The news site of Santa Barbara City College.

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The news site of Santa Barbara City College.

The Channels

The news site of Santa Barbara City College.

The Channels

City College became his masterpiece

Eli Luria visited his beloved City College for the last time Feb. 7. He joined his good friends Peter MacDougall and Barry Berkus as they dedicated a new statue, “Folded Circle Arc,” in honor of Berkus’s late wife, Gail.

Ailing with prostate cancer, Luria’s family informed the college that his deteriorating condition could afford him 10 minutes on campus that day. He stayed two hours.

“He looked frail,” said Dr. Kay Alexander, who served on the City College Board of Trustees with Luria for 27 years. “But after all the years, he hadn’t lost a bit of that sparkle. He just sparkled.”

Luria, former City College trustee and Foundation board president, whose vision and philanthropy placed him among the most loved and respected community members, died at home Friday morning after a long battle with cancer. He was 86.

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Luria in 1973 co-chaired the successful $3.8-million bond drive to help purchase the 31-acre plot known today as West Campus. Sixteen years later, he donated $250,000 of the $1.3 million needed to build the library, which trustees fittingly named in his honor.

In 1981 and 1984 respectively, Luria masterminded the acquisitions of the Schott and Wake centers, which now serve 45,000 students taking Continuing Education courses.

Friends and coworkers described Luria as a humanitarian and visionary who nurtured City College to its place as one of the top two-year institutions in the country.

“His impact on the college cannot be measured,” said Superintendent-President John Romo. “He had so many exceptional qualities. He was so active and hands-on. This is a huge loss for all of us.”

“He was an outstanding human being, but he was equally outstanding as a trustee. I have great respect for him,” added former president Dr. Peter MacDougall, who counted Luria among his closest friends.

A highly successful real estate developer, artist and community organizer, Luria played a key role in the development of the college’s landscape and leaders. Romo said Luria was a friend and helped him with the daunting learning curve of becoming a college president.

The two kept a regular lunch at Luria’s favorite restaurant, Enterprise Fish Co. There, they discussed everything from the college and philosophy, to modern science.

“He had one of the sharpest minds I’ve ever known,” said Romo. “When something came up, he dug deep.”

College trustees agreed.

“For example, he would not allow himself to make decisions about faculty, without knowing exactly what they were teaching,” said Alexander. “He was not only a model trustee but a model human being.”

“The role he assumed (mentoring Romo) was not a surprise,” said trustee Joyce Powell, who saw Luria become board president twice. “He would have done that for anybody who followed Dr. MacDougall. That was Eli.”

Luria’s love for science extended beyond the borders of conversation with friends. After student Angela Belcher received a City College scholarship in science, Luria kept in touch with her as she moved up the ranks teaching science and engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Last year she was named one of the “Top 10 Inventers Under 40” by Fortune magazine.

He also helped fund and organize “Homie Turf to Surf,” a Santa Barbara-based program started by two former gang members and City College students as an alternative to street life.

“I know very few individuals with such dedication to others,” MacDougall said. “Sensitive, generous and humane, he treated everybody he met kindly and equally.”

Luria was born Aug. 24, 1919, in Washington D.C. He attended George Washington University until 1943. At that time, he ventured west, graduating from UCLA in 1945 with a bachelor’s degree in art, psychology and history.

His love for art blossomed into a short-lived career as an illustrator for the Evening Star newspaper. He displayed his latest collection from Feb. 19 to March 5, 2006 at the Bronfman Family Jewish Community Center.

“Art was a tremendous part of his life,” said longtime developer and friend Michael Towbes, who along with Luria donated the West Campus fountain-sculpture. “He really was a visionary when it came to securing the land which became West Campus.”

“Painting is what he loved to do,” said Powell. “He really wanted to do one more show.”

Powell also remembered his sense of humor.

“When board meetings or discussions lasted too long, he would say he was going home to see his cat,” she said.

And he was so well respected that either the talking ended right then-or he really would leave. “But he never used that phrase lightly,” Powell said.

Alexander remembers another story.

She remembered being at a UCSB auction at which Luria bid on a dinner and discussion on outer space with an astronomy professor. When he met with the scientist, Alexander coincidentally sat at a neighboring table in the same restaurant. There Luria sat, listening to the UCSB professor rant and rave. Yet he was as captivated as a student checking his score on a midterm.

“He was just so interested in every word,” she said.

About his legacy, leaders said this:

“His influence at SBCC will be felt for years to come,” MacDougall said.

“His spirit will live on forever,” Romo concluded.

The Foundation for SBCC plans to establish at least two more scholarships in Luria’s name: one in art and one in general studies. The flags in front of the library that bears his name will fly at half-staff all week.

Eli Luria is survived by his wife, Leatrice Luria; daughter, Kandy Luria-Budgor; her husband, Beno Budgor, and his two grandchildren, Mindy Budgor and Adam Budgor.

City College will hold a public memorial at 1 p.m. April 9 on West Campus. Donations can be made to the Foundation for SBCC.

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