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Janus Yoneo Kurahara ’51

A picture of a book by Jan Kurahara

Ganbatte: A Nisei's Story, the autobiography of Jan Kurahara ’51

Janus Yoneo Kurahara ’51, July 21, 2009, in Hood River, Oregon. Jan was born and raised in California and completed an AA in aeronautical engineering at Sacramento Junior College. In 1942, when he was 21 years old, he was imprisoned in the Tule Lake Relocation Center, along with thousands of other Japanese-American citizens, due to widespread paranoia about their loyalty. There he met and married Lillian F. Hirasawa. From Tule Lake, Jan was drafted into the U.S. Army Military Intelligence Corps. (Although they were deprived of their freedom, Japanese-Americans were not exempt from the draft!) Following the war, he moved with his family to Hood River, where he worked in an orchard. Public sentiment there was ugly in 1946, Jan said. “I was refused services at almost 98 percent of the stores in town, even though I wore the uniform of a U.S. Army soldier.” He enrolled at Reed in 1947 and studied chemistry with professor Arthur Scott [1923–79]. After Jan graduated, Scott continued to play a role in his life, recommending that the Atomic Energy Commission hire him to do civil defense training in Hood River. Jan received the commission's invitation from a county sheriff, who arrived unannounced one day in the family's orchard. Jan was ultimately appointed director of civil defense, and served in that capacity for 20 years. At the age of 57, he earned a law degree from Lewis & Clark, and was appointed municipal court judge. He also worked for the U.S. Corps of Engineers, and as a legal adviser for the space shuttle program at Vandenberg Air Force Base. In retirement, he worked for the Federal Emergency Management Agency and was involved in community agriculture, education, and the chamber of commerce. He also was elected to the Hood River County board of commissioners, and was named Hood River County Citizen of the Year. In 1999, he wrote an autobiography, Ganbatte: A Nisei's Story. (Ganbatte roughly translated means “persistence”.) “This would not have been possible without Dr. Scott,” he wrote. “Who else would have enough prestige and nerve to tell a sheriff that he had to appoint me to a position of much trust and leadership in a community—especially at a time that a Japanese was looked on with much distrust and loathing. Dr. Scott was not only my mentor but a solid friend.” Survivors include Lillian, to whom he was wed for 66 years; two sons and a daughter, seven grandchildren, and numerous great-grandchildren.

Appeared in Reed magazine: March 2010

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