A longtime mental health advocate got the thanks and recognition many felt he deserved Tuesday.
Eugene Ferkich spent more than three decades volunteering his time and professional expertise at Tobinworld, a Glendale-based school that serves students with severe emotional and behavioral problems.
Before his death last year at the age of 77, the mental health expert and school psychologist was a member of Tobinworld's Peer Review/Human Rights Committee, and helped design a satellite campus in Antioch. He also was instrumental in bringing to Tobinworld Glendale a Los Angeles County mental health clinic, which now occupies one the school's five brick buildings on Broadway.
“He would never take a penny for his time,” said Executive Director Judy Weber-Israel. “We have consultants here that we pay hourly, but Gene was just so devoted to helping special-ed students that he wouldn't take a penny.”
But Weber, and several dozen members of the Tobinworld community were able to express their gratitude Wednesday by dedicating the clinic he helped to establish in their late colleague's honor.
“There is nothing that could be better,” said his widow, Karen Ferkich, of the newly renamed Eugene Ferkich Mental Health Clinic. “He would be totally embarrassed, but he would be humbled and I think he would really be thrilled.”
Ferkich spent 37 years working as a school psychologist and administrator with Los Angeles Unified School District. He rose to the position of Coordinator of Psychological Services for Special Education before retiring in 1994.
Paul McIver, a district chief with the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health, described Ferkich as a visionary. Public education and health care had previously functioned independently of one another, McIver said. Ferkich was one of the first to propose placing mental health professionals in schools to provide on-site services.
And he was absolutely devoted to his students, McIver added.
“Frankly, sometimes I got the feeling that he was not fully realized being an administrator...but what he really liked the most was teaching,” McIver said.
His children, Anthony Ferkich and Denise Ferkich-Hoffman, described their father as a devoted family man who cheerfully accepted their daily telephone calls.
“When you were having a difficult life moment, just the sound of his voice was often times therapeutic in and of itself,” Anthony Ferkich said. “Many people, both within and outside of our family, came to know this quality about my father.”
Ferkich's involvement with Tobinworld increased after he retired, Weber-Israel said. In 2000, he escorted her to the county Department of Mental Health to propose that they place a clinic on-site at the Glendale school.
It opened December 2003, and now includes a staff of 15 that services 125 clients a year.
“Because of him, the clinic exists,” Weber-Israel said.