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Regional News

Five days of mourning for Rubak Vitarelli

KOROR (Palau Horizon) – Palau declared five days of mourning to commemorate the passing of William “Rubak” Vitarelli, who was an “ardent and inspirational advocate of the education” to the country.

On Sunday, President Johnson Toribiong signed a president’s declaration directing Feb. 1 to Feb. 5 “as a time of remembrance and mourning by our citizens.”

A memorial service was held on Sunday for Vitarelli, 99, of Ha'ikū, Maui, an educator, community development adviser and administrator who built schools, economic projects and a lasting bond with the people of Micronesia.

Vitarelli died Jan. 19 at home under hospice care and was buried at sea.

As a sign of respect and appreciation for his contributions President Toribiong has asked his country's representatives who was recently engaged in talks with U.S. officials in Honolulu to attend the memorial service at Vitarelli's residence.

The Senate and the House of Delegates also has passed a resolution acknowledging Vitarelli's work in the former trust territory.

Vitarelli was fondly called “Rubak” which means a wise and humble man.

Vitarelli established Belau Modekngei School in Babeldaob, Palau which is an independent alternative school that perpetuates traditional skills and values.

Vitarelli was born Oct. 21, 1910, in New York City and received a doctorate in sociology from Columbia University in 1948.

In 1949, Vitarelli was the first American educator to arrive in Palau. He was hired by the Navy as an education and training specialist in Palau, then a U.N. trust territory administered by the United States.

Vitarelli directed the building of schools, often with local materials and unskilled labor; established a sawmill, produce market and furniture factory; and helped build fishing boats.

During his career, he served as deputy district administrator of the Western Caroline Islands, assistant director of education for Palau, personal representative to the high commissioner of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, and director of the Ebeye Rehabilitation Program in the Marshall Islands.

Vitarelli also spent a year as a senior specialist at the East-West Center before retiring in 1970. He later served as vice president of research and development at the University of Guam and remained a special adviser to the Belau Modekngei School.

Vitarelli moved with his family to Maui in the 1970s,

His first wife, Henrietta, died in 2003, and Vitarelli married his second wife, Charlaine, on his 97th birthday in 2007. He also is survived by his children, Sandy, Margo, David and Don Vitarelli, and Janice Miyoshi; 12 grandchildren; and 14 great-grandchildren.

“The passing of Rubak Vitarelli is a great loss to his family, his friends, to the people of Micronesia and particularly to the people of the Republic of Palau,” the directive said.