“My Life History” Oberlin Admissions Essay by Dave M. Okada ’44

The following is a transcription of the personal essay for admission to the *Junior class of Oberlin College, written by Dave Masato Okada from a Japanese-American internment camp during 1942. In this eloquent account, Dave accounts the hardships of having to work to afford to attend junior college and, once graduating, working full-time at 17 years old to support his four younger brothers after the loss of their parents, which leads him to develop a permanent heart condition. He speaks of the influence of his mother and how he overcame shyness through church work in which he had become a singer, leader, and public speaker. He had just married May Machida in the camp about a week prior.

“My Life History” by Dave M. Okada (photo)

The  month of August, 1914 is to the world the beginning of World War I. For the purpose of this brief autobiography, August, 1914 should probably be more significant as the time of my birth.

The family life of an immigrant Japanese home in California was not too conducive to what might be termed the ideal rearing of a child. My father, before claiming my mother as his picture bride, has incurred debts and obligations in starting a barber shop. As long as I can remember, those debts and obligations continued to harass him, bringing in its wake a certain amount of strain within the family circle due to financial difficulties. Since both of my parents were thoroughly occupied in raising a family of five boys, I was left pretty much alone to amuse myself in games improvised through my own imagination or through various sports such as baseball and football which I played with the neighborhood children.

Yet in all her busy hours, clothing and feeding my brothers and me, and helping in the barber shop in her spare time, my mother still utilized every opportunity to counsel me and to direct my thinking toward consideration of others and helping people who were less fortunate than we. Although I was little impressed by this advice and prompting in my early adolescent yers, its subsequent effect on my way of thinking and attitude toward life has been more than beneficial.

Very early in my childhood, I was fortunate in being taken to a Sunday School operated under the auspices of the Baptist denomination. The influence that I received in the many years that I attended the Sunday School faithfully and in which I eventually became a teacher and superintendent has, I believe, contributed invaluably to any claim of character and person integrity which I may hold today.

As to my education, I was not an exceptional pupil in my grammar and high school years, although my grades were better than average. A vivid recollection which comes to me in connection with my early school years (and which hindered my full development) is the fact that I was very shy with people and unable to express myself clearly before my classmates, teachers, and strangers and people with whom I was not acquainted. Fortunately for me, during my last year in high school, through attendance at the Baptist young people’s meetings and participation in its varied activities, I developed an interest in singing and speaking in public. Through a process which required great physical and mental effort in overcoming fear and nervousness before groups of people, I was able to become an active participant and eventually a leader in young people’s activities, both religious and secular. Probably the one person who helped me more than any single individual was a white American worker in our church who devoted much time and effort toward the development of my Christian life and full and proper use of my limited talents in the service of others. To her and my mother, I owe my deepest debts of gratitude for anything of value which I may have done to date.

When I was seventeen, I lost both of my parents and as a result, I had to support myself through two years of junior college as well as contribute toward a large portion of the maintenance of a home for my four younger brothers. Fortunately, during teh first two or three years,  insurance money provided sufficient means of support to help me finish junior college. However, soon after I graduated, it was necessary for me to devote all of my time to the support of my brothers. But I was unable to find a job which paid enough, and moreover, I developed a permanent heart condition which has restricted my physical ever since. The privations which we had to endure seemed almost unbearable at times, but through the assistance of friends and some aid from the welfare department of the State, we managed to struggle along.

In 1937, after finishing a course in accounting in a local commercial school, I took and passed an examination for a State civil service position. Through hard work and through conscientious effort, I received two promotions leading to a position requiring the acceptance of many responsibilities, which included for a period of two years immediately preceding my termination of State service the privilege and responsibility of directing the work of a large group of other civil service employees. But after five years of what I considered my best efforts, the present war resulted in my dismissal in my dismissal together with all other Japanese-American workers on charges questioning my loyalty to the country of my birth which had given me all the opportunities to make myself independent and self-supporting and to appreciate the democratic foundation of my country. Today, as a consequence of the war, I have entered a new phase of my life confined (physically) for the moment within the bounds of an internment camp. The future at best is uncertain and I do not know what great changes, both social and economic, will come about as the aftermath of this war to affect the lives of us American citizens of Japanese extraction.

The anticipation of new experiences hitherto uncharted and the knowledge of sharing these experiences with my bride of a little more than a week convey to me the thought that I am starting life anew beginning with World War II. Whatever lies ahead, I have implicit faith in a Divine Providence, a personal God who will direct me into proper avenue of service by which I can render myself useful to my fellow men.

In his application, Dave said that “[Oberlin’s] high academic standards, conservatory of music and its willingness to accept students of Japanese extraction” were features or advantages at Oberlin that most influenced him to attend. A “Mrs. William S. Brant” also encouraged him to attend.

Although he spent most time working while in school, he did speak in oratorical contests and before large church groups and conventions.

“I also sang with the McNeill Club, the oldest male chorus in this section of the state.”

Other activities in high school and Jr. College: baseball (V letter), Spanish Honor Society (secretary), book club, music & drama club.

Hobbies: singing, collecting operatic recordings, reading, attending concerts & lectures

On March 2, 1943, while studying at Oberlin, Dave took part in a convocation of Three Short Talks in Finney Chapel concerning Japanese-American Relocation; his portion was entitled “The Antecedents of Evacuation” . Dave appears to have been good friends with Kenji Okuda ’45 (another Nisei who became student body president at Oberlin- a progressive feat during the war) and Sammy J. Oi.

After graduating from Oberlin in 1944, Dave got a MA from University of Chicago in Sociology, for which he won a Julius Rosenwald Fund fellowship for studying the growth of racial attitudes of Nisei in Chicago, particularly towards Negroes. (An article documenting this was published in The New York Times, May 17, 1946). Eventually he rose to be an assistant sociology professor of sociology at Carleton College. In 1955 he was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to study and lecture at Waseda University, to which he was accompanied by his wife May and children Michael and Kimi. Dave sadly passed away in St. Paul, Minnesota at the early age of 44 from a heart attack.

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Sammy Junsuke Oi, Oberlin 1944, Admissions Essay

Sammy J. Oi, class of 1944

I was born on March 1, 1922. My early childhood days were spent in that section of Los Angeles a little northwest of the central business district. I only seem able to recall the many hills and a park near our home where often I played with my mother and sister.

We moved to the southwestern part of town when I was about four years old and soon after I entered kindergarten. I graduated from elementary school in 1933 and then attended Forshay Junior High School. It was about this time that I joined the Boy Scouts and during the next few summers many enjoyable days were spent hiking and camping at the beaches and in the mountains near Los Angeles. Many friends were made during this period whom I cherish to this day.

I entered senior high school in September, 1936. Up to this time my future was very undecided. What was I to do upon graduation? Yes, I would like to go on to college but going to college without a purpose, I thought, was useless. My father had a successful market business which I could continue if I so chose. Somehow I felt that this was not to be my lot. To be a true success, I thought, one should love his work. It was my intention to live as full a life as possible. I had made the acquaintance of two fellow students and many enjoyable and profitable hours were spent with them, discussing the question, “What are we living for?” I decided that perhaps college would help me to solve this problem.

In my second year in high school, I studied chemistry under Miss Willson, an elderly, crippled lady. Often I had spoken with her after class and in the course of one of these talks, she encouraged me to major in chemistry when I went to college. College, she said, was a place where one should learn to think. Chemistry is the subject which will help you most to think.

I entered U.C.L.A. in the fall of 1939. Soon after school started, my father became ill and was bedridden for over four  months. I was forced to look after his business, an this with my studies occupied nearly all of my time.

It was in the summer of 1940, when I spent my most pleasant vacation. With two friends, I spent a week in the interior of Yosemite. There, we hiked among tall pines and rugged granite mountains and swam in cool Lake Tenaya. There, I learned to appreciate nature.

This year when evacuation orders were issued, I dropped out of school. Now I am confined in a relocation center. My immediate plan is to finish school. I would like to go on in chemistry until I have a master’s degree and if possible a doctor’s. Perhaps I may be able to secure a position as a chemist in some plant or maybe teach in college.

At present I am hoping and praying with all my heart that the war will end soon and that men can live decently in a peaceful world.

Respectfully submitted,

Sammy J. Oi

After receiving a degree in Chemistry from Oberlin in 1944, Sammy joined the Army from ’44-’46, where service included Intelligence Service Language School, Engineer School, and assignment to the Engineer Board until discharge. He spent 7 months in Japan with a Technical Intelligence Team from November ’45-June ’46.  Once discharged, he did not return to further studies, but instead helped his father in the operation of “Oi’s Food Market”, which he later took over. He eventually married a woman named Evelyn. Sammy J. Oi passed away in 2000.

Renso Enkoji- Oberlin Nisei ’45-6; Application Essay

The following is the transcription of an application essay to Oberlin’s College of Arts and Sciences. It was written in February of the year 1945 by Renso Enkoji, a Japanese American, as he was attending high school in an Idaho relocation camp. In this essay he demonstrates his love for sports and cooperation and documents how his life had been affected by living in the camp.:

Renso Enkoji photo

       Being born in the latter part of August in the year 1927 and in the City of Portland, Oregon, I was said ot have been an average and normal baby boy. Just how much of that is exaggerated, I don’t know. My parents doing various sorts of work had prevented me from attending the kindergarten by their moving from one place to another and then at the age of four I went to Japan for a visit of eight months. I enjoyed the whole excursion immensely and made many friends, but being so young as I was, I was not influenced and had kept my American traits.

By the time I was ready for grammar school my parents had settled down permanently and I was able to go through both grammar school and the first years of high school without any interruptions or hardships. Though my parents were not of the wealthy class, they had managed to keep all of us well clothed, well fed, and and had allowed us more than the average amount of luxuries.

Throughout my grammar school and high school career, I had a strong tendacy (tendency) to stay away from any sort of secret clubs or permanent group which can and does exclude others. I liked to see things done with everybody pitching in and nobody being left out. Therefore I found myself playing basketball and baseball in an inter-racial group. But I had also joined the Boy Scout troop which consisted of all Japanese American boys and had gotten along and advanced to the Life Scout rank and to the Senior Patrol Leader’s position.

At the age of fourteen we were evacuated from our home and after a brief stay in an assembly center in Portland, we were moved to this present camp in Idaho. Though this evacuation had caused a lot of disorder, physically and mentally, I don’t think anything could have matured me as it did. First of all, upon entering the camp  there wasn’t much in the way of recreation and my sister influenced me into reading all sorts of books. It was then that I first realized my thirst for knowledge and became very interested in books and joined several book clubs. Not wanting to let my mother with her measly “sixteen dollars a month,” pay for the books, I paid it through my monthly clothing allowance, which we were allowed. In the meantime I had gotten acquainted with such influential people as the priests and teachers. Through their helpful guidance I grew both spiritually and mentally. My physical status of being short remained very much the same, but I’m not sorry for that because being short makes me try to succeed in everything all the more and by feeling younger and being looked down as being young, it prevented me from falling into bad habits, such as smoking, drinking, and gambling, which offer much temptation in a camp of this sort.

During my Junior year in high school I got to know a group of office-holding and intellectual seniors and through their unselfishness, I learned to see things more intellectually and in order to keep up with them in conversation and in grades, I studied much harder, as well as being more observant of the world about me. When they left, I moved up to the place they vacated and became the student body president. Through this job I learned what responsibility meant, what it means to have patience, and a little more understandment of human nature. By the last one, I was discouraged more than once, but each time I was helped by Him in luck and in giving me the necessary faith to go on. Indeed, through that office, I found out that this world is not made up of bunch of cooperative and considerate people and having learned my lesson, I’ll won’t ever expect things like that again as I had. I seemed to have been one disillusioned kid.

My life plan is not very definite as yet. I have great many interests and as yet I cannot decide which. I am planning on taking a Liberal Arts course and decide on my Junior year as it is suggested.

                Renso Enkoji

Enkoji essay1 Enkoji essay2 Enkoji essay3

Other interesting information from his application:

He was very involved in high school:

•School Annual – Managing editor and class editor; debating club treasurer; Junior class play; Core class Pres., “Mardi Gras II” chairman, ASH Pres, College bound club VP, Science club Treasurer
He also received varsity letters for many sports: Baseball, basketball, football, tennis, swimming

What features or advantages at Oberlin most influenced you to attend?: The name of Oberlin College is known throughout the nation and abroad and I understand that is a friendly and a liberal school.

What person or persons (if any) most influenced you to want to attend Oberlin? : Mr. Calvin Ninomiya and Fr. Kitagawa.

After attending Oberlin from 1944-1946, Renso was inducted to the army. As he was not discharged from the Army, he did not graduate with his class from Oberlin. Therefore, his student file does not contain any information as to what he did after Oberlin. However, after snooping around on the internet, I found an article that makes me believe that it was during his time as a soldier that he met his wife Mabel. Here is a link to an interview with “Mabel Enkoji”. http://www2.sacurrent.com/news/story.asp?id=70668

Treasure Hunting

Working in the Archives and with primary resources has always been something like a treasure hunt for me. With all the digging that I do (through old files and through cyberspace) I never know what I’ll find next.

I guess I first became fascinated with this type of work when I was in middle school and nominated to take part in a great competition called National History Day, or NHD. I did it almost every year until I graduated from High School, made it to States a few times, and then won the National competition with my group for a performance about Qin Shi Huangdi, the First Emperor of China! (Obviously had difficulties getting hands on any primary sources, but we made it work somehow!)

Anyway, today I headed over to the Office of Stewardship (in the basement of Fairchild Chapel, who knew!) to pick up some student files of Nisei students who passed away after 2007. (The files of all students who passed away before 2007 are located in the Archives. Someday we’ll all have student files of ourselves– I wonder if anyone will go through mine.)

  • Mitsuko Matsuno  (Mrs. Yoshio Yanagawa)
  • Jean Mieko Moriuye (Mrs. Harold Colyer Conklin)
  • June Kitazawa (Mrs. Barr)
  • Teruko Akagi
  • Mr. Renso Y. Enkoji
  • Michiko Matsushima (Mrs. Fujimoto)
  • Margaret Yokota (Mrs. Matsunaga)

I’m especially excited to receive these files because while some Nisei became professors, scholars, charitable donors, board members of Nisei/Japanese American/Nikkei (Japanese-descent)/Veteran organizations, etc. and have been published about in articles (or obituaries), I have been unable to find much information on these seven.

More to come…

Nisei Research

Today I looked back on an old correspondence email between Ken Grossi from Oberlin Archives and a Japanese Professor Toshiko Tsutsumi from Obirin Daigaku (J.F. Oberlin University in Machida, Tokyo) regarding the names of Nisei she had found while doing research here years ago. At the time, she had discovered 16 names of Nisei. In her list I found the name of one man I had missed: Willard Glenn Sueoka, 1941-4, class of ’45 who had been in both the conservatory and college.  He did not graduate from Oberlin.

It is quite possible that Willard may have actually been a “Sansei”, meaning “third generation” and so born to a Nisei; his father’s name was George, and his mother Toshiko was an Assistant Professor of Education at the University of Hawaii.

According to an Oberlin College Records card, as of 1957 he was married to Helen Y. Yoshimori.

After searching on the web I found that he had gotten a Five-Year Diploma January 1949 from the University of Hawaii. By 1950 he was a chorus director at Maui High School.  His student file, which unfortunately does not include any personal writings, includes a nice Maui High Christmas chorus concert program entitled “The Nativity” along with a letter detailing excitement about the concert from “Oberlin ‘fan’ Mrs. Annie V. Crockett” to “J.C. Kennedy”, Assistant director of the Oberlin Alumni Association. June 1956 he was appointed to teach at Hutchinson School in NY, and it seems as though he eventually returned to his home in Honolulu. He passed away in 2005.

I hope somehow I will be able to determine if he has any descendants.

That makes 33 Nisei that I’ve found so far who were present in Oberlin during the WWII period.

Last Friday I looked through the student file of Soichi Fukui, who had graduated from the college and went on to work in his family Mortuary business (Fukui Mortuary). Soichi is a Sansei; his grandfather Soji started the business over 91 years ago after immigrating from Hiroshima (making him an Issei). Soichi’s father Hitoshi (Nisei) was born in *Honomu, Hawaii, and Soichi born in Los Angeles in 1921. (*Thank you to Jerry Fukui for your correction! May 2015)

His father Hitoshi is mentioned in the book “Los Angeles’s Little Tokyo”.

What is fascinating about Soichi’s student file is that it has plenty of his personal writings, including the Oberlin admissions application and essay that he had written from the Heart Mountain Relocation Center in Wyoming. Prior to Oberlin, he had attended the University of California at Berkeley in the College of Chemistry until he was evacuated in May 1942. He was involved in Boy Scouts (became an Eagle Scout) and was captain of the drum section of their drum and bugle corp, with whom he toured the US “after being invited by President Roosevelt for the Jamboree”. He also worked with the YMCA and other organizations and was active in his Community Christian church. He was also proud of his stamp collection, “estimating by myself to be at least $300”. This letter is particularly fascinating to me because one of my other jobs on campus is as an Admissions Intern.

Soichi Fukui, admissions essay

From 1944-1946 Soichi worked in the US Army as a translator in the Military Intelligence Section and was at one point stationed in the Philippines until ’46 when he was transferred to Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s Tokyo headquarters.

Also found more information on the illustrious Mrs. May (Mai) Haru Kitazawa Arbegast, as well as a Mr. Renso Enkoji via. interviews and pages about his wife Mabel Yoshiko Jingu Enkoji.

Filled in birth/death dates for Ray Masaato Egashira, though I haven’t quite found much about him yet.

A side note: Another fun part of Archives work is the moveable bookshelves of student records– they have wheels on the side that make you think you’re steering a ship! We have them in our Conservatory Library too, but still.

Oberlin Nisei List (as of 3/1/13) + updates

Female:  (spouse surnames listed in parentheses)
Mineko “Minnie” Sasahara (Avery), Teruko Akagi,
May Kitazawa (Arbegast), June Kitazawa (Barr), Jean Morisuye (Conklin),
Lily Yuriko Fukuhara, Michiko Matsushima (Fujimoto), Yuriko Ito, Myra Iwagami,
June Kimura, Shizuko Koda (Kitaoka), Margaret Yokota (Matsunaga),
Grace Imamoto Noda, Yoshie Takagi (Ohata), Esther Matsu Kinoshita (Ujifusa),
Itsue “Sue” Hisanaga (Yamaguchi), and Mitsuko Matsuno (Yanagawa).

Male:
Ray Masaki Egashira, Renso Y. Enkoji, Victor Tadaharu Fujiu, Soichi Fukui,
Arthur Shuntetsu Kodama, William “Bill” Makino,
Calvin Ninomiya,  Sammy Junsuke Oi, David Masato Okada,
Kenji Okuda, Sadayoshi Omoto, Paul Kasumi Ushijima,
Eugene S. Uyeki,  and Harry Goichi Yamaguchi,

A while back I was trying to find information about Mr. Eugene Kiyozumi Uyeki, who graduated from Oberlin in 1948, went on to Chicago to get a Ph.D. in ’53 for his thesis entitled “Process and Patterns of Nisei Adjustment to Chicago”, and became a sociology professor at Case Western. I’d seen that his scholarly articles were published by a “Eugene S. Uyeki” and wondered at the discrepancy. I found out from the Alumni Register that the “S.” stands for Shigemi.

Calvin Ninomiya is another Nisei who was briefly at Oberlin and went on to great things- his bio could be found in the Discover Nikkei website:

“Calvin Ninomiya is intermittently retired. An aging lawyer [ex-Seattle; ex-Minidoka], he retired after serving as Chief Counsel, US Treasury (Public Debt). Ninomiya came out of retirement to work part-time on Treasury technical assistance projects, mostly doing overseas legal assignments in developing countries. Otherwise, he labors on Japanese American veteran concerns. He has researched the Occupation of Japan with the National Japanese American Veterans Council and worked on oral histories and scholarships, as well as serving as a board member with the Japanese American Veterans Association (JAVA).” http://www.discovernikkei.org/en/journal/authors/ninomiya-calvin/
I don’t see any references to Oberlin in any of Calvin’s bios, but I suppose that this might be because he was only here briefly from 1944-1945.

Clyde Owan, who is in charge of this research project, has put me in touch with Paul and Alice Takemoto. Alice was an Oberlin Conservatory student who graduated in 1948. I’m wondering if they will be able to help me determine the fates of some of these Obie alums from so long ago.