70 years later, NU honors Japanese American student

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Yeiko Ogata, with brothers Gen and Dye Ogata in Minneapolis, 1942 (Photo courtesy of Dye Ogata)

Northwest University (NU) in Kirkland will posthumously award an honorary bachelor’s degree to Yeiko Ogata, the school’s first Japanese American student. Research on the school’s multicultural history will be revealed during the ceremony, including how NU assisted Ogata in defiance of popular anti-Japanese sentiment during WWII.

Yeiko Ogata was born in 1921 in Wapato, Wash., to immigrants Rinzo and Toriye Ogata. Her childhood was spent in Montana. In January 1942, she was a student at what was then the Northwest Bible Institute in the Roosevelt neighborhood of Seattle. It is now Northwest University in Kirkland. She pursued education in Christian ministry.

In February 1942, U.S. President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, forcing relocation of all Japanese people along the West Coast to internment camps.  Bainbridge Island received notice for Japanese evacuation on March 24, 1942, and a Seattle notice followed on April 21. Basic rights for U.S. citizens of Japanese descent were set aside as they were seen as potential enemies.

After just one quarter of study, records show that Ogata’s grades were excellent, despite taking a double class load.

“Northwest highly valued Yeiko as a student,” said NU President Dr. Joseph Castleberry. “Her race was seen as a benefit, not as a problem for the school.”

Photos in the school’s yearbook and a final note in her academic records cut short her NBI story, “Dropped Mar. 30 Japanese Evacuation”.

In January 2014, graduate student and independent historian Devin Cabanilla, who is a member of the Filipino American Historical Society, began researching NU’s archives. Cabanilla found online histories of Ogata as a student in Minneapolis, and theorized, and later confirmed, that NBI enabled Ogata’s transfer to sister-school North Central Bible Institute (NCBI) in Minneapolis, where Ogata finished a three-year diploma in ministry.

“Our first president, Henry Ness, was also a founder of North Central and likely arranged for her to be accepted as a student,” said Castleberry.

“It’s important to recognize that Yeiko would have graduated in Seattle if it hadn’t been for internment,” said Castleberry.

At Cabanilla’s suggestion, Castleberry petitioned the board of directors of Northwest University to confer a posthumous four-year Bachelor of Arts degree for Ogata, which the board unanimously accepted.

Cabanilla’s research of the 1930s and 1940s uncovered NBI’s diverse student body, including Native Americans, several African Americans, and many Filipinos, who lived together in non-segregated housing despite the city’s racial codes.

“We do not frame this honoring of Yeiko as an apology, but rather as a fulfillment of all righteousness,” said Castleberry. “This is a celebration and reclaiming of a long forgotten NU heritage.” (end)

The commencement ceremony is on Saturday, May 10, at 10 a.m. at Overlake Christian Church, 9900 Willows Rd. N.E., in Redmond.

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