Ric Cox is youth services chair of the Rotary Club of Hanalei Bay. He has long been an advocate for providing service to the community and is a guiding hand in the club’s charitable efforts on the North Shore.
He took some time last week to field some questions from The Garden Island.
The Garden Island: Where did you grow up?
Ric Cox: I was raised in Fairfield, Illinois, a small, rural town in southern Illinois, where my father operated a restaurant and paid me too little to wait tables and mop and wax the floor, so I vowed to go to college.
TGI: Who influenced you as a youth?
RC: My father taught me the value of hard work and discipline. My mother encouraged me to pray and to dream. My two older sisters taught me to behave (or tried to). My community taught me traditional American values. Several adults helped me develop my writing talents. My church taught me that I am a child of an awesome God and gave me an eternal perspective, some rules to live by and a purpose in life. The Chicago Cubs taught me despair.
TGI: What was your major in college?
RC: Knowing from age 12 that I wanted to be a journalist, I earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism at Southern Illinois University and a master’s degree at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York City.
TGI: Do you have a background in charitable work?
RC: For 20 years, I was as an editor at The Reader’s Digest, which made billions, donating much of it to charities. For 13 years, I was an editor for Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, author of “The Power of Positive Thinking,” an all-time best-seller. His ministry raised millions to distribute his spiritual literature throughout the world. But, before coming to Kauai, I personally had never raised a dollar for charity.
TGI: What other jobs have you held?
RC: After taking early retirement and moving from suburban New York to Chicago, I spent a decade creating an online database called ChicagoCondosOnline.com, a business I sold to the regional Multiple Listing Service just before coming to Kauai.
TGI: How long have you lived on Kauai and what brought you here?
RC: I arrived on Kauai on Feb. 1, 2011, so I’ve just begun my fifth year in paradise. I came looking for the quietest, most serene, most beautiful place in America.
TGI: How did you come to be a Rotarian and what role has this organization played in your life?
RC: I attended my first meeting at the suggestion of my sister, who saw Rotary as the solution to the boredom I was experiencing during the rainy season on the North Shore.
TGI: How did Rotary help?
RC: As our club’s Youth Services Chair for the past four years, I tutor second-graders at Kilauea School for a half hour a day several times a week, and spend the rest of my non-TV-watching, non-napping hours raising private funds for our public schools. In the past 27 months, from more than 200 contributors, we’ve raised $405,000.
TGI: Has that boosted your morale?
RC: I am no longer bored and have regained my sense of purpose. Along the way, I have earned an islandwide reputation as a guy you don’t want to see coming your way unless, as one generous donor-victim put it, “you want to see your net worth shrink.” (Just between you and me, he ain’t seen nothin’ yet!) I am a firm believer in the redistribution of wealth — as long as it’s voluntary.
TGI: How have you, with no experience, managed to raise $405,000?
RC: I attribute my success as a first-time fundraiser to five factors: an urgent and obvious need at our schools; a unique and compelling selling point: asking people to adopt a specific classroom, after-school club or iPad; the stellar reputation of our club in the community; great guidance from wise advisors, in and out of Rotary; and incredibly generous donors — Rotarians, philanthropists, business owners, as well as parents and kids donating a few dollars. And perhaps a miracle or two. I am grateful for them all.
TGI: Do you have a philosophy of life that guides you today?
RC: I try, and often fail, to live up to the values and ideals that make this nation great. Among my mottos: “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss it, you will land among the stars.” And, “If not us, who? If not now, when?”
TGI: Tell us about the work the Rotary Club of Hanalei Bay does and why?
RC: With nearly 70 members, RCHB is the largest of the five Rotary clubs on Kauai. At our weekly Thursday luncheon meetings, at the St. Regis in Princeville, we learn from guest speakers many exciting things that are happening on Kauai — and many things that we need to get excited about making happen.
TGI: What else happens at your meetings?
RC: We celebrate our achievements. Among them: helping start and operate a food pantry that serves an average of 75 people each Saturday; holding an annual garage sale in Kilauea (when the gates opened at 8 a.m. a few weeks ago, 150 people were lined up waiting to get in), restoring the iconic Hanalei Pier; raising money and recruiting tutors to support students and teachers; supporting teacher candidates in their final semester; placing rescue tubes on our beaches; and such international projects as providing clean water in Mexico. All these efforts help us carry out the Rotary International motto: Service Above Self. We also do them because they make us feel good.
TGI: What impact has the club had on Kauai?
RC: In recent years, we have raised and donated more than $850,000 for community service projects and expended hundreds of hours of manual labor, from picking up litter along the highway once a month to improving the physical facilities at our local schools.
TGI: How have those efforts paid off?
RC: The most visible signs of our impact are the 250 rescue tubes on our beaches, credited with 90 documented “saves;” the beautifully restored canopy on the Hanalei Pier; the 120 iPad minis used daily by students at Kilauea School; and the headlines that appear month after month in The Garden Island and other local media telling about our latest service projects.
TGI: What kinds of people are Rotarians?
RC: All kinds, depending on the local club. Because of our location on Kauai’s North Shore, many of our members are retired professionals. Others are small-business owners. An increasing number, perhaps a half-dozen, are under 40. Nearly one-third are women. Most every member has a wonderful sense of humor, so meetings are great fun.
TGI: Who is the most active member of the club?
RC: In my opinion, the member who best personifies our club is George Corrigan, a retiree who is a two-time past president. On any given day, George is handing out food to the hungry, visiting the sick, raising money to support teacher candidates, distributing books at schools or preparing the club’s weekly, award-winning newsletter. George does it all.
TGI: What unites members?
RC: What we all share is a commitment to service above self and to living by the four-way test: “Of the things we think, say or do: Is it the truth? Is it fair to all concerned? Will it build goodwill and better friendships? Will it be beneficial to all concerned?”
TGI: If one joins Rotary, what will he or she receive in return?
RC: Opportunities to learn more about our island, to serve our community and those around the world, to make new friends, and to have fun while working hard for the common good. Also, a beautiful pin, an ID badge and the option to pay $22 for a large bowl of lettuce for lunch each Thursday — while enjoying the fantastic view and the wonderful camaraderie.
TGI: If there is one thing you could tell non-members about Rotary, what would it be?
RC: Try it. You’ll like it. (If you don’t like it, just send us a check and join the Lions Club.)
TGI: What can Kauai expect from you and other Rotarians in the future?
RC: Even greater achievements. I can’t reveal the details yet, as key decisions will be made in the coming weeks, but our club has voted to spin off our award-winning Adopt a Classroom program, and its related program, Adopt an After-School Club. My task is to create an independent, nonprofit home for those, and other, education initiatives. I promise to share some exciting news with TGI readers soon. Stay tuned (and hold tight to your wallet and checkbook)!
TGI: Could you share a story about someone you were able to help that brings a smile to your face today?
RC: What puts a smile on my face are the smiles I see on the faces of those we help — particularly, in my case, students, teachers, administrators, parents and volunteers at school. A fifth-grader recently called his after-school club, “the best class I’ve had at school — ever.” The teacher who mentored the members of that Digital Design and 3D Printing Club told me, “It was one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done.” Sherry Gonsalves, the Kilauea principal who inspires and guides much of our work, said the impact our club has had on her school is “incredible.”
TGI: And what is your reward?
RC: As I walked to my classroom recently, a 10-year-old girl saw me through the shutters of her classroom. She jumped up from her chair, walked outside, smiled, said, “Hi, Mr. Ric,” hugged me, then returned to her desk. That’s what keeps me, and dozens of other volunteers, going. The smiles, affection and gratitude of the people we are proud to serve.