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History of the Pacific Tsunami Museum

In 1993, a tsunami survivor by the name of Jeanne Branch Johnston saw the need for a tsunami museum in Hilo. As Jeanne probed the idea of starting a museum, she found others to be very responsive to the idea and gathered a steering committee. Thank you to the original Hilo Tsunami Museum Steering Committee (the name was later changed to Pacific Tsunami Museum).
susan tissot In December of 1993, Susan Gaughan Tissot came to a meeting and blessed the museum with her knowledge and experience with museum projects. Susan became the museum's Executive Director in 1994 and continued to work tirelessly until 1998.
The museum has encountered its share of struggles, and many people in the community have devoted priceless amounts of time and energy. The Pacific Tsunami Museum has been a real community effort, with local talents who transformed the once bank building into a museum. Even now as current Director Donna W. Saiki volunteers her time to oversee museum operations, the museum is not without struggle, community support, and reward. While we could not possibly list all of the people who have made a difference at the museum, we would hope you all know how very much your work has been appreciated!

Museum co-founder Jeanne Branch Johnston presently has her own disaster consulting company and resides on Oahu. She was formerly the Earthquake and Tsunami Program Planner for the State of Hawai`i Civil Defense Division. She continues to work with the museum conducting tsunami survivor interviews.
jeanne johnston
Dr. Walter Dudley Museum co-founder Walter Dudley still resides in Hilo.  He is a professor emeritus at the University of Hawaii and continues his drive for tsunami education.

First Hawaiian Bank Donates Historic Building to Museum
May 22, 1997

On May 22, 1997, First Hawaiian Bank donated its Kamehameha Branch building in downtown Hilo as a permanent site for the Pacific Tsunami Museum.

First Hawaiian Bank
Bank Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Walter A. Dods, Jr. made the announcement on the front steps of the historic bank building on the 37th anniversary of the day warning sirens sounded for the May 23, 1960 tsunami that devastated Hawaii.

The sirens sounded the evening of May 22, 1960; the tsunami struck the Hilo area at 1:04 a.m. on May 23. Joining Dods at the ceremony were Big Island Mayor Stephen Yamashiro and board President, Jim Wilson. Museum board members and members of the scientific advisory council were also present at this momentous occasion.
First Hawaiian Bank steps

First Hawaiian Bank donated both the building and the land beneath it, appraised at a value of $800,000. The building, built by First Hawaiian Bank in 1930, was designed by the late C.W. Dickey, Hawaii′s most prominent architect of the early 20th Century. The museum took possession of the building in December, 1997 and opened at the site to the public in June 1998. Future renovation, design and exhibits are anticipated over the next two to three years.

The Laupahoehoe Memorial Quilt
December 19, 1997

Out of respect for those who lost their lives during the April 1, 1946 tsunami at Laupahoehoe Point, students from Mrs. Sue Nozaki′s Home Economics Class at Laupahoehoe Elementary and High School created a special quilt. The quilt commemorates the 24 students and school faculty who lost their lives at Laupahoehoe Point during the morning of April 1, 1946. The colors of the quilt represent the school′s colors: blue and gold. (Laupahoehoe point and the town of Laupahoehoe are located approx. 25 miles north of Hilo, Hawaii.)

Laupahoehoe Quilt Ceremony
Executive Director Susan Tissot accepts the commemorative quilt for the Pacific Tsunami Museum's permanent collection during a ceremony at Laupahoehoe Elementary and High School. The students donated the quilt to the Museum on December 19, 1997.

The following Laupahoehoe High School students assisted with the making of the quilt: Keith Ballesteros, Roderick Belen, Nick Florino, Michelle Miranda, Clem Navalta, Deaven Salboro, Derek Batin, Michele Brockway, Melissa Medeiros, Dane Nakai, Rio Requelman, and Janette Silva. Mrs. Sue Nozaki was the project coordinator and Mrs. Jennifer Kamehaiku did the actual quilting. Pacific Image Company did the silk screen printing on the quilt. The quilt is on display inside the Pacific Tsunami Museum, located at 130 Kamehameha Ave. For more information contact the Pacific Tsunami Museum at 808-935-0926 or

Artist Donates Painting to the Pacific Tsunami Museum
January 12, 1998

Noted Big Island artist Diane McGregor recently donated her painting entitled, Tsunami II, a 54 x 36 inch oil on canvas, to the Pacific Tsunami Museum′s permanent collection. "When I moved to Hawaii from the Arizona desert, the power and beauty of the Pacific ocean had an immediate impact on my work. I had never lived by the ocean before, and I would lie awake at night, listening to the waves roll in and considering the very real possibility of a local earthquake producing a giant wave. The awareness of the ocean as both a creative and destructive force inspired me to create Tsunami," said McGregor.
“We are thrilled to feature Diane′s work in the museum's collection. Tsunami II is important because it reinforces the multi−disciplinary focus of the museum's education programs,” said Executive Director, Susan Tissot.
Tsunami II painting

McGregor has exhibited her work in Hawaii, on the mainland, and in Europe. Solo past exhibitions of her paintings include the East Hawaii Cultural Center and the Ramsay Galleries in Honolulu. McGregor′s work has been featured on the cover of Hawaii Island Artists and Ka′u Landing. Additional paintings by Diane McGregor can be seen on her website located at

TV Donation for the Museum Vault Theater
June 23, 1998

TV donation
Hilo Bay Rotary Club Community service Director Steve Jacunski, right presents a 52 inch color TV to the Pacific Tsunami Museum last week. Accepting the TV and a commemorative plaque on the behalf of the museum is PTM President Jim D. Wilson. Looking on are Club President Ron Maurer and PTM Director Pete Muller. The TV will be used for student education programs.

Tsunami Survivors Reception
January 23, 2001

On January 23, 2001 the Museum hosted a special reception for tsunami survivors that shared their stories with Warren Nishimoto, center for Oral History, University of Hawai′i.
tsunami survivors

Steamy and Warren Nishimoto
Warren has recently published Tsunamis Remembered: Oral Histories of Survivors and Observers in Hawai′i, which is a two−volume set featuring life history interviews with individuals who witnessed and survived tsunamis.

Museum Benefit Concert with Ginny Tiu
March 4, 2001

Internationally renowned pianist Ginny Tiu will be performing at a benefit for the Pacific Tsunami Museum on Sunday, March 4, 2001 at the Hawaii Naniloa Crown Room at 7:00 p.m.
Ginny Tiu

Ginny Tiu and Elvis
A child prodigy at age 5, Ginny appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show, the Perry Como Show and the Tonight Show. She also played a small part in “Girls! Girls! Girls!” with Elvis Presley and performed for President John F. Kennedy.
Ginny will also be performing in the afternoon at A Wave of Treasures. These are separate events and require separate ticket purchases.

All materials © Copyright 1996-2010 Pacific Tsunami Museum Inc.
130 Kamehameha Ave Hilo, HI 96720 tel: 808-935-0926 FAX: 808-935-0842 email:
Last Revised July 2010