Man behind the images
By COLIN M. STEWART
Tribune-Herald staff writer
It wasn’t until late in life, at the age of 47, that John Howard Pierce moved to Hilo and began documenting Big Island life through pictures.
Like many people who move to the Hawaiian Islands from the mainland, he may have been searching for a “second chance,” said Miki Bulos, an archivist and researcher at Lyman Museum who is working to preserve a massive collection of Pierce’s photos.
“This is just me saying this, and I’m probably projecting, but I think he fell in love with Hawaii,” she said. “This was a chance to start over, to explore. I think it was an adventure.”
Born in 1903 on a family farm in Hebron, Ill., Pierce earned a degree in journalism from the University of California at Berkeley in 1924. He later worked as an agricultural reporter, covering the San Francisco Bay area, including the California and Hawaiian Sugar Company.
Pierce and his wife, Emily, had tried on multiple occasions to start a family but were met with disappointment after disappointment, Bulos said.
“We’ve had some people tell us that she had a dozen miscarriages,” she said.
However, in December 1950, with Emily six months pregnant, the Pierces pulled up their stakes and relocated to Hilo, where he began work with the then-Hilo Tribune-Herald as the farm editor. Three months later, Emily gave birth to their one and only child, Nancy Ann.
“New home, new job, new child, new life,” Bulos said.
Into this new life Pierce dove with great enthusiasm and a trained eye, she said. No event was too big or too small to draw the attention of his camera lens.
While few records have been located detailing his early days with the paper, a review of his Hawaii Tribune-Herald personnel file shows that in 1964, he made $127 per week.
While his subjects varied widely, he remained interested in and dedicated to farming, Bulos said, not only covering the Hawaii Island agriculture industry but also editing the island’s annual progress report and closely monitoring industry changes on the island. Even after his retirement from the newspaper in 1968, he continued to edit the progress report, and also took on the job of curator of the Lyman Museum, overseeing the construction of the main building.
In 1978, while in London researching the Captain Cook Bicentennial special edition for the paper, he was hit by a double-decker bus and died within the year at the age of 76.
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