Kids Corner


Remembering The People Who Built Buffalo, New York, USA:
Dr Surjit Singh





I recently said goodbye to a dear friend, Dr. Surjit Singh, who was the first person from the Subcontinent to come to Western New York.

A devout Sikh, Surjit was a pillar of strength in the entire region. He had built two gurdwaras, one in Niagara Falls and one in Amherst, and led a comprehensive effort at interfaith cooperation.

He had been active in his homeland of Punjab during the tumultuous decade of the 1940s. He had lived through some of the worst sectarian violence in history in 1947, when around two million people lost their lives, and 15 million more were displaced. He had fought hard for a Sikh state, only to be disappointed at the result and eventually exiled from his homeland.

At his funeral, faith leaders from all over Western New York, came to mourn a person who had dedicated his life to bringing people together. His home library contained holy documents from many different faiths, including a well-worn Quran and Bible. A local Muslim leader announced to those gathered that Surjit likely knew his (Muslim) holy text better than he did.

Looking over the diversity of faces, young and old, black and white, immigrant and established American, Surjit had done so much to change the face our region. With his help, we have become a true American stew, filled with people with roots all over the world. When I think of America, it is the America of Dr. Singh.

Both Ruth Merlin’s song and Dr. Singh’s spirit are what make this region great. It is the variety of voices, that bring their lived traditions and passions that enhances us all. At the funeral, the religious leaders were sitting in order of the age of our religious faith. I was sitting next to a Hindu colleague, whose religion outdates mine by 3,000 years, and we were discussing how in the early 1970s there was only one Indian restaurant in all of New York City. How strange to think of that time period. How much better off we are today.

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Dr. Surjit Singh of Williamsville, New York, USA, passed away at his home on the 16th of April, 2018. Born in Peshawar in 1931 to Lt. Col. Bhagwan Singh and Sardarni Kesar Kaur, Dr. Singh survived the forced march and sectarian violence of the Partition of Punjab and the subcontinent in 1947.

After completing undergraduate and Master’s level work on the subcontinent, he came to the United States in 1954 to earn his PhD in physical chemistry from St. Louis University. He then received a post-doctoral fellowship working for the Apollo Space Program at Case Western Reserve University.

He began his first Professorship at Waynesburg University before finally arriving at Buffalo State University in 1967, attaining United States Citizenship in 1972, and continuing as a professor until his retirement as a full professor in 2010.

In addition to his contributions as an educator, he did extensive research on behalf of the US Air Force. As a citizen of the Greater Buffalo Area, he was an extremely active member of the community, being a founding and original trustee of two gurdwaras (Niagara Frontier Sikh Society in Clarence Center and the Niagara Sikh Association in the City of Niagara Falls).

As a result of witnessing the horrors of sectarian violence in India, he worked tirelessly on behalf of and with many people and organizations in hopes of fostering greater understanding, and more just and vibrant communities including the National Federation for Just Communities (NFJC), the Network of Religious Communities, Rotary Club (Amherst South and Rotaract Buffalo State), and the Niagara Veterans Association.

His work has been recognized with numerous awards and leadership positions. He is survived by his spouse of fifty-four years, Helen T. Singh, his seven children, Buxees Louis T, (Elizabeth Szczepanski), Carol Margaret, Beatrice (Vincent Arnone), Manjit Leo, Ranjit Buddy (Lauren Schechter), Anne Marie M.D. (Mark Mandel), Christina (Jeffrey Huvar), and his grandchildren Jillian, Surjit, Sarah Saffron, Joseph Grayson, Julia, and Aviv.

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Alex Lazarus-Klein of Amherst is the rabbi of Congregation Shir Shalom.
[Courtesy: Buffalo News. Edited for]
May 18, 2018

Conversation about this article

1: Bhai Harbans Lal (Dallas, Texas, USA), May 21, 2018, 5:40 PM.

Late Dr. Surjit Singh was indeed a pillar of strength for the interfaith community on behalf of Buffalo-Niagara Falls Sikh community. He began working on his mission well before there was any Sikh population in Western New York area. Besides, he helped to hold Sikh youth retreats in his part of the country. I had the opportunity to visit Surjit and his wife Helen many times and enjoyed their hospitality. He will remain in our memories for a long time to come.

2: Surinder Singh Jassal (Brampton, Ontario, Canada), May 23, 2018, 8:04 AM.

I am very small to comment on Mr. Singh. He worked hard to be established in his life. His life story is inspiration for the coming generation.

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Dr Surjit Singh"

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