Dumarina and Francis Sarguis.
When Francis Sarguis’ generous gift established a fund at Stanislaus State in 2015 for the purpose of purchasing books and other materials, it was his way of enabling generations of learners to discover and, in turn, preserve modern Assyrian culture.
Already, the Francis Sarguis Modern Assyrian Heritage Fund is proving to be much, much more than a bookshelf collection.
“This collection is likely the first of its kind in California,” Junn said. “This collection will grow, as will our efforts to create curriculum, degree programs, certificate programs and to hire a faculty member with a specialty in Assyrian studies, as this donation from Francis Sarguis has made possible.”
Sarguis, who maintained a successful private law practice in Santa Barbara, was born in France and came to Turlock in 1947 at age 14 with his mother Maghdelata and his sister Flora. After serving in the U.S. Army, Sarguis attended Modesto Junior College and earned his bachelor’s degree and teaching credential from UC Berkeley. He entered Hastings College of Law, earned his Juris Doctor from the University of Southern California and his master’s degree in law from Yale University Law School.
“Heritage is a part of us, because it’s in our genes,” Sarguis said at the time the fund was established. “Heritage does not fully determine who we are, but it provides an important marker as to where we started in life.”
As part of the fund, the Sarguis Modern History Research Award has been established, with Stan State graduate student Katie Jaycox the first recipient. Jaycox said she became interested in studying Assyrian culture while working in the office of U.S. Representative Jeff Denham.
“When I started here, I was interested in studying past genocides,” Jaycox said. “As I was working in Congressman Denham’s office, I found myself helping out a lot of Assyrians with their visas. They told me about how the Assyrians were a part of the Armenian genocide. I felt that it was a story that needed to be told, as well as the story of Assyrians in general.”
Jaycox is one of the first students to use the Sarguis collection extensively. It currently stands at 241 total titles, including 129 books on-hand, 23 e-books, six journals and a number of back-ordered books and additional publications scheduled to be ordered.
According to James Tuedio, dean of the College of the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, having this collection at Stan State poises the University as a regional leader in modern Assyrian studies. He added that opening the research award to students from other universities, in addition to hiring faculty to teach the subject, could push Stan State to national prominence in the field.
Brandon Wolfe-Hunnicutt, a Stan State history professor and advisor to Jaycox, said that since Stanislaus County has one of the nation’s highest concentrations of Assyrians, Stan State is a natural spot to become the center of modern Assyrian research.
“We know that there are 150 distinct Assyrian dialects spoken in this area,” he said. “Some are spoken by only a few families, so many are dying languages. Scholars from around the world are particularly interested in this area as they attempt to reconstruct Assyrian history through language.”