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Dottie Thompson, Merrie Monarch matriarch, dies at 88

Luana Kawelu (left), Mayor Billy Kenoi and Auntie Dottie Thompson. Mayor Kenoi proclaimed Saturday, Feb. 13, 2010 "Auntie Dottie Thompson Day."

Karin Stanton | Hawaii 24/7 Contributing Editor

One of the Big Island’s best beloved matriarchs has died.

Dottie Thompson, co-founder of the prestigious Merrie Monarch Festival, reportedly died Friday, March 19 in Hilo. She was 88.

Just five months ago, the world of hula lost another of its shining lights. Uncle George Naope, who along side Thompson is credited with founding the hula showcase, died Oct. 26, 2009.

Within an hour of the news of Thompson’s death, tributes and mahalos were popping up on social media networks, as friends and fans recalled her drive and determination to make the Merrie Monarch Festival the world’s premier hula event. Although she often stayed behind the scenes, she was credited as the backbone and true spirit of the festival.

Thompson, who appeared last year at the festival, had been its executive director since its early years.

She was honored in February 2010 as the YWCA Hawaii Island Remarkable Person. The YWCA ceremony was attended by more than 100 people and was one of Thompson’s last public appearances, as she had been in failing health for some time.

Citing her longstanding leadership of the festival, YWCA President Lorraine Godoy said, “Auntie Dottie’s gift of vision, honor of culture, and devotion to preserving our traditions have been unselfishly shared with the people of Hawaii and beyond. Auntie Dottie has enriched our cultural, artistic, and business spheres and united our community through this singular event.”

Mayor Billy Kenoi also hailed Thompson’s leadership and tenacity: “Dottie, because of you and all the blood, sweat, tears, and love you poured into Merrie Monarch for over the last 40 years, you have put Hilo on the map and spread the warm spirit of aloha to people from all over the world.”

Thompson received the 2000 Outstanding Non-Hawaiian Perpetuating the Hawaiian Culture award by the Association of Hawaiian Civic Clubs, and she was named a Living Legend in 1996 by the County of Hawaii Department of Parks and Recreation

The festival evolved through the years, but remains true to hula’s origins and the culture of ancient Hawaiian people.

In addition to cultural demonstrations, craft fairs and art exhibits, entertainment, performances and a parade, the competition now spans three days and features about two dozen halau from across Hawaii and the mainland.

The first night, usually the Thursday after Easter, young women compete for the title of Miss Aloha Hula. The Friday night performances feature the hula kahiko, or traditional dance. Dancers perform the hula auana, or modern dance, on the final night with award presentations.

In 1976, the competition was opened to men (kane) and the festival only grew in popularity.

The festival was televised live for the first time in 1980. In recent years, the festival has been live streamed over the Internet.

This year’s event, the 47th annual Merrie Monarch Festival, is scheduled for April 4-10 at Edith Kanakaole Tennis Stadium
in Hilo.

She is survived by four children, 18 grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren. Services likely will be scheduled after the festival.

— Find out more:

A panoramic view of the 2006 Merrie Monarch Hula Festival. Click on image to enlarge. Photography by Baron Sekiya.

Lt. Governor Aiona Issues Statement On Passing Of Auntie Dottie

HONOLULU – Lt. Governor James R. “Duke” Aiona, Jr. today issued the following statement regarding the passing of Dorothy “Auntie Dottie” Thompson, co-founder and executive director of the Merry Monarch Festival:

“Auntie Dottie exemplified a life of aloha, and she will be sorely missed by all of Hawai‘i.

“Critical to the future of life in these islands is the perpetuation of our host culture, and through the art of hula and the Merrie Monarch Festival, Auntie Dottie established a legacy that will live on for generations to come.

“My ‘ohana, especially in Hilo, is deeply saddened to learn of her passing, and our thoughts and prayers are with Auntie’s family and friends.”

From the office of Hawaii County Mayor Billy Kenoi

“Aunty Dottie” Thompson Passes Away

We are deeply saddened by the passing of “Aunty Dottie” Thompson and extend our aloha and gratitude to her family, her many friends, fans and supporters here in Hawai’i nei and throughout the world who loved and honored her. Her monumental passing marks the end of an era for our community and for the Hula world.

Best known as the Executive Director and co-founder of the Merrie Monarch Hula Festival for 47 years, she was a visionary who embodied the heart and soul of the festival and worked passionately and tirelessly for many years to build the Merrie Monarch Festival into the world’s premier celebration of Hawaiian culture and Hula. She will be greatly missed.

– If you have any thoughts you’d like to express in the passing of ‘Aunty Dottie’ Thompson feel free to leave a comment below here on Hawaii 24/7.

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