Myra J. Iwagami was born on February 16, 1925 to electrical engineer Echirow Yama Iwagami and Cecilia Allen, an Oberlin graduate. She was attracted to Oberlin through her mother’s influence as well as its “co-educational, uniquely liberal & cosmopolitan features”. She was active in journalism, becoming Assistant Business Manager of the Oberlin Review (campus newspaper), and graduated in 1947 with a BA in English literature. Outside of school she was active in her Presbyterian Church. She did not seem to document any hardships for being a Japanese-American during the war, though she does mention speaking to groups about the subject towards the end of her essay.
Verbose Myra’s lengthy personal essay (taking up 8 pages of small stationery) depicts her high school life in the 1930s: the influence of an English teacher, her deep involvement in the school Annual, her stint with oboe that ended from incessant headaches, her activities with church, and her hobbies.
In 1936, the family decided it was high time that I saw something of the country besides my provincial surroundings. We visited New York City and Washington D.C. On our way home we stopped for a few days in Oberlin. Seeing photographs are very convincing, but seeing the real thing adds stability to one’s convictions and impressions.
On Good Friday evening, 1937, I became a member of the First Presbyterian Church of Chicago. It was a step which I have never regretted in the least. The church has been my second home.
During the first part of the same year, I joined the Camp Fire Girls. That summer I won a week at Camp Nawaka (near S. Haven, Mich.); the family sent me for a second. […] During spring vacations our group used to rent a Y. Farm house (near Desplain Illinois) for three days. We were on our own then, cooking and everything! It also is an experience that I think every young girl should have. […]
Nineteen thirty-nine was a red letter year for me; after eight years of elementary study, I received my first “White Paper” – (no comment).*
From then on I think I lived a dual life; one for school and one for church. Those first two years in high school were rather hard. […] It wasn’t until my third year that I decided perhaps if the school and I didn’t get along, maybe it was because I had not done my part. So all of a sudden-out of the blue- I joined the annual staff as a minor staff member. Now after two semesters of hard work, I was promoted to editor of the production staff. Right now my official school day ends at twelve-thirty and my annual day begins then and ends at five o’clock. If I do say so, I think we have a grand book and incidently this is our fiftieth year.
The same year I was eligible for membership in the Junior English Honor Club. […] I was elected vice-president the second semester. The teacher who had the honor class was also my English teacher. In my first two years, I had three English teachers – all of which did next to nothing for my English. Miss Buchanan was my last hope. All the English grammar I know today is due to her. Here to fore teachers had been people you see forty minutes each school day. She was the first teacher I ever took an interest in. I think perhaps she has done more to enrich my appreciation of the “Arts” than anyone else. Her death was not only a loss to the school, but a private one to me; I felt as if she were one of the family. But then people like her don’t die; they live on back there with the people and things you never forget.
Someone said she was of the old school because she had taught for forty ears. But goodness, if the old school was the school that provided you with a thorough general knowledge of English grammar and literature – then I’m all for the old school.
Now in m senior year, I belong to the Senior English Honor Class.
When I have time, which is rarely because of the annual, I attend Forum, a discussion of current affairs. Sometimes we have guest speakers. […]
As I said before m church has played a major part in my life. Every year at the end of school, our department (Senior High School – all four years) rents some camp for a week. Our minister (Dr. H.L. Bowman) and his wife and some of the church staff go along. During the week we have discussions and other activities – and in general get to know each other. During Christmas vacation we go to the Y farm house for two or three day of general fellowship.
When it comes to memorable occasions, I know that the summer of my junior year will always be a bright star. It was my first year at Geneva (Lake Geneva, Williams Bay, Wisconsin). I attended the Central Regional Planning Conference of the united Christian Youth Movement. I met the finest young people you could meet anywhere. There were thirty two states represented and sixteen denominations. [Myra then quotes Ann Elliot’s poem ‘Camp Again’ to describe her impressions of the conference.]
During the summer (1942) on Tuesdays and Fridays I read to the blind. At the beginning of the summer mother had promised to keep up my allowance and having no outside obligations to fill I thought I might like to do something. So I became a member of the Blind Service Club (a volunteer member). I read to students who were attending summer school in college. The young man I read to on Tuesdays had just graduated from Wilson Junior College and my Friday students had just graduated from the University of Chicago. I read for two hours on each day. Now in the beginning, if my intentions had been to do some “good deed” for someone else, it was a humble person who came away. […]
Last summer while at Geneva, I became interested in the Japanese relocation problem. Since then I have sent a number of boxes and have another load to go now. Before Christmas when they were trying to get Christmas presents for the children, I spoke before two or three groups of young people – acquainting them with the problem.
Through one of the young people I became a Tuesday afternoon volunteer worker for the American Friends Service Committee (located in the downtown district of Chicago). […] Their offices are small and their staff smaller yet and so it is only through volunteer workers that a lot of the unglamorous but important work is done. Tuesday is one of the joys of week.
Well there you have it; “Past Imperfect”.
Now what are my likes, hobbies, etc.?
I have collected stamps and do now when my financial status permits me to do so. Just in the last few months I’ve taken up working cross-word puzzles. Why? Well I work them for a relaxation, a past time, but most of all because I hope they’ll do something for my vocabulary – and I think perhaps they are in their meager way. I love music, that is both the masters and popular – excluding jazz. [She talks about her favorite composers and writers] Incidently, although I have several past times, my main one is reading. It seems like I read constantly; I usually do one book a week. Everyone has moments of let down – so for such times I collect cartoons. It’s great fun to open the book and have an hour or so of good laughs. I’m a great fan of the movies, but I hate Westerns and most mysteries. I think one of the best pictures I ever [saw] was “Rebecca,” and two of the worst were “This Above All” and “Now Voyager”. My biggest theatrical thrill was Macbeth with Evans and Anderson.
That just about covers the past and present.
About the future – who knows? I would like to indulge in some part of the field of journalism. I like to write and I think I have some imagination. I think I would like to try to write because I’d like to try and give others the feeling of satisfaction that I have when I finish a good book – anyway, there are fewer limitations on writers.
After Oberlin, Myra became a syllabi editor at University of Chicago Press for three years, a Production Associate at Science Research Association for six years, then worked as Assistant Copy Chief in advertising for Carson Pirie Scott & Co. She wrote at least one article for the Alumni Magazine, about Oberlin Housemother “Mrs. Locke”. Myra did not marry or have children.
* Maybe my readers can help me understand what Myra might have meant when she said she received a “White Paper”?