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1953–2022 

David S. Turkon passed away at home surrounded by family on Sunday, July 17, 2022. He was 69 years old.

Dave was born in Buffalo, New York, on March 10, 1953. In 1957, the family moved to Tonawanda, where they owned and ran The Shady Court Motel on Niagara Falls Boulevard (US 62), then the primary highway route between Buffalo and Niagara Falls. Home was just a short walk to the bridge crossing of the Niagara Branch of the Lehigh Valley Railroad where “the boys” spent endless afternoons hiking, playing, and watching trains along with Duke the dog. From that early fascination, Dave and his brother Tom embarked on ever-widening travels exploring railroad infrastructure, talking their way aboard trains, photographing locomotives, and collecting railroad signals and hardware, an interest which they continued to share and practice throughout their lives. 

After graduating from Canisius College with a major in business, Dave opened one of the first taco shops in Buffalo, Taco Junction (1977–82), which was franchised into five locations. It was famous for its Suicide Hot Soft Taco, which created a commotion each time someone tried to eat one. 

After selling his business and exploring new interests, Dave took a course in anthropology with Phillips Stevens at the University at Buffalo, and was so strongly absorbed that he completed his PhD in 1995. There, Dave befriended a fellow grad student, Mike Matsumunyane, who encouraged Dave to consider research in his hometown of Mokhotlong in Lesotho. From 1987, he made many trips and forged strong friendships, studying the effects of escalating AIDS-related deaths on the local social and power structure. His wishes were to maintain a strong connection with the people of Mokhotlong by requesting that tributes be donated to Touching Tiny Lives, a foundation which serves children affected by the AIDS epidemic in Mokhotlong.  

Back in the United States, Dave was a professor of anthropology at Glendale Community College (outside Phoenix) from 1996 to 2005. While in Arizona, he became actively involved in resettling refugees from Sudan, working closely with the Arizona Lost Boys Center (currently called The Lost Boys Center for Leadership Development). 

In 2005, Dave joined the Department of Anthropology at Ithaca College, where he was renowned for challenging students to think in new ways and cherished guiding them in research. Dave took an active role in Ithaca College governance, always ready to challenge administrative actions. He loved helping to organize the Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival, where he presented and discussed films from the African continent. After moving to Ithaca, he continued his connections with the Lost Boys of Syracuse Cow Project, which provided a venue for continued contact and cultural traditions for Sudanese resettled in the Syracuse region. He also lent his expertise to other local organizations, including the Tompkins County Workers Center and Catholic Charities Tompkins/Tioga.  

In his later years, Dave held tighter than ever to the ones he loved. He is survived by his most cherished accomplishments, Bretana (25) and Evan (22); his wife, Paula; his brother, Tom; his sister, Maryann; and many, many loving in-laws, nephews, and nieces. In the last couple of years, the Tuesday “Guys Night” group was particularly important to him and provided camaraderie and support. Dave is predeceased by his mother, Charlotte; his father, John; his Aunt Helen; and his brother, John.

In his later years, Dave held tighter than ever to the ones he loved. He is survived by his most cherished accomplishments, Bretana (25) and Evan (22); his wife, Paula; his brother, Tom; his sister, Maryann; and many, many loving in-laws, nephews, and nieces. In the last couple of years, the Tuesday “Guys Night” group was particularly important to him and provided camaraderie and support. Dave is predeceased by his mother, Charlotte; his father, John; his Aunt Helen; and his brother, John.

Also known as the Ultimate Curmudgeon, an inherent stirrer-upper, Dave loved nothing more than confronting stereotypes and set ways of thinking, usually with a beer or glass of wine in hand. He was a loving, complicated mix of boisterous, introverted, rough, and tender.  

Please direct tributes to the Touching Tiny Lives Foundation

A photograph of a man
David S. Turkon

(David Turkon’s family) 

Cite as: David Turkon’s family. 2022. “David S. Turkon.” Anthropology News website, September 29, 2022.

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