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Barton College students and colleagues from 1981 until today will celebrate the life of a favorite professor Thursday and remember the man who guided them through freshman English classes, mentored them in the classroom and taught them about movies, Broadway shows and life.
Mike Fukuchi, distinguished professor of English, was found dead in his home on Jan. 9. He died of natural causes, according to a release from the college. His death came just days before the start of the spring semester. He was scheduled to teach Asian Literature, World Authors I and College Writing I.
A Mass will be held for Fukuchi at 10 a.m. Thursday at St. Therese Catholic Church. At 1 p.m., Barton will have a memorial service for Fukuchi. Between the services, Barton will host a light reception from 11:30 to 12:30 for family and friends to gather and share their condolences. Those who knew Fukuchi, who was known as “Doc” to many, can write notes or stories in a memory book that’s placed in Hines Hall.
‘HE BECAME A FRIEND, A BROTHER’
Students say they found a friend, mentor and adviser in Fukuchi, who went out of his way to help and encourage them. Many testimonies have been posted on social media since his death was announced last week.
Kyle Cox, Barton class of 2016, took Fukuchi’s English 102 class. “Tough as nails; didn’t know if I was going to pass or fail,” Cox wrote on Facebook. “Then he had me come to his office and meet with me. He offered advice and tips, not only for his class but for life.
“Then, a few weeks later I began the pledging process for Pi Kappa Phi and wore the pin to class one day. He asked me if I was pledging, and I said I was,” Cox wrote. “From that point on he took me under his wing. He became more than a professor or an adviser, he became a friend, a brother.”
Fukuchi came to what was then Atlantic Christian College in 1981 to teach English and advise the student newspaper, The Collegiate.
He immediately became active in campus life and attended many campus functions, from holiday celebrations to sporting events.
Although most students knew him from freshman composition and world literature courses, over the years he also taught Chaucer, Middle English literature, the Bible as literature and special courses on Arthurian legends, Anglo-Saxon literature, European mythology and introduction to theater.
Fukuchi loved movies and enjoyed the theater — from Broadway shows to campus productions. He also loved to travel and conducted student travel classes in Hawaii, Japan and Europe.
He helped create the first computer lab at Barton, worked with remedial students at Margaret Hearne Elementary School and gave presentations on Asian religions, cultures and food at school in the region, according to information from Barton.
He had been scholarship adviser for the Zeta Tau chapter of Pi Kappa Phi fraternity since 1990.
Fukuchi received his bachelor’s degree from Chaminade University in Hawaii, a master’s degree from Fordham University and a master’s and doctorate from the University of Iowa.
‘ONE OF A KIND’
The Rev. Beth Burton-Williams of Smithfield, class of 1985, said Fukuchi was more than a professor, he was a friend.
“He was actively interested in each one of us and what our goals were and what we hoped and dreamed in life,” she said. “And he followed us after we graduated. He was one of a kind.”
Burton-Williams said Fukuchi knew she had a call to ministry.
“He was very interested in talking to me about what that was like. He was a devout Christian.”
Burton-Williams, who reconnected with Fukuchi while she was an adjunct professor at her alma mater, said he was well versed in history, literature, theology and philosophy and had a lifelong pursuit of learning.
“He always wanted to learn something else,” she said.
Gary Daynes, provost and vice president for academic affairs at Barton, said Fukuchi treated everyone as an individual, as a special friend.
Daynes will miss his colleague and friend and their Western Sizzlin’ lunches. Fukuchi had ideas for how to make Barton better and didn’t hesitate to share them with Daynes.
Daynes said Fukuchi often asked him hard questions but listened to his answers.
“He was always fair but never a pushover,” he said. “He wanted this place to be great for faculty and students.”
Fukuchi’s absence, Daynes said, means colleagues and students no longer will be learning from him or be mentored by him. And that’s hard to accept.
“If you only knew Mike superficially, you would think he was a very private person,” Daynes said. “That was true. But when you got to know him, you would see that his private nature went side-by-side with his great generosity.
“Again and again, in quiet ways, he gave generous gifts to others,” he said. “The stories people are telling about him on campus are about his quiet generosity, whether that came in the way he encouraged students, his support for all kinds of campus activities or by giving gifts that made it possible for students to enjoy their learning.”
Daynes said he will miss Fukuchi and his generosity.
“We will have to fill that hole.”
Lisa Boykin Batts got to know Mike Fukuchi when he came to Atlantic Christian in 1981 and advised the staff of The Collegiate. The two remained friends and enjoyed regular conversation at Walmart on Saturday mornings.