Iolani Palace docent shares love of volunteering at historic site

Sharing Hawaiian history with the public

Sponsored by Arcadia Family of Companies

Iolani Palace historian and docent educator Zita Cup Choy is a familiar face on the palace grounds. She was a member of the first docent class back in 1977 and shared in the excitement as the palace was reopened to the public in May 1978. First starting as a volunteer, Choy became a full-time staff member in 2004, and has been instrumental to supporting The Friends of Iolani Palace’s mission to preserve, restore, and protect this wahi pana (celebrated place) for local residents and people from around the world.

“I’ve loved history since I was young,” Choy explains. “My dad was in the air force, and whenever we would move, we would always visit the historic sites, museums and parks within the new community. I’ve always been really interested in structures — not just the engineering aspects, but how people used the spaces.”

Choy first became involved in 1977, as a member of the Koolaupoko Hawaiian Civic Club. As restoration of the palace was winding down, The Friends of Iolani Palace reached out to Hawaiian civic clubs asking for volunteers to train as docents for the palace.

“I found this an opportunity to share Hawaiian history with the public and to learn more about how the building was used intriguing,” she says. “I also thought it would be really amazing to be present at the beginning of the palace’s transition to a public museum.”

In May of 1978, Choy was one of the first docents to open Iolani Palace to the public. She says she has seen the palace go from empty to the not quite fully furnished state that it is in today.

“In 1982, I was leading a tour, and when we exited the library, I looked up and saw Kapiolani’s portrait on the wall in the Gold Room for the first time!” she recalls. “Whether you choose to volunteer for the palace or with another organization, you can take pride in knowing that your time and efforts are making a difference in the long run.”

Choy says volunteering for the palace has been such a rewarding experience.

“Our volunteers share Hawaii’s unique history with visitors from around the world, many of who aren’t familiar with Hawaii’s monarchy or royal family,” she explains.

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