Donald Thurston
Donald Thurston

Memorial Contributions

Memorial contributions may be made to: Vice President for College Relations, Thurston Asian Studies Fund, Union College, 1360 Lenox Road, Schenectady, NY 12308; or to Kneisel Hall Music Festival, 54 Main St. Blue Hill, ME 04614; or to Capital Pride, 332 Hudson Ave., Albany, NY 12210.

Obituary of Donald R. Thurston

BURNT HILLS - Donald R. Thurston, age 93, Professor Emeritus of Union College, died June 5, 2023 in Albany, NY. A resident of Burnt Hills, NY, Thurston was born August 9th, 1929, in Beaumont, Texas, the son of Robert Ray and Pauline Moore Thurston. He graduated from Horace Greeley High School in Chappaqua, New York in 1947. He received his B.A. in English from Syracuse University in 1951 and his PhD from Columbia University in 1970. Drafted into the army in 1951 for two years during the Korean War, Thurston was sent to Japan to learn how to type before being stationed in Taegu, Korea at army headquarters as a typist. At his request he was discharged in Korea in order to take a year-long backpacking-hitchhiking trip via Asia, the Middle East and Europe before returning home. Thanks to the G.I. Bill, he then studied at Columbia University and obtained his M.A. in International Relations in 1956. Eager to return to Japan, he spent the next two years under the auspices of the Asia Foundation teaching English conversation at Tohoku University in Sendai. Japan. Returning home in 1958 Thurston attended Columbia Teachers College to obtain certification for teaching English in High School. While teaching for two years at Tenafly High School in Tenafly, New Jersey, he introduced a course in World Literature. However, deciding he wanted to teach about the cultures of Japan and China at the college level, he returned to Columbia University to earn the necessary PhD. His book, Teachers and Politics in Japan, an outgrowth of his doctoral dissertation, was published by Princeton University Press in 1973. Professor Thurston joined the Union College faculty in 1966 and began teaching in both the Department of History and the Department of Political Science. During his career, wishing to make it possible for Union students to experience firsthand the cultures of Japan and China, he established a Term Abroad in Japan at Kansai Gaidai University in 1984 and a Term in China at Nanjing Teachers College in 1986. He took selected students on these initial terms to Japan and China. They continue today, though at different universities. In 1989 Thurston founded the East Asian Studies Program (now called the Asian Studies Program) at Union College. Students who major in the Program were required to study Japanese or Chinese language and the cultures of China and Japan in a variety of disciplines. Thurston and his husband, Robert Englebach, were together for 37 years, before Robert died in 2015. They took many trips throughout the world and loved spending summers at their cottage in Maine on Penobscot Bay where they sailed, attended chamber music concerts at Kneisel Hall, entertained friends, and sat on the rocks watching beautiful sunsets. Robert called their summers, "Our other life." Thurston is survived by his sisters-in-law, Phyllis Thurston, and Jean Englebach, his two nephews, Scott and Jeff Thurston and the many members of their families. Memorial contributions may be made to the Thurston Asian Studies Fund, Union College, Office of College Relations, Abbe Hall, 807 Union Street, Schenectady, N.Y. 12308; Kneisel Hall Music Festival, 54 Main St. Blue Hill, ME 04614; or to Capital Pride, 332 Hudson Ave., Albany, NY 12210. Cremation has taken place through the care of Simple Choices, Inc. Fond memories and expressions of sympathy may be shared with the family, online at:
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