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Dr. Jack Karbens still has the Blanket Award he received as Morton College’s top scholar-athlete from over 50 years ago. Like Karbens, now 71, the award, a full-sized, dark blue blanket with a large, orange “M” in the middle, is in mint condition.
For the past 40 years, Karbens, an associate professor of accounting and finance at Hawaii Pacific University, has competed in masters track meets, decathlons, throws, pentathlons and road races.
Karbens won the 2003 national masters outdoor pentathlon championship in the age 60 to 64 division and repeated that victory in the 65-to-69 division in 2007. He competed with Bryan Clay in his first decathlon, before Clay went to college and on to Gold (2008) and Silver (2004) medals in the decathlon at the Summer Olympics. The Honolulu Quarterback Club named Karbens its Senior Athlete of the Year in 2007.
However, it’s not all about winning for Karbens, but rather lifetime fitness and the concept of a sound mind and body.
Growing up in Berwyn, he took part in football, basketball, baseball, softball, swim meets, boxing at Morton High School and gymnastics at Sokol Tabor. He studied Latin, sang soprano in the church choir and attended two political national conventions.
The backbone of the Hawaii Masters Track Club for several decades describes his idea of competition is finding someone at the same level of ability and then doing his best to beat that person, even though they may be competing for next to last place.
“All that matters is giving your best effort,” Karbens says in Mike Tymn’s Running on Third Wind, a book featuring interviews with 25 runners Tymn has profiled in columns for National Masters News.
Karbens attended Morton East for three years and then the new Morton West campus for senior year of high school. His dad lost his job and moved to Florida to work on rocket engines headed to the moon. Money to go away to college was not available in the Karbens’ household.
“My mom told me I could stay at home in Berwyn and have free room and board to attend Morton College under one condition: I had to take Principles of Accounting in my freshman year so that I would have an employable skill,” said Karbens in an e-mail interview. “Suzie Meyer taught me well. Mr. (Wilbert) Doak taught Intermediate Accounting and told me I got ‘the A’ in the class. Only one A was given per class in some courses at Morton in those days. Morton College was concerned about standards which allowed graduates to matriculate successfully to U of I-Champaign.”
At Morton College, Karbens was President of the Freshman Class and the Men's Club. He was an honors student and a two-year member of the baseball team. Karbens’ mother took an office position at Morton working for College President Dr. Walter Cooper and Lawrence Tuleen, the Director of Public Relations. The high school and the College shared the same facility and administration until separating in the 1960s.
“She was the key to my receipt of scholarships from the Cicero Rotary Club and the Bohemian Women's Club,” Karbens said. “Mr. Tuleen encouraged me to go to Northwestern. I decided on Bradley University since it was a smaller, friendlier university.”
In Karbens’ senior year at Bradley, he worked as a student intern for the Chicago office of KPMG (Peat Marwick Mitchell). After the internship, Karbens was asked where he wanted to work full-time upon graduation.
“I said ‘West,’” Karbens said. “The recruiter said, ‘We need people in Hawaii.’”
When Karbens came to Hawaii, it just had been admitted to the United States five years earlier in 1959. He has lived in Hawaii for most of the past 50 years, teaching accounting at the University of Hawaii, Chaminade University, Hawaii Pacific University as well as a semester in North Texas and five years at the University of Nevada.
He has a doctorate degree in education and an MBA from the University of Hawaii and is a Certified Public Accountant, Certified Management Accountant, Certified Financial Manager and Certified Internal Auditor. The Hawaii Society of CPAs presented Karbens with its Distinguished Achievement Award in Accounting Education in 2005.
“I work with community college students regularly,” Karbens said. “In the 1990s, I took my son to visit the new Morton College campus. I was impressed. I know that the student body background is very different than when I attended. My current university was ranked number one in the USA for diversity of the student population, with students from over 100 countries.
“My rewarding career was only possible because of the opportunities provided by Morton College,” Karbens added. “I will be forever grateful.”