As superintendent of the Auburn School District from 1973 until his retirement in 1997, Dr. James Fugate’s contributions to the Auburn School District and the community left an indelible mark on generations of students and staff.
During his tenure, student enrollment increased from 7,700 students to 12,100. To make way, the district built Hazelwood Elementary, Mt. Baker Middle School, Rainier Middle School, Ilalko Elementary, Lake View Elementary, West Auburn, Auburn Riverside High School, the Auburn Performing Arts Center and a new Auburn Memorial Stadium.
Fugate died Wednesday, April 11, surrounded by family. He was 85.
The district continues to carry on many of the traditions Fugate started, like holding graduation at the stadium, supporting award-winning music programs and strong career and technical programs, and participating in the annual Auburn parade.
Upon his retirement, the ASD Board of Directors renamed the district office the James P. Fugate Administration Building, honoring his 24 years of service to the Auburn School District.
In his retirement, Fugate continued to advocate for students in the ASD, often stopping by the district offices on 4th Street Northeast to offer advice, guidance and perspective to former superintendents Linda Cowan and Dr. Kip Herren, and the current superintendent, Dr. Alan Spicciati.
“I always appreciated his insights,” Spicciati said. “And his stories, I loved hearing his stories. I learned a tremendous amount from him.”
In addition to Fugate’s obvious passion for students, he was active in Rotary and a number of other civic ventures, serving on boards that continue to serve the Auburn community.
His four daughters attended Auburn schools, as did most of his grandchildren. His life inspired generations of educators and the passion for education stayed in the family. Daughter Jennifer is the principal at Chinook Elementary, daughter Cynthia is a teacher at Dick Scobee Elementary and daughter Mindy is a teacher at Pioneer Elementary. Son-in-law Carey teaches at Auburn Mountainview, and son-in-law James teaches at Auburn High.
Fugate hired Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Debbie Leighton to be the district receptionist when she was a senior at Auburn High. Leighton worked her way up, serving as Fugate’s secretary, human resources supervisor and director, and three years ago, earned a role on the superintendent’s cabinet.
“He just genuinely cared about people,” Leighton said. “He believed his job was to care about people. He had a tremendous sense of humor and laughed all of the time. His greatest contribution was his love for kids — it drove everything,” she said.
The community honors Fugate’s life at a public memorial in the Auburn High School Commons at 2 p.m., Saturday, April 21. In lieu of flowers, the family has requested donations in his memory to the Auburn Public School Foundation.