The environmental science department staff pitched in to purchase a plaque to hang on the walls in memory of Charles Kaminski.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Thomas Tyning described his late friend Charles Kaminski as a "6-foot-2 Paddington bear," with "a cavernous voice that seemed to emanate from the depths of his heart and yet the kind of quality that put people at ease."
Kaminski — known as Chuck to some, Charlie to others — loved nature, cooking, and music. He never seemed stressed and was loved by many from across the state.
"It's not an exaggeration to say that Charlie's life truly mattered. He modeled consistency in issues that mattered most to him," Tyning said.
The Berkshire Community College dean of business, science, mathematics, and technology unexpectedly died in January at age 51. Kaminski had been vacationing in San Agustín in Colombia with his husband, Tom Connelly, whom he had been with for more than 30 years.
"In all of that time, I have never seen him helpless until he died in my arms," Connelly said on Friday when friends, family, and the higher education community joined together at the college to honor Kaminski.
And, "his strength is what I've drawn upon to get through this ordeal."
Connelly described the trip to Colombia as they toured cities and nature, drank coffee, and ate well. The couple went to the Andes and took tours. Kaminski was enjoying nature on an excursion but at one point Connelly had thought, "is he having a heart attack?" when Kaminski's breathing seemed irregular.
And suddenly, "he collapsed and we couldn't revive him." Kaminski loved the outdoors, nature and traveling, and Connelly takes solace knowing Kaminski died doing exactly what he'd want.
"His last days and moments were exactly what he'd want, traveling, experiencing another culture and geography," he said.
Friday, though, wasn't so much about that moment. Connelly and his sister Sheila discussed the village of friends and family that had come together to bring Kaminski home from deep in the hills of the Andes but Friday was focused on who Kaminski was and the impact he had made during his life.
"He was friendly. He was humorous. He was obviously very bright. He was also very engaged in everything we were doing. Charlie was tremendously gifted," said a colleague.
Not only was he an accomplished educator, Kaminski followed his passion for the environment in making the Green Team at the college nationally recognized.
"Charlie wore his love of the natural world like a comfortable sweater. It was just who he was," said Laura Saldarini, who worked with Kaminski on the Green Team at the college.
Another colleague told stories of birds Kaminski had helped rescue and the passion the two shared for birdwatching.
Kaminski's impact wasn't just on the BCC campus. His colleagues said it seemed he had friends on every campus in the state they visited. Friday's memorial was attended by friends from the Board of Higher Education, from Boston, from Greenfield and Holyoke, and from all corners of the state.
Tom Connelly, Kaminski's husband, reflects on his loss.
He joined BCC 17 years ago after teaching at Middlesex Community College, decision that sent shockwaves throughout the community colleges in Massachusetts.
"When Charlie was recruited here and came here, I bet that made a pretty big impression on them. If Charlie saw something in this place, and I'm sure he spoke very well of the place afterward, that was something they noticed," his colleague said.
A childhood friend shared stories of their youth, others shared funny stories about him or just reflected on who Kaminski was. Another recalled Kaminski raving about seeing a band and the passion he shared with Kaminski about music.
BCC President Ellen Kennedy said Kaminski wouldn't have been one to want such a memorial. But it was something the college community needed.
"This might not have been what he wanted but it was something the rest of us wanted," Kennedy said.
She joked that the college did go out of the way to make some accommodations that would have appeased Kaminski — there was no program, little paper used, and everything was compostable.
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