Members of the Board
Rick Kelley, President
I grew up in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. After a career working in genetics research labs, I retired to Hawaii in 2012. I bought a three-acre spaghetti lot in Orchidland Estates and began slowly replacing the invasive weed trees with palms. Because my property has no soil, I have been hauling hundreds of pickup loads of green waste mulch from the Hilo landfill to mix with black cinder in order to provide something for the plants to grow in. I knew nothing about palms when I arrived, but gradually started leaning the names by visiting the Pana`ewa Zoo, Hawaii Tropical Botanical Gardens, and many private gardens of other HIPS members. In addition to my interest in palms, I also served as president of the Hilo Orchid Society and was the show chair for the annual orchid show in 2015. All of the trees on my property are slathered in orchids.
Sara Wagner, Vice President
I am a new resident to the Big Island after 20 years on Oahu. I was born in Jamaica, and have lived in five different countries and continue to travel as a past time and passion. I am a graduate of San Francisco City College and Hawaii Pacific University. I am a published photographer and past Creative Director for Hawaii Fashion Week. I have been an animal activist for years. Working as a professional photographer, I was one of only two photographers to have been granted permission to have a commercial shoot at the Honolulu Zoo. My mother was a seamstress which fueled my addiction to fashion in any form. My Swiss father was an executive chef and I share his passion for creative cooking.
I became a member of the Palm Society after volunteering to design the booth at the orchid show in 2017. An avid gardener, I've been collecting new specimens for my two acre Leilani Estates home and garnering inspiration from all the talented green thumbs in HIPS.
Chris Friesen, Treasurer
Chris Friesen and his wife Amy bought an abandoned ornamental plant nursery in Pahoa shortly after the 2018 eruption stopped. A semi-retired mathematician from Canada by way of Ohio, Chris and Amy are beginning a grand project to reclaim a beautiful tropical forest from the weedy overgrowth. They are both active in the orchid society and other gardening groups.
Mike Arends, Secretary
I came to the Big Island for a vacation in 2010. Impressed by the people and the incredible gardening possibilities, I moved here permanently in September 2012. I live on 4 acres in Leilani Estates and currently have planted over 400 palm trees on my property. The trees include palms purchased from local palm nurseries as well as those I have grown from seed. Recently, I was evacuated from my house for approximately 4 months during the Kilauea Eruption. Fortunately, both my house and I survived the experience, although I lost my neighbors to the east and south. Approximately 10% of my palms died from the acid rain associated with the eruption, while many other palms were damaged. Approximately a half year later, the garden is nearly fully recovered from the punishment it received during the eruption. One thing remains permanent from the event - I have a view of Fissure 8 from my bedroom window! I enjoy all aspects of palms, and I'm actively involved with maintaining the palm gardens at the Pana'ewa Rainforest Zoo.
Lise Dowd, Membership Secretary
I was born in Winnipeg, Canada and spent most of my childhood in New York State (neither of them very good palm growing regions). I early on moved to warmer climes (Miami) and spent my career in teaching and research at both the high school and college level. After several years retirement in Miami, my husband Steve, a very reluctant cat, and I made the move to the Big Island where, thanks to a bigger garden and a much nicer climate (not nearly so hot), Steve and I have become palm enthusiasts. I have been a board member for the last year and have agreed to be membership secretary. Steve and I are also members of the Hilo Orchid Society and are busy filling our garden with both palms and orchids.
Bob Ferazzi, Member at Large
Mary Lock, Member at Large
My interest in palms started when my husband and I bought a piece of property on Maui with my brother and his wife. My husband and I knew very little about tropical gardening. I had a friend in San Diego who took me to Rancho Soledad, a nursery owned by the late Jerry Hunter and Jerry Andersen's nursery in Fallbrook, California. Next thing we knew we were staying at Jerry and Cindy's Leilani cottage. This of course led to an invite to the Lundkvist garden and buying a container of palms from Palms of Paradise, and a guy named Jeff Marcus at Floribunda Palms. When I got laid off from my software job in the Silicon Valley, it was time to get a place of our own, and we chose to leave Maui and move to Hawaii. I had the wonderful experience of being president of HIPS from 2015-2019. We moved back to Maui in 2018, where I am on the board of The Merwin Conservancy, a small arts organization and steward of a 19 acre palm forest garden planted by the late poet W.S. Merwin. My husband and I love Hawaii island and are still keeping our land in Ninole just in case we come back. We spent four years starting a garden there with some of the palms that originated on Hawaii, made a trip to Maui, and returned to Hawaii.
Karl Mendonca, Member at Large
Karl is a local Hilo boy who moved to the mainland to work in the Forest Service for many years. A few years ago he retired and moved back to Hilo with his wife, Sandi. They bought a beautifully landscaped property at the very top of Wianuenue Ave that backs up to the river. Karl has become very active in several gardening groups. In addition to HIPS, he is a member of the Ohana Lehua Bonsai and Big Island Water Garden clubs and is very active in the orchid society. Karl shares his garden regularly in the HIPS private garden tours for new members program.
Gunnar Hillert, Member at Large
Originally from Germany, Gunnar moved to Atlanta, GA in 2001 and was amazed to learn that, while at the time uncommon, it is possible to grow palms, bananas and other sub-tropical plants in a Zone 7b city. He joined the Southeastern Palm Society and never stopped planting palms since. In 2016 Gunnar and his family moved to their 1.6 hectare (4 acre) botanical paradise above Kona. While the property was meticulously landscaped and even won a statewide award in prior years, it clearly was lacking in palms. Thus, for the past couple of years, Gunnar is changing that by having already planted close to 200 palms. In his professional life, Gunnar has been a software developer for the past 16 years. While living in Atlanta, GA, he led a large user group (non-profit) for software developers for many years and co-founded and co-organized a large technology conference. In his spare-time, he is combining his technology knowledge with his affinity for plants to create a solution to electronically manage his plant collection of over 500 plants. As time permits, Gunnar also enjoys doing triathlons. In 2019 he finished the Kona IRONMAN in 12h 41min.
Bob Carrere, Member at Large
My husband Andy and I have been coming to Hawai’i Island for 23 years. We bought our first property in 2006, built a cottage in 2008, and created a tropical garden with 116 palms of 43 species, 12 varieties of bamboo, 19 fruit trees + bananas, 11 native species of trees, a sandalwood grove, and a native forest of hala, lama, and ohias. Ai La’au took it from us in the 2018 eruption, forcing us to reassess our relationship to the islands. We bought the Lundkvist Garden in 2019 and moved permanently to the gardens in 2021. Andy is fully retired, and I am a clinical psychologist by license, fully retired, and a psychoanalyst in practice practice, sliding into full retirement, except for gardening. We love gardening and are enriched each day to be stewards of this gem we call Moani: The Lundkvist Gardens.