Beloved Columbus High president honored for 60 years in Catholic education

Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez honored Brother Kevin Handibode for his service to Catholic education.
Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez honored Brother Kevin Handibode for his service to Catholic education.

Among the alumni of Christopher Columbus High School, Brother Kevin Handibode is known as “The Shark” for both his tough basketball coaching style and his relentless fundraising efforts on behalf of the all-boys Catholic school.

The Columbus High president was honored Monday for a lifetime of service in Catholic education. His fans credit him with shaping generations of young men in Miami-Dade both in the classroom and on the basketball court. Along the way, he also coaxed countless supporters to write checks for numerous projects, including new buildings and financial aid programs to ensure that even the neediest students can afford to attend.

“He is Columbus to everybody who went to Columbus,” said Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, who graduated from the school in the early 1970s and played on Handibode’s basketball team. “I wouldn’t be mayor if it weren’t for Brother Kevin.”

Gimenez and the mayors of five Miami-Dade cities recognized Handibode for nearly 60 years in Catholic education at a luncheon in Pinecrest and proclaimed Monday, Dec. 12, as “Brother Kevin Day.” U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen also spoke at the event and presented Handibode with an American flag and a plaque commemorating a speech she gave at the U.S. Capitol in early December honoring him for his service.

Handibode, 77, has worked at Columbus for more than 45 years, serving as a teacher, basketball coach, athletic director, development director, principal and, since 2000, as the school president.

“A lot of bosses think they’re hands on, but Brother Kevin is hands on,” said John Lynskey, Columbus’ assistant principal. “I have seen him pressure cleaning the courtyard. I have seen him take out the trash. I have seen him directing traffic in the parking lot. Brother Kevin does everything from A to Z at Columbus.”

Handibode became a Marist Brother in 1957 at the age of 18, joining a Catholic group that is dedicated to education. He started his teaching career at Archbishop Molloy High School in New York, where he also served as a basketball coach. One of his first players was Jim Larrañaga, the University of Miami men’s basketball coach, who said Brother Kevin inspired him to dedicate his life to the sport.

“Part of the reason I am a coach is because of Brother Kevin,” Larrañaga said at the event.

Handibode started working at Columbus in 1966, where he has stayed ever since except for a short stint as the principal of Marist High School in New Jersey. He created the development program at Columbus in the 1980s and became well-known among alumni and parents for talking them into making large donations to fund scholarships, renovations and new buildings at the high school.

“One of his big strengths is development,” said J.B. Aleman, the chairman of the Columbus Board of Directors, joking that people across Miami live in fear of “the dreaded call from Brother Kevin.”

“The truth is, he does all of that for Columbus,” Aleman said.

When it was his turn to speak, Handibode said he was humbled and surprised by the award.

“Quite honestly I don’t know why I was chosen to be here because I’m part of a family of Marist Brothers and Columbus faculty who have done so much,” he said. Then, he joked about his ardor for fundraising. “Alumni, you can say you were at an event and Brother Kevin didn’t ask you for money.”