UW Nikkei Alumni Association prepares for 90th anniversary

By Staff
Northwest Asian Weekly


The 1954 VALEDAs during their innitiation ceremony. From left: Arlene Okawa, Gloria Hikida, May Nakamura, Martha Uyeda, Doris Kubota, Carolyn Okada, Takiko Funamori, Catholine Chihara, Lillian Okamura, Eleanor Yoshioka, Evelyn Saida, and Katsuko Takiguchi (Not pictured: Pat Kashiwagi) (Photo courtesy University of Washington)

In 1922, Japanese American students at the University of Washington came together to create the University Students Club — colloquially known as the Japanese Students Club — for philanthropic and educational purposes. They raised funding from the local Issei community and bought a house to use as a meeting space and residence.

Following World War II, the club expanded due to the influx of veterans attending the UW on the G.I. Bill and grew into multiple groups, including a men’s organization — the SYNKOA Club, named for fallen Japanese American veterans George Sawada, Masao Shigemura, George Yamaguchi, Ben Nimomiya, Jiro Kanetomi, Takashi Okazaki, and Eugene Amabe; and a women’s organization, the VALEDA Club.

Now, over 90 years later, the UW Nikkei Alumni Association, the successor organization of the SYNKOAs, VALEDAs, and the University Students Club, will be celebrating their 90th Anniversary on Aug. 24 at UW’s remodeled Husky Union Building. It’s an event two years in the making.

“I think it’s important that we celebrate the anniversary to pay honor and respect to the organizations and people,” said Elsie Leilani Taniguchi, president of the Puyallup Valley Japanese American Citizens League and member of the planning committee.

“And also to ensure our future generations support the university.”

In order to contact as many Japanese American alumni as possible, the planning committee poured over club and alumni rosters and worked through networks. They found much aide in earlier work that went into the University of Washington’s Long Journey Home even.

“We were really helped by the Long Journey Home,” said Lillian Hayashi, president of the planning committee. “In 2008, the UW was the first university to recognize the Japanese American students who were forced from campus during World War II. They invited them back and gave them honorary degrees, and we were able to tap into that database.”

The University estimates that approximately 440 students were forced from campus during World War II. Of those, approximately 200 students or surviving family members accepted the honorary degrees in 2008. Over 900 people attended the event.

The anniversary program will feature speeches from UW President Michael Young and State Sen. Bob Hasegawa, who will also be honored as the year’s distinguished alumnus. Jazz Pianist Deems Tsutakawa will be performing. (end)

The UW Nikkei Alumni Association celebrates its 90th Anniversary on Saturday, Aug. 24. For tickets and pricing, contact Lillian Hayashi at lhuwnaa90@frontier.com.

Northwest Asian Weekly staff can be reached at info@nwasianweekly.com.

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