The Maui Weekly asked--and you answered. For several months, the newsroom staff has carefully reviewed your handwritten letters, heartfelt emails--and in some cases--nominations personally hand-delivered to our office. When the last of the votes had been counted, the staff faced a difficult decision: With such a diverse and impressive slate of nominees, it was nearly impossible to narrow it down to six. But here they are, the finalists of Maui Weekly's 2011 Person of the Year.
The official motto for the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) is Semper Paratus (Latin for "Always Ready" or "Always Prepared"). And when duty calls, Coast Guard Auxiliarist Larry Ankrum is just that--always ready, always prepared. That's one of the many reasons why Larry was recently honored with the Medal of Operational Merit during a ceremony held at the Coast Guard's Maui Station in September.
The long-time Maui resident selflessly and actively contributes to his community, as both a talented photojournalist (he is a contributing photographer for the Maui Weekly) and a volunteer for the Maui Shrine Club of the Aloha Temple, an organization that raises funds for Shriners Children's Hospital patient transportation.
And as a Coast Guard Auxiliarist, Larry has been recognized for his years of dedicated service in the 14th Coast Guard District, as well as a steadfast commitment to boating safety. Larry has logged more than 2,500 hours as a communications "watchstander" at Station Maui, during deployment to assist with the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and for serving as a risk management and communications trainer.
To learn more about the Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla Maui, visit www.MauiBoatClass.com.
Looking at the list of awards and accolades he has received over the years, it's no surprise that so many are "head over heels" for Rusty Gage. As the owner of Valley Isle Gymnastics, Rusty is the recipient of the Hawai'i Better Business Bureau's Torch Award for Business Ethics, the Mayor's Small Business of the Year Award (as well as a two-time Nominee for Hawai'i Business Magazine's Small Biz Success Awards), and the Special Olympics Maui's Outstanding Organization of the Year Award.
According to Nora Pierson, a former employee, "I am continually in awe of who he is as a person, as a boss, as a friend, and as a community member I sometimes wonder if perhaps he is a real-life Superman."
During the day, she said, Rusty appears to be "a Clark Kent," skillfully managing a business. "[But] then there are the Superman qualities."
Behind the scenes, he organizes food drives for the Maui Food Bank and annual toy drives for the Children's Justice Center of Maui, writes for Maui Family Magazine, hosts the Annual Cartwheel Festival benefiting Special Olympics Maui and serves as an advisor and mentor for local youth, and "he took the time to go to my mother's house and personally show her how to use her new iPod."
By all accounts, this is just a brief snapshot of Rusty's tireless contributions to his community.
Last spring, three college-bound students opened their mailboxes to discover some good news: they had been selected as the recipients of the 2010-11 Josh Jerman Maui Nui Scholarship.
"I am so grateful," said one scholarship recipient, Kelly Luis, who would soon venture to New York State to attend Columbia University. "This really, really helps--you have no idea."
Luis is one of 23 Maui County high school seniors who have been selected for the award--which is funded entirely by Josh Jerman, a realtor/broker with The Wailea Group LLC, founder of the Josh Jerman Foundation and Maui Weekly columnist.
"His kindness is undeniable--almost unbelievable," said Maui Weekly contributing writer Joseph Bean. "Some of the high points are obvious, but there's so much more to it."
Josh demonstrates humility, said Bean, "and deflects the attention to others when he is 'caught' participating in the fundraising and community service efforts of other people and organizations." Despite his behind-the-scenes approach, "He is a citizen that Maui, Hawai'i, and all of us everywhere have to be proud of, the kind we would all be wise to take as our role model. That would make this a better world, for sure."
Max Tsai is living proof that it is indeed possible to triumph over economic adversity. Despite the odds, Max not only survived the recent economic slump--he came out on top. His company, TC Kokua, a homegrown, professional customer contact center providing inbound and outbound contact services to Hawai'i and Mainland companies, has flourished. The growth of TC Kokua has, in turn, contributed to the financial success of its clientele--a true "win-win" situation.
In what might be considered a bold move, Max recently purchased the popular Powerhouse Gym in Kihei. This maneuver not only saved the jobs of current Powerhouse employees, but also created additional employment opportunities for island residents.
"Max is an example of a bright, young entrepreneur who has forged his own path of success while helping other local and national businesses prosper," said Mayor Alan Arakawa. "His latest business venture [Powerhouse Gym] is a true statement of his commitment to our community and the local economy."
The mayor also noted that Max has volunteered his time as a member of several boards and commissions, and served as the chairman of the Maui United Way in 2009.
"We are fortunate to have someone like Max here in Maui County," said the mayor. "He is deserving of this honor."
Rene Umberger is a self-described "marine life a-fish-ionado," who--ironically--conquered a fear of fish 30 years ago to become a SCUBA instructor, marine educator, and an ardent and outspoken advocate for the ocean and its inhabitants.
When she's not underwater, Rene is making invaluable contributions to the local marine life industry by creating educational materials, developing best practices for operating in fragile marine ecosystems and organizing underwater cleanup events that target heavily fished shoreline sites.
According to County of Maui Environmental Coordinator Rob Parsons, "Rene is amazing she has been working with unwavering diligence for the betterment of our near-shore ocean ecosystems and the creatures that inhabit them. She is professional in her approach, unaffected by industry attempts to discredit her work, and dedicated to preserving each precious native fish on our reefs."
What is truly remarkable about Rene is her ability to inspire others to get their feet wet when it comes to protecting our marine environment.
"Rene was instrumental in educating our County Council on the reasons to introduce legislation to control the wholly unsustainable practice of mining fish from our reefs for the aquarium industry," said Parsons.
It's likely that Tom Worthington won't receive word of his nomination for our "Person of the Year" for several hours--possibly days--after this issue hits newsstands. Why? Because he is currently deployed as a volunteer for the American Red Cross in Bangladesh, where he is completing a capacity building mission to replace and rehabilitate a radio communications network. Tom's tireless efforts in Bangladesh have assisted an untold number of people in need--and that comes after three- to six-week volunteer deployments in Oklahoma, Texas, California, Arkansas, Louisiana and American Samoa.
A disaster volunteer on Maui since 2006, Tom has utilized his expertise in telecommunications to serve others, volunteering as a disaster hotline operator and as an instructor for new recruit classes of volunteer responders. He is also a member of the American Information Technology and Telecommunication Emergency Response Unit.
Last month, the Hawai'i Chapter of the American Red Cross honored Tom Worthington as the Maui Red Cross Volunteer of the Year, along with nine other volunteer heroes across the state. To join Tom as a Red Cross volunteer or to make a donation, call (808) 244-0051 or visit www.hawaiiredcross.org.