The History

How Rotary in Hawaii Started

Over 100 years have passed since a happenstance encounter between two Hawaii businessmen sailing aboard the luxury liner “Lurline” from San Francisco to Honolulu. 

The conversation about a new community-service organization called “Rotary” enticed both men and ultimately led to the establishment of Hawaii’s first Rotary Club in July 1915.

Today, this club still exists as the Rotary Club of Honolulu Since its founding, an additional 52 Rotary clubs have been organized and thrive throughout the State. The contributions of these clubs to Hawaii’s children, families and communities have been  numerous and impactful. No doubt, our State is a far better place because of Rotary. 

History of Park Venue

Centennial Park was once the site of several small houses which were abandoned in the late 1980s. In the early 2000s, developers planned to build a high-rise condominium and began garnering support for their project. Then City Councilman Duke Bainum introduced a bill opposing the developers’ request for approval and proposed to dedicate the site for a public park. 

Bill and Helen Sweatt, who lived across from the site, were joined by numerous residents in opposing the condominium plan. As the developers increased their efforts, Bill fought hard to have the lot turned into a park instead of another condo. While Helen fought the construction ideas, Bill went door to door collecting 700 signatures to oppose the condominium and support the park plan.

The Sweatts and the neighbors were ecstatic when in 2003 the City purchased the property and designated for use as a park. The park idea, unfortunately, stalled when the City decided to use the lot for a staging area for their many city projects in the Waikiki area. The property was fenced in and gradually filled with city equipment and construction materials.

Bill Sweatt passed away in 2011 at the age of 85, without seeing his dream come true. His dream, however, endured, and in 2013 Mayor Kirk Caldwell approached the Rotary Club of Honolulu and began discussing public/private partnership to build a park on the property. 

The rest is history.

Marking History

Once inside, visitors will stroll the walkways stopping to read historical signage spaced among the Rotarian-planted gardens. Signage will be dedicated to a specific decade dating back 100 years and tells two stories of historical significance. The first details the history, accomplishments and growth of Rotary in Hawaii since 1915 plus notable Rotary International achievements made possible by the Rotary Foundation. The second provides a historical overview of the transformation of Waikiki during this same 100-year period, as well as the ancient Hawaiian history of Waikiki. 

Signage will provide park visitors, both local and international, with a knowledge and perspective available in no other venue in the world.

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