William Vincent Vitarelli, an educator, architect and community organizer, passed away at his home in Haiku, Maui in January 2010 at age 99. He was born in New York City in 1910 of Italian ancestry. He was awarded a PhD from Columbia University in 1948. Known by friends and family as “Vit” or “Rubak”, he worked as an educational administrator and community developer in the islands of Micronesia for over twenty five years, mainly in Palau, but also in Guam, Saipan, Yap and the Marshall Islands. In 1949 after the war he was the first American educator to arrive in Palau, and dedicated his professional life to making education accessible to Micronesians.
Rubak also served as Vice President for Research and Development at the University of Guam in the early 1970s and was the special advisor to the Belau Modekngei School an independent alternative school in Palau, established to perpetuate traditional skills and values.
During the McCarthy era he was accused of being a communist sympathizer and was removed from his post as U.N. Trust Territory Administrator for the United States in 1954. Vitarelli appealed his case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which, in a landmark decision, ruled in his favor in 1959 and ordered him reinstated with back pay.
Rubak moved to Maui with his wife, Henrietta and members of his family in 1976 to establish a homestead on four acres of agricultural land. He devoted his retirement years to an active life of designing and building homes, furniture making, farming, planting fruit trees, establishing a progressive community school, cooking and entertaining, writing, carving and painting. He maintained contact with the people of Palau throughout these years and returned for several visits. In his lifetime he was able to witness the island nation of Palau rise from the rubble of war and transition through an era of dependency to become a self-governing and independent island nation while maintaining a sense of pride and identity.
Rubak, the Renaissance man, will be remembered as being a philosopher and independent thinker, an innovative educator and talented artist, an original and creative builder, a skilled organic farmer a pacifist, a fighter for justice and truth, an advocate of self-sufficiency, a charismatic speaker and teacher and a loving husband and father.
He is survived by his five children Sandy, Margo, David, Don and Janice; twelve grandchildren Ward, Mark, Joe, Tom, Lynn, Marlene, Keobel, Hamada, Hayden, Kasumi, Mari and Sophie; and fourteen great-grandchildren. He is predeceased by his wife Henrietta Taylor and two of his grandchildren, Heather and Eric; and is survived by his second wife, Charlaine Coleman.