Friends and coworkers are remembering longtime gaming industry veteran Chris Korpi for his positive spirit, kindness and passionate support of Indian country.
Korpi died unexpectedly Nov. 8 in Laguna Beach, Calif. He was just 53.
A strong supporter of tribal gaming and native causes in general, Korpi was an executive at VizExplorer and previously held positions at Cadillac Jack, Aruze Gaming America and Sodak Gaming/IGT. A graduate of the South Dakota School of Mines, Korpi was passionate about geology and enjoyed prospecting for gems in the California hills near Pauma.
A memorial is slated for 1 p.m. Dec. 7 at Laguna Beach United Methodist Church at 21632 Wesley Drive, Laguna Beach, Calif. An additional service celebrating Korpi’s life will take place from 5 to 8 p.m. Dec. 9 in the Eagle’s Nest Ballroom, Pechanga Resort and Casino in Temecula, Calif.
Korpi was loved throughout the gaming industry and Indian country as shown by the many tributes posted on a memorial page created by his friends at VizExplorer: www.forevermissed.com/chris-korpi.
In a statement, Danny Tucker, chairman of the California Nations Indian Gaming Association, remembered Korpi as a dedicated advocate for tribal sovereignty and human rights.
“Indian Country has lost a dedicated advocate whose absence will be deeply felt,” Tucker said. Calling Korpi a “treasured friend,” Tucker noted that he “shared his passion for life with everyone. His sudden loss is a reminder to all of us to make every day count.”
Andrew Cardno, co-founder and chief technology officer at VizExplorer where Korpi served as assistant vice president of Native American Relations and Business Development, also shared his thoughts.
Cardno called Korpi “a shining beacon of happiness and positive energy” and noted his unique talent to bring people and culture together.
“Chris dedicated his life to applying his ability to bring people together to teach the world to share and see value in culture, especially First Nations culture and people,” Cardno wrote. “Working with Chris I observed firsthand just how much he did for the causes he believed in.”
Cardno also related how Korpi would share his knowledge of geology with local students “showing them how to treasure the earth we live on… My 6-year-old daughter will always remember the ‘gems’ she found while at the Tourmaline mines in the Pauma area. The earth will miss Chris and so do I.”
Knute Knudson, vice president of Native American development for IGT, recalled hiring Korpi at Sodak Gaming (now part of IGT) in the late 1990s as California was opening to tribal gaming.
Knudson called Korpi “an ever-flowing fountain of ideas.”
“He was constantly in motion. He established enormously important and long-lasting relationships with our tribal customers,” Knudson wrote in his tribute. “He had a great sense of fairness and had a huge heart for all tribal causes and issues. Everyone who knows Chris is familiar with an extraordinary act of kindness or generous gift he bestowed on those in need.”
Lynn Valbuena, chairwoman of the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, said she will miss her friend. “He was always doing what he could to help us all in Indian country and coordinating the ‘best dinners,’ which were so much fun, during our conferences with Tribal leaders and others for ‘networking’ and building relationships,” Valbuena said in her online tribute. “He was so kind and well liked by all. He will not be forgotten.”
Korpi is also remembered for his sponsorship of annual trips for tribal members to the Black Hills of South Dakota, and his activism in the Capistrano Unified School District in Orange County, Calif. Korpi also was involved in The Canyon Club, a Laguna Beach nonprofit organization. He also served as a board member for the Indigenous Education Foundation of Tanzania and helped lead local high school expeditions of tourmaline mines in Southern California.