Halls of Fame
Generosity of spirit. Compassionate humanity. Honorable. Gracious. Humble. These are but a few of the superlatives used to describe the remarkable 44-year career of Ertuvan Kanatsiz. Ertuvan served as a teacher in the Orange Unified School District and a role model to thousands of students in and out of the classroom.
Ertuvan was born in Istanbul, Turkey, where he graduated from high school and fulfilled his military service. Then at age 23, he came to the United States under the sponsorship of his brother. He arrived penniless because it was illegal to take any money out of Turkey. He spent a short time in Detroit before moving to Santa Ana to fulfill his dream of a life in California. At the time, he spoke no English, had no friends, and no money. However he did have a dream, and with that dream was an incredible experience still to come.
Although he described himself as the loneliest man in the world at that time, Ertuvan discovered the generosity and friendliness of strangers who welcomed him into their homes and their community. They gave him work, encouragement and hope. He entered Santa Ana College in the spring of 1957, throwing himself into the program which then had no provisions for a non-English-speaking student. Despite these limitations, Ertuvan was later able to form the first-ever community college soccer team. The team competed against four-year colleges and universities and it added a whole new dimension to SAC which is still evident today as the soccer team continues to flourish. He worked hard, mastered English, completed his Associate of Arts degree, and transferred to California State University at Long Beach, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in French and a minor in mathematics.
With a career in the Orange Unified School District focused on students in both the junior and high school programs, Ertuvan served as head of the Foreign Language Department for 22 years. He also served as a mentor teacher, training others to further his work. In 1975 he joined the Santa Ana College Modern Language Department where he taught French. He even continued his work through the summers, taking students to Europe so that they could fine-tune their language skills. In 1958, he was also invited to become a member of the Knights Club in recognition of his many services to Santa Ana College.
Believing that shaping the attitudes and character of young people can occur both inside and outside of the classroom, Ertuvan devoted countless hours to athletics and coaching. He firmly believes that through sports, kids are able to learn the importance of following rules and being disciplined. He also points out that competing in sports allows individuals to practice good sportsmanship which is important in all walks of life.
Ertuvan served as the men’s head soccer coach at Chapman University from 1973 to 1975, and in 1976 he was named Coach of the Year by the Southern California Intercollegiate Soccer Association. Demonstrating commitment, teamwork, diligence and leadership in sports, Ertuvan once again shone as an example of excellence to students and the community at large.
And he did not stop there. Honorable man that he is, Ertuvan found other ways to make the world a better place. He led fundraising activities with his students to send aid to earthquake victims in Armenia and Turkey. He also coordinated student donations toward the 1984 U.S. Olympic teams and has even helped young people suffering from leukemia and gang violence. He speaks of a troubled heart when he witnessed young people harmed by gang fighting, and is grateful of the support his students gave him in looking for solutions. Feeding the homeless in Orange parks and volunteering for the Orange Police Department are more examples of Ertuvan’s generosity of spirit.
However, Ertuvan compares his accomplishments to an iceberg: his part is only the 10 percent that is visible to the public. He credits all of his achievements and opportunities to the welcoming embrace he received when he first came to America. “I felt as if, when the time came, when I was in a position to give back, I would have to do something for this wonderful country. The strangers who took me in have given me motivation all of my life and I am so grateful for the start I got at Santa Ana College. There is no equivalent to the U.S. community college system anywhere else in the world. ”
Ertuvan and his wife Tuncay are long-time residents of the city of Orange. They have two adult children, both of whom attended Santa Ana College, and one 8-year-old grand-daughter, whom Ertuvan hopes will one day attend SAC. Touching the lives of many people in meaningful ways, Ertuvan’s life and career reflect the ongoing appreciation a grateful immigrant offers to his adopted country. Santa Ana College is proud to have played a role in launching Ertuvan Kanatsiz’s American experience.