Jagadish Desai was always busy doing something, whether it was helping newly arrived immigrants from India get acclimated to life in Minnesota or bridging cultural differences by building a connection between his native and adopted countries.
He and his wife set up several academic scholarships and sponsored family members to come to the United States. Numerous foreign students even came to live in the Desai home.
Desai, remembered by loved ones as a fun, outgoing, giving person with an infectious smile who strongly believed in family, friends, and community, died of a stroke on June 29 at Regions Hospital in St. Paul. He was 87.
"He always got involved in things and always helped people throughout his life," said his wife, Rose Bullinga. "He was very gregarious person."
Desai, who went by Jack, was born in India to a Methodist minister father and a school superintendent mother who instilled in him the values of education. In 1959, Desai got a scholarship from the United Methodist Church to come to the United States to study chemical engineering at Montana State University. There he met Rose, a native of the Netherlands who was studying chemistry. After graduating from college in 1962, Desai and Rose moved to Minnesota and married in St. Paul.
Desai worked as a chemical engineer for Gould Batteries, supervising more than a dozen automotive battery plants throughout the United States. In 1973, Desai helped found the India Club, now known as the India Association of Minnesota, a local nonprofit that promotes charity, culture and connections for Minnesotans of Indian origin and those interested in India. Two years later, then-Gov. Wendell Anderson appointed him to the Minnesota American Revolution Bicentennial Commission.
With support from Rose, a chemist with 3M at the time, Desai took on a new career as a life insurance salesman for Connecticut Mutual, previously known as Mass Mutual, and served as president of the Minnesota State Association of Life Underwriters, gaining national acclaim as the top salesperson, the first Asian to receive such recognition. In 1990, Desai earned a juris doctorate from William Mitchell College of Law, now Mitchell Hamline School of Law.
Sheila Desai described her father as a gifted storyteller who never shied away from sharing with people his "battles against prejudice" as a South Asian man in America. At an international conference, he and other Indian students held meetings with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Rev. James Lawson to talk about nonviolence, she said.
Desai was a member of Path of Grace United Methodist Church in Maplewood for more than 50 years. The Rev. Tom Biatek said Desai was a reliable and respected member of the church who supported just about every ministry and special project the church had. His outgoing personality made everyone, including Biatek, who became the church's pastor six years ago, feel welcomed.
"Jack was a tremendously generous man," Biatek said. "He was a very intelligent man and he had a genuine curiosity and interest in every single person he met."
Outside of worship, Desai enjoyed many things, including singing, sailing, golfing, traveling, throwing parties, writing "indignant" complaint letters, giving advice, and debating the latest world events, his family said.
In addition to his wife and daughter, Desai is survived by his son, Jay Desai, and siblings Suhasini Contractor, John Desai, Grace Gohil and Joseph Desai.
He was preceded in death by his parents, Ramjibhai Desai and Elvina Desai, and siblings Jayant Desai, Shantukumar Desai and Mary Parmar.
A celebration of his life has been held.
Faiza Mahamud • 612-673-4203