KIRKLAND – She was barely 21 years old when history threatened to keep Yeiko Ogata from realizing her dream of earning a degree in Christian ministry.
In 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, which forced some 120,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry from the West Coast into desolate, inland incarceration camps.
Ogata, a stand-out student at Northwest University (known then as Northwest Bible Institute in Seattle’s Roosevelt neighborhood), was the college’s first Japanese American student. She was born in Wapato, Washington in 1921.
She had been enrolled for just a quarter and her grades were excellent even though she had been taking a double class load. In her academic file, a single terse note: “Dropped Mar. 30 Japanese Evacuation.”
Ogata’s fate was unknown until just recently. Graduate student Devin Cabanilla, researching NU’s archives, discovered a Yeiko Ogata had transferred to NU’s sister college in Minneapolis and finished a three-year diploma in ministry. Cabanilla contacted North Central Bible Institute (NCBI) in Minneapolis and verified Ogata had, indeed, been a student at NCBI.
NU President Dr. Joseph Castleberry said, “Our first president Henry Ness was also a founder of North Central and likely arranged for her to be accepted as a student.” Castleberry added, “Our records show that Northwest (University) highly valued Yeiko as a student. Her race was seen as a benefit, not as a problem, for the school.”
Castleberry, at Cabanilla’s urging and based on his research, petitioned the Board of Directors of Northwest University to confer a posthumous four-year Bachelor of Arts degree on Ogata. “It’s important to recognize that Yeiko would have graduated in Seattle if it hadn’t been for internment,” said Cabanilla. His research showed NU’s Christian community in the 30s and 40s provided “an oasis for diversity” and embraced its diverse student body which included Native Americans, African Americans and Filipino-Americans who lived together in non-segregated housing despite the city’s racial codes at the time.
Cabanilla says Ogata died in 1966 of a brain tumor in Helena, Montana.
“This is a fulfillment of all righteousness,” said Castleberry. “This is a celebration and reclaiming of a long forgotten NU heritage.”
Yeiko Ogata’s posthumous honorary degree will be presented at Northwest University’s 2014 Commencement, Saturday May 10 starting at 10 a.m. Overlake Christian Church Auditorium, 9900 Willows Road NE, Redmond Photo credit: Dye Ogata. Caption: Yeiko Ogata with brothers Gen and Dye Ogata in Minneapolis, 1942.