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Bonepake Lapilio, second from left in top row, was Director of the Kalawao Choir, shown here in 1901. Courtesy: IDEA Archives

Meet our new Executive Director:

Joseph Lapilio

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Ka ‘Ohana O Kalaupapa President Boogie Kahilihiwa receives a lei and embrace from Joseph Lapilio during the Remembrance Ceremony at the site of the Kalaupapa Memorial during the 2018 annual meeting of Ka ‘Ohana O Kalaupapa. Photo: Henry G. Law

Joseph Lapilio, whose great-grandfather was pictured in the last photo ever taken of Father Damien at Kalaupapa in 1889, has been named the next Executive Director of Ka ‘Ohana O Kalaupapa.

Lapilio, who lives in Waianae, assumes his new job on January 2, 2021.

After reviewing 212 resumes and interviewing the top 10 candidates, the ‘Ohana Board of Directors felt that Joe stood out — not only because of his strong Kalaupapa connections, but for his experience with strengthening nonprofits.

Joseph has long been aware that his great-grandfather, Bonepake Lapilio, was at Kalaupapa. He had visited the settlement a number of times, but never got to know about his kupuna until he became involved with Ka ‘Ohana O Kalaupapa.  

Bonepake Lapilio was just 7 years old when he and his older sister, Mele, were sent to Kalaupapa on February 25, 1889. Bonepake married Luisa Lui in 1902 and became the director of the Kalawao Choir. He tested negative for leprosy in 1909 and was told he could leave the settlement, but he stayed with his wife until she died in 1917. He then returned to Oahu to raise his three grandsons, including Joe’s father. He died a few years before Joe was born.

Joseph first attended an ‘Ohana presentation at UH-West Oahu in early 2018 and was then invited to the annual meeting of Ka ‘Ohana later that year where he found himself surrounded by Kalaupapa residents and other descendants. Joseph felt like he was meeting long-lost relatives.

“It was nice to be in the same room with all the residents and these other family members,” he said. “It was almost as if there was a large part of your family you’d never known about and all of a sudden you’re all there together. It was that kind of feeling.”

Joseph felt the presence of his great-grandfather and other ‘ohana who died at Kalaupapa. 

“It was like they were in the room with us,” he said. 

Joseph believes that, with the residents of Kalaupapa getting older, there is a greater need for the descendants of Kalaupapa to step up to make sure the history is accurately remembered.