FARGO — Jim Sugihara, a longtime dean of the College of Chemistry and Physics at North Dakota State University, died Tuesday, Nov. 12, at the age of 101, according to his family.

Sugihara's three decades or so as a dean at NDSU were remarkable. But just as remarkable were his experiences as a young college graduate, when after the start of World War II Sugihara and tens of thousands of other Americans of Japanese ancestry were sent to internment camps, said Jim Shaw, a Forum columnist who wrote about Sugihara about a year ago on the occasion of his 100th birthday.

Speaking with Shaw, Sugihara recalled how when he was ordered to report to an internment camp he was allowed to bring a single suitcase. He also remembered the lack of heat, the barbed wire and the armed guards.

"It was totally absurd," Sugihara told Shaw. "I wondered why this could be done to us who are American citizens. We were not accused of anything. It was totally without justification.

"They took away our liberties, put our families in confinement and asked us to be put in the military for a system that treated us this way," Sugihara added.

WDAY logo
listen live
watch live

After his release from the camp, Sugihara embarked on a highly successful academic career, first at the University of Utah and then at NDSU.

Sugihara told Shaw he was reluctant to come to Fargo, in part because he was unsure how he would be treated due to his ethnicity. But NDSU President Herb Albrecht made him feel so welcome Sugihara said he couldn't say no.

"It was just amazing how I was accepted," Sugihara told Shaw. "They didn't look at me as a Japanese American. They treated me like an honorable person."

At NDSU, Sugihara caught the attention of many, and he was awarded the Blue Key Doctor of Service Award and an honorary doctorate. At one point, the U.S. Department of Energy sent him to Russia to speak about geochemistry.

Sugihara also became a passionate NDSU sports fan.

"I have been treated so well in this community," Sugihara told Shaw. "People here have been so warm, friendly and welcoming. I can't say enough good things about NDSU and Fargo."

Sugihara was remembered Wednesday by his grandson, Brandon Sugihara, who said his grandfather's arrival at NDSU in the early 1960s coincided with the Bison starting to become a powerhouse in sports.

"I always joked that he was their good luck charm," Brandon Sugihara said.

He said his grandfather would sometimes talk about how difficult it was early on to land job interviews, while college classmates with similar grades and accomplishments quickly moved on to lucrative careers.

Sugihara said when his grandparents heard about the opportunity at NDSU, they were uncertain at first, but quickly decided it was where they were meant to be. "They felt at home the second they got here. They didn't regret it for a second," Brandon Sugihara said.

Shaw remembered Jim Sugihara Wednesday as a brilliant, friendly and humble man.

"He wanted everyone to know how he and other Americans of Japanese ancestry were mistreated during World War II, but he was not bitter about it," Shaw said.

John Helgeland, a retired professor of religion and history at NDSU, said Sugihara was the first person he met when he took a job at NDSU, and he can still remember the generosity his friend displayed in showing him around.

"He was very helpful my first couple of weeks," Helgeland said, noting that they came to appreciate one another's sense of humor.

"He and I shared a lot of light moments," Helgeland said, adding that although he knew of Sugihara's time in an internment camp, Sugihara never expressed bitterness.

"He was a dignified and gentle man," Helgeland said.