Leona Rocha Wilson believes that a good education makes anything obtainable, which is why she frequently hosts groups of Maui schoolchildren at her palatial home at the top of Wailuku Heights. “I want to expose our keiki to the possibilities.” At one such gathering, a fifth-grade girl walked up to Leona and asked, in awe, “Are you royalty?” To which Leona replied, “No, honey, I’m Portagee.”
The youngest of six children, Leona grew up in the Hamakuapoko sugar-plantation camp (nicknamed H-Poko) on Maui’s north shore. There was no money for college, so her mother encouraged her to enlist in the service to qualify for the G.I. Bill. Leona was one of the first women accepted into the Army’s dental technician program at Fort Sam Houston, Texas.
She met and married her first husband while they were both in the military. When she became pregnant, she decided to make her own maternity clothes. “I took a sewing class at the YWCA, and discovered I loved creating and constructing clothing.”
Leona spent the next eight years working as a secretary by day, and attending the Fashion Institute of Technology at night — financed by the G.I. Bill. She graduated with honors and a degree in apparel design. By then, Leona had a business called Fashionetics, which manufactured sewing supplies like color wheels, tracing tools, and pincushions. She also invented the Fashion Ruler, still sold today, which lets home seamstresses alter dress patterns to suit their own figures. “The Fashion Ruler revolutionized pattern alteration,” Leona says. “I just wanted to make sewing easier.”
She became the national spokeswoman for Simplicity Pattern Company. A few years later, Vogue/Butterick wooed her away — in every sense of the word. “I married the company’s owner, Bill Wilson,” Leona says.
Now “retired,” Leona spends her time working on the property Bill dubbed “Lona Ridge” (“Lona” is her nickname), and entertaining family and friends. Every Monday, she hosts a farm lunch. “Everyone is welcome, but you must contribute,” she says. “You can either bring a dish to share, or work for an hour and a half pulling weeds.” The rules apply to everyone, even a recent guest: Maui County Mayor Alan Arakawa.
Story by Heidi Pool | Photography by Don Bloom/Tropical Light
Courtesy of Maui No Ka Oi Magazine
ABOUT LONA RIDGE
Nestled on six stunning acres atop Wailuku Heights, Lona Ridge offers a truly breathtaking and sweeping view of Central Maui — from northern coast to southern coast. The magnificient vantage point of this beautiful estate, 1200-feet above sea level, will almost certainly wow you!
- Named after the estate’s owner; Leona Wilson, Lona Ridge is a Maui lovers delight!
- Discover indigenous native flora and fauna.
- Learn about our island’s cultural treasures.
- Hear Hawaiian legends and enlightening facts about Maui Island.
- View a spectacular estate inspired by Hawaii’s renowned architect C.W. Dickey and designed by Maui’s own Nishikawa Architects.
- Soak up uninterrupted views at the top of Wailuku Heights.