KKCC 50th Anniversary Gala Celebrates Business Advocacy

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The Kona-Kohala Chamber of Commerce (KKCC) enjoyed an evening with friends, colleagues and the community to celebrate a half-century of business advocacy at its 50th Anniversary Gala at the Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort on Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018.

“We are very grateful to our Chamber members, sponsors and community leaders who joined us for this meaningful occasion,” states Wendy Laros, KKCC executive director. Sponsors included ALTRES Staffing, Lanihau Center, Lex Brodie’s Fast Lube and Kona Express Car Wash, Vacasa Hawai‘i and West Hawaiʻi Today—also celebrating 50 years.

“This is a significant milestone in our organization’s history and a time to honor our past, evaluate the present and with thoughtful determination look to the bright future of Hawaiʻi Island’s business community,” adds Laros.

Current Board Members (L-R) Executive Director Wendy Laros Board Members: Dale Suezaki, Teri Leicher, Pam Latinis, Steven Kaneko, Sharon Sakai and Mark Leong. Courtesy photo

The Chamber honored past leaders of the organization including board chairs Ross Wilson, Jr., 1988-89; Peter Young, 1989-1990; Greg Gerard, 1995-96; Ron Aronson, 2000-02 and 2006-07; J. William Sanborn, 2009-11; Debbie Baker, 2011-2013; and Dale Ishida Suezaki, 2015-2017. It was noted Peter Young’s father, Kenny Young, was also a board chair of the Chamber from 1976-1977 and Dale Ishida Suzeki’s grandfather, William Ishida, was a founding board member when the organization was incorporated in 1968.

Past Board Chairs from left to right: Ross Wilson, Jr. 1988-89, Peter Young 1989-90, Ron Aronson 2000-02 and 2006-07, J. William Sanborn 2009-11, Debbie Baker 2011-13 and Dale Suezaki 2015-2017. Courtesy photo.


William Mielcke, Jr., a current Kona resident and founding board officer was honored with a special 50th anniversary Founder’s Award. Although Mr. Mielcke was unable to attend the event, he had met with Executive Director Wendy Laros earlier in the month. He shared recollections of forming the chamber and its early advocacy efforts including the creation of the Keāhole-Kona airport, construction of Queen Kaʻahumanu highway and the development of resort nodes along the Kohala Coast. Excerpts from the interview were presented to the crowd at the event.

Laros adds, “Mahalo to Bill and his colleagues for providing leadership in the formation of our Chamber and for the impact of that action a half-century later. We are very grateful to the vision and follow-through of those before us.”

Young Professionals: Co-Chairs of Young Professionals Leadership Council – Elizabeth Elkjer and T. Ilihia Gionson holding Kawai Gionson. Courtesy photo.

At the close of the program, Elizabeth Elkjer and Ilihia Gionson, co-chairs of the Chamber’s Young Professionals Leadership Council, announced what’s next with the recently launched KKCC Future Focus Initiative. “As we celebrate the Chamber’s 50th anniversary, we have an opportunity to inspire our community to look ahead at the next 50 years,” explained Elkjer. Addressing the audience with his 3-month old daughter, Gionson added, “The kind of world we want to leave behind for generations to come requires our thought, our discussion and most importantly, our action.” The co-chairs invited young professionals to join the effort.


The Kona-Kohala Chamber of Commerce is a nonprofit member organization with nearly 500 business members located on the West Side of the island of Hawaiʻi. The organization exists to provide leadership and advocacy for a successful business environment in West Hawaiʻi and works to strengthen the local economy and promote the community. Find more information online or call (808) 329-1758.

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