Rick Rutiz has taken Hana kids outside of the classroom and changed their lives
After 19 years of teaching students how to build cottages for kupuna and classrooms for their school, Rick Rutiz is stepping down as executive director of Ma Ka Hana Ka ‘Ike.
The longtime Hana resident will be retiring from the nonprofit on July 1, handing over the reins to the young people he’s mentored over the past two decades.
“I’m going to be 66 this June, and I get to do something else when I grow up with my life,” Rutiz said Sunday, days after announcing that he would retire. “This will be 19 years of 60-hour weeks, and basically the nonprofit’s been both mine and my wife’s whole life.”
Lipoa Kahaleuahi, a program graduate, will take over as director, and Rutiz said he has total confidence that the next generation “will be able to take Ma Ka Hana Ka ‘Ike to new heights.”
Ma Ka Hana Ka ‘Ike (in working, one learns) gives youths in Hana an education outside of the traditional classroom, teaching them hands-on building skills that not only help the community but could lead to a future career. Over the years, students in the program have built classrooms for Hana High and Elementary School, cottages and handicap ramps for kupuna and solar-pow-
ered bathhouses for large families.
Part of the reason Rutiz connects so well with the youths in his program is because he used to be like them — a kid who learned better outside of the classroom.
“In high school, I skated by all right, but I found no reason to be there,” said Rutiz, who grew up in the San Fernando Valley in Southern California. “I was staring out the window, wishing I was outside doing something else.”
He went to college because that was “the thing to do.” But it was 1971, the Vietnam War was dragging on, and all Rutiz really did during his freshman year was party and protest the war. After one year at the University of California, Irvine, he left and found his way to Paris, where he ran out of money and squatted in derelict buildings until he landed a job as a chef.
Near the end of his six years in Paris, Rutiz had the chance to open a restaurant in a converted marble and granite fabrication building.
“So I got a crash course in building from some great artisans, great French builders,” Rutiz said. “That was my first fascination and love with building things.”
Rutiz then spent three years teaching at a bush school in Kenya, where he and the other staff had to construct their own buildings. When Rutiz came back to the U.S., he decided to turn his passion for building into a business, and has now been a licensed contractor for more than 35 years.
In 1986, Rutiz moved to Maui, where he taught math at Hana School, helped coach baseball and soccer and got involved in his daughter’s hula halau. As he worked more with the youths in the community,
Rick Rutiz (left), executive director of Ma Ka Hana Ka ‘Ike, takes measurements on a job site in Hana in March of 2013. After 19 years of teaching hands-on building skills to students, Rutiz will retire from the nonprofit on July 1.
Students work together on a building in 2004. One of the students, 16-year-old James FreudenbergPu (far left), has gone on to become the manager of Ma Ka Hana Ka ‘Ike’s building program.