San Bernardino County lost a true reflection of what a good American citizen should be when California State University, San Bernardino President Emeritus Dr. Albert Karnig, who devoted his life and career to inspiring our region and our neighbors to be the best they could be, passed away suddenly last Thursday. This Thursday, his family, associates, friends and many beneficiaries of his remarkable and wide-ranging career will gather at CSUSB’s Coussoulis Arena at 2 p.m., followed by a reception at the CSUSB reflecting pool to celebrate a life that focused on improving all of our lives every day.
As president of one of the largest and most honored homebuilding associations in the nation, I have had the good fortune to work with many community leaders in many capacities. I had the great honor to join our membership in awarding Dr. Karnig the Building Industry Association Baldy View Chapter Community Service Award in 2004 while working with him on a great many community projects. Like my fellow homebuilding professionals, I also had the great pleasure of calling him a friend, and always found Dr. Karnig to be the model for a responsible citizen who took his responsibility and commitment to the community very seriously.
Beyond his legendary academic achievements, Dr. Karnig committed his talents to serve our entire community in nearly every capacity. We are all richer for his efforts here in our region.
Born in 1942, the child of Armenian immigrants who fled the Armenian genocide during World War I, Dr. Karnig’s story proved to be in many ways the great American story. He spoke only Armenian until he started school and went on to become an award-winning author of books, studies and important academic papers as well as garnering numerous awards for his distinguished scholarship and leadership. As an educator, Dr. Karnig’s accomplishments during his 15 years as president are too numerous to detail, yet the ones that best illustrate his role as a community leader involve his role in CSUSB’s breaking records in enrollment and the diversity of both the school’s faculty and student body.
His legacy includes raising millions to build a non-state-funded, four-building campus in Palm Desert and creating the President’s Academic Excellence Scholars Program. More importantly, during his presidency, CSUSB generated some of the highest African-American and Latino student retention rates of any California university — over 70 percent of the graduates were the first in their families to complete college. Ultimately, his tenure positioned CSUSB to be one of the most respected universities in California.
While I am sure that soon Dr. Karnig’s life and career will be memorialized by emblazoning his name in public places, what is most important about Dr. Karnig’s life is that it will always serve as an example of what a life invested in serving one’s community can be.
Our region faces many challenges in the future, yet thanks to people like Dr. Karnig, we and future generations of community leaders will know just what can be accomplished and — thanks to his contributions — will be better equipped to meet those challenges.
When we gather together on Thursday to remember his remarkable life and achievements, we will call it a celebration of life. Let’s remember that every day of Dr. Karnig’s life brought something positive to all of our lives and this great place we call San Bernardino County.
He gave us much to celebrate.
Ali Sahabi of Optimum Group, LLC, is president of the Building Industry Association Baldy View Chapter.