His is the classic tale of coming to America: Arriving with $27 in his pocket, five fives and two ones, coming to South Dakota so that he can study English at Huron College and engineering at South Dakota State University.
That was November 1950, and all these decades later, he’s now given more than $1.5 million to charities in his adopted state.
But how he got to South Dakota is another story; it has to do with the kindness of strangers in his adopted country, the USA.
“I sent all my suitcases and all my money, too, except I kept a few dollars in my pocket. I kept about ten dollars on myself, and that’s all. Everything else was in my bag. They said it’s better you send it ahead.
“When I got to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, it snowed and snowed and snowed. They told me the bus could not travel anymore because of too much snow. Somehow I got to the railroad station. I waited and waited. They told me I could go get something to eat, walk downtown. So I wasn’t very far from a shopping area … I walked in a store, clothing store, and I saw blue jeans.”
Blue jeans were very popular in Iran, but very expensive – beyond his price range. But they seemed incredibly cheap in America.
“So I bought some blue jeans. I wasn’t worried, I had a couple dollars left. I thought I’d be in South Dakota that afternoon or that evening. So I stayed there for three days. I spent all my money for cheap food, macaroni, things like that. Three days. Everyday they said nobody can travel.”
Finally a train was able to travel. He found an empty seat and sat down next to another westbound traveler.
“His name was George Sutter. I remember it. Georg Sutter. He was going to Chicago upon that train. I just sat down and he looked at me. After a while driving, maybe after a few hours, he had a big shoebox and he opened and there were sandwiches in it.
“He started eating. He looked at me. ‘Would you like some?’ I said no, I couldn’t – too proud to say yes. So finally he said, ‘Have some.’
“I couldn’t resist. So I ate one. He said, ‘Have another.’ After the third one he said, ‘You know, I’m full.’ I don’t know if he was full or not. By the time I get through, four or five sandwiches, I ate them all. I don’t know what kind was it. I didn’t care.”
Sutter also bought him a meal in a restaurant in Chicago and took him to the bus depot to help get him farther down the road toward South Dakota.
Karim, a Muslim, recalls it as one of the occasions when God intervened for him.
“I say that was my angel. I didn’t take it for granted at all. I was blessed to come to this country.”