Dan Lutkenhouse was born in Cleveland, Ohio, June 8th, 1921, son of Ethelind and John Lutkenhouse. His father John was a civil engineer who taught Dan how to build, create, and work hard, while his mother Ethelind taught Dan to love the beauty of nature—to plant a seed each day and carefully watch it grow into a beautiful flower or tree.
As he grew to be a young man, Dan began working for a well-known jeweler, who fostered his innate artistic sense as well as the dexterity required to work on tiny and intricate jewelry. Such skills would serve Dan well as he was drafted into the service on January 21, 1943. Originally scheduled to be deployed to the Front in Africa, he was transferred to White Sands Proving Grounds, New Mexico, where his deft hands could be put to use building classified military hardware.
On December 8, 1945, Dan was honorably discharged from the U.S. army, and then joined his father’s small moving company in San Francisco.
Over the next few years, Dan expanded the business to cover 48 states, employing 200 people, and even extended the company’s reach overseas by adding an international freight forwarding company.
In 1977, Dan and wife Pauline discovered Onomea Bay while vacationing on the Big island and purchased the 17 acre parcel for its seclusion and natural beauty.
In 1978, Dan decided to establish a Botanical Garden and nature preserve in the valley. Dan sold his trucking business and he and Pauline moved to Hawaii in order to devote themselves fully to the garden.
For the next six years, Dan and a few helpers worked tirelessly to clear the jungle of wild invasive trees, weeds and strangling vines. All the work was done by hand to avoid disturbing the natural environment or destroying valuable plants or roots.
Dan himself chose the location of every plant introduced to the Valley, using his eye for beauty to create a living tapestry to delight the senses at every turn.
In 1984, Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden opened to the public. To enhance the Garden, Dan and Pauline traveled throughout the world to find rare and endangered tropical plants.
The Garden’s mission has grown over the years to include educational and children’s programs, a college scholarship for local students to study the natural sciences, raising awareness of the plight of the world’s tropical rainforests, and to serve as a living seed bank for endangered plants.
Recently, even as health concerns became evident and his mobility limited, Dan still came to the Garden most days to oversee new projects such as the building of our new Birdhouse and the restoration of Lily Lake.
On February 12, 2007 Dan Lutkenhouse passed away, but his spirit will live on in the Garden in a Valley on the Ocean. His legacy will continue to inspire and educate future generations, as well as protect and preserve a special place we know as Onomea.