North Dakota State hosted James Sugihara’s 100 birthday celebration to honor his time and dedication to NDSU at the Alumni Center Aug. 28. During his 34 years at NDSU, Sugihara held many positions: he was the dean of the College of Science and Math and dean of grad studies at NDSU from 1964-1998.
Sugihara has lived many different places throughout the years, all leading to North Dakota. He was born Aug. 6, 1918 in rural Colorado and ended up a chemistry professor at the University of Utah.
His journey to working at NDSU was by chance. In the 1960s, a professor at NDSU went to the University of Utah to complete his doctorate. When he completed it, he recommended Sugihara for a position as dean. Sugihara was reluctant, as he was happy at his current position, but he was convinced to apply and do an interview in the spring of 1963 with the president at the time, Herbert R. Albrecht.
Sugihara said he would take the position, but only after a year to get his affairs in order since he was dedicated to his students and felt as though abruptly leaving would discourage or alter their education. Sugihara explained that he never thought NDSU would hold the position for that long, but the university obliged and waited for his year to end.
When finding out about his celebratory party, Sugihara explained that it was “kind of an unexpected joy to have the institution recognize my services here.”
Although many of the faculty he was fortunate to work with have passed, many still attended his celebration. This is something Sugihara has been looking forward to, saying, “How wonderful it will be to interact with past faculty and staff and current faculty and staff.”
Given his lengthy career at NDSU, Sugihara explained the reason he wanted to continue at the university for so long was because of the people and the attitude they have in the system, as well as being able to have an impact on students.
Throughout his years as a professor, Sugihara remembers his interactions with students fondly and the impact that he made on them and how they impacted him as well.
“I enjoyed interacting with students who wanted to excel and go beyond (being a) scholar,” Sugihara explained.
He brought up Robert Challey, whom he had the pleasure of teaching and seeing him succeed and give back to the NDSU community. At the time Challey was a chemistry major, in which Sugihara saw something in him and encouraged him to go to the University of California for graduate school. Through this, Challey went his separate way, but Sugihara enjoyed seeing him give back to NDSU through generous donations of millions of dollars.
Along with this, Sugihara had many people inside the NDSU faculty where he considered them close friends. He shined light on Laurel D. Loftsguard, who served as the president during Sugihara’s time as a dean, which led to a close friendship.
Before his acceptance of the position at NDSU, he was worried about being different due to his Japanese heritage. In his interview, he commented “I don’t look the same,” after seeing the staff at the time, to which President Albrecht explained that it didn’t make any difference to anyone at NDSU.
“We (Sugihara and his wife) were accepted beyond any question,” Sugihara said.
He and his wife appreciated the interaction and real friendship they had with people in the North Dakota community. He explained that in many places there isn’t interaction beyond the academic system, but in this area, he was able to befriend people and meet people at executive levels.
Throughout the years, Sugihara said he has seen many amazing changes done at NDSU. For example, the institution has become a national university, but when he started in the ’60s he considered it a regional institution.
Although Sugihara pointed out that, “It’s (NDSU) probably known best for the intercollegiate athletic programs,” he went on to say that it is not just football that people enjoy from NDSU, but all other athletic teams as well.
Everyone always asks centenarians, “What is the secret to living a long life?” In Sugihara’s case, he said it is all based on genetics. However, he shed some light on the fact that there may be hard times, but the good times are so rewarding that they outweigh the others.
Although this may not be completely rare, Sugihara shared that he never saw the “century mark” in his future. “I don’t think I’ve ever met anybody that’s at the century mark,” Sugihara said.
He has had a century-long journey and continues to live life in Fargo, leaving occasionally for winters in Arizona and lake house visits in Pelican Lake. He continues to attend football games every year with his season tickets that he has had “forever.”
After all these years, Sugihara continues to have Bison pride and still appreciates his time at NDSU and thinks of his memories, fellow students and faculty fondly. “Thank you for all the ways you (NDSU faculty and students) befriended me,” Sugihara said.