Courage and Compassion!

Last year it came to my attention that Oberlin College was chosen to host a wonderful exhibition and series of events entitled “Courage and Compassion” thanks to the Go For Broke Foundation. Here’s an excerpt that was included in the Oberlin Alumni “Around the Square” Newsletter. My name is listed!

Courage and Compassion: Our Shared Story of the Japanese American WWII Experience

The History of the Project and Its Inception

Clyde Owan ’79 became interested in learning more about Nisei students at Oberlin during the war years when he realized that family friend, Alice Takemoto ’47, had left Jerome War Relocation Camp to pursue her studies at Oberlin. In 2013, he joined with then East Asian studies major Cassie Guevara ’13, and Oberlin College Archivist Ken Grossi, to uncover the history of Japanese American students at Oberlin during World War II. They combed through college records, looked at yearbooks, worked with the alumni office to track down former students, and uncovered the rich stories of Nisei students who studied at Oberlin during the war. In 2013, this research became the basis for a featured article in the Oberlin Alumni Magazine.

In 2015, staff members at the Go For Broke Foundation came across the story in the alumni magazine as they searched for communities that treated Japanese Americans with generosity and compassion during the war. They contacted Renee Romano, professor of history and chair of the Oberlin College History Department, to see if Oberlin would be interested in participating in the grant to mount a traveling history exhibit.

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Here is a link to the full article with more information: https://www.oberlin.edu/events/special-events/courage-and-compassion/history-project  this blog is listed there!!

I’m also extremely excited to have been invited to speak to current students at a new module course dedicated to the subject of Japanese-American internment, as well as to Asian American alumni. As I live in Japan now, I’ll be flying in on March 7th and will be able to meet the documentary filmmaker Vivienne Schiffer who directed “Relocation: Arkansas”.

Being asked to take part in this research as a senior at Oberlin was truly one of the most memorable experiences of my life– as well as being able to come into contact with family members of these former students through my blog. Thank you to Clyde Owan, Suzanne Gay, Anne Sherif, Ken Grossi, Renee Romano (whom I’ll be meeting for the first time soon!) and all of you for your support, and I hope that if you are passing through Oberlin until mid March you can see the exhibition yourself!

~Cassie

UPDATE:

Since my last blog post almost a year ago I WAS able to go see George Takei’s screening of “Allegiance” in Odaiba, Tokyo. Not only that, I saw George himself when he and some others gave a talk about the musical. (He came to the stage from the back of the theater and I was so close! Not fast enough to turn on my phone for a photo, though.) Please watch this musical if you can!

Updates (research and life)

Hello there!

This blog has unfortunately been pretty inactive in the past few years (despite me wanting to go back to it), but I wanted to announce that I’m hoping to move (or copy) all of the information about Oberlin Nikkei students to their own page. Initially I had uploaded all my findings onto my personal blog for convenience, but I never thought that so many people throughout the years would find them and reach out to thank me for documenting their grandparent or an old friend/colleague. Thank you so much to everyone who has sent me a message! *If you are a relative or friend of someone who was a student at Oberlin College during the war, please email the Oberlin Alumni Association at alumni@oberlin.edu or the Alumni Magazine at alum.mag@oberlin.edu with any information or stories you’d like to share! They’d be really happy to hear from you.*

Oberlin has not contacted me about making a separate website for these students, but I’m hoping to collaborate with my brother Alex Guevara to make a separate space for these stories and photos, one that will no longer be tied to my personal blog. (I’m pretty sure there’s at least one page referenced by Wikipedia! Who did that?? In any case, this is Wikipedia’s page that references Oberlin College and the Alumni Magazine’s article on Oberlin taking in students during the war.)

In the meantime, thank you for your interest!

Here are some books that I’ve read since my time at Oberlin that have addressed (directly or indirectly) Japanese-American incarceration and internment during World War 2. If you are interested in reading some non-fiction and fictional accounts, I suggest you look these up!:

  • Farewell to Manzanar (non-fiction), Janine Wakatsuki
  • The Moved-Outers (fiction), Florence Crannell Means
  • Manzanar (photo book), Ansel Adams
  • No-No Boy, a novel by John Okada (about a young Japanese-American ostracized from his own community for refusing to go to war once the draft began)
  • The Buddha in the Attic, Julie Otsuka (her novel When the Emperor was Divine addresses the subject more directly but I haven’t gotten hold of it yet)
  • Snow Falling on Cedars (fiction), David Guterson

I REALLY wish I could go see George Takei’s musical Allegiance! It’s my dream to work on something like that!! What a fantastic combination.. historical + musical theatre! Unfortunately I’ve never been in the States when it’s been running, and there haven’t been any showings in Japan…. yet. Please go see it for me!

I also hope that in the future I can do something with my own idea for a (probably YA) novel regarding the subject. In any case, I managed to type out over 50,000 words for a draft of it for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) 2016. If you love to write or have always wanted to write, I recommend you participate in their contests! The 50,000 word draft contest is always in November, but right now they have something called “Camp NaNoWriMo”, for which writers design their own goals (word count, # of minutes, hours, pages, lines, etc.) for the month of April. I’m kind of participating, but I’ll be starting work next week after a long spring break. (I’ll be teaching English every day at three different schools!)

Another life update: I began Japanese to English translation through the website Gengo and have also done other random freelance work from tourism details to doujinshi (fan-made manga). Since I originally came to Japan wanting to use Japanese and not just teach English, I hope I can keep this up and develop my skills further- even amidst teaching at three schools.

My immediate goal, however, is to learn how to stay organized and keep track of so many different schools/classes/students! Any teachers out there with great tips?

Goodbye for now!

~Cassie

My Research Process

First of all, I wanted to thank everyone who has taken time out to read my blog– and even subscribe to it! Thank you so much! After tomorrow I will no longer be actively researching Oberlin Nisei, as I will be graduating next Monday. Soon a new chapter of my life and my blog will begin– when I travel to Japan to teach English for two years through Oberlin Shansi. 🙂

Clyde Owan, the Obie Alum who commissioned this research project, asked me a few questions that might be interesting to all of my readers, as well as to the people who will take over my project after I graduate.

What kind of information did I collect?:

  • Full name (including spouse’s last name if necessary)
  • Date of Birth
  • Parents
  • Siblings (Any Obie siblings?)
  • Years attended Oberlin
  • Graduated? (Y/N)
  • If Nongraduate, years attended Oberlin
  • College or Conservatory? (Major?)
  • Relocated/Interned? Name of camp
  • Military Service? (Y/N + where)
  • Post-Oberlin Education
  • Post-Oberlin Occupation
  • Any significant achievements?
  • Spouse
  • Children
  • Deceased? Date

What were my sources of information?:

  • Old Oberlin yearbooks (“annuals”)
  • Student files kept in the Archives (if deceased prior to ’07)
  • Student files from the Oberlin Stewardship office (if deceased after ’07 or still living)
  • News articles (about the student or about a family member of the student)
  • Published scholarly articles (by the students)
  • Obituaries (of either the student or a family member- parent, sibling, or cousin)
  • University websites for profiles/bios (for students who became professors)

Which Nisei provided information to me?:

Alice Imamoto Takemoto and I have corresponded a few times via email. Her son, Paul K. Takemoto wrote the book Nisei Memories: My Parents Talk About the War Years.

Kenji Okuda (Oberlin Student Council President) has an extensive collection of letters that have been transcribed to the University of Washington’s website.

What key questions/issues remain unanswered?:

Many. I hoped to find more detailed information about how students lived and were treated here (at Oberlin) at the time. I found many essays written prior to admission and after graduation (usually to the alumni class or for a school or organization), but I wish I was able to find more writings that were produced while at Oberlin. The exception is Kenji Okuda’s extensive collection.

What findings inspired you?:

My absolute favorite findings were personal essays written from internment camps to the Admissions Offices.  I was inspired to read these stories of strong and optimistic young people, many of whom were forced to leave home with next to nothing, and then see many of them graduate and lead illustrious careers, marry wonderful and loving spouses, and touch the lives of so many others around them.

The decision of the Oberlin President at the time to welcome Japanese-Americans just seemed so “Oberlin”, and this research has made me even more proud to be an Obie.

(I still remember writing my essay to Oberlin College… I was studying abroad at an all girls’ school in Osaka, Japan at the time.)

Jean Mieko Morisuye Conklin ’48

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Jean’s Oberlin application photo

Jean Mieko Morisuye was born in Sharon, PA on August 26, 1926 to Masanobu “Mori” Morisuye and Kikue Hasegawa Morisuye. She chose to attend Oberlin in 1944 because of its lack of fraternities and sororities and because  of high praises from a neighboring Obie alum. She graduated from Oberlin with a B.A. in Zoology in 1948, and received a Masters in Biology from Brown University. Some of her numerous job positions included teaching assistant in the Brown Zoology Department, Research Assistant at Yale’s Department of Anatomy, and Research Assistant at Barnard’s Zoology Department.

While working at Yale, Jean met and married Yale anthropologist and professor Harold Colyer Conklin on June 11, 1954 and they had three children, Bruce Robert and Mark William Conklin. As a family they traveled on three trips to the Philippines for Harold’s research, and Jean devoted her time to anthropological documentation. This culminated in 2002 with her book “An Ilfugao Notebook”, documenting the family’s 1968-9 experience in Luzon. Jean passed away peacefully in Hamden, Connecticut on July 22, 2010 with Harold at her side.

(Before passing, Jean would regularly update the Oberlin Alumni Association, documenting her numerous job positions at Yale, including executive assistant to the director of athletics, and director of human resources and to the general counsel, finally reaching the “no-children-at-home stage” in 1977, and her post-retirement projects such as “getting family photos in order, throwing out stuff we don’t need, knitting sweaters and scarves, and still finding time to travel to the west coast to see grandchildren”.)

“We Asked Permission from the Police Department”

Ours was the only Japanese family in Sharon, Pennsylvania where my father since 1925 was an electrical engineer at the Westinghouse plant. I was born in Sharon.

Except for the week following Pearl Harbor while he was being investigated, my father continued to work at the plant. The only restriction was that the sections of the plant that were working on war-related things were off-limits to him. His salary was also frozen during the war years resulting in a comparatively low salary for the last half of his service at Westinghouse. The people at the plant, and, in fact, any who knew us in town, continued to be supportive and friendly.

The police did come to the house and removed our short-wave radio and any books or magazines written in Japanese. Everything was returned at a later date. We were restricted in travel to a distance of 5 miles from Sharon, but if we asked permission from the police department for a travel outside this zone, it was granted and they always offered to watch the house while we were gone. We used this privilege mainly when my parents drove me to or from Oberlin at the beginning or end of the school year. For holidays a lot of us traveled by bus because of gas rationing.

I entered Oberlin in the fall of 1944 and graduated in 1948. I considered only two colleges, Ohio Wesleyan and Oberlin, and chose the latter because it had no sororities or fraternities. Also, someone in Sharon was a graduate of Oberlin and she visited our home to assure us that it was a great place to go to school. My high school grades were good but not super-exceptional. I applied and was accepted, probably because the school was anxious to do its part in accepting Japanese students.

To my knowledge, the Nisei students were treated very well on campus and in town. It is possible that I was given a single room, albeit a very tiny one, my freshman year because they were not sure of a roommate’s reaction. But my room became a gathering point and I made many life-long friends that year.

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Jean’s Senior Photo

Teruko “Terry” Akagi Brooks ’45

Terry Akagi

Terry Akagi

Name: Teruko “Terry” Akagi Brooks

Birthdate: June 20, 1922

Parents: George Takuji Akagi & Yone Kanayaki Akagi

Siblings: Mossi M. Kusumi of Columbus, Yoshi Kiyabu of Honolulu, Terry of Oregon, and Dr. James Akagi of Lawrence, Kansas.

Transfer student?: from University of Washington

Internment Camp?: Family evacuated from home in Washington to a camp in Minidoka, Idaho.

Degree: B.M. in Violin from Conservatory of Music (for which she had won a music scholarship from the Japanese American Student Relocation Council); class of 1945

Post-Oberlin: Taught violin and played in symphony orchestras such as the Kansas City Symphony Orchestra, the Grant Park Chicago Orchestra, the National Women’s Symphony in Chicago, Virginia Symphony Orchestra (first violinist *corrected and edited June 18, 2019*) and the St. Louis Orchestra, where she met her husband Joseph Brooks. They lived together in Texas before she passed away on September 22, 1922.

News article reads:

“Career Born in Kindergarten”, Chicago, Ill. SUN TIMES. July 18, 1951

The first Japanese-American ever to win a full scholarship to the famous Berkshire Music Festival now in progress at Lennox, Mass., is a young and gifted Chicago violinist named Teruko Akagi.

A former resident of a Japanese relocation center in the West, she came here [to Chicago] six years ago from Oberlin College with a bachelor of music degree.

At that time, interestingly enough, she was so uncertain about her choice of a future that she asked a well-known Loop violin teacher, a stranger to her, to advise her whether or not to continue with her studies-studies she was financing by working part time in the office of a West Side calendar manufacturer.

Today, Teruko- or Terry, as she’s usually called- is one of “Boss” Petrillo’s busiest little (5-feet-2) girls. […]

Chronologically, the story of how she became a violinist began during her kindergarten days in her native Seattle, Wash. One day the teacher bade Terry and her kindergarten classmates to pick out their favorite musical instrument from a tableful of them. The teacher then organized the youngsters into a band.

“I picked a violin,” Terry told us before she entrained for the music encampment at Tanglewood, scene of Massachusett’s yearly music festival. “I became so attached to it that when it came time to go into first grade, I didn’t want to-because it meant leaving behind my violin.”

[The article then details how her parents presented her a violin and music lessons and that her freshman year at UW, where she majored in musical studies, was interrupted when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, and West Coast Japanese were evacuated.]

“We were only allowed to take our personal belongings with us… and in selecting what to take, I almost left my violin behind.”

While working as an assistant teacher in the music department of the high school at Camp Minidoka, she won a scholarship to Oberlin College and was on her musical way again.

Crowding Oberlin’s four year course into two years (“including summer”), she managed to graduate with the class of 1945. Then, without contacts but with a B. of M. degree and $16, she came to Chicago (where her family had been relocated from Camp Minidoka) and landed a part time job with John C. Baumgarth Co.

In college, she had heard about the training orchestra maintained by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Chicago Civic Orchestra, and looked it up. Although promptly invited to play with it, she was beginning to be gnawed by the fear that there “was no place in this country for a Japanese-American girl musician.” And to dispel it, she sought out George Perlman, asking him: “Will you listen to me play, then tell me frankly whether or not I should forget all about it?”

Not only did he urge her to continue, but became her teacher. And through him she auditioned two years ago for her present October-through-March post with the thriving Kansas City Orchestra.

Grace Kyoko Imamoto Noda (non-graduate of ’45)

young Grace Imamoto (in front of father, Zenichi)

Grace Imamoto was born on January 14, 1920 to social worker James Zenichi Iwamoto and Yoshi Iwamasa Imamoto. She was only three credits short of receiving a degree from U.C. Berkeley when Japanese Americans were forcibly “evacuated” from West Coast institutions. Grace was proud of her academic record and refused the offer of one professor to receive a “D” to graduate. After evacuation, she and her family were evacuated to Arkansas for internment. She then was released from the camp to do domestic work in Minneapolis. Although she attempted to enroll in the University of Minnesota to complete her degree, she was denied admission.

Grace later moved to Oberlin to accompany and support her sister Alice Setsuko Imamoto, who was studying in the Conservatory of Music. At this time Grace worked as assistant cook, cleaning and preparing meals at “Grad House”.

In her poignant personal essay, written in sophisticated script, Grace speaks of how her personal history and the West Coast evacuation of Nisei sparked her interest in psychology and her desire to become a social worker.

Childhood was spent in a closely-knitted family unit. Reared under parents who devoted most of their time with child psychology, discipline, and […] development. My three sisters and I were given music lessons in piano, violin and cello. Music was developed not only for ourselves but also to play at various organizations. Through this work I became attached to the church by playing for church services. I joined the first organization – W.W.G. – World Wide Guild. A group interested in helping the youth of other countries of the world who needed some assistance. I became aware of the existing conditions through the messages  actively brought back to us by the missionaries. I devoted all my free time, outside of my homework, piano practice, to collecting unwanted toys, postcards and other useable material for my club.

I had difficulties in my adolescence, causing much grief to myself. My parents couldn’t understand me nor I-them. I didn’t realize that we had such a phase in our lives. I began [to] wonder about many things such as adolescence, behavior, moods, inner thinking. In speaking with my freshmen counselor in high school, she told me some of the doubting (?) problems. I took courses in high school to prepare myself for college. I stayed the later two years of my high school working in a private home so that I might become acquainted with the ways others lived too. I was extremely fond of people, meeting friends at the club meetings, churches, and parties.

However college was a sudden new world opened to me. I attended a university of 15,000 pupils and I didn’t realize how insignificant I became. One had to do exceptionally well in his works to be recognized by any of his professors. I had some trying times not knowing a sa(?) and lacking that person to person relationship with my instructors. I wanted to study for social welfare major but being extremely interested in behavior, ideas, reactions and activities, I decided to research into psychology. I wanted  to study the personality of people – the basis of our society and the social world. In trying to make up my mind what specific field of psychology, I began taking many of them to compare them.

My actual desire to become a social worker penetrated my heart after the evacuation of Japanese aliens and citizens from the Western Coast. The lack of social worker was suspiciously noticed. I felt so helpless not knowing too much about social welfare. (I helped in the school teaching) Many proud mothers would not come to the social science office for assistance despite the desperate need of assistance. Children were poorly clothed, families were dissatisfied and broken-up having been uprooted from their normal ways of life. Ministers were only available social workers but they too lacked adequate training. I would like to study this summer and finish my A.B. degree and continue into some Social Studies School in order to meet the call which will be great after this war has ceased.

Although she received the necessary credits to receive a degree from Oberlin, Grace refused them, believing she had rightfully earned a degree from Berkeley. Oberlin asked Berkeley for permission to award Grace a Berkeley degree at an Oberlin commencement, but Berkeley refused, and Grace did not receive her Berkeley degree until travel restrictions to the West Coast were lifted in 1945.

After Oberlin, Grace married Grant S. Noda on April 4, 1945 and had two children, Kathy A. Noda and Tanya M. Noda.

Though she did not graduate from Oberlin, she wrote in an Alumni Reunion Class Questionnaire:

I regret I only attended one lecture course to fulfill credits towards BA from UC Berkeley. War prevented me from graduating from Cali. in 1942 & 1945. […] I’m delighted to see Oberlin’s growth – the Conservatory is magnificent & certainly one to be most proud. There are some of Oberlin’s graduates here in Davis.

Eugene Kiyozumi/Shigemi Uyeki, ’48

Eugene Shigemi Uyeki was born to Ryuichi Uyeki and Chisato Hirai Uyeki on March 26, 1926. During the war he was evacuated to an internment camp. He transferred from University of Utah, Salt Lake City to Oberlin in 1945. When asked why he wished to change his college, he said: “I feel that I can better prepare myself for my future work at Oberlin than here at the University of Utah. I wish to attend Oberlin because all the people whom I have asked about concerning Oberlin are very high in its praise… The most striking thing about Oberlin which influences me was its emphasis on a liberal education with preparatory works towards graduate study.”

He graduated Phi Betta Kappa from Oberlin with a BA in Political Science in 1948.

In this admissions essay, Eugene talks about how the people he met while in an internment camp influenced him to pursue the social sciences.

My Autobiography

I am an American of Japanese ancestry. I was born in the city of Seattle in the state of Washington. All of my grade school training and my two years of high school were spent in the schools in Seattle. I made excellent grades and was considered numerous times for double promotions. However, my health as a child was not very good, and after numerous consultations with my parents, it was always decided that because fo my poor health it would be inadvisable to take on extra work. Since then my health has improved considerably and I haven’t missed many days of school.

The days went merrily along. Heedless of the gathering storm clouds, most of us were busily engrossed in our play. Then the storm broke with all its fury, and our nation was plunged into the world holocaust. From that day since, like millions of other Americans, my life has not been the same.

Along with thousands of other Nisei, I was evacuated in the spring of 1942 to relocation centers in the barren deserts of the inland states. Evacuation was a very severe blow to my pride and shattered many of my pre-conceived notions of democracy. Even to the last day that I was to be evacuated, I felt that somehow the evacuation order would be rescinded. Maybe it was a blind faith in America, but it was faith.

With the passage of the great healer of all wounds–time– much of my bitterness passed away, and I put myself whole-heartedly into school studies and extra-curricular activities. My efforts were not unrewarded as witness the following positions which I held: President of the Debate Club, vice-president of the Senior Class, business manager of the Yearbook, vice-president of the Pen Club, besides numerous other lesser positions. My most thrilling experience was delivering the farewell address at our commencement excercises last June. I thought that maybe my grades would suffer for the lack of any time after engaging in so many extra-curricular activities, but they still remained just as good. Even if I had gotten lower grades, the good that I profited from these activities would more than compensate for them. Not only was I having lots of fun, but it gave me a sense of doing something for the good of the school and the community. I was constantly meeting people, always on the go, and assuming new responsibilities–doing things which would be of much value in later life.

I met many fine people in camp–both Caucasian and Nisei. The friendships I made there, friendships under a time of strain, were very enjoyable and profitable. I came to appreciate many of the things which I had taken for granted before. The monotony of regimented life in the centers, community dining halls, bath houses, and the like were abhorring to me.

Up to the time of evacuation, I was pretty set on going into one of the physical sciences as a profession. But because of evacuation and from the many influences arising out of friendships made while at the center, I have radically changed my mind, and I am very sure now that I am going into one of the social sciences. One person who has influenced me very much towards that end is Reverend Joseph M. Kitagawa of Hunt, Idaho. He is an Episcopalian minister, young as most reverends go. He is very much interested in the younger generation, and I was very fortunate in being able to help him out during the summer vacation. Just from being around him, I have to come to appreciate the good that a person trained in the social sciences can do. Another person who has influenced me a great deal is Mr. Elmer R. Smith, professor of Anthropology at the University of Utah, now on leave to the WRA at Hunt, Idaho. He was acting as community analyst at Hunt, and I spent many evenings with him discussing a variety of topics. His utter sincerity and ever-ready helpfulness in helping the Nisei who were being scored by almost everybody was like a shaft of beam in a dark room– a hope of something better to come.

I have always been an avid reader of literature of all kinds. I like to read the newspapers and news magazines for I wish to know what is going on in this complex world of ours. Lately, my taste for books has been diverted mostly towards non-fiction such as biographies and books of the times such as Sumner Welles’s “The Time for Decision.” I find a great deal of satisfaction and enjoyment out of reading these kinds of books.

My plans for the future are always subject to change. At the present time, I am very much interested in majoring in Political Science, or entering the field of law. I am quite sure that I want to do graduate work in either field. Because of what we have gone through, I feel that I can add a little to the sum total of American culture.

After graduating, Eugene went on to the University of Chicago to receive an MA in Political Science in ’52, and then a Ph.D. in ’53. In 1956 he married Martha “Marty” C. Ono (a University of Pennsylvania graduate and later medical social worker), and together they had two children, Timothy M. and Robert H.

From 1952, Eugene worked as an Institutional Assistant, Associate Professor of Sociology at Case Western Reserve in Cleveland, Ohio, with a break from February 1954-November 1955, during which he served in the US Army as SP-3 Corporal.

“I’m Glad I’m an Oberlin Graduate” by Yoshie Takagi Ohata ’46

Yoshie Takagi photo

I was born in New Jersey and was raised in Dumont and Englewood.

My family was the only Japanese family in those two communities. My Issei businessman father wanted his three children to be totally American and felt that this was the only way we should be brought up. My Issei mother was a Kobe College graduate. Both parents spoke to their children only in English, so today we cannot speak or understand Japanese.

I was a senior at Dwight Morrow High School in Englewood on December 7, 1941. That day was the first time I saw my father cry.

Although I applied and was accepted by colleges on the East Coast, my father felt I should go to Oberlin as he was aware of what happened on the West Coast. Our family was never evacuated, but the FBI did search our home.

The President of Kobe College and some of my mother’s Caucasian missionary teachers were Oberlin College graduates. This is the reason I applied and, I believe, was accepted by Oberlin.

I never felt different from anyone else growing up until the war years. Our family was accepted in the community, and the community was supported during the war years. The same type of acceptance continued at Oberlin except for derogatory remarks from some of the V-12 men stationed on campus.

If it weren’t for the war years, I most likely would have attended another college. However, I’m glad I’m an Oberlin graduate, as it provided me with a well-rounded background and a social consciousness that has been an asset as a wife, mother, and physician.

Yoshie Takagi graduated from Oberlin in 1946  with a BA in Psychology and went on to earn an MD. in internal medicine and geriatrics from the Women’s Medical College of PA in Philadelphia. In 1955 she left New Jersey to work as a physician in Honolulu. One year later, she married Harold Ohata, who graduated from Illinois Wesleyan University and received an MBA from NYU. Harold served with the US Army Finance Department in Germany during the war. Together, they had four children, Ann Asako, Steven Seichi, Wendy Chiyo, and Michael Tomo. Before her retirement, Yoshie worked as a staff physician then Medical Director of Maluhia Long Term Health Center.

Today in 2013, Oberlin continues to embrace and encourage diversity and acceptance, as well as imbibe its students with an intense social consciousness that shapes them and their work for the rest of their lives.

“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.

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