Cactus Garden King is Named a Distinguished Alumni

By Kevin Deneen, Kapiʻo Staff Writer

During the summer of 1988, while walking past Sean Browne’s “Spirits’ Way” statue — a symbol of spiritual change — Moriso Teraoka had a vision to surround the sculpture with sustainable plants.

Moriso Teraoka

Moriso Teraoka

Teraoka, a World War II veteran who served with the famed 442nd Regimental Combat Team and 100th Infantry Battalion, had retired after 38 years at the Pearl Harbor Naval Base and was spending his retirement taking culinary classes so he could cook for his friends and family. On his way to his morning botony class, Teraoka would pass the massive silicon bronze statue near Parking Lot B.

“Every time I passed there, I said, ‘Ah, this is just the place to plant my succulents,’” Teraoka said. “And that’s how I got started.”

Teraoka landscaped a small area around the sculpture, converting the patch of dry, arid land into a sustainable garden. He and friend Bill Jones donated the plants from their own backyards.

Administrators and students took notice of the change and one day former assistant to the provost Pat Snyder asked Teraoka if he could develop a garden in front of the ʻIlima building.

“It was a challenge, you know, by myself,” Teraoka said.

Teraoka was more than up for the challenge, and he dedicated himself to creating a cactus garden that has become one of the Diamond Head campus’s signature features. And while he never considered his work as anything but an act of love, when maintenance supervisor Vernon Wong insisted on compensating him, Teraoka politely accepted.

“(Wong) realized that, hey, all the time I spent doing this, I never asked for a penny,” Teraoka said. “So he decided to compensate me. I not going say no.”

The cactus garden has since expanded to include herbs, which are used by the culinary program for educational and cooking purposes.

Teraoka’s talents extend far beyond the garden. A student reporter for Kapiʻo for 10 years, Teraoka has taken several writing and literature courses at KCC and is a committed lifetime learner. He also maintains what he calls his “Poe-Tree,” the garden flora from which he hangs brief writings — thoughts, memories, impressions — solicited from writers around the world.

For all of his many contributions and accomplishments, Teraoka has been named one of this year’s Distinguished KCC Alumni. Teraoka and fellow honoree Justin Cruz on KHON-2 will be honored at the KCC’s annual Harvest Dinner and Membership Drive event on Nov. 21.