Brooklyn Boro

Michael Zibrin, leading educator at community college, dead at 88

January 13, 2022 John B. Manbeck
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Dr. Michael Zibrin, Jr., former interim president and provost of Kingsborough Community College (CUNY), who maintained the seaside school on an even keel for 30 years, died of pancreatic cancer Jan. 11 in Applewood, a Senior Living Community in Freehold, NJ, according to his wife, Mara. He was 88.

Zibrin’s life tracked from hunting enemy soldiers as a teenager in the Tatra Mountains of Slovakia to the halls of academe in Chicago and Brooklyn. His last 25 years in his Hemlock Farms, PA, home included skiing, hiking, hunting, traveling and swimming along with reading, listening to music and socializing with neighbors. Travel to his former home country added to his pleasures.

Born in Brezno in former Czechoslovakia on April 15, 1933, to a political family—his father, an attorney, served in the government as a member of the Slovak Parliament and mayor of their hometown. Zibrin enjoyed a life of privilege until the German occupation in 1938 when his father escaped to live in exile in the United States. 

When the war in Europe ended in 1945, Zibrin—then a teenager—avoided the Soviet occupation by leading his mother and sisters out of Czechoslovakia to safety in a German refugee camp. In 1949, the Cold War divided Europe into East and West, so he secured a sponsorship to Chicago where he re-joined his father and other relatives in 1950. He later won a posthumous full pardon for his father, who was condemned to death by the Soviets, from the Slovak government.

He gained American citizenship after joining the army which sent him to Korea as a Combat Engineer. He was honorably discharged in 1955 with the rank of Corporal.

With his military service finished, he returned home and used the GI Bill to enroll in the University of Chicago as a business major where he earned a Bachelor of Arts. There he met another student, Mara Kalve, a chemistry major who had escaped from her home in Riga, Latvia, in 1944. They married in 1959 with Michael joining the faculty of the Chicago Southeast Community College as a Professor of Accounting. He was soon promoted to Dean of Faculty. Subsequently, he earned a Master of Business degree from the University of Chicago and a Doctor of Education from Rutgers University.

In 1970, he arrived in Brooklyn with President Theodore Powell replacing the Kingsborough Community College administration of Dr. Jacob Hartstein; Zibrin was the new Dean of Faculty. Moving into a home in Manhattan Beach, the family also included son, Michael, and daughter, Astra. After four years, Dr. Powell was transferred to CUNY’s Manhattan office while Zibrin remained at the Kingsborough campus of a new administration led by President Leon Goldstein. He was later promoted to Senior Vice President and Provost while he studied for his doctorate.

During the next 15 years, Zibrin supervised transitions under the Goldstein administration building the student population to close to 20,000 and introducing pedagogical guidelines. New departments such as Maritime Technology, Computer Science, Tourism and Hospitality, and Journalism and Print Media appeared in the academic offerings. With the unexpected death of Goldstein in 1999, Zibrin was appointed Interim President until the arrival of Dr. Byron McClenney in 2000. Zibrin retired to his home in Hemlock Farms where he served on the Hemlock Farms Board of Directors for two terms. He was also a representative on the Public Works Committee and chair of the Storm Water Committee.

Zibrin, a gentle bear of a man, ruled fairly, introducing well balanced decisions in both his academic and personal roles. He was well liked and respected by his colleagues and friends. 

The Zibrins planned to relocate to Applewood, a retirement community in New Jersey, to be close to their son, Michael. Shortly after celebrating the wedding of their grandson, Michael John Zibrin, his illness was diagnosed.

He is survived by his wife, Mara, his son Michael Jr., his daughter Astra (Tudisco), and three grandchildren. He felt his proudest achievements were to promote the higher standards of education as a significant administrator of a special type of college, and to have his children to carry on his legacy

Michael Zibrin’s funeral will be private for family only. Contributions can be made to the Lustgarten Foundation for pancreatic cancer research.

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