The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

News

July 7, 2010

Police probe death of 'Buddha-like figure'

NEW BERLIN — As state police await autopsy results before determining whether a Union County yoga master's death was an accident or a homicide, friends spent Tuesday reflecting on his remarkable life that included a collegiate football career and a stint in a military special operations unit before the transformation that turned Joe Fenton into Sudharman.

"I suppose you could say the first thing he reminded me of was a Buddha- or Jesus-like figure in the respect that he's a person you automatically wanted to emulate," yoga student Christian Cochran said Tuesday.

Cochran, like many of Sudharman's friends and students, was shocked to hear of the 70-year-old man's death on Monday.

Sudharman was found dead on the floor of his living quarters at the Integral Yoga Center on Market Street, in New Berlin, by a fellow teacher, wrapped in blankets below the 8-foot-high loft in which Sudharman slept.

Cochran was among Sudharman's students, family and friends who were at the yoga center Tuesday afternoon, offering a chant meant to usher Sudharman into the afterlife.

Police have not yet ruled out foul play nor will they call the death a homicide, state police Trooper Matthew Burrows said. He hopes an autopsy scheduled for 10 this morning at the Lehigh Valley Medical Center in Allentown will help to determine a cause of death.

An athlete, scholar

Sudharman was born Joe Fenton, the son of a prison worker and nurse, and moved to Lewisburg when he was 12. A Dragons football star, he went to Cornell University on an athletic and academic scholarship, graduated in 1961 with a degree in zoology and planned to attend medical school.

Instead, he went into business, eventually working as general manager of a minor league football team. In the mid-1960s, Sudharman entered the Navy.

Fred Bloom, of Lancaster, was Sudharman's roommate for a year at Cornell and over the years had been frequently regaled with Sudharman's stories about managing the minor league football team and then becoming a member of an elite special operations unit.

Friends give varying accounts of his military service, suggesting Sudharman was either in the unit before it was described as the Navy SEALS or that he was a member of the first class of SEALS.

Ron Demer, of Ithaca, the president of the alumni association of Cornell's prestigious Quill and Daggers honor society, said that in college Sudharman was a popular football player and Sigma Phi fraternity member.

As a result, it was not surprising that Sudharman was admitted as a member to the Quill and Daggers, which reportedly ranks with Skull and Bones at Yale as one of the most prestigious college honor societies.

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