BCC to honor longtime dean Charlie Kaminski following his sudden passing
PITTSFIELD — Charlie Kaminski mentored many, and made people laugh.
Those who knew him say the late Berkshire Community College dean played a valuable role in the commonwealth's science, technology and math field. But beyond that, they say, his human impacts are immeasurable.
"It sounds trite," said BCC President Ellen Kennedy, "but he's pretty irreplaceable. He was such a mainstay for so long."
Kaminski, 51, of Savoy, died suddenly in January of an apparent heart attack while vacationing with his husband in Colombia. He worked for BCC for 17 years.
The college will honor him with a memorial celebration Friday, beginning at 2:30 p.m. in the college's Connector building.
At the time of his passing Kaminski was the college's dean of science, mathematics and technology, though he was poised to take on a new role at the college, overseeing a structural change to its business and outreach division.
"And he was ideal for that because he had both the internal knowledge and community connections," said Jennifer Berne, the college's vice president for academic affairs. "In fact he helped me shape what the role was."
Frank Schickor, previously the college's dean of biology, has stepped into Kaminski's role as STEM leader on an interim basis. Meantime, the college is actively searching for someone to fill its new business and outreach leadership role.
"It's impossible to overstate the personal loss, of course, but also the professional loss," Berne said.
Kaminski was always up on the latest in STEM education, but also made time for punk shows and the New England Patriots, said his friend Chris Laney, who is also a dean at the college.
"He was kind of an exceptional figure," he said.
Those who knew and loved Kaminski described his laugh as giant, jovial and infectious. He was a tall guy — around 6 feet 5 inches, they said — but was conscious not to generate an imposing presence.
And to say he was "involved," would be an understatement, they said.
Kennedy said that when the college needed someone to lead something Kaminski often raised his hand. He also played a major role in the state's Community College Leadership Academy, and was an advocate for sustainability on campus and in the community.
He was a prized problem-solver at the college and beyond, Kennedy said.
"He saw the system of things," she said. "I think being a scientist, he saw how it all had to come together in order to maintain balance and equilibrium in a system. I think he saw that in everything he did."
He was also involved in the community, she said, noting his role as board president for the Berkshire County Historical Society at Herman Melville's Arrowhead.
Kaminski had been with his husband, Tom Connelly, since they were teenagers. He was a great cook, Connelly said, and he loved to garden. But mostly he said he enjoyed serving his community.
"He would come home from work and immediately go back to work on the home computer," Connelly said. "He was very focused on helping the community in every way could."
Gina Foley, an associate professor in biology at the college, called Kaminski a mentor. His passing leaves a void in the life sciences department, she said, but he lives on in what he taught those who worked for him.
"He always brought a confident solution to any issue you may have," she said. "I always relied on him to come to decisions about questions that I had or anything that I needed to tackle."
He would teach them to do the same, she said, and then hand out more responsibility.
"He trusted us," she said. "He trusted our whole department."
Among the things he taught them, she said, was how to live.
"Charlie just lived life. He lived life the best that he could," she said. "He explored and experienced so many different things."
She said his teachings are everlasting.
"He will never be gone for us," she said. "He just made such a huge impact in our lives."
Connelly said those wishing to honor Kaminski can do so by donating to the BCC Foundation, 1350 West St., Pittsfield, MA 01201 to support a STEM scholarship in his husband's memory.
Amanda Drane can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, @amandadrane on Twitter, and 413-496-6296.
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