Joseph W. Souza, Jr. (1903-1979) received the Pugsley Medal in 1971 for "exceptional leadership in expanding and developing the Hawaii State Parks system." Souza was born in McBryde Camp on Kauai. He never graduated from high school and started his working life with the Kauai Electric Co. and McBryde Sugar Co. From there, he entered the merchant marine service in World War II and later recalled, "My travels at sea and seeing resources in different parts of the world, influenced me to get into parks after the war."
Souza began his almost 35 years of park service in 1944 as a ranger for the Territorial Department of Forestry and Agriculture. His duties involved tree planting, trail maintenance and surveillance to enforce regulations, mostly concerning hunting. "In those days we were deputized wardens," he said. He spent 18 years working at Kokee and other Kauai areas, proving adept at completing difficult projects and hosting famous scientists to do field work. He also was a co-founder of the Kokee museum in 1953. During this period he developed a reputation as an effective park manager.
Efforts began in 1947 to start a parks system under the forestry section, and a law was passed in 1949 providing for a parks division. But it wasn't until 1960 that the division was set up. Souza went to Honolulu from Kauai that year to work in the division after it was transferred to the Department of Land and Natural Resources. The new division went on a crash program to develop one new park on each island. Souza was appointed acting director in 1964, and 18 months later, was confirmed as the permanent director.
When he took the helm of the system, it was comprised of 22 parks containing 6,400 acres. During Souza's 14 years as director, the number of parks tripled. By the time of his retirement in 1978, the system had 64 parks containing 20,295 acres. Souza's excellence as a parks director was central to the high level of credibility parks achieved within the state's government.
Despite this extraordinary growth, Souza believed the state parks system was inadequate in the number of acres within it. He attributed this to the requirement to seek legislative mandate and funding for each project on an incremental basis: "To make it a good, sound program, we should have advance planning. The approval and completion of a statewide plan should allow the parks division to develop long-range parks programs and seek funds to carry them out."
Souza viewed parks as a central component of the tourism industry upon which the state's economic health depends. In his eyes, the accelerated development across the state, and especially the build-up of the perimeters on each island, made the acquisition of beach parks particularly important. He observed: "I feel when we wanted statehood, and accepted statehood, that our people accepted responsibility for the land. It gives the state prestige in being able to develop its resources as an asset for the residents and the tourists."
Souza's death came about a day after a request was submitted to the state legislature for funds to establish an interpretation program and to designate the old Civilian Conservation Corps camp at Kokee as the "Joseph W. Souza, Jr. Training Center and Field Station."
Altonn, Helen. (1978, December 11). A working sort of retirement. Honolulu Star-Bulletin.