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Lehigh remembers John Karakash

John Karakash—an institution unto himself at Lehigh University—passed away on March 22 at the age of 91 at his home in Bethlehem. While his passing has saddened the university community, it is also a time to reflect upon, and celebrate, the many ways that he touched the lives of those around him at his "second home" here at Lehigh.

(For an appreciation of the life of John Karakash, read In memoriam: John Karakash.)

Karakash, who served as dean of Lehigh’s engineering college from 1966 to 1981, won an array of honors for modernizing the college and its programs. Before joining the faculty in 1946, he helped engineers at the University of Pennsylvania design the world’s first all-electronic computer.

But Karakash will be perhaps best remembered as a philosopher of education and a gifted teacher whose devotion to students inspired them to achieve beyond their highest expectations. The following are remembrances submitted by those whose lives were touched by this extraordinary teacher and mentor.

Frederick H. Harding ‘53

Professor Karakash's whimsy and self-control can both be seen in this happening. He had trained himself to be able to write simultaneously with both hands, one hand producing the mirror image of that written by the other. One day, we were seated in the classroom, looking at a blackboard panel covered by a drawn blank cover, the blackboard panel beside it seemingly covered with gibberish.

After talking for a couple minutes, Professor Karakash said: "Well, those of you who have been thinking know by now what your pop quiz is for today." He then raised the shade, uncovering the mirror image of the gibberish: Our quiz for the day. I only knew him to do this once: perhaps it was a favorite trick to play on different classes. It certainly illustrates his knack for bringing home the points of "Stay alert; think of all details as part of an overall picture."

George Dolan ‘61

John often said: "The sugar is in the bottom of the cup!" It is a saying I have often reflected on as I have worked toward some goal.

H. Barry Bergman ‘61

Professor Karakash did have a wry sense of humor. I was in an electrical engineering class that he was teaching in my senior year. One day he came into the room, obviously in a big hurry. He wrote the following on the blackboard: "JJ Karakash = J² Karakash = -1 Karakash" and then dashed out of the room.

Martin Faga ‘63, ‘64G

As an electrical engineering student and ham radio operator, I once commented to John that we weren't learning many circuits. He responded with the comment that Dean Wu also quoted: “Whatever electrical circuits we teach students will be outdated shortly after they leave Lehigh, but the thinking skills we teach them will stay with them forever.” He went on to say: "Learn science and math, they will serve you for your entire career."

I've recognized a thousand times since how right he was, as I worked in engineering for 10 years then as a manager and government and corporate executive for 30 more. I'm now CEO of a $1 billion technology company. The implementation of John's philosophy is the reason.

I was always impressed by how thoroughly John seemed to understand each of us as students. He would come up in the hall and say, "Next semester, you should take this course" and he'd explain why. He was personally and deeply involved with each of us. I appreciated it then; even more so after I understood its significance more deeply, long after graduation.

I graduated 42 years ago and still feel close to him.

William R. Haller ‘72

When I was finishing my MSEE degree, John pulled me aside and asked if I had a job. I replied that I had not started the interviewing process. This was at 10 a.m. John called me out of class around 2 p.m. and informed me that he made a couple of calls on my behalf and gave me a list of three companies, all of which made significant offers of employment. John always demanded the best education for "his" Lehigh students and was always available to help any student.

George Kostick ‘68

I had been struggling—really struggling—with Fourier Transforms. I wasn't getting it even after all-nighters in Packard Lab. In desperation, I asked for an appointment to see Dean Karakash. I was surprised to hear I could see him the next day.

I had low expectations of the meeting. I thought he'd give me a tip or two and refer me to page 254 or something like that. What I got was a life-altering, 15-minute chat. He told me to stop the all-nighters, get some sleep, go out on a date, and then crack the book only after I had lived a little. He told me circuit analysis is not as important as living life to its fullest. He told me to learn to live well and that understanding transforms would take care of itself.

He may not have helped my Fourier Transforms grade, but he did give me invaluable advice and a wider perspective of what's important.

James E. Stine Jr., ‘00G, associate professor, Oklahoma State University

I frequently utilized the copier on the first floor of Packard Lab and it always seemed Dr. Karakash (at the time I didn't know who he was) wanted to use the copier at the same time. He always greeted me with a warm hello and "What is your name?" and "What are you working on?" He was really friendly and always told me to work hard, which is something I was trying hard to do.

As I moved on towards my Ph.D., I finally realized who he was when I saw a figure of him with his famous saying about working hard next to the copier. I realized what a great monument and legacy he gave to the department and Lehigh, yet he was always so unassuming and friendly when I met him.

I can say without reservation that Lehigh has lost a great person. A gentle giant in his own right, but warm enough to say hello to a lowly graduate student trying to work hard with Lehigh spirit. I will always remember this and I still hold his words dear to my work today. In fact, his words are something I give to each and every one of my current graduate students that I work with. Lehigh will miss him dearly; however, forgotten he will not be!

Walter R. West ‘48

I had only two personal contact memories of John Karakash. The first was in early 1947 where, as a mechanical engineering student, and just returning to Lehigh following World War II service, I was in an electrical engineering appreciation course in a classroom in Packard Lab. The new-to-Lehigh John Karakash was our lecturer. A stray dog walked into the room, and was obviously frightened. John gently lifted the dog up onto the front table and proceeded to show and tell us how to soothe it. This was a far cry from engineering, we thought. But we were, as a class, impressed by his innate ability to placate the frightened animal. Later, we remarked to ourselves, in personal discussions, that he could probably use the same feelings of compassion as a teacher to relate to students.

The second experience occurred years later, when I attended a Lehigh Club dinner in Philadelphia where he was guest speaker. That was the first time I ever heard mention that the university had a responsibility to help "disadvantaged" students succeed in their lives by giving them a proper education at Lehigh. I'm certainly glad to have had these memories of John Karakash as a man.

John Grason ‘64

I remember that John would take the senior electrical engineers on a picnic in the spring, at some park on the side of a mountain. He would, of course, bring along his javelin and throw it. But then he would challenge six of the seniors to a game of volleyball. John against the six. The only concession was that he could hit the ball twice. He always won!

Amy Josar, coordinator, RCEAS

When I began working in the Engineering Graduate Office at Lehigh University, I looked forward to seeing John and Pierre stopping by to make photocopies, or just to say a quick hello. Pierre was always at his side, and listened so well, he was a very sweet dog. I was at John’s 91st birthday party, and he seemed to be in a happy mood, and enjoyed interacting with those that were there. A few months later, he invited me and another co-worker to lunch at Kirkland Village. It was very nice to be able to sit and talk with him, since I only ever saw him in the hallways, and never really got to say much more than hello. He talked about the importance of teaching to teach others, and to be inspiring to the students.

I'm currently working on my bachelor's degree in elementary education, and so his advice was very well received. He was a very inspiring person, and such a sweet man. I wrote him a thank-you note for lunch that day, and explained to him that I plan to teach elementary school, and that his advice will help me to become a better teacher. He seemed interested and had given me an article about teaching.

After Pierre was put down, I didn't see John around much. I'm sure it was heartbreaking for him to not have his best buddy with him. I know that he is with his wife and Pierre now, and that brings comfort to me. I do miss seeing him and telling him hello, or waving to him (since he didn't always hear me). John Karakash was a wonderful man who should be remembered for so many wonderful things; he touched many lives.

Noah E Kretsch Jr. ‘52

I have always considered John to be the best instructor I ever had. Hanging on my office wall are his words, which are enshrined on the plaque in Packard Lab, installed at the dedication of the rebuilt north wing. To me, they say everything that John stood for. In 2002, during our annual visit to my sister in Souderton, John invited me and my wife, Geraldine, to lunch at Kirkland. We spent an enthralling four hours with him. After meeting his beloved dog, Pierre, we ate in the Kirkland dining room, and had an unforgettable session of wisdom and anecdotes covering his life. When we left, Geraldine, who is an artist of sorts, presented him with a painting she had done of autumn leaves, which we had collected from the campus in 2001. From his reaction, one would think we had presented him with gold. John will always have a place in our hearts.

“May a million stars, like candles, light his way to paradise.”

James G. Gottling '53, '54

John Karakash was my first electrical engineering professor, teaching the circuit theory course that I took during the summer session of '51. As a EE power major, I saw more of Loyal V. Bewley after that. But John Karakash followed me throughout my career. He tried to recruit me to come to Lehigh in '65, after I had completed my S.M., Sc.D. and had been an assistant professor at MIT for five years. However, I chose to continue my teaching career at The Ohio State University. But John kept in touch with me throughout my OSU career. He was a wonderful, caring teacher and gave me a great start in electrical engineering.


Russ Cramer ‘62

Briefly, I remember Dr. Karakash as a strict, but captivating teacher and dean. He listened carefully and was very honest and exact in how he gave his answer/advice. His patient instruction and the electrical engineering department he created and oversaw, allowed me to grow. I was blessed by being accepted to and graduating from the Lehigh University electrical engineering department.

George N. K. Miller ‘73

I was attending graduate school at Lehigh in the late ‘70s when Dean Karakash came down to the graduate student office in Packard Lab and asked for some help in moving some things in his office. When we were done, he grabbed one of the old books in his collection and handed it to me. It was his way of saying, “Thanks.” That was the act of a kind, generous, and thoughtful man and I will always remember it.

Ray Bieak ‘64

I met John Karakash during my undergraduate years at Lehigh. Although I was in the College of Business, our paths crossed many times in various Lehigh activities to the extent that he would recognize and call me by my first name. What truly impressed me about the wonderful kind of "people person" Dr. Karakash was is that he still remembered me years later when I was working at Western Electric/Bell Labs in Allentown. Again, our paths crossed several times at the Labs while he was visiting business associates. I always had the deepest respect for Dr. Karakash as a person as well as his position in the business and education communities. I extend my condolences to the family and close friends of Dr. John Karakash.

Syd Weinstein ‘77

Dean Karakash was my advisor while I was at Lehigh and it was his guidance that led me to my career choice and my work as a researcher, professor, entrepreneur, and executive. I will not be able to attend on April 10th because I will be taking my own son to investigate colleges, and I hope my advice to him is as beneficial as Dean Karakash's was to me.

I was heartened when he remembered who I was when I saw him at an event at Lehigh about five years ago. It is a testament to him that he remembered the students he advised, and wanted to catch up with how they had grown and matured.

Ruth Tallman Wehden, Lehigh staff

I began working in Packard Laboratory on Oct. 1, 1981. I don't believe a month went by before Dean Karakash stopped in to introduce himself. I adored him immediately and looked forward to our encounters. In the late ‘80s, the house next to John's was up for sale and he had his own sales campaign in mind. I believe he let everyone in Packard Lab know that the house was available. My husband and I decided to take a look at it and ended up buying it. It's a small, quiet neighborhood of modest houses. John and his wife, Margaret, were the best neighbors, down-to-earth and caring. The kids adored John and, of course, the dogs, Poochie and Pierre. They couldn't remember "Karakash" so they called him Dean Carrot Patch!

Although we were happy for him when he moved to Kirkland, we missed having him next door. He was part of our family in the neighborhood and part of our Lehigh family. He really touched our lives.

Donald Burich

I met "Uncle John" via a friendship between my parents and John.

As a child, I vividly remember him "getting down to my level" … playing silly games, telling silly jokes, and teaching me to throw the javelin. I still giggle at the thought of him trying to teach his dog to fetch the javelin.

In my high school and college years, he was my friend and counselor ... he did not counsel in an authoritative or condescending manner, but in a thought provoking/futuristic manner—and always grounded in sound principles.

As a young adult, he continued to help me find my own direction by helping to think through priorities ... life priorities. Again, his focus was based on principles related to work and family.

I miss John, but I am incredibly blessed to have met him. I cannot imagine a better role model—a selfless person who had so much to share, and did not hesitate to do so.

I love you "Uncle John."

Posted on Monday, April 10, 2006

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