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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, January 30, 2010

Memorial for William Vitarelli

Advertiser Staff

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

William V. Vitarelli

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A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. tomorrow for William V. 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, Republic of Palau President Johnson Tori-biong has asked his country's representatives now engaged in talks with U.S. officials in Honolulu to attend the memorial service at Vitarelli's residence, according to friends.

The republic's House of Delegates also has passed a resolution acknowledging Vitarelli's work in the former trust territory, where he was affectionately known as "Rubak," a term for a wise and humble man.

"For an outsider, an American at that, to earn such a title is rare and 'Vit' deserved the title," said Yoichi K. Rengiil at the University of Guam, who worked with Vitarelli to establish Belau Modekngei School in Babeldaob, Palau, an independent alternative school that perpetuates traditional skills and values.

Micronesia scholar Dirk Ballendorf has called Vitarelli "a colonial hero" who never wavered "from his commitment to develop the economic and political independence of the people of Micronesia."

Vitarelli was born Oct. 21, 1910, in New York City and received a doctorate in sociology from Columbia University in 1948. Two years later 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 the McCarthy era, he was accused of being a Communist sympathizer and was removed from his post in 1954. Vitarelli, a Quaker and peace advocate, appealed his case against the U.S. government all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled in his favor in 1959 and ordered him reinstated with back pay.

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, building a home in Ha'ikū where he strived for a self-sufficient lifestyle and established himself as an accomplished painter and woodworker whose pieces have been exhibited.

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.