Talk Story with Donna Davis Brown
For the PDF Version CLICK HERE
Joined HTMC: 1984
Favorite hike: Kahana
Favorite movie about hiking: Any movie with mountains and lush vegetation
Favorite trail food: Green grapes, cheese & crackers, trail mix
Interviewed by: email and phone with the Newsletter Committee June 21, 2022
WHEN and WHY did you start hiking?
Way back in 1977 the whole right side of my body went numb. The neurologist said there could be a number of explanations for why it happened. I was living in Ohio at the time. I recovered in about six weeks. However, the doctor told me to watch my diet and get at least 20 minutes of physical exercise each day. That’s when I started walking around the neighborhood for my exercise.
In 1984 I had a cataract removed at the old Kaiser hospital that used to be in Waikiki. I was staying with a sorority sister in Hawaii Kai. As a teacher, on medical leave, I didn’t have much money and wanted to continue my walking while I was in Hawaii. That’s when I discovered HTMC and house sitting. I loved going on the hikes and meeting the participants. I think I joined that year. I stayed the summer but had to go back to my teaching job in Ohio. However, I went home but returned every summer doing house sitting and enjoying hiking in Hawaii.
Health-wise, I was doing well until 1991 when I had a completely different exacerbation—Vertigo, instability and nausea which lasted about 3 weeks. The doctors at Tripler did many tests and diagnosed me as having Episodic Multiple Sclerosis. Well—I was shocked, to say the least. The doctors said this could happen again or maybe never happen again. Since the exacerbations were 14 years apart, I decided not to take any medication, continue my walking/hiking regiment, watch my diet and put my faith in God. So far, so good!
Do you have a FAVORITE trail or area on Oahu?
There’s so much beauty on Oahu that it’s hard to choose. I was never a very fast hiker. I’ve always enjoyed exploring, taking pictures and just plain enjoying the plants and views. I know that back in the 80’s the Kahana hike was a favorite. That’s where I want my ashes scattered when that time comes.
I loved getting to the top of Mt. Kaala. It took me two tries to get to the top. My first attempt was hampered by my hiking shoe sole separating. A very prepared hiker on the hike did have some twine that we fixed it with but considering the length of the hike, I thought it better to return to the car. However, the next attempt was successful and I was greeted by cheers from my hiking friends. I was exhausted and looked really ragged, but I made it. That’s what is so wonderful about hiking—meeting the challenge and conquering it.
I am a day hiker. I like getting all dirty and tired, but then when I get home it’s always good to get into the shower. I’m not the long-weekend camper type. It takes all kinds!
Can you think of some memorable HTMC hike experiences that you would like to share?
One experience when I was a hike leader was very memorable. I called it the “hike from hell”. It was the hike from the blowhole to the toilet bowl. That was a hike where we had to shuttle the cars. Some of the very experienced hikers used to tell me that the worst hikes to lead are the novice hikes because of the participants’ lack of experience. Thank God for the Marines! We were descending from the Lanai lookout. We just got down to the bottom when a lady twisted her ankle and couldn’t walk anymore. None of us had the strength to help her all the way up to the top. I scurried up to the lookout where I had seen some Marines who had scuba equipment. I hoped they would still be there. They were. They literally ran down and brought her up to the lookout. Her friend made it up to the lookout and we shuttled her to the blowhole to get her car. She then took her to the hospital. All went well for her.
My other hikers were headed toward the toilet bowl. When I caught up with them, another lady was feeling faint. I gave her grapes that I had and we all huddled around her to shade her from the sun. After a while, she felt better and wanted to continue. A short hike turned into a 6 hour hike.
What do you BRING ALONG when you go on a hike?
I usually brought grapes, cheese and crackers or some other fruit and plenty of H20.
On the cover of Island Scene magazine with Beverly and Jim Yuen, 1995.
To read the article: “Step Out with an O’ahu Hiking Club” CLICK HERE.
Can you recall a favorite hiking experience outside of Hawai’i?
When we were on the mainland, we’d stop at various trails that were short—3 miles or less. Ralph would nap in the car and I would get out of the car and stretch my legs. What I did notice was that there were more bugs flying around me and I think my arms got more of a workout swatting at bugs than my legs got walking the trails. Not like in Hawaii!
What I do like in Ohio is the bike trails that are along some of the old canals and old railroad tracks. We could bike for miles through beautiful forests, open farmland, small villages as well as the big city without being bothered by cars.
HOW have you been involved with HTMC over the years?
When I started hiking with the club, Thelma Greig was a hike leader of one of the hikes. She and I became very good friends. She had a wealth of information about everything on hiking, plants, photography and was very artistic. I think she influenced me to become more involved with the club. She was the first female President of the club.
In 1989, I married Ralph Brown, whom I met while house sitting in Foster Village and I became a HI resident. I only did substitute teaching so I decided it was time to give back to the club. I became a hike leader, director and eventually president for 3 years in the 90’s. I didn’t do much trail clearing, except for the hikes I led, because my husband said I was dangerous with a knife in the kitchen let alone a machete on the trails! I did more uluhe pulling and marking trails.
In the early 90’s my one niece came to stay with us for 6 weeks. I got her hiking and we were part of the trail building off Pali Hwy at the hairpin curve. Very rewarding experience. She appreciated hiking even more after she knew what it took to build and maintain our trails.
I always seemed to be a promoter for the club. Any time Stuart Ball or John Hoover wrote a book, when I went shopping, I tried to make sure their books were placed so people could see them better. Then I got to thinking that we should have T-shirts to promote the club.
By that time, I became a board member and eventually President of the club. The Board got together and we came up with a design. It’s basically the same as the newest T-shirts from 2021, but the logo was on the front of the shirt. That way when you were talking to people they’d be looking at the logo. I wore the shirts everywhere not just on hikes. It pays to advertise! We also had sweatshirts and hooded sweatshirts. I’m still using them.
When the state reached out to our club, as well as others, to set up information tables at the shopping centers to promote outdoor activities on Oahu, we made poster boards of lots of the beautiful views and hikers, passed out our printed schedules and talked story with the people who stopped by. So many folks had no idea that our club existed—Hawaii’s best kept secret—as I used to call the club. Our catch phrase to get people to stop at our table was—See Oahu as it should be seen.
HMSA also showcased HTMC in their monthly magazine in the fall of 1995. Bev & Jim Yuen and myself graced the cover of the magazine that month. What fun that was. At age 50+ I was a cover girl! What fun I had with that at my 35th high school reunion.We took the photography crew up Tantalus to the bamboo forest up the steep paved narrow road. Jim and I had our T-shirts on, no sweat or dirt on us. We gave the impression that hiking must be a clean sport! The 3 page article was wonderful and it reached hundreds of thousands of homes in HI.
As President, I tried to get the board more organized. I had each director and chair compile a folder that listed what they did, who they contacted, when certain tasks had to be done, etc. We had all these folders in the 90’s, but since computers took over, I think those folders became obsolete.
To promote an extra layer of safety on hikes, I suggested that we get a couple of cell phones for the leaders to use on the hikes. Schedules were made so the leaders would know who got them next. These phones were not the small ones that we all have today. They were big and heavy, but they did come in handy on several occasions. This, too, was abandoned as the new millennium happened and small compact cell phones became as prevalent as carrying a pen in your pocket or backpack.
One of the major things that was started by my Board was recognizing National Trail Days. We promoted it at the shopping centers with our poster boards and chose hikes that accommodated beginning hikers as well as advanced hikers.
I had a great Board over the 3 years, Joe Bussen, Stuart Ball, Steve Brown, John Hoover, Grant Oka, Will Kaanu, and Robert Durick. I think we made a big contribution to the Club. When my husband got sick during the third year of my term, Steve Brown really stepped up to the plate to keep things running smoothly.
After my Ralph died in 2002, I finally had my hip replaced. It was at that time that I stopped leading hikes and just walked around the neighborhood and just did hikes that were simple when I had guests come to visit. I continued to go to the annual meetings until 2020. Since I sold the house in HI and moved to Hollywood, FL in the winter and Westford, PA in the summer, I just keep in touch with some of my hiking friends and enjoy the monthly HTMC newsletter on the computer. Oh, I do watch Hawaii 5-0 and Magnum reruns just to see my beautiful HI.
Do you have any concerns about the FUTURE OF HIKING in Hawai’i?
Any time the government is involved in anything I’m concerned. They’ve taken some trails away from us in the past, so there’s nothing to stop them in the future. All one can do is try to keep close watch on them and stay involved with other organizations that are doing the same. Promoting HTMC through its members, which was about 500 when I left HI, is what we all should be doing. Wear those T-shirts and get talking with new people. I still wear my shirts everywhere I go. My wardrobe still consists mainly of shorts and T-shirts! People like to talk. It’s a simple outlook, but it works for me.
I was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio. My Dad was from Kansas and he loved the outdoors and gardening. I think I inherited those genes from him. In 1959, Dad took us on a 6 week trip across the US. We went through the National Parks, hiked, fished and got up early to spot deer and elk and learn about our country. The seed was planted—I loved traveling.
Mom and Dad spent 6 weeks in Hawaii in 1966. At that time the old Hawaii 5-0 series was on and I was in college at Ohio University, Athens, Ohio. I never really watched the series on a regular basis. However, after I graduated in 1967 and finished my first year of teaching in 1968, my sorority sister and I hopped on a plane to HI. We wanted to see all the places that Mom and Dad saw. We were just going to stay the summer and then go home to our jobs. That was not to be. I was able to land a teaching job at St. Ann’s in Kaneohe. I also met my first husband, a sailor, and we did try to hike up Diamond Head—the face of it! We didn’t succeed. We got married and moved to San Jose, California. He was stationed at Moffett Field. He was then shipped over to the PI and I kept the home front fires burning. I worked as a Film Librarian at San Jose State University. Upon his return we moved to his hometown of Lubbock, Texas. Not much hiking done there. I taught special ed and got my Masters in Education at Texas Tech University. We then moved to the suburb of Cleveland, Warrensville Heights, where I started substitute teaching. I landed a full time job at a nearby school district where I taught for 18 years. We settled in Twinsburg, OH and got a house. We divorced in 1976. No children were involved so that was good. By this time I was taking extra graduate courses in education at every opportunity at nearby universities to climb up the pay schedule. I reached Masters + 30 hours. Doctorate was the next level, but I was burned out working my teaching job, demonstrating video games and tending a local bar on the weekend.
I loved Hawaii and kept going back for the summers doing the house sitting and hiking. I bought my condo at Island Colony in 1984 and just sold it in 2020. In 1987, I met Ralph Brown, while I was house sitting in Foster Village. We hit it off right from the start. He was much older than me, but looked young and acted young. He was a widower for 5 years and his hobby was coins and travel tokens. We married in 1989. I sold the house in Twinsburg and moved into the house in Foster Village, where I stayed until 2020. Ralph passed in 2002. He was a wonderful guy that never stopped me from doing my thing—hiking in Hawaii. However, I started having hip problems and I had my first hip operation on 4/15/03. It was at this point that I really stopped hiking with the club. I went on a few hikes that were level, but I mainly just did my 3 mi. walk daily around Foster Village until I had my other hip replaced in 2018. I still went to the annual meetings and was so pleased with the renovations that were made to the Club House. It was always good to connect with the “old timers” that I knew.
Now I live in a one bedroom apt on the ocean in Hollywood, FL in the winter and my 3 bedroom home (called Waikiki East) on a small lake in Westford, PA. I continue to do my walking on the boardwalk in FL or in the allotment in PA. I love walking for my health and I ride my stationary bike between 5-20 miles several times a week. At 76 I feel very fortunate to have spent 31 years in HI and now spending my golden years in FL and PA where I can still be active and enjoy the ocean, albeit the Atlantic, and warm weather all year long.