JAMESTOWN — He marched with Mahatma Gandhi, twice getting thrown in jail.
He lived with cannibals in New Guinea — and survived.
And in California he could see then- Gov. Ronald Reagan anytime he wanted without an appointment.
But for Dr. Nagin Sheth — a former Xenia resident and Wilberforce University professor — his life wasn’t about who he knew. It was about what he knew, and how he used that knowledge gained from living through 11 decades to help others.
Nagin died June 11 at a local nursing home at the age of 98 taking with him experiences that any 10 people combined would not have realized.
“He always wanted to learn,” said Sheth’s son, Suresh (Shawn), as he overlooked Shawnee Lake a few feet from the home his dad built, mostly with his own two hands.
Sheth’s thirst for knowledge was evident from an early age as he left his home in India at the age of 14 to join Gandhi’s movement. He was part of the famed Salt March in 1930 and spent six months in jail on two occasions for his participation with Gandhi.
“They rounded everybody up that was in the movement,” Shawn Sheth said.
Sheth spent a year as Gandhi’s top associate around the same time the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. travelled to India to learn from Gandhi, Shawn Sheth said.
The older Sheth would eventually study agriculture at Bombay University in the Pune District of Mumbai, leading to a top position as an officer/ranger in the Gir Jungle, saving the lions and tigers.
Sheth grew tired of that and went to the seaport, offering to wash and paint a steamboat to pay for a four-month journey to New York so he could study at Cornell University in the mid 1950s. He picked apples to pay his tuition and earned a Ph.D. in sociology and anthropology. He later received a masters in library science from the University of Michigan and another science degree from the University of Missouri.
That led to teaching gigs in Nebraska and California — where he would pop in on Reagan periodically — before being recruited by Wilberforce in 1973, eventually becoming chair of the sociology and anthropology departments.
And then Sheth began to spread his knowledge around the world, spending 28 years traveling back and forth to the poorest parts of the Dominican Republic after retiring from WU at the age of 58. He learned carpentry at Greene Vocational School so he could help some of the Dominican’s most needy people build homes.
“He was always trying to help people out,” Shawn Sheth said. “He believed a man was only free if he owned a house.”
Sheth also helped build water plants and roads throughout the country. So revered in that country, Shawn Sheth said one time his father was leaving a grocery store and traffic was stopped so he could back out of his parking space.
“He was well-known,” Shawn Sheth said.
In Xenia, Sheth owned 20 homes and would rent them through Greene Met, which led to a post-teaching career as a Realtor.
But Sheth also found time to do things for himself. He travelled around the world twice between college teaching jobs, somehow surviving time with cannibals.
“He said ‘God gave me eyes to look so I’m going to look,’ ” Shawn Sheth said.
Those trips were important for Sheth, as they made him feel whole.
“He told me you should have friends across the world,” family friend Charles Ewell said. “You’re rich if you have friends across the world.”
Sheth also made sure his seven children were rich with his knowledge.
“Always wanted to teach us,” Shawn Sheth said. “Whether it was good or bad. He wanted to show us all sides of life.”
Shawn Sheth cited trips to Bourbon Street in New Orleans, a Native American reservation, and a hippy community in Los Angeles as ways his dad “exposed us to everything.”
In addition to the seven children, Sheth had eight grandchildren and 11 great grandchildren.
Sheth did have one goal in life that he didn’t get to realize — living to be 100.
Shawn Sheth said the coronavirus likely stole a couple years away from his father.
“He would have lived longer but because of this COVID I wasn’t able to see him (at the nursing home),” he said. “He kind of gave up. I used to see him every day. He enjoyed that. He probably thought that we abandoned him. It was rough. He went downhill.”
But until his final days it was quite the ride.