Ernest “Ernie” Libarios Sr., an affable counselor who advised thousands of students at Leeward Community College for four decades and empowered Hawaii’s youth, has died.
Libarios died Sunday of lymphoma. He was 81.
He was the third of five children born to Herman Hildo Libarios and Efifania Libarios and raised in Kona, where he and his siblings worked at their parents’ coffee farm.
Libarios earned a master’s degree in educational psychology from the University of Hawaii at Manoa and was hired by Leeward Community College in 1969, the first counselor of Filipino ancestry at the educational institution that opened a year earlier.
Throughout his career, he advised generations of students as a counselor and taught college readiness and college success courses as a professor. He also developed a culturally based self-development course for new students.
Leon Florendo, 52, recalled first meeting Libarios in 1986 near Leeward’s admission and records building, where he had gone to register after his parents gave him money to cover his tuition. Admissions personnel told him he missed the registration deadline and would need to speak to the dean of students.
Sitting on a bench outside of the building distraught, Florendo recalled hearing a voice from a man who approached him and said,“Eh, how’s it going, how you doing?”
He turned and there stood Libarios. Florendo shared with him his attempt to register and that he needed to speak to the dean because he missed the registration deadline. Libarios replied: “I know the dean of students. Come, I take you.”
While at the office, Florendo remembered Libarios vouching for him and asking the dean to assist Florendo. “He’s a good kid … I’m going to take care of him,” Libarios told the dean.
“We just met,” Florendo said. “He didn’t even know me and from that day on he took care of me.”
He registered and signed up for Libarios’ social science class and eventually transferred to UH-Manoa.
Throughout the years, the two developed a strong bond. Florendo described Libarios as his mentor and referred to him as a second dad.
It was Libarios who also inspired him to become a counselor.
An assistant professor and counselor at Waianae Moku, an extension of Leeward Community College, Florendo said, “If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t have registered. It if wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to teach at community colleges.”
Libarios connected with students with his jovial disposition and humble demeanor. He was quick to deflect praise, describing himself merely as a messenger to provide opportunities to students.
Manny Cabral, retired chancellor of Leeward Community College, who has known Libarios for 40 years, said, “He impacted everyone in the most positive way possible.”
“His attitude was not of himself but doing the best for others,” Cabral added. “He gave of himself with no expectation of anything in return. I think that summarizes him. His involvement was not only at the college (level) but obviously in the community. It was just a total commitment to doing good.”
In addition to being an inspiration to his students, Libarios inspired his family members to become counselors.
His daughter-in-law, Laurie Libarios, who works as a counselor at Leeward, said his popularity as a counselor was not only because he was a fun-loving and positive person, but also because he cared about people and he was effective.
He uplifted students and often told them, “You’re a winner!”
Libarios served as a counselor and professor at Leeward for 46 years until he retired in December 2015.
Florendo recalled helping Libarios clear his office and observed the walls covered with classroom photos of his students from every semester he taught. He never took them down until he retired, Florendo said.
UH recognized Libarios’ dedication and honored him with the 2017 College of Education Distinguished Alumnus award and the Board of Regents Excellence in Teaching award.
The state Senate and Honolulu City Council also honored him in 2016 for his longstanding commitment to students. Libarios also received accolades from the United Filipino Council of Hawaii, National Education Association and National Institute for Staff and Organizational Development.
The dedicated educator also helped students involved in Operation Manong, a program at UH-Manoa that addresses campus diversity and equal access to higher education.
He also played an instrumental role in Sariling Gawa, a nonprofit organization that fosters cultural awareness and empowers youth in the Filipino community.
Alma Ouanesisouk Trinidad, professor at Portland State University’s School of Social Work, first met Libarios while she was a youth delegate in Sariling Gawa. She recalled how he taught students to embrace their culture and instilled a sense of community.
He had a gentle demeanor and was always encouraging, she said.
Libarios had such a deep understanding of the socioeconomic challenges and obstacles people may face when they prepare to enter higher education, Trinidad added.
Libarios and his late wife, Shirley, had developed a project called Project RISE (Resourceful Individuals Seeking Education) aimed at helping at-risk and disadvantaged students with positive self-image and encouraging them to seek higher education. The program became a model for other youth programs.
Libarios also was involved in the Hawaii National Guard’s Youth Challenge Academy, which teaches students discipline and life-coping skills and helps students obtain a General Educational Development (GED) diploma.
Florendo said, “He always had a heart to work with disadvantaged groups. That was his calling. Anything to help the less fortunate, he was there to help.”
His faith led him to become an ordained deacon with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Honolulu.
Amefil “Amy” Agbayani, emeritus assistant vice chancellor for student diversity at UH-Manoa, has known Libarios for more than 50 years. “He’s maybe the most impactful Filipino educator in Hawaii,” Agbayani said, noting he influenced so many people.
His son, Jason Libarios, described his father as selfless and said the way he interacted with his students paralleled the interactions he had with him and his late brother, Ernest “Niki” Libarios Jr. “He was always giving, very supportive,” he said.
“Everybody loved him and he loved everybody,” his son added. “He touched so many lives.”
Libarios is survived by son Jason Libarios; daughters-in-law Jacqueline Libarios and Laurie Libarios; brothers Herman Libarios Jr. and Ronald Libarios; and granddaughters Joy Libarios, Faith Libarios, Alexis Libarios and Alaina Libarios.
Funeral arrangements are pending.