By PETER SUR
Tribune-Herald staff writer
The two-story house at 264 Nohea St. in Hilo is overflowing with poinsettia plants.
Dozens of them in a broad array of colors — classic red, hot pink, mottled red and pink, yellow, pink-green-and-yellow — line the garage floor where a half-dozen retired women have arranged them by variety.
Hundreds more of the colorful plants rest in an auxiliary carport, in a storage area, around the first-floor basement of the home, and even in the rear of a neighbor’s home next door.
Hundreds more have already been sold, destined to decorate offices, restaurants, homes and cemeteries across East Hawaii. There might not be a white Christmas in Hawaii, but the Hawaii Island Retired Teachers Association is looking to paint the island red and green.
The sale of the plants began Friday morning and it will continue until all the plants are gone sometime in the next few days. Michie Kuwaye, who retired as a social studies teacher from Hilo High more than 20 years ago, ordered about 1,500 of the plants from a Waimea nursery.
The sales began eight or 10 years ago, Kuwaye said, when the group of retired teachers wanted to do something for the teacher candidates at the University of Hawaii at Hilo School of Education.
Efforts to fund a scholarship were abandoned when the group found they didn’t have any control over the awarding of the scholarships, Kuwaye said. So in looking to find another way to recognize the new teachers, they learned about the students’ tradition of wearing sashes to commencement.
In past years, the graduates would pay for someone to make their own sashes, but HIRTA offered to provide them for free.
Every year, the roughly 30 teacher candidates — Kuwaye has no idea how many need to be made for next spring’s commencement — would pick out a fabric for the sash from Sig Zane Designs. HIRTA members buy the fabric with money raised from the poinsettia sales and make the sashes for the graduates. The fabric is expensive, considering the source, and makes up the bulk of the $500 the group expects to raise from the poinsettia sales. The group also uses the money to buy maile lei for the master’s degree candidates.
At Kuwaye’s house, HIRTA members chatted about food and family in between visits from customers, who seemed to come in waves. Many of the large group orders were reserved in advance, while others strolled around the garage to inspect the plants for sale.
The plants sell out quickly because the prices have started low and haven’t changed since the start of the sale. It’s $6 for a plant in a 6-inch pot, $12 for one in the 8-inch pot, and $22 for a 2-gallon bush.
“As long as my legs will carry me, I’ll do it,” Kuwaye said, during a short break from the stream of people who parked along the side of Nohea Street to pick up their plants.
By 10:45 a.m., “quite a bit” of poinsettias had been sold, Kuwaye said, “but I can’t say” how many. “The 6-inch one is going out the fastest.” Another container load is coming down from Waimea today, however.
Deanna Richardson of Keaau picked up nine of the plants for her home. She believes in what the teachers are doing and wants to support the community, she said.
Jane Heit of Kaumana bought 13 plants. She loaded the poinsettias, all of the classic red variety, into the bed of an olive-green pickup truck and secured them with a bungie cord.
“A dozen is going to Puna Hongwanji, and the other goes to my husband’s office (in the Hilo State Office Building,” Heit said.
“It’s exciting to see so many people come and purchase our poinsettias,” said Carol Brown, HIRTA president and a retired third-grade teacher at Hilo Union School.
Kuwaye may be reached at 959-7069.
Email Peter Sur at email@example.com.