Leningrad Elarionoff, cop, councilman and community leader, dies at 83

Leningrad Elarionoff speaks with attendees of a National Trails Day event along Ke Ala Kahawai O Waimea, which follows Waikoloa Stream, on June 4. Elarionoff’s talk story covered a variety of topics including the history of the trail from its use by the Ki Puu Puu warriors in ancient days to U.S. Marines traversing its route during World War II and the community enjoying it as a nature trail today. (Chelsea Jensen/West Hawaii Today)

Leningrad Elarionoff, a former county councilman, retired police captain and longtime community leader and volunteer in Waimea died Sunday at North Hawaii Community Hospital. He was 83.

After a 26-year-career on the Hawaii County Police Department, the Ka‘u born-and-bred Elarionoff served on the County Council from 1998 to 2004, representing Waimea and the surrounding area.


Hilo Councilman Aaron Chung, who served with Elarionoff during a previous stint on the council, said he was “filled with sadness” upon learning of Elarionoff’s passing.

“He was a consummate gentleman,” Chung said Tuesday. “He was a trusted colleague but, more importantly, a dear friend. I was always impressed by his preparation and his thoughtfulness in his work. He was a skilled writer, and he wasn’t afraid to make unpopular decisions — and that’s probably what I admire most about him.”

Patti Cook, a board member of the Waimea Community Association, described Elarionoff as “the voice of reason on community issues.”

“When he was our councilman, he never went to a meeting where he hadn’t read every single document that was going to be on the agenda. He always went totally prepared,” said Cook. “That always personally gave me a lot of confidence.

“The other thing is, he always said, ‘I represent the entire community, not just the few that are actually able to come to council meetings.’”

Born in Ka‘u to a Russian-born father and Hawaiian mother in 1938, Elarionoff worked for the former Ka‘u Sugar Co. and the satellite tracking station in South Point after high school.

He later attended Bethany College, now Bethany University, in Santa Cruz, Calif., and joined the Santa Cruz Police Department when his savings ran out and he could no longer afford to be a full-time student. He returned to the Big Island and joined the island’s police department in 1968, retiring in 1994 as a captain and district commander.

Elarionoff’s commitment to community service was lifelong. He served on the Hawaii County Burial Council from 2005 to 2013. At his passing, he was an active member of Kahu Ku Mauna, a volunteer Native Hawaiian community-based council that advises the Maunakea Management Board, Center for Maunakea Stewardship, and the University of Hawaii at Hilo chancellor on Hawaiian cultural matters affecting the UH management areas.

Elarionoff’s support of astronomy on Maunakea and efforts to build the controversial Thirty Meter Telescope put him at odds with those who believe constructing the next-generation observatory on Maunakea amounts to desecration of a sacred site.

”He was never afraid to take unpopular stances, even at the risk of his own political capital. And I think that’s what made people admire him,” Chung said.

During a protest of Department of Hawaiian Home Lands policies in 1974, Elarionoff was the sole arresting officer of his cousin, Sonny Kaniho, and Kaniho’s supporters. They were charged with, and later acquitted of trespassing during a symbolic occupation of a pasture leased to Parker Ranch by the DHHL.

Ian Lind, activist, journalist and blogger, was among those arrested. He noted the mutual respect between Kaniho’s group and Elarionoff.

“It seemed like we were sitting at the top of the world. And when the Hawaii County police officer arrived on the scene, it was Sonny’s cousin, Leningrad,” Lind wrote in 2019. “I later wrote: ‘You couldn’t make this up — being arrested at the top of the world by a Hawaiian cop named Leningrad.’”

In his later years, Elarionoff was a frequent writer of letters to the editor. An avid hiker and nature lover, he also was involved Waimea Trails and Greenways and in Waimea Outdoor Circle’s creation and maintenance of Ulu La‘au, the Waimea Nature Park, and Ke Ala Kahawai O Waimea, the streamside trail of Waimea that follows Waikoloa Stream through the park to Opelo Road. He skillfully grafted multi-colored lehua blossoms onto the ‘ohia trees planted at the park, as well as performing more menial maintenance.

“Literally, he was on his lawn mower, mowing the grass at the Ulu La‘au nature park for 22 years every Saturday. I don’t think he missed too many Saturdays,” Cook said.

In 2019, the community recognized Elarionoff’s contributions by naming him grand marshal of the Waimea Christimas Twilight Parade.

Among Elarionoff’s survivors are his wife, Paula, children, grandchildren and other relatives.

Funeral arrangements are pending.

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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