UH Hilo’s ʻImiloa Astronomy Center features an award-winning landscape offering a glimpse of Hawaiʻi’s pristine, native ecosystem as it once was. Its garden, a living exhibit of endemic, indigenous and Polynesian-introduced plants, illustrates Native Hawaiians’ connection to the land and heavens, as patterns in the skies guided cultivation and harvest practices on earth.
Now, to memorialize longtime Hilo residents Koon Leong and Bertha Chock, beneficiaries of the K. L. Chock Trust have made a gift for the continued care of the native garden, which will now be named the Koon Leong and Bertha Luke Chock Garden.
“We sought a fitting way to express our gratitude for their contributions to their family and to the Hilo community,” says daughter Thelma Chock Nip on behalf of the family.
Hilo spirit; Hilo values
During their short lives, Koon Leong and Bertha Luke Chock embodied the spirit and values of ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center, instilling the importance of education and learning, caring for the land, exploration, giving back to the community and adapting to their evolving environment. They were examples of perseverance, self-sufficiency, foresight and leaving a lasting legacy for the benefit of future generations.
Koon Leong Chock was an active community and political party leader, a Waiākea baseball team manager, one of the founders of the Hilo Chinese School, and a builder of homes for immigrants and the underprivileged. He was the eldest in a family of nine, heading the dry goods department of American Factors, a leading kama‘aina business firm. He also operated Fong Hing, the family grocery store at the foot of the Wailoa bridge. Through his foresight and entrepreneurial spirit, he guided the family in expanding its business and real estate ventures.
Koon Leong passed away in 1942 at the age of 44. Bertha persevered, operating the family store while providing for their young children. On April 1, 1946, a tsunami demolished the entire town of Waiākea. While the family members survived, gone was the family store along with five other businesses in their building, their living quarters upstairs and all their personal belongings. The store was rebuilt, but 14 years later, on May 23, the building was crushed again by another tsunami.
Preserving a family’s presence in Hilo
Taught that one’s upbringing influences the way they serve others, the children of Koon Leong Chock and Bertha Chock worked to preserve and develop the family’s Hilo presence. Their parents and teachers instilled in them the importance of paying forward, and naming ‘Imiloa’s garden in their parents’ memory perpetuates this legacy, preserving their cultural roots to teach, nurture and provide for generations to come.
The Chocks’ children, Yun How Ching, Janet Young, Thelma Nip, Theodore Chock and Kenneth Chock, all attended Waiākea Elementary and Waiākea Intermediate Schools. Three of the five are proud UH graduates. Thelma has maintained her ties to her alma mater as a Director of both the UH Alumni Association and the UH Mānoa College of Education Alumni Association.
Serving the broader community
“This gift from the K. L. Chock Trust will help to support our educational mission and programs, keeping the garden area well maintained and interpreted for visitor interaction,” says ‘Imiloa Executive Director Ka‘iu Kimura. “Their support for the center helps to amplify the importance of ʻImiloa and its service to our broader community.”
The family hopes the garden will be a welcoming space where the community will visit, gather, discover and learn about how the past impacts the future of our culture and our environment.