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Susan Kang Sunderland

A Thoroughly Modern Philanthropist

Lawrence ‘Larry’ Rodriguez is this year’s recipient of Maryknoll School’s Monsignor Charles A. Kekumano Service Award – for many good reasons

An open letter to the late Charles A. Kekumano:

Dear Monsignor: It’s been 15 years since you left our paradise to be in another, and we miss you. Our thoughts turn to you when an award in your name is presented each year by Maryknoll School.

It is a timely reminder of your legacy and the inspired role you played in the betterment of our community. For 49 years you served as an ordained Roman Catholic priest and led reforms in our educational, social and political systems, inspired by your faith and Hawaiian cultural values.

The Monsignor Charles A. Kekumano Service Award, presented for the past 15 years, is a tribute in your memory and to others who have followed in your footsteps.

This year’s recipient is Lawrence (Larry) Rodriguez, who truly walks in your image as a community leader. The prominent businessman with a big heart has chaired and served on the boards of numerous nonprofits in Hawaii for the past 30 years. By contributing business and leadership insights to these organizations, Rodriguez exemplifies Maryknoll’s motto of Noblesse Oblige, “to whom much is given, much is expected.”

Monsignor, you lived your 78 years of life mindful of that responsibility, and now others are embracing that mission.

In your passion for educational excellence, for instance, you taught us that knowledge is the link between a pupil and a philanthropist. One seeks knowledge about oneself and the world in order to become a leader. The other is a leader who uses knowledge to advance the welfare of the world.

Maryknoll’s 2013 awardee is a philanthropist whose unselfish time, funds and strategic counsel are valued. Students and faculty need look no further than their own school board for role models of faith, hope and charity.

One of the noteworthy projects in which Rodriguez was involved was the capital campaign to build the $21 million multipurpose Maryknoll Community Center (MCC) and state-of-the-art Clarence T.C. Ching Gymnasium. The MCC, which opened in 2009, is Maryknoll’s first gym and first building large enough to assemble the student body of 1,400.

The two-story, 35,000-square-foot structure at the corner of Alexander and Dole streets is the only high school gym on Oahu that has an NBA-regulation basketball court, which is convertible to two basketball or three volleyball courts. It also is the only high school gym in the state that has both air conditioning and soundproof insulation.

Evidently, those amenities plus inspired coaching can work miracles.

Maryknoll has strengthened its athletics program, resulting in the boys basketball team taking the 2013 ILH championship for the first time in 26 years. The pride of student-athletes shines from other championship titles representing 115 teams in 38 sports.

“Facilities create opportunities,” says Maryknoll president Perry Martin. “This building is more than space; it creates collaboration, an important facet of 21st century learning.

“Larry helped us raise the funds because he has a dynamic personality, is involved in many nonprofits and believes in our mission,” Martin adds. “We are not just a drop-off and pick-up urban school anymore.

We have a community center where parents, students, alumni and guests can assemble and be engaged in our programs.”

It’s a significant milestone as Maryknoll School observes its 85th anniversary.

The school was founded by a young priest and six Maryknoll Sisters. When it was blessed in 1927, there were only 93 boys and 77 girls who made up the student body. The school was a one-story, wooden-frame building containing four classrooms on Dole Street.

Within four years, the Sisters knew that expansion was necessary. In 1931, the first freshman class was enrolled and, in 1935, the first 13 graduates of the only Catholic co-educational high school in Hawaii received diplomas.

The high school division continued to operate at Dole Street until 1948, when it was moved to the former MacDonald Hotel on Punahou Street. In August 1953, the present high school facility was dedicated.

Today, Maryknoll is Hawaii’s largest co-ed Catholic school serving grades K-12. Fifty percent of the students are non-Catholics. The 150 faculty and staff are primarily laypeople.

The advancement of local schools, both public and private, depends on patrons like Rodriguez, who has a degree in accounting from California State University, Los Angeles, and is a certified public accountant and certified fraud examiner. He personifies the model citizen educators hope to cultivate in our young children. Students are challenged to develop global perspectives and skills of critical thinking, collaboration and problem-solving to master the 21st century workplace.

Not the least of this “empathy education” model is being a socially responsible citizen.

Rodriguez’s paternal grandmother, Maria Rodriguez, influenced her grandson at a young age to help others.

“She got me involved with the Catholic Church and charitable causes, conditioning me that this should be part of my life,” Rodriguez reflects. “That social consciousness continued into adulthood and particularly in my business career.”

Rodriguez, 67, worked more than 40 years in the financial services industry, including serving as managing partner of Ernst & Young’s Hawaii office from 1981 to 2007, and consultant, executive vice president and chief financial officer of Central Pacific Financial Corp./Central Pacific Bank in 2010-2011.

The demand for his organizational and strategic wisdom continues well into his current retirement, tempered by rounds of golf at Waialae.

On his charitable scorecard are many nonprofits across multiple sectors such as Catholic Charities Hawaii, American Cancer Society, Goodwill Industries, Easter Seals, Hands of Hope, Honolulu Symphony Foundation, National Kidney Foundation, United Cerebral Palsy, American Red Cross, Hawaii Theatre, Hawaii Pacific University, University of Hawaii, YMCA, Boy Scouts of America, Star of the Sea School, Aloha United Way and many others. One of his long associations is with Hawaiian Humane Society, where he is board member and past chairman. In addition to volunteering time, Rodriguez and wife Patricia established the Mr. Bugs Dog Bite Prevention Program, named for a beloved wire fox terrier, and the Max Special Fund that pays for medical care for dogs and cats that “but for a particular problem, the animal could be adoptable.”

A total of eight dogs, mostly terriers, have been adopted at different times by the couple. They currently share their Waialae Iki home with Lady Bug, a miniature schnauzer, and wire fox terriers Scooter and Dickens. Scooter’s picture appears on the new HHS van sponsored by Rodriguez.

“What a strategic thinker can bring to an organization, be it for-profit or nonprofit, is focus,” Rodriguez says. “Driving that focus ends up being a financial objective. When organizations drift, it’s indicative of pursuing too many objectives.”

Spoken like a true numbers guy – although clients claim Rodriguez is adept at the creative side of problem-solving, as well.

But all of that will be put aside Sunday, May 5, when Maryknoll honors him at the 15th annual Monsignor Charles A. Kekumano Awards dinner at Sheraton Waikiki.

Rodriguez will share the spotlight that evening with Maryknoll junior Katelyn Domdoma, who receives this year’s Kekumano Scholarship Award for academic excellence, service to community and leadership.

So the cycle of generational social consciousness continues.

It is said that modern philanthropy has changed greatly in recent years, born from changes in the economic landscape, technological advances and generational shifts. No longer are we comfortable simply giving to the charity that sends us a calendar every year. Philanthropists want to be part of something bigger than themselves. Modern projects, as Rodriguez professes, must have very specific objectives and a very clear concept anchoring them. That is what grabs donors. They find something that stirs their core and pushes them to act.

“Turn your passion into action,” Rodriguez says.

And that’s the bottom line.

Information and tickets for Maryknoll School’s May 5 service award and scholarship dinner are available online at maryknollschool.org/kekumano.

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