The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

News

April 26, 2014

Zoology student, SEAL, yogi

Book focuses on ‘complex’ Fenton-turned-Sudharman

LEWISBURG — LEWISBURG — A college classmate of Sudharman, founder of the Integral Yoga Center of Pennsylvania in New Berlin, is writing a book about her lifelong friend and the circumstances that led to his July 2010 murder.

Diane Dogan Hilliard, a retired U.S. Treasury Department official who lives outside of Washington, met Sudharman in the late 1950s at Cornell University.

She was a junior studying English and music and he was a freshman zoology major.

“I knew him as Joe Fenton. We sat together in a class and started talking,” Dogan Hilliard said, describing the young Fenton as a “very easy-going, independent thinker.”

Always interested in others, the soft-spoken Fenton exuded a kindness that drew people in.

“He just seemed to have a joy and his voice was so soothing,” Dogan Hilliard said.

They stayed in contact for more than 30 years, during which Fenton joined the military and served in what is now the Navy SEALs, married and raised two sons and a daughter.

Dogan Hilliard said Fenton’s transformation to Sudharman was gradual and believes he was strongly influenced in the 1960s by American psychic Edgar Cayce.

“I believe this set the stage for him moving to yoga,” she said. “Money became unimportant to him. He wanted to be the best person he could be. He was absolute about his faith in the universe that his life would fall into place if he did the right thing. It was a confidence, I think, that few people have.”

The last time they spoke was in the early 1990s when Sudharman visited her near Washington.

“It never occurred to me that there would be a time when I wouldn’t see him,” Dogan Hilliard said.

Sometime around late 2011, she tried to get in touch with Sudharman and discovered reports on the Internet that he had been shot to death inside his New Berlin home, which also served as a yoga studio, more than a year earlier. He was 70 years old.

Joel Snider, a 37-year-old St. Louis resident and former student of Sudharman, is scheduled to be tried for the killing in Union County Court in early June.

Dogan Hilliard was devastated by the news and set out to learn how such a tragic end could befall “such a gentle soul.”

She visited Sudharman’s yoga studio and met with his friends, including Jim Mathias, who shared the news that Sudharman had begun writing about his life and that another friend planned to finish it.

Dogan Hilliard, 76, expressed interest in the project.

“Joe was far too complex for someone who only knew him a few months,” she said.

Armed with Sudharman’s manuscript, as well as photos and other documents provided by relatives, Dogan Hilliard is piecing together the story of how Joe Fenton became Sudharman and what led to his tragic death.

“It’s a parting gift to a friend,” she said, adding that all proceeds will benefit the yoga center Sudharman founded in New Berlin, which continues to operate.

The book is not complete and there is no publication date, but Dogan Hilliard will discuss the project at a public event on June 18 at the Campus Theatre in Lewisburg. Immediately following, there will be a showing of the Sundance Film Festival Award-winning documentary “Escape Fire, The fight to rescue American Healthcare.”

Advance tickets are $20, or $10 with a student ID, and will be available beginning Thursday at the yoga center and online at www.iycpa.com. Tickets will also be sold at the door the day of the event for $25. All proceeds benefit Integral Yoga of Pennsylvania. Call (570) 966 2484 for more information.

 

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