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Theo Morrison: Helping to weave Maui history into keiki educational programs

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The Baldwin Home Museum (left) is one of 13 historic structures restored and preserved by the Lahaina Restoration Foundation. The Foundation is developing educational youth programs that integrate Hawaiʻi history. Theo Morrison (right).

Theo Morrison has been a staunch advocate for the restoration of historic buildings and the preservation of Maui history, through her work as executive director of the Lahaina Restoration Foundation for the past 15 years.

The Foundation, which celebrates its 60th anniversary this year, has managed a program to restore and protect 13 structures, including the Baldwin Home, Masters Reading Room and Kindergarten Building, as well as the Seamen’s Hospital and Plantation House, the Wo Hing Museum and Cookhouse, Hale Pa’i, the Old Lahaina Courthouse, Hale Pa’ahao “Old Lahaina Prison,” the Pioneer Mill Smokestack, Agawa Home and Hale Aloha.

The restoration phase sometimes included a bit of innovative thinking, such as leasing the Seamen’s Hospital to architect Uwe Schultz, in exchange for Schultz assuming the cost of renovation in return for a 25-year lease. In other instances, it’s involved applying and getting grants as in the restoration of the Old Lahaina Courthouse.

Morrison talks about a greater participation by the Foundation in helping to form educational programs and creating partnerships that bring history alive. Morrison, once a fiber artist creating baskets from a variety of natural materials, has helped to successfully weave the stories of Lahaina’s past into an amazing tour through history.

Maui Now: A People Of Maui Interview

KUBOTA: What are the opportunities facing the Lahaina Restoration Foundation as it moves through its 60th anniversary?


MORRISON: Lahaina Restoration Foundation sees many opportunities emerging during our 60th anniversary. Our mission is to be stewards and storytellers of Lahaina’s historic and cultural heritage.

The Foundation offers educational programs about Maui’s history through teaching volunteers the hands-on processing of historic artifacts and documents from eras of Lahaina’s past, including Kingdom of Hawaii, Missionary, Whaling, and Sugar eras. The program includes a short tour of a historic site or a presentation by one of our museum educators. a brief training session, then with historic objects and documents.

To this end, we are connecting with the community through our new, free, monthly Movie at the Old Prison, the expanded Lahaina Quest program, our Hands on History volunteerism program, Night at the Museum, our new quarterly blacksmith demonstrations on the Baldwin Home lawn and much more.

KUBOTA: I know the Foundation has been a great financial supporter of Lahainaluna High School students, offering up to 10 scholarships ranging between $1,000 and $5,000 to enrolled full-time college students. What’s the goal of the Lahaina Quest program?

MORRISON: The goal is to bring history to life through fun, hands-on, educational activities. Many studies have shown that future adults are shaped by their interests, understanding, use of free time at around the age of 10-12. So, basically the habits and interests that you form as a fourth or fifth grader will stick with you and inform your interests and pastimes as an adult. We want to lock into that and start forming the future preservationists, history lovers, and maybe even museum professionals, now.

KUBOTA: Why Lahaina?

The Foundation also has a Plantation Museum at the Lahaina Cannery Mall with exhibits highlighting the sugar and pineapple plantation era, including photographs of immigrant workers and their activities. The museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

MORRISON: Through all eras of Hawaiʻi’s history, Lahaina has been a very significant place. From pre-contact times, through the monarchy, missionary, whaling eras, during the plantation era and still today, Lahaina remains an important and notable place. Lahaina played a profound role in Hawaiian history leaving a mosaic of physical remnants throughout the area, helping to create the town’s character and unique sense of place.

Wo Hing Museum & Cookhouse is another structure preserved by the Foundation. The photo was taken during a celebration of Dr. Sun Yat-sen, a former Maui resident who later became the Father of the Chinese Republic. Chinese immigrants came to Maui to work in the sugar industry and as business people in the latter half of the 1800s. File photo 2015 credit: Melanie Agrabante

KUBOTA: What other programs are you developing for children?

MORRISON: We are planning to engage directly with the schools and invite the teachers to bring their students to our historic sites to participate in cultural/historic activities.

KUBOTA: What’s happening at the Baldwin Home Museum?

MORRISON: In the museum, former home of missionary doctor Dwight Baldwin, we will be adding a “5 Senses” experience that will enable museum guests to see, smell, touch, taste, a variety of plants that Dr. Baldwin used to prepare his medicines. For example, noni leaves, which are a pantropical plant, were applied topically to sterilize wounds, reduce headaches, and treat arthritis. They have a very particular ammonia-like scent.


KUBOTA: What other events are you planning this year?

The 150th anniversary of the Lahaina Banyan Tree is scheduled to be celebrated on April 22, 2023. The tree was planted in 1873 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the New England missionaries arrival to the Hawaiian Islands. Photo courtesy of Gary T. Kubota

MORRISON: We are planning a celebration of the 150th anniversary of the Lahaina Banyan Tree on April 22, Earth Day. The Lahaina community lovingly cared for the sapling tree and nurtured its growth to be the mammoth tree it is today. Gardeners encouraged selected roots to grow by tying pickle jars with water to them. Once these roots touched the ground, they became strong trunks that now stand in a symmetrical circle around the main, original trunk. The Lahaina Banyan Tree has been at the center of community life in Lahaina for decades and has welcomed large celebrations, student May Day programs and formal gatherings.

Early this year we held a blacksmithing demonstration on the front lawn of the Baldwin Home Museum. It was such a success we have decided to hold this event quarterly and possibly add other traditional arts from the 1800s.

We are bringing back the History in Our Front Yard Tour for teachers and opening it up to teachers island wide. This guided walking tour of Lahaina provides teachers with a close up look and deeper understanding of Lahaina’s history. The spring tour is full, but we may add a tour in the fall if there is interest.

Night at the Museum is a new program we started in 2022. Youth and their parents spend the night at one of Lahaina’s historic sites and engage in activities, taste food and enjoy music from that era of history.

The Old Lahaina Courthouse is among the historic buildings restored and preserved by the Lahaina Restoration Foundation. A large portion of downtown Lahaina has been designated as a National Historic Landmark since 1962. Photo courtesy of Gary T. Kubota

Free, Hawaiian cultural classes have also restarted and are being offered throughout the year.

KUBOTA: Any other event?

MORRISON: Plans are underway for our “best ever” float for Nā Kamehameha Parade in June. Actual design is shrouded in secrecy, but the float will be built on a big rig flatbed truck.

KUBOTA: How has the Foundation changed from the beginning until now?

MORRISON: In the early days, the primary job of the organization was restoration of historic buildings and sites. Today, many of the structures in Lahaina from the 1800s have been restored or some, unfortunately, lost. The only remaining major structure in Lahaina needing restoration is the Pioneer Mill Office built in 1910. The historic Mill Office provides a window into the contributions of the waves of immigrant groups who came to West Maui to work on the plantations.

Actress Karen Valasek portrays suffragette Ethel Baldwin at Waiola Church Cemetery in 2022, as part of the History Theatre series supported by the Lahaina Restoration Foundation and Hawaiian Mission Houses on Oʻahu.

KUBOTA: I can’t help thinking how innovative yet challenging it must be to have actors portraying characters of old Hawaii in History Theatre presentations. Is there more of this kind of portrayal of history planned in the future?

MORRISON: We have a great partnership with Hawaiian Mission Houses on Oʻahu, who created and developed the History Theater program. We are pleased to bring such a quality program to Lahaina. We host two different presentations a year, one in the summer and one in the fall. Hawaiian Mission Houses develops the scripts, selects the actors and creates the costuming. The scripts are developed from research of old letters, newspapers etc. so the authenticity of the characters being portrayed is preserved.

A major contributor to preserving Lahaina’s history, including its role as the first capital of the Hawaiian Kingdom, was James Luckey. Luckey served as executive director for 26 years and led efforts to restore the Old Lahaina Prison, Seamen’s Hospital, Wo Hing Temple and Hale Paʻi, built in 1837 to print grammar books and Bibles.

KUBOTA: It sounds like a lot of work ahead of you?

MORRISON: It’s obviously not just me. There are many who have preceded me, including visionaries such as Jim Luckey who developed enduring partnerships with Maui County on the restoration and maintenance of historic buildings. My predecessor – Keoki Freeland – as well as many volunteers, staff and the LRF Board of Directors all work diligently to keep Lahaina’s history alive. We are currently expanding our staff and actively seeking an educator, major gifts director, and event coordinator.

KUBOTA: Your role seems to be expanding as the Foundation grows?

MORRISON: It is a fascinating job that has given me a deep appreciation for the enduring legacy of our historic town.

Theo Morrison may be reached at or 808-661-3262. The Foundation’s website is

Gary Kubota
Gary Kubota, an associate writer with, has worked as a staff news writer with the Honolulu Star-Advertiser and The Maui News. He lives on Maui. He’s also been an editor/business manager with the Lahaina News. He’s received national and regional journalism awards — a National Press Club Citation of Merit and Walter Cronkite Best In The West, among them.
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