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Len Sugerman, aerospace advocate and tireless volunteer, dies at 86

Retired Air Force Col. Leonard R. "Len" Sugerman, who joined New Mexico State University's Physical Science Laboratory in 1977 and remained a tireless volunteer and advocate for high-tech education and economic development, has passed away at the age of 86. He was found dead at his home in Las Cruces on Friday, July 7.

Len Sugerman is shown here in a photograph taken during the dedication of the Sugerman Space Grant Building at New Mexico State University in October 2004. (NMSU photo by Darren Phillips)

Len died as he would have wished, with his boots on," said Patricia Hynes, director of the New Mexico Space Grant Consortium. "He was at home, in the community he loved, and he was busy until the end."

Sugerman was a key supporter of the development of the Southwest Regional Spaceport. Hynes said arrangements have been made for a commemorative plaque in Sugerman's honor to be carried on the first rocket to be launched from the spaceport. UP Aerospace Inc. is scheduled to launch a single-stage rocket on Aug. 14.

"NMSU, this community and indeed the state lost a truly valued friend," said NMSU President Michael Martin. "The phrase 'one of a kind' most certainly applies to Dr. - Colonel - Len Sugerman. No one cared more or participated more passionately in the life of this community than him. He was a great friend to me personally. We will miss him every day."

Because of Sugerman's support for the Space Grant program and related activities, the consortium's building on the NMSU campus was dedicated as the Sugerman Space Grant Building in October 2004. In December of the same year, he received an honorary doctorate from NMSU in recognition of his contributions as a military leader, university administrator and civic volunteer.

Sugerman, a native of New York City, joined the U.S. Air Force in 1942 with the rank of private and retired 33 years later as a colonel.

During World War II, he helped build runways for B-52 bombers on the islands of Kwajalin, Tinian, Saipan, Guam and Okinawa. In the 1950s and 60s, he served in the Pentagon and at Andrews Air Force Base. During this time, he earned a bachelor's degree in engineering from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and an MBA from the University of Chicago.

Sugerman was first stationed in New Mexico in 1964. His initial assignment was at the Air Force Missile Development Center at Holloman Air Force Base, where he served as the director of the Central Inertial Guidance Test Facility. He then became the Air Force deputy to the commanding general at White Sands Missile Range. Sugerman ended his Air Force career in 1975 at the Air Force Special Weapons Center at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque.

In 1977, after retiring from military service, Sugerman became assistant to the director of the Physical Science Laboratory at NMSU. In this capacity, he participated in the launching of sounding rockets, missiles and high-altitude balloons on every continent. Sugerman received a master's degree in public administration from NMSU in 1984.

As a community volunteer for more than 25 years, Sugerman focused his efforts on programs to prepare youth for high-tech careers and to create high-tech jobs in southern New Mexico. He was an active member of the New Mexico Academy of Science, the Mesilla Valley Economic Development Alliance and the United Nations Association. Sugerman co-founded the High Tech Consortium of Southern New Mexico and the Southwest Space Task Force.

A visitation will be held from 5 to 7 p.m. Wednesday, July 12, at Getz Funeral Home in Las Cruces. The funeral service will be at 10 a.m. Thursday, July 13, at the First Assembly of God Church. Burial with full Military Honors will follow at Hillcrest Memorial Gardens Cemetery.

Donations may be made to the NMSU Foundation for the New Mexico Space Grant Leonard R. Sugerman Endowment, P.O. Box 3590, Las Cruces, NM 88003.

First photo is available at http://ucommphoto.nmsu.edu/newsphoto/sugerman_leonard.jpg.
CUTLINE: Len Sugerman is shown here in a photograph taken during the dedication of the Sugerman Space Grant Building at New Mexico State University in October 2004. (NMSU photo by Darren Phillips)

Karl Hill
July 7, 2006