KILAUEA — Isabella Bivens just finished fifth-grade and she already knows what she wants to be when she grows up: An Aloha Angel.
“Just like Mr. Ric,” she said Saturday.
The Kilauea School student said Ric Cox was her friend. He was always nice and he always said aloha. She knew he was the reason they have iPads and other supplies in their classrooms.
“I know that Mr. Ric was one of our community’s true angels,” Isabella said.
“When we grow up, we will continue his good work,” she added.
The student was one of about 100 people who attended a celebration of the life of Ric Cox at Kauai Christian Academy. Cox died unexpectedly on April 13 at the age of 72.
Pictures on display showed him wearing his trademark Aloha Angels halo, something he wore so you knew he was coming and what he wanted: donations for keiki. Another showed him and his red convertible Mustang, which he drove around the island collecting checks from donors.
One drawing from a first-grade class said “Mr. Ric: Always in our hearts.”
Cox was praised often during the gathering for his energy, passion and persistence to raise money for education through Aloha Angels, which he founded in 2013.
He did not take no for an answer. He was relentless, which exasperated some, but was effective.
In just four years, the nonprofit raised more than $2 million which went to benefit Kauai’s teachers and students. Classrooms were adopted, iPads were donated. Field trips and after-school clubs were funded.
“I can’t believe how much he accomplished in that amount of time,” said Ron Margolis, a friend of Cox who helped with his fundraising programs.
He said Cox, after moving to Kauai in 2011, saw the need in the classrooms, had a vision — a big dream — and went to work to give children every opportunity to succeed.
Cox did not have children, Margolis said, but “it was like he had 3,000 children on this island. Many of whom loved him, smiled with him, filled him up.”
Cox was raised in Fairfield, Illinois. He 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.
For 20 years, he was as an editor at The Reader’s Digest and for 13 years, he was an editor for Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, author of “The Power of Positive Thinking,” an all-time bestseller. Cox took an early retirement and moved from suburban New York to Chicago, where he spent a decade creating an online database, a business he sold before moving to Kauai.
His nephew Joey Gruner said Cox wrote about accumulating $1 million in assets by the age of 50, and his goal was to spend the rest of his life giving away $1 million.
He read a quote from Cox: “Whatever you dream, don’t limit it, make it big and bold.”
“Not all dreams come true of course, but I live in the land of hope. I invite you to live in the land of hope, as well.”
Cox was known for his story telling, sharing his advice and perspectives, offering encouragement and most notably, his hard work and generosity. The Rev. Jade Waialeale-Battad said no one at the celebration of life was talking about his money, his assets, his net worth.
She spoke of the dash on a tombstone between the date someone is born and the date they die.
“What he did in his dash was service to others, with a cheerful heart and a grateful spirit,” she said.
She encouraged others to be Aloha Angels in their own way.
“Let us not be so busy in the world, we can’t see someone in need, and let us when we see someone in need, do the very best we can to make a difference,” she said. “If we can do that, we will honor his life.”
Kauai Councilman Derek Kawakami read a proclamation from the county honoring Cox. Then, he told a story from his heart about Cox and ended it with this statement:
“In this book of life, we have individuals like Ric Cox whose story goes beyond the pages, whose story goes beyond the front and the back cover, that resonates forever, because of the lives that he touched.”