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Hawaii educator’s compassion and positivity inspired others

  • COURTESY ERNEST “ERNIE” LIBARIOS

    Ernest “Niki” Libarios Jr.

Ernest “Niki” D. Libarios Jr., who devoted his professional life to education in Hawaii, was proud of his Filipino roots and known for his graciousness.

“He was very quick to compliment people and raise them up and help them feel better about themselves,” said Laurie Libarios, his wife of 10 years. He graciously complimented people wherever he went — often going back into a store or an office to tell someone how much he appreciated them.

Libarios, director of the Office of Student Academic Services at the University of Hawaii at Manoa’s College of Education, died Aug. 19 at the Queen’s Medical Center due to liver failure. He was 47.

He most recently invested in Hawaii education by taking the lead to shape a campaign launched by the University of Hawaii dubbed “Be a hero. Be a teacher” to address the teacher shortage.

Donald B. Young, dean of the College of Education at UH-Manoa, described Libarios as an inspirational leader. “His presence changes all for the better,” he said.

Libarios was born in Honolulu to Ernest “Ernie” Libarios Sr. and Shirley Libarios. He earned an associate of arts degree in liberal arts from Leeward Community College and a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from UH-Manoa.

He was a teacher at Pearlridge, Salt Lake and Kaiulani elementary schools before he worked as an instructor at LCC and a counselor at Honolulu Community College. He then earned a master’s degree in counseling psychology at Chaminade University and a doctorate in education at UH-Manoa.

Libarios, known as “Niki” to family members and friends, was genuine, warm and friendly, his wife said. “He just had a knack to reach so many people from different walks of life.”

Like his father, a retired LCC counselor, and late mother, an Aiea High School teacher, Libarios “shared the belief in the power of education to improve the lives of others they counseled in the public schools and college system of Hawaii,” said retired Department of Education Leeward District superintendent Domingo Los Banos.

He also worked with at-risk youth and provided constant support to students underrepresented in higher education. Proud of his culture, Libarios was heavily involved in Filipino organizations helping to mentor students.

Loved ones say Libarios will be best remembered for his smile, positive attitude and compassion.

“He was always there whenever I needed something,” said Leon Florendo, a friend of 30 years. “He was a real friend, my best friend, my brother.”

Besides his wife, Libarios is survived by daughters Joy and Faith, father Ernest “Ernie” Libarios Sr. and brother Jason Libarios.

A celebration of life will be held Saturday at New Hope Oahu in Sand Island. Visitation begins at 8 a.m. with service to follow at 9:30 a.m. Burial will take place 1:30 p.m. at the Valley of the Temples in Kaneohe.

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