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Haleakalā Joins Centenarian in Celebrating 100 Years

April 27, 2016, 6:37 AM HST
* Updated April 27, 6:36 AM
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Haleakalā National Park joined former Civilian Conservation Corp member, Alvin “Uncle Rex” Ornellas over the weekend in celebrating their birthday as both turned 100 years old. The new centenarians celebrated with cake, planting of `āhinahina (silverswords) and a congressional certificate of honor.

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Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard arranged a congressional certificate to honor Uncle Rex for his lifetime of service.  An excerpt of the congratulatory letter is posted below:

The year 1916 was filled with historic milestones and life changing events. Much of Europe was embroiled in the first World War. In Munich, a German automobile company was founded by the name BMW. The British Royal Army Medical Corps carried out the first successful blood transfusion. The toggle light switch was invented. The Chicago Cubs played their first game at Weeghman Park (modern-day Wrigley Field). President Woodrow Wilson signed a bill incorporating the Boy Scouts of America. Jeannette Rankin of Montana became the first woman elected to the United States House of Representatives. But perhaps the greatest event of that monumental year was the birth of Alvin “Uncle Rex” Ornellas.

Appropriately, Uncle Rex shares his centennial birthday with a dear friend—the National Park Service and Haleakalā National Park! In fact, he worked on the first crew stationed at Haleakalā in 1934. It was that decade of the 1930’s Great Depression that President Roosevelt formed the Civilian Conservation Corps in order to employ young men. Known as “Roosevelt’s Tree Army,” the project employed nearly three million men, planted over three billion trees, and conserved 800 natural areas nationwide during its nine-year history. At Haleakalā, crews planted native species, removed exotic species, and built the cabins and trails still used today.

Today, Valley Isle ʻohana, neighbors, and friends join Uncle Rex at the Headquarters Visitor Center at 7,000 feet of elevation to thank Alvin Ornella for his service over the last century, listen to his stories as a member of the famed Civilian Conservation Corps, and wish him a Happy Birthday. Uncle Rex, congratulations upon reaching this lifetime milestone that many of us can only hope for—your 100th birthday. Since 1916, much has changed all around the world. Despite many ups and downs, that which is good always seems to persevere. Your humor, determination, and attitude of selfless service are certainly the kind of goodness we need more of in this world. On this special day, let us bring cheer and joy to you as we celebrate your life and accomplishments over the last 100 shining years. Happy birthday—we wish you continued health, happiness, and wellness!

Superintendent Natalie Gates thanked Uncle Rex for his service and read the letter from Rep. Gabbard, who was not able to attend. The letter noted, in part, that Uncle Rex’s “humor, determination, and attitude of selfless service are certainly the kind that we need more of in this world.” Chief of Interpretation Polly Angelakis noted that the CCC was the inspiration for numerous current-day youth conservation efforts. Throughout the day, people who had been part of youth conservation programs, such as the Student Conservation Association or the Youth Conservation Corps, came up to meet and thank Uncle Rex for his service and the CCC’s conservation legacy.

Uncle Rex was also made an honorary park ranger and accepted a ranger hat from Gates. He shared stories of his time with the CCC during the Talk Story, planted keiki `āhinahina with young Junior Rangers, enjoyed a 100th birthday cake, and listened to a special recording of “We Can Plant a Forest,” by the Seabury Hall 6th grade chorus. Rex, who was a mule packer with the CCC, also viewed a Seabury Hall-produced video about mule packing in the park. He ended the day with a trip to see the mules. A photo album of ‘Talk Story with Uncle Rex” can be viewed on the park’s Facebook page.

During the 1930’s Great Depression, President Roosevelt formed the Civilian Conservation Corps in order to employ young men. Known as “Roosevelt’s Tree Army,” the CCC employed almost 3 million men, planted over 3 billion trees, and conserved 800 natural areas nationwide during its nine-year history. At Haleakalā, crews planted native species, removed exotic species, and built the cabins and trails still used today.

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Additional activities on Junior Ranger Day included special walks, talks, activities, and cultural demonstrations.

Uncle Rex answering questions about the CCC. Photo courtesy Haleakalā National Park.

Uncle Rex answering questions about the CCC. Photo courtesy Haleakalā National Park.

Uncle Rex and keiki planting silverswords--passing the torch of stewardship. Photo courtesy Haleakalā National Park.

Uncle Rex and keiki planting silverswords–passing the torch of stewardship. Photo courtesy Haleakalā National Park.

Superintendent Gates presenting Uncle Rex Ornellas with a ranger hat. Photo courtesy Haleakalā National Park.

Superintendent Gates presenting Uncle Rex Ornellas with a ranger hat. Photo courtesy Haleakalā National Park.

Happy 100th Birthday Uncle Rex. Photo credit Gary Marshall.

Happy 100th Birthday Uncle Rex. Photo credit Gary Marshall.

Happy 100th Birthday Uncle Rex. Photo credit Gary Marshall.

Happy 100th Birthday Uncle Rex. Photo credit Gary Marshall.

Happy 100th Birthday Uncle Rex. Photo credit Gary Marshall.

Happy 100th Birthday Uncle Rex. Photo credit Gary Marshall.

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