This oral history interview is a project of the Historical Committee of the Outrigger Canoe Club. The legal rights of this material remain with the Outrigger Canoe Club. Anyone wishing to reproduce it or quote at length from it should contact the Historical Committee of the Outrigger Canoe Club. The reader should be aware that an oral history document portrays information as recalled by the interviewee. Because of the spontaneous nature of this kind of document, it may contain statements and impressions that are not factual. A complete transcript is posted below the video.
An Interview by Barbara Del Piano
March 17, 2017
BDP: Today is Friday, March 17th, St. Patrick’s Day, 2017. I’m Barbara Del Piano (BDP), a member of the Historical Committee of the Outrigger Canoe Club. One of our projects is to take oral histories of long time members and today it is my pleasure to interview Bonnie Eyre (BE). We’re here in the Board Room of the Outrigger. Good morning, Bonnie.
BE: Good morning. How are you?
BDP: I’m fine and thank you so much for joining us today. I know you have some wonderful stories to tell us. But first of all, let’s have a little background. I know you were born here, but can you tell us a little bit about your family history?
BE: Yes. Our first home was up in Nuuanu and we were there for many years. Every time I took a nap I was in the stream in Nuuanu. My parents never knew it until I got married. Then we moved from there to Diamond Head and that’s where we resided. My family history. I have a sister two years younger. She’s now living in New York. My father worked for Bishop Bank. I went to school at Hanahauoli and at Punahou. Then I went two years to Miss Porter’s School in Farmington, Connecticut. Then I went on to Briarcliff College which was a junior college but six of us stayed on for another year. We just had a glorious time and I’m afraid that the president of the college was afraid I was not ever going to return home. She made a comment one time about, “Doesn’t your family want you?” And I said, “Oh, no.” She said, “I think I’ll have to go to New York to get you a ticket. You must go home. You can’t stay here another year.” So I made my way back to Honolulu, then I spent two years working in San Francisco. Took two bicycle trips to Europe and then returned home to finally settle down.
BDP: Oh, that’s really exciting. What a wonderful young life you’ve had. Then I guess it was when you moved to Diamond Head that you got interested in horses. . .
BDP: Because that’s where I met you.
BE: That’s right.
BDP: Down at Town and Country Stables.
BDP: Back in, I guess, it was the early ’40s
BE: Yes. We could walk from our house right through a pasture of goats in those days down to Kapiolani Park and have our horseback riding lessons.
BDP: And you took, of course, from Mrs. Rich.
BE: Oh, yes. An interesting thing about Mrs. Rich — during the war my father was a reserve policeman and his territory was Diamond Head. We weren’t supposed to be out after 8:00 at night because of the curfew and he caught Amy Rich on the road going to the stables and he had to stop her. He said, “Amy, what are you doing out here? It’s after curfew time.” She said, “Bob, I have a sick horse. I have to get to the stables.” So he says, “All right, I’ll let you go through but you have to promise me to spend the night.” So she did. She said, “Yes, I will. I’ll spend the night, I won’t go home to Waimanalo. I’ll just stay here over night.” I guess she slept on a bale of hay, I’m not sure. But anyway, that’s what happened with Amy.
BDP: She was really something. Very strict, wasn’t she?
BE: Oh, definitely, yes.
BDP: Was she from Australia?
BE: I thought she was from Ireland. Maybe I’m mistaken.
BDP: I’m not sure but she had what to me is a British accent.
BE: Yes, yes.
BDP: Okay. Well, so you grew up in Nuuanu and then Diamond Head. What part of Diamond Head?
BE: We were across the bridge actually from where La Pietra is now.
BDP: On Noela?
BE: On Noela, yes.
BDP: Noela Drive. That’s such a beautiful area. You went to Hanahauoli and Punahou. Were you involved in any sports at school?
BE: Oh, yes, swimming.
BE: Yes. In 7th grade we had swimming for our first sport. Bobby Rath was walking up and down the side of the pool looking for more swimmers for the senior varsity and so I was selected that year to be on the senior varsity.
BE: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
BDP: So you did competitive swimming.
BE: Yes. I competed all through Punahou.
BE: And into college.
BDP: Oh, interesting. Well, when and why did you join the Outrigger?
BE: My father thought we would enjoy the Club and he was a great friend of Yabo Taylor, who was then president of the Club. So my sister and I joined in 1947. As soon as we joined, we were both into paddling. In 1949, we were the first women’s crew to win a race.
BE: Our steersman was a woman, the whole crew, all women. Then in 1953 it was our great pleasure to go to Kona, off island, to race there and we won that race. I think every time we competed we always won. I know one race Tommy Schroeder was our steersman and we did win a beautiful trophy, a great big silver bowl, but no one knows what happened to it.
BE: Which is very sad.
BDP: A lot of our trophies have disappeared over the years.
BDP: That’s too bad. Have you kept up with swimming?
BE: Oh, yes. Then as far as paddling, I joined the senior crew in the 1970s for one year. That was fun to get back in.
BE: Then one time Charlie Martin needed a paddler. I remember it was December. He was a great steersman supposedly. They needed another paddler so I just finished swimming in the ocean and Henry Ayau was number one seat and I was number two. I don’t remember the rest of the men that were in the boat, but we’re on top of this wave and all of a sudden Henry realizes we need to jump out of the canoe. I thought, “Well, I always figured he’s the man of the sea. He knows what’s going on.” He jumped out, then I jumped out. I almost landed on my paddle because I thought I broke my arm. What was happening was the ama and the boat were splitting. The only thing I thought I could do to be helpful was to grab the paddles and swim to shore and the guys would have to bring the pieces of boat back to shore. But a canoe came up from shore and saw what happened. He said, “Turn around, we need the paddles.” So I turned around and went back to the boat and I was the number one seat then paddling and Charlie was steering and all the other guys were holding the boat together. Then we finally got it to shore.
BDP: You didn’t win that one.
BE: We weren’t racing. We were just having a fun time and then all of a sudden whoops. What’s happening here?
BDP: Well, in those days you didn’t have the competition from so many other clubs.
BE: Oh, yeah.
BDP: Who were your competitors?
BE: I don’t really remember.
BDP: Waikiki Surf.
BE: I’m sure.
BDP: And Hui Nalu.
BDP: Do you still swim?
BE: I swim every day, yes.
BDP: Every single day?
BE: Mm-hmm (affirmative). I’ve been swimming in front of the Club now since 1975.
BE: I’ve done many, many long distance races. The Rough Water Swim, the Turkey Swim, Castle Swim, and some on the north shore.
BDP: Oh, my heavens. Have you won any of them?
BE: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yes.
BDP: Tell us about that.
BE: Well, the interesting swim was in ’86 when I was coming in the final channel on the rough water event. I had six dolphins by my side. I thought, “Oh, please, would one of you give me a ride to shore because this would be a wonderful story?” They wouldn’t cooperate, they were just squeaking and smiling. I made it to shore and got on the podium and got my Koa bowl for first place over 1,000 swimmers. I said to TallyHo Blears, the master of ceremonies, “Could I say a few words?” He said, “Sure.” So I said, “How many of you swimmers saw the six dolphins in our swim?” Nobody raised their hand. I said, “I wish I could stand here and disqualify myself because I got a ride to shore but they wouldn’t cooperate so that was that.” Then they all clapped, they thought it was a funny story.
BDP: Oh, that’s a wonderful story.
BE: Then I had to be rescued on one race. There was a very strong current. Three hundred and fifty of us were rescued. We had to go to a boat to get on the boat to get back to shore.
BDP: Three hundred and fifty?
BE: Yeah. Then there was another race that I could see all the seaweed on the beach and I knew the currents were bad. I went and canceled that one and about an hour later a lot of swimmers were being rescued by helicopter.
BDP: Oh, my gosh.
BE: Those were the two bad races, yeah.
BDP: You don’t enter those races anymore?
BE: I did until the end of the ’70s.
BE: Maybe early ’80s. I was still doing it.
BDP: Now you just swim.
BE: I just enjoy my swim.
BDP: For the pleasure.
BDP: I understand that you’ve gotten friendly with a lot of sea creatures.
BE: I certainly have, yes.
BDP: Tell us about that.
BE: Well, even this morning, since I’ve been swimming there so long I could recognize the markings on the honu (green sea turtle). This particular honu I caught up with it in front of the Elk’s Club and we swam over to the middle of the channel. Then I decided to go out to the wind sock. I did my course as I usually go all over the place and I found her hiding under a ledge. It was the same one that I’d been swimming with. They like to hide. When I come along and they see me, they’ll come up and then we’ll swim together, and they blow bubbles. A lot of times, I’ll swim with a whole new … And I just follow the direction they’re going in. They’ll come up to me and introduce me like, “Here I want you to meet my friend,” or whatever. It’s just awesome. It’s just the expression they have. Then I’ve been with eagle rays that come in early in the morning to eat off the bottom of the ocean. I could get so close I see their gills in motion. That’s pretty awesome.
BDP: Wow. Well, maybe we should tell our audience that a honu is a turtle.
BE: Hawaiian sea green turtle.
BDP: I see. Good. Do any of them scare you?
BE: Oh, no.
BE: They’re all my friends.
BDP: They’re all your friends. What are some of the strangest things you’ve ever seen?
BE: Well, there was a very large black octopus who came out of hiding and pumped himself right in front me on a coral, great big chunk of coral, and just sat there looking at me. He had white polka dots. He was the most colorful octopus I’d ever seen. I thought, “This is weird. He’s supposed to do just the opposite. He’s supposed to go and hide.” I couldn’t figure that out. He just sat there looking at me. Then there was this seal one time that was going out to the horizon and I was coming in. I turned around and swam right beside it. That seal slowed down to my pace, we were two feet apart, and we swam for, I guess, maybe 25 minutes. He kept looking at me, smiling at me like we’d each found a new swimming partner. Then I finally had to go back to shore but that was fun.
BDP: Oh, my goodness. What adventures you have down there.
BE: It’s exciting because every time I go in, it’s something new every day or seeing my usual friends, my sea creatures, yeah.
BDP: Oh, gosh, that’s wonderful. Well, I hate to change the subject but when did you get married? Can you tell us about . . .
BE: I first met my husband, Dean Atherton Eyre, Junior, know as Appy, A-P-P-Y, at a party. It was just here’s so and so, hi, how do you do. And that was because there were a lot of people there. Then I was working in San Francisco and he was working for Hooker and Fay in San Francisco also. He was from California and Atherton, California was named after his family. I needed a ride to a party in Woodside, California and I was told that he would be going. He got the message that I needed a ride, so he called to give me a ride and that’s how we met and started going together ever since.
BE: We were married here in Honolulu in 1956. He came here to Hawaii as a gift from his father to work at Ronald Von Holt’s ranch on the Big Island. My father-in-law had a ranch in Hollister raising cattle. He and Ronald had gone together to Yale and knew each other very well, so he thought it’d be fun for Appy to work with Ronald on the ranch. Appy thought that’s what he would do. When he finished his stint in the Army, he would go back and work for Ronald. In the meantime, unfortunately, Ronald had a massive heart attack, so Appy had to change plans. He knew he wanted to live in Hawaii and came back here on the Lurline and worked for Hawaiian Trust.
BDP: Oh. Interesting. Do you have any children?
BE: Yes, two and they live on the mainland.
BDP: Oh, they live on the mainland. Okay. Have you ever served on any committees?
BE: Here at the Outrigger?
BDP: Uh-huh (affirmative).
BE: Yes, I was on the House Committee.
BDP: Oh, were you? Is that the only one?
BE: That was the only one.
BDP: The only one. I see. Okay. Do you go to any of the social gatherings here at the Club?
BE: Oh, yes. Uh-huh (affirmative).
BDP: That’s right. I remember you used to do the hula.
BDP: At, what was it? The Oldtimers’ Get Together?
BE: Yes, right.
BDP: Uh-huh (affirmative). Where did you learn hula?
BE: Well, my first hula I learned when I was five years old. Leilani’s Hula Studio on Lewers Street. It’s not there anymore. Then I got serious and as a teenager I was under Iolani Luahine.
BE: Yeah, she was my kumu hula.
BDP: She was very strict, wasn’t she?
BE: Very strict, yeah.
BDP: Yes. Well, how did you feel about moving when the Club moved from Waikiki?
BE: Well, we all thought it would be horrible. Yeah. But look at us now. Wow. It’s better than the old one.
BDP: It certainly is. How has the Outrigger influenced your life?
BE: Well, this is my second home.
BDP: Do you live close by still?
BE: About 15 minutes away maybe.
BDP: I see. How do you see the Club’s future like when our lease with the Elk’s Club expires?
BE: Well, I hope we can stay here. It’s a beautiful location. It’s hard to beat any Club like this. It should really remain just as is because it’s just perfect. They could do a little maintenance here and there that’s needed, but don’t change it drastically. No.
BDP: You’re right. You do come down every single day.
BE: Every day.
BDP: Yes. You do go to the social functions. Anything else you’d like to talk about?
BE: Well, I was very involved in flower arranging. When I was little, I would take the Christmas wreaths apart to find out how they were put together and made. That got me started on that sort of thing. The first thing was May Moyer, who was doing all the beautiful arrangements at the Art Academy, and had a workshop. She never gives a workshop so I thought I’ll sign up because I’ll learn something from her. I remember it was … I forgot what year it was, but it was in November and she wanted us to make Christmas wreaths and she had all the materials. So this group was doing that. She just walked around and observed, but never said anything so I wasn’t critiqued and I didn’t know what I had done wrong or whatever. Then I get this letter in January to join her group, which first made me a nervous wreck. I thought, “Gosh, working under May Moyer. That’s something.” I gave it a lot of thought and I thought, “You know, I learned a lot.” I signed up. It was every Monday morning we would go early to make all those beautiful arrangements throughout the museum.
BDP: They were fabulous.
BE: Absolutely fabulous. I did it for about eight years, I think. Then I got a puppy and I had to go through obedience with the dog so I couldn’t do both. She said, “Any time you want to come back, you let me know.” Then I got a call from Dorothy Ermin at Punahou a couple of years after that saying, “Would you like to do the flowers in Cooke Library? You could use the material on campus.” I said, “Oh, that would be fun.” There may be three arrangements in the library. Then at Christmastime I decided to make eight or 10 Christmas wreaths to go on the stacks of the books and some of the teachers wanted to buy the wreaths. In fact, all the wreaths were sold so the money I donated to the school. Somebody came by and saw the wreaths and wanted to know who made them and could they be sold at the store in Kilohana Square. So I said, “Sure. I would love to do that.” I was selling wreaths there. Then somebody came by and saw those wreaths, wanted to know who was making them and I was asked to join a craft group. I was in that group for 13 years, which really made me creative because I had to create a whole lot of items for this fair.
BDP: Oh, I’m sure.
BE: I loved doing it. Then Punahou asked me to put on a flower show in this little gallery they had. They expected it to go for two weeks and they produce all the pedestals. I did 15 arrangements and I got a friend to do wall hangings to complement my arrangements. I had to go popping in to put water in the vases and make sure none of the flowers would wilt. My daughter was in the senior class then so she did all the lighting for me. It was fun but it was big job.
BDP: A big job.
BE: But I had fun.
BDP: Well, you certainly had a wonderful career.
BE: Then I used to model for Princess Kaiulani here at the Outrigger.
BE: I did that for about 14 years I think.
BDP: 14 years.
BDP: When they had the . . .
BE: The Christmas luncheon.
BDP: Yes. That was wonderful.
BE: Then I modeled for Daughters of Hawaii and Historic Hawaii Foundation twice. I got to wear Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant’s ball gown. She had a bustle so that was fun. That was held at the Royal Hawaiian. Then I also got to wear Queen Liliuokalani’s ball gown and that was held at Una Walker’s home in Nuuanu.
BDP: Oh, my gosh. Are you still active in the Daughters of Hawaii?
BE: Yes, I am. I’m also in the Garden Club. I’ve been on the board and the past vice president of the Garden Club.
BDP: Oh. To belong to the Daughters you had to have had a relative that was . . .
BE: Yes, but now you can be a cousin if you’re interested and join, anybody can join.
BDP: Oh, yes. I’m a cousin.
BE: Okay, yes.
BDP: You are a daughter.
BE: Yes, I am.
BDP: Who was your first ancestor to come here?
BE: Well, the interesting part about my family in connection with Hawaii is that my great-great-uncle, Herbert Purvis, was growing sugar cane. He had a sugar cane plantation on Kukuihaile on the Big Island. He brought the first macadamia nut tree to the islands in 1880. His reason for doing that was because the leaves reminded him of holly. I don’t remember how many trees he brought but the first one was 100 years old in 1980. Yeah. So he started … There’s a pamphlet with history about that. Then he would ride horseback from Kukuihaile to Parker Ranch to go hunting with Sam Parker, who owned Parker Ranch. He would ride horseback and bring his hunting dogs and hunting equipment and spend a couple days. And that’s just not around the corner; that was quite an adventure to do that.
BDP: Oh, gosh.
BE: Then my other great-uncle, Edward Purvis, was a major in Kalakaua’s Court. My son has his sword. The ukulele was named after him and that is in Mary Pukui’s dictionary under ukulele there’s information about him. He was a very lively young man and, of course, Kalakaua loved his Hawaiian music so my uncle entertained a lot, yes.
BDP: Oh, how fascinating.
BE: Then my two other great-uncles on the island of Kauai, Walter and Alexander McBryde, got to know Queen Emma very well. She was very lonely when she went to that island with her ladies in waiting, so she sold the property that she had to the two uncles. When she went over there she would live in this little cottage which was on a very high hill.
BDP: What island was that.
BE: On Kauai.
BE: She lived in this cottage and then she decided, “I just don’t want to come over here anymore,” so Alexander wanted to live in the valley. It was known as Lawaikai then. He had the house lowered down the cliff and he lived in that house until he built his own home. We would go over as a family to visit him in the summer. Go by boat over night and land there and spend the entire summer. It was just old Hawaii, it was wonderful. There were cattle in the valley and rice fields. We had hukilau on the weekends. Then later on we weren’t going as often so Mr. John Allerton came out from Chicago and bought the property from my father and my uncle, Duncan McBryde. It is now known as the National Tropical Botanical Gardens. It’s very well known and very famous.
BDP: Yes. That is a fascinating story. Wow. I didn’t expect all that.
BE: I told you.
BDP: Yes. Well, thank you so very much, Bonnie, for sharing. I should mention your real name is not Bonnie.
BE: No, that’s a nickname.
BDP: That’s a nickname. What is your real name?
BE: Thyrza Louise.
BDP: Thyrza Louise.
BE: It’s an old family English name.
BDP: Oh, really? I’ve never heard that before. Interesting. Well, Bonnie, thank you so very much for being with us today and for sharing these wonderful stories. I’m sure they will be a great asset to our archives.
BE: Good. I enjoyed doing it.
BDP: Good. Thank you so much.
BE: Thank you.
Contributions to Outrigger Canoe Club
1987 1st, Women 55-59
1988 1st, Women
1993 1st, Women 60-64
2000 1st, Women 65-69
2002 1st, Women 70-74
2003 1st, Women 70-74
2004 2nd, Women 70-74