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ISLAND HISTORY: Original Coco Palm Hotel employee Elsie Ho‘opi‘i

In 1953, Lyle Guslander (1914-84) bought the Coco Palms Hotel, which was in operation until 1992, and hired Grace Buscher (1910-2000) as manager.

Grace, who later married Guslander, then transformed a sleepy, roadside hotel into the best-known resort in all of Hawai‘i.

One of the hotel’s original employees was Elsie Ho‘opi‘i (1928-2009).

When David Penhallow (1933-2019) interviewed her during the writing of his book, “The Story of the Coco Palms Hotel,” she recalled an anecdote that occurred during the filming of “Miss Sadie Thompson,” filmed on Kaua‘i in 1953.

Penhallow then wrote: “Elsie had returned to Kaua‘i after graduating from college. She went looking for work at Coco Palms as an office worker and all she was offered was a housemaid position. She was assigned to clean the bungalows near where the movie was being shot, while her friends milled around the hotel daily.

“Embarrassed that her friends would see her, a college graduate, cleaning rooms, she’d “case the joint” first. If she saw no one she knew on the grounds, she would run into a bungalow to clean it. Then she’d go through the same “cloak and dagger” routine and make a dash into the next bungalow, hiding her face behind the mop and pail.

“Elsie had a long career at the hotel, where she eventually took charge of the Coco Palms’ reservations. Grace treated her like a daughter and said many times to her, ‘Elsie, you arrived at the hotel with the termites,’ implying that Elsie had always been with Grace at Coco Palms.”

Elsie once remarked, “I also became Grace’s confidant and she told me stories she wouldn’t tell other employees — like about the time Andrew Kane (1923-91) hiked her up to ‘Opaeka‘a Falls and they encountered the Night Marchers, the ghosts of ancient Hawaiian warriors. Andrew made her hide behind a boulder as Night Marchers passed them on their way to the ocean.”

Elsie Chong Ho‘opi‘i retired as assistant manager at Plantation Hale in Waipouli.

She and her husband, John Healaniku Ho‘opi‘i, Sr. had two children Healani (Gordon) Sanchez and son John (Mapuana) Ho‘opi‘i Jr.
Source: The Garden Island

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