Faces of 2013: Couple combines Hawaiian and Hampshire cultures
By Denise Moran For Sun-Times Media December 25, 2013 8:14PM
Don and Maile Edmonson at their Ohana Dollar Store in Hampshire. | Denise Moran for Sun-Times Media
Updated: January 27, 2014 6:28AM
This is another in a series of stories on people and events that shaped our local communities in 2013.
HAMPSHIRE – Don and Maile Edmonson are familiar faces around Hampshire. The village is where the couple lives, works, prays and volunteers for a variety of organizations.
Don and Maile opened Ohana Dollar Store, 129 S. State St., in October after buying the building a year ago from Hampshire couple Dean and Marge Marlowe. The Edmonsons spent nine months remodeling the building that has graced the downtown for many years.
It began as McGrath&Widmayer’s store in the mid-1880s. Over the years, owners have included Voight&Morning in the mid-1920s and Gromer&Gholson in 1943. The Myers family owned and operated Myers Ace Hardware in the building for 30 years until it was purchased by the Marlowes, who turned it into Marlowe’s Ace Hardware. The Marlowes ran the store from 1981 to 2012.
“We didn’t want this building to go empty,” Don Edmonson said. “We wanted to be in the downtown area because we believe in Hampshire.”
The couple received the 2013 Excellence Award from the Hampshire Area Chamber of Commerce. The award was given to them for outstanding achievement in enhancing the Hampshire business community through their efforts in major business renovation and expansion. They were acclaimed as the most improved new business.
The Hawaiian word “Ohana” means family. The store has a variety of merchandise for all family members such as health and beauty needs, home cleaning products, pet supplies, cosmetics, jewelry, a mini hardware section, paper products, party supplies, greeting cards, school supplies, arts and crafts, giftware, candles, seasonal decorations, baby products, kitchen ware, socks and gloves, candy and toys.
Everything in the store costs $1 plus tax, excluding the greeting cards which cost 99 cents plus tax.
“We have had over 6,000 sales transactions since October, with most of those being first timers to the store,” Don said. “Our first time customer count continues to grow. We keep ordering goods and keep the shelves stocked.”
Don said that work on the adjoining Mai Café is coming along.
“The plumbing and most of the electrical work, along with most of the heavy lifting, is done,” Don said. “We still need to build the bar. Right now, however, our focus is on the store. We don’t want to rush into building the café. We want to get it done right.”
Hampshire’s annual summer festival, Coon Creek Country Days, celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2012. Two years earlier, there was talk of ending the fest.
“They were going to cancel Coon Creek Country Days in 2010,” Don said. “Maile and I went to the open meeting along with 30 other people. At the following meeting, attendance was down to 12.”
The Edmonsons, along with a few other newcomers, joined the existing committee members to keep the festival alive. To that end, the festival has experienced renewed success.
The Burlington-Hampshire Area Food Pantry has been the primary beneficiary of all of the fest’s fundraising efforts. The donation to the pantry has increased every year from $2,500 in 2010 to $10,000 in 2013.
Don has served as the fest’s president-coordinator for the past three years. Don and Maile have both served on the fest’s fundraising committee and helped organize, plan and execute every aspect of the festival’s operation.
Maile has coordinated and booked entertainment, served as an emcee, and has been involved with the fest’s marketing and advertising, along with handling the photography. She is both the creator and manager of the fest website. In 2013, she coordinated crafters and food vendors.
Don has been a member of the Hampshire Lions Club since 2009. He has served as the club’s second vice president, first vice president and president. He is now the club’s immediate past president.
Maile and Don are both members of the Hampshire Area Chamber of Commerce. Maile also is a member of the Hampshire Women’s Club.
Don’s mother and stepfather, Catherine and Ralph Seyller, were once active members of the Hampshire Township Park District. Ralph was the district’s first program director. Catherine served as the district board’s secretary. The former East Park in Hampshire was renamed Ralph Seyller Memorial Park. The kitchenette/recreation room in the district building is named after Catherine.
“My mom and dad demonstrated service to their community throughout their lives,” said Don. “Their example instilled in me the importance of serving the community.”
Devoted to church
Don, who grew up in Hampshire, has been a longtime member of Zion United Methodist Church. Maile, who grew up in Hawaii, joined the church in 2011.
Don and Maile met in southern California in 2007 and were married in Kona in September 2011. They had a second wedding celebration at Zion United Methodist in December 2011. Don and Maile have six children between them ranging in ages from 36 to 17. They also have three grandchildren.
Don serves on the church’s finance committee and until recently was on the church’s administrative board. Maile is the president of the church’s women’s club. She also serves as a church trustee, on the missions and membership committee, and as the church custodian. Both serve on the worship committee.
Maile is a descendant of Queen Liliuokalani, the last reigning monarch of the Hawaiian Islands. Maile also is a Kuma Hula (hula teacher).
She started learning hula at age 7 in Maili, Oahu, with Kuma Hula Master and Haku Mele (composer) John Pi’ilani Watkins. She became a professional hula dancer at age 14.
At age 15, Maile and her family moved to the Big Island — Kona, Hawaii, where she performed with Liko Johnston, Lanakila Brandt and her mother, Kaehukai (Aunty Kae) Edsman’s Polynesian Revue. Maile was the featured soloist at the King Kamehameha Hotel’s luau with Tihati Productions, known as the largest Polynesian entertainment company in the world.
Maile moved to Ventura, Calif., in 1983. She taught Polynesian dance and formed a Polynesian entertainment company. In 1993, the company grew and expanded into event planning and talent management.
Maile’s company, Maile Productions, and other Hawaiian entertainers performed for the red carpet premiere of Disney’s animated film “Lilo & Stitch.” It was held at the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood. Maile, along with other musicians and hula dancers, were also flown to Graceland in Tennessee to perform for the movie premiere held there.
Maile arranged to have a Polynesian revue called Aloha Chicago perform at Coon Creek Country Days since 2010. In 2011, Maile became Aloha Chicago’s choreographer, dancer and vocalist. She performed with one of her students at the 2013 fest.
“Hampshire brings wonderful memories of my childhood,” Maile said. “Everyone is very friendly. Everyone knows everyone. When I lived with my family out in the country, we had a chicken farm. They were other livestock farms around us. We later moved to the city of Honolulu. There was a butcher shop there that reminds me of the butcher shop in Hampshire.”
“As Honolulu grew,” Maile continued, “my dad decided we should move to Kona because Honolulu was getting too crowded. Kailua-Kona at that time was a small town. There was a two-way street like State Street in Hampshire and one stop sign that was replaced years later with a stoplight.
“There is snow on the Big Island, but it is 10,000 feet up and higher on Mauna Kea, which means White Mountain. In Hampshire, you can have snow right outside your door. Instead of fields of sugar cane and pineapple fields, Hampshire has fields of corn and soybean.”
Hawaiian tunes fill the air at Ohana Dollar Store. Don and Maile both love the wide open spaces in Hampshire and the seasonal changes. Maile believes in sharing what the people of Hawaii refer to as the “Aloha Spirit.”
Don graduated from Hampshire High School in 1975 and was active in sports and music. He received a bachelor’s degrees in business administration and accounting from Illinois Wesleyan University in May 1979.
After graduation, he returned home and worked for Chicago Rawhide in Elgin. In late 1980, he went to work for Gould Electronics in Rolling Meadows and then transferred to a Gould subsidiary in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in 1986. He relocated to southern California in 1988 working for U.S. subsidiaries of The Rank Group, headquartered in the United Kingdom. Since 1988, Don has served as either the CFO or CEO for a diverse variety of manufacturing companies.
“My professional career provided me the incredible good fortune to travel the world,” said Don, “but the thought of returning to Hampshire one day was always in the back of my mind. The opportunity to do so arose in 2009. I jumped at the chance.”