By Rachael Rifkin
Paying tribute to the leader many cite as the man responsible for Cal State Long Beach’s transformation into a university, various members from the greater Long Beach area were in attendance at Cal State University-Long Beach’s Carpenter Performing Arts Center last Saturday. Friends, family, local figures, politicians and former coworkers were there for a memorial honoring the university’s past president– former Congressman Steve Horn, who had passed away from complications with Alzheimer’s disease on Feb. 17 at the age of 79.
At the event, the university brass ensemble band performed in honor of Horn’s early musical aspirations –he had played the French horn before switching to studies in political science– as speakers described significant stages of his life: As a legislative assistant, he worked on the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. During the 18 years he served as president of CSULB, he developed a variety of innovative services and programs– everything from construction projects and ethical reforms to the establishment of a student learning assistance center– for which he was named “one of the 100 most effective college presidents in the United States” by the Exxon Education Foundation in 1986. He was a Republican Congressman for five terms, known for riling up both Republicans and Democrats with his bipartisan approach.
The presenters at Saturday’s memorial also shared their personal reflections, speaking about his character, kindness, honesty and intelligence.
CSULB President Dr. F. King Alexander talked about the lasting effects of Steve’s presidency. “His legacy is all around us,” he said. “Every day our students benefit from the things he did during his presidency.”
Jack Shainline, former CSULB vice president of student services, thought of Steve as a humanist. “He had honesty, decisiveness and courage,” Shainline said. “He had moral courage, which is the hardest kind to have. He never swept problems under the rug. He focused on the welfare of the students and created the best kind of working environment. He brought people together.”
Dr. Karl Anatol, former CSULB dean of humanities, spoke about Horn’s unrelenting perseverance. “Steve was a man on a mission. He was a rushing river,” Anatol said. “Steve was unrelenting in his insistence for excellence.”
The Honorable J. Russell George was the staff director and chief counsel to the House Subcommittee on Government Management, Information and Technology, which Steve chaired. Personally influenced by Steve, he said, “I hope everyone has someone come into their lives that helps change them.”
Connie Martinez Sziebl, currently a field deputy for LA County Supervisor Don Knabe, was district director for Horn’s Congressional office from 1993–2003. “There are very few things in life as meaningful as memories,” she said. “I’ve spent the last few weeks hearing and sharing stories about Steve. I remember once he gave a homeless man his card and told the man that if he ever needed help, call, and the man did.”
Naomi Rainey, president of the Long Beach branch of the NAACP, shared a story of an incident that occurred before she had even known who Horn was. “I met him during my graduation,” she said. “At one point, there was an activity for graduates and their families. My family couldn’t come to my graduation. I was about to leave when Steve stopped me to ask why I was leaving. I told him that the school hadn’t thought about the people who didn’t have families. Steve said, ‘My family will be your family.’ And they were…Behind all of his actions he was a nice, generous, and compassionate man.”
Also among those in attendance were: Signal Hill Mayor Larry Forester; former Long Beach Vice Mayor Val Lerch; US Rep. Laura Richardson; former California governor George Deukmejian and his wife Gloria; former Long Beach Mayor Beverly O’Neill; publicist Kathy Berry; Long Beach Chamber of Commerce President Randy Gordon; Horn’s children, Steve Horn, Jr. and Marcia Horn; his grandson Jonathan Horn; and his wife Nini, who briefly took to the stage to thank everyone for coming and express her gratitude for her husband’s caregivers.