News Blog for Seattle's Maple Leaf Neighborhood


Farewell to Puni Hokea, creator of Maple Leaf community

November 20th, 2011 · 3 Comments

O’Kanaiaupuni “Puni” Iwi’ula, a founder of the Maple Leaf Community Council and a Hawaiian spiritual healer, died this month of heart failure at age 58. A celebration of his life was held Saturday at the Shilshole Bay Beach Church.

“When a man of his caliber passes, we need to remember that the community we live in did not just happen. Men such as Puni Hokea gave us an understanding of the dynamics of community action,” said Jack Remick, a longtime neighborhood resident and former council member. “I, for one, will miss him very much.”

In 1986, Maple Leaf won an award from Neighborhoods USA. “You still see that sign around the area. The award went to the Maple Leaf Community Council, but the drive to the award was spearheaded by Puni Hokea, the then-president of the nascent community council,”  wrote Remick.

According to HistoryLink, Maple Leaf was the only neighborhood west of St. Paul and Dallas to make it to the contest semi-finals. Then-Mayor Charles Royer said, “it has a ‘can do’ attitude and works cooperatively with government, business, and other neighborhoods. In doing so, the Maple Leaf Community Council never loses track of what will benefit the neighborhood and the residents.”

Barbara Maxwell, a 35-year Maple Leaf resident and former council member, emailed from her new home in Montana: “I completely agree with Jack that the Maple Leaf of today did not just happen but instead reflects hundreds of volunteer hours dedicated on behalf of the Maple Leaf neighborhood by those who followed in the footsteps of Puni and the other founding members of the Maple Leaf Community Council.”

According to HistoryLink:

Maple Leaf did not become active until 1983 when, under the leadership of Puni Hokea and Peter Orser, they formed the Maple Leaf Community Council.

Quietly, persistently, the group worked to improve services, yet preserve their sense of community. Without confrontation and without blocking a single building permit, the group managed to scale back the zoning of Roosevelt Way NE so that businesses had to provide off-street parking. The group was “articulate and well organized” (The Weekly).

“The traffic circles now protecting our streets by slowing down traffic to avoid accidents were Puni’s brain-child, one he lobbied the City Council for,”  Remick said. “As a result, traffic circles became the standard on neighborhood streets – but believe me, the battle to get them was fraught with much tilting and fire on Puni’s part.”

Under Puni’s guidance the council became a powerhouse in local dynamics and maintained strong working relationships with the City Council. The present configuration of the Northgate area is due to the work that Puni and the Community Council board did to preserve a livable community.

The bus terminal at Northgate came into existence under Puni’s leadership; the ultimate daylighting of Thornton Creek was outlined in a White Paper Puni brought to the design committee at that time. The present-day multi-tiered parking structure at the Northgate Penney’s was already in the community’s design material long before the DeBartolo Corporation sold it. If you look across the freeway, you’ll see a medical center which Puni fought for.”

Hokea ran for City Council in 1993. At the time he was director of human resources at Sea Mar Community Health Centers, according to The Seattle Times, which added “he has been a member of the Commission on Asian American Affairs and the Seattle Parks Board and was founder of the Maple Leaf Community Council.”  Hokea was rated “very good”  by the Municipal League of King County.

A native Hawaiian, Hokea was also known as a spiritual teacher and healer – a kahuna. The Seattle Times Pacific Northwest Magazine ran a cover story on him in 2003. He was a founder of the Kalama Foundation.

Hokea’s obituary in the Times is here. More memories of him are on his Beck’s Funeral Home page.

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