Gladys Baisa, MEO’s 4th chief executive and council member passes

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March 12, 2024

Maui Economic Opportunity mourns Monday’s passing of Gladys C. Baisa, the 59 year old nonprofit’s fourth chief executive who in her 22 years at the helm left a lasting imprint on Maui County with programs reintegrating recently released inmates into the community, helping low income and disadvantaged residents start a business, and supporting Mexican/Hispanic laborers brought to Maui to work in agriculture.

And there was so much more. Gladys, 83, mobilized kupuna to promote and support their own well-being with transportation, health and other services, looked for ways to fund raise, including the Basil Project that grossed more than $300,000 annually, and secured the donation of 11.5 acres in Waiehu that currently is slated for the 120-unit 100 percent affordable rental project, the Hale Mahaolu Ke Kahua Affordable Housing Community.

“She was a true trailblazer, advocate for low income, disadvantaged and seniors, and she was a role model for women leaders,” said MEO CEO Debbie Cabebe. “Gladys dedicated a good portion of her life to MEO and many of the programs that we administer today were started under her leadership. Please keep her family in your prayers.”

Gladys would go on to win five terms on the Maui County Council after retiring from MEO and serve in county administrations. But she will always be remembered by the Community Action Agency she guided as Executive Director from 1983 to 2005. In all, Gladys had a 37-year career at MEO, as the agency’s first full-time accountant and later as fiscal officer before succeeding Joe Souki as Executive Director.

The Being Empowered and Safe Together (BEST) program was created by Gladys and continues to help incarcerated men and women reintegrate into society upon release. She reached out to friend and motivational speaker Lou Tice to lay the foundation for BEST and garnered funding.

Gladys brought the MEO Business Development Center Microenterprise program to Maui, which continues to provide microloans, the Core Four business planning course and business expertise to support low income residents, while generating jobs and strengthening the economy.

In the early 1990s when there was a shortage of agricultural workers, Gladys helped bring in several thousand Mexican immigrants to work in the pineapple fields and many decided to stay.

Born in Paia, Gladys was class valedictorian of Maui High’s Class of 1958 and earned a Licensed Practical Nurse certificate from St. Francis School on Oahu and an Accounting Certificate from Maui Technical School, the predecessor of UH-Maui College, according to a Maui County Council resolution honoring her retirement in June 2020.

Her survivors include her husband, Sherman, children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

There were two other things about Gladys that the Council Resolution noted.

She loved sweets and often said that you should eat dessert first just in case of an earthquake.

And when enshrined in Akaku’s Walk of Heroes in Kahului, she described herself as “Ms. Fix It.”

“I’ve always liked to bring people together to focus on a goal,” she said. “If there’s a community problem, I’ll find a way to get involved because that’s what aloha is all about. If you want to do it well, you must commit your life to the job. My advice to the youth of today is to focus on appreciation. Be kind and do what’s right.”

Funeral arrangements have not been announced.

Gladys Baisa, 83, Maui Economic Opportunity executive director for 22 years, died on Monday, March 12.

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Gladys Baisa is shown at a blessing of a hale at Maui Economic Opportunity’s old site at Vevau and Kane streets in Kahului. MEO moved to its current site in Wailuku in 1999.

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