Arthur D. Unger


Arthur D. Unger Obituary
Arthur Unger passed away unexpectedly on January 25, 2014. He was retired physician and environmental activist whose leadership in the local Kern-Kaweah Chapter of the Sierra Club spanned three decades. He started his family medical practice as an internist in Bakersfield in the 1960s and continued with a break in the late 1970s. After retirement Arthur devoted his energies full time to work on San Joaquin Valley air quality, water issues, and local land planning.
He was a frequent visitor to Kern County Planning Commission hearings on new developments. He hoped that his input improved those planned facilities. He attempted to make the local projects more environmentally sensitive, requesting items such as roof-top solar. He was an asthmatic who enjoyed living in Bakersfield and he tried to make the community more livable by cleaning up air pollutants. His home contains what is likely Kern County's most complete collection of Environmental Impact Reports outside Kern County's Planning Department files.
Arthur was the only child of immigrant Jewish parents. His father came as a child with his family from what is now the Czech Republic and his mother's family emigrated from Vilnius, Lithuania. Arthur grew up in Queens, New York. He kept in contact with his junior high school chums who played pick-up basketball after school. They all came from immigrant parents and all matured into professional and accomplished citizens.
Arthur would happily tell you he graduated from PS 117 in Queens. He continued on to do his undergraduate work at Alfred University in upstate New York. He then progressed to NYU Medical School, graduating in 1961, and went on to an internship at Rochester General Hospital in New York State. Arthur secured a medical residency at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine at Bernalillo County Indian Hospital, Albuquerque NM. He felt that the dry desert air would help his breathing and he was fascinated with American Indian culture.
By 1966, he'd moved to Bakersfield and was part of a family practice. When his marriage dissolved, he relocated to Santa Monica. A decade later in he became involved in his first environmental issue: writing letters about the Ballona Wetlands. It led him to join the water committee of the local Sierra Club. He told us that while occupied with work and family he was only able to write a letter or two on any environmental project that touched his heart.
Arthur returned to Bakersfield in 1982 remembering how he had enjoyed his medical practice here and wanting to establish a new home. As a youth he spent summers in the Adirondacks of New York State and he dearly loved backpacking and camping.
Once his life settled down, he resumed trips into the Sierra with his new wife, Lorraine, and his two sons. He would handicap his sons with heavier packs so they would not out-distance him too much. He organized ten day trips into wilderness areas at around 8000 feet, with the goal of seeing wild mammals that lived at that altitude. They searched for bear, mountain lion and bobcat. One special sighting was an indicator species, Pacific Fisher, seen in the nearby Domelands Wilderness. "The environment is his thing", his wife said. "He always thought he could make something better. " He is said to "walk the walk, not just talk the talk".
Although Arthur had many minor health ills, he said that if he had to battle them without modern medicine he would have been dead ten years earlier. He deeply appreciated his many physicians' efforts to keep him healthy.
Even after his life ended, his desire to be part of research and education prevailed. He chose to make a "whole body donation" to the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. He is survived by his wife Lorraine, sons Leonard (Rosa) and Steven (Marcie), plus five grandchildren. Donations may be made in his name to the Sierra Club, Kern Kaweah Chapter, PO BOX 3357, Bakersfield, CA 93385-3357. A Celebration of Life Service will be held at (time) on April 12th at 10:30 a.m. at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Kern County, 98 Sterling Rd, Bakersfield. Arthur loved potlucks; we will all join in one immediately after the service. Bring your favorite covered dish.
Published in Bakersfield Californian on Mar. 24, 2014
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