was the perfect host.
In his words, "Anytime you come together, you should make it a point to recognize people and to greet them properly, so that nobody's a stranger."
Not everyone knew each other, but the gathering was warm with laughter and camaraderie.
The highlight of the night was the award ceremony.
"Let me tell you that all the work that we've been doing could not have been possible without all of you," said Lindsey's wife, Puanani.
"This is the time I would thank all of you and those who are not able to be with us for helping Honokowai" as well as other MCL projects, including Project Malama Ukumehame, Project Malama Kaheawa-Hanaula and Project Malama Launiupoko.
"We are strictly a volunteer project," Puanani added, "so people come and people go; but I do have some I call my weekend warriors.
"These people come and make it happen no matter how many may move on."
The quiet, unassuming and soulful Sylvia Taira was recognized as "one of our hardest working volunteers."
She's been a steady volunteer at the Honokowai Valley restoration site from the beginning.
Her son, Andy, is a MCL charter member.
Puanani was heartfelt in her description of the Napili elder: "Sylvia is really the oldest person who has been working in the valley with all of us. She works as hard as all of us. She is 92, and she will be 93 in February.
"She is an inspiration to all of us, because we really want to be like Sylvia at her age."
Phyllis Levy was acclaimed as a major force in the weekend warrior corps.
Her contributions were described by the MCL matriarch: "She has been the one to gather the ladies, mainly to come to the valley and work not only on Saturdays but on Wednesdays as well."
Levy, a transplant from Milwaukee, shared her mana'o about her association with Ed Lindsey.
"He had this wonderful idea about wanting to preserve what was so rich and wonderful about this island, about this group of islands," she recalled.
Working in the valley, "to me, it's honoring his legacy," she added. "I want to help carry on his work, because he loved it so much and believed in it so passionately."
Romance has become a part of the Honokowai story, and the lovers were recognized as faithful weekend warriors.
Kai, a farmer from Haiku, met her husband, Tim Bachand, a Napili homeowner, in the valley two years ago.
Kai has been a MCL regular for six years.
"She is the chain saw person," Tim said. "She cuts 'em down, but you gotta clean 'em up."
"She decided to marry me, and I decided to say yes," Tim added with loving humor.
Special coconut awards were gifted to John and Rose Marie Duey, Lucienne deNaie, Daniel Kanahele and corporate sponsor OluKaiUSA.
As the evening closed, Lindsey sentiments resonated from the on-screen tribute, serving as a reminder of the goal: preserving the culture.
"There are certain things that money cannot buy, and this is one of these places (Honokowai Valley) that money cannot buy," Ed stated.
"This is who we are," the proud native Hawaiian continued. "If you take this away, who are we? Just voices in the wind?"
MCL was established as a nonprofit organization in 2002.
Board members are Ekolu Lindsey, president; Lahela Constantino, vice president; Mayling Barbosa, secretary; Alane Podoll, treasurer; and Directors Sulinn Aipa, Lisa Agdeppa, Andy Taira and Duane Sparkman.
The public is welcome to join the weekend warriors for a unique day of service high above Kaanapali in Honokowai Valley, where an estimated 600 Hawaiian families once thrived and 800-year-old ancient rock walls still stand as a testament to the culture.
"Our vision is to restore Honokowai Valley to a state of balance, so that it can serve as a place to learn, to find peace and to honor those who have come before us," the website reads.
The group meets at the Puukolii Sugar Cane Train station in Kaanapali on Saturdays at 9 a.m., returning at 3:30 p.m. For more information, visit www.mauiculturallands.org.