Keith (Kip) Polakoff has a promise to keep. It is one he made to his wife, Carol, before she died from a rare neuro-degenerative disease in October 2012.
“At one point while she was in the hospital, she said, ‘Well, you’ll be all right. You’ll meet someone else in a year or two,’” recalled Polakoff, who was the LBSU associate vice president of Academic Affairs for 18 years. “That’s never going to happen. But I did make a lot of promises to her. To me, those are sacred. One of those promises was that I would spend the rest of my life trying to do things for other people and make myself useful.”
And he is keeping his word. As a photographer, he has always made contributions to the community, visually documenting productions of the Long Beach Opera since 1982, Monterey Jazz Festival until 2012, as well as the LBSU Departments of Dance and Theater Arts. He also volunteers for Musical Theatre West and has renewed traveling to other countries, most recently Japan and the U.K.
Due to his love for hiking and an interest in environmental issues (he has visited 44 U.S. national parks), Polakoff has rejoined the Audubon Society, the National Wildlife Federation and the Sierra Club. His daughter, Amy, is a marathon runner and signed him up to walk the Orange County Marathon in May 2013.
“The funny thing is I’m not one of those people who can sit still,” Polakoff said with a chuckle. “It goes all the way back to my childhood. I was hyperactive. There were times in elementary school when they had to let me walk around the classroom. I would fidget, doodle. It wasn’t until high school that I was able to buckle down.”
Polakoff’s energy level was an advantage for him at LBSU where he spent 35 years, first as a professor of history, followed by the AVP of Academic Affairs position and finally at the Chancellor’s Office, where he headed the California Pre-Doctoral Program and the California Forum for Diversity in Graduate Education, which he helped establish in 1991.
“I’d like to think that, during my career, I had something to do with maintaining and, wherever possible, raising the academic standards of the institution,” he said. “I know I can point to a lot of specific things that I was able to accomplish, particularly in connection with the arts, for which I know, ironically, was not what I was trained in, but it was always the arts that were closest to my heart.”
And Polakoff continues to serve as a patron. He has already established two endowments in his wife’s name, one to support the Bob Cole Conservatory of Music Opera Institute and the other to provide scholarships for Department of Theater Arts students. He also volunteers his time as chair of the fundraising committee for both programs.
“I think that the most important universities in the country are campuses like Long Beach that provide a very high-quality education (especially for what they cost to operate) and serve a student population, much of which would not have access to higher education if it were not for these institutions,” Polakoff said. “And it’s only when you make education available to the broadest possible cross-section that you’re going to get the range of insights that lead to real creativity, which is the basis for our economy.”
All photos by Kip Polakoff.