Residence Hall Named for William S. Naito
In recognition of a gift to Reed College from Millicent Naito, the former Steele Hall residence on the north side of the Reed canyon has been named in memory of long-serving trustee William S. Naito ’49.
Bill Naito came to Reed after serving for three years in the United States Army (Japanese-American 442nd Division) in the Pacific during World War II. After graduating from Reed in 1949 with a degree in economics and membership in Phi Beta Kappa, he earned a master’s degree in economics from the University of Chicago, where he met and married Millicent. The couple returned to Portland, where Bill Naito joined his family’s import business, Norcrest China Co.
Elected to the Reed board of trustees in 1974, Naito was immediately asked to serve on the Executive Committee. Naito chaired an ad hoc committee to investigate the need for additional student housing in 1979, and chaired the Buildings & Grounds Committee from 1982 to 1993. He later served on the Campaign for Reed College Steering Committee as chairman of the Annual Fund Committee. Naito remained on the board until his death in May 1996.
In a memorandum to the Reed community, President Steve Koblik said of Naito: “In many ways, Bill personified fundamental Reed values: consistency, over time, to uncompromising standards of excellence; intellectual rigor; an unrelenting work ethic; and an insistence on challenging, civil discourse.”
A Portland native, Naito spoke openly of the pain of his forced departure to Salt Lake City as a teenager to avoid Japanese internment. Naito later joined with other civic leaders to create the Japanese American Historical Plaza, located in Portland’s Waterfront Park. The plaza, dedicated in 1990, features stone sculptures bearing the names of Japanese internment camps as well as the Bill of Rights (the latter hung above Naito’s desk). “Adversities sharpen and toughen people,” Naito said. “[People who face adversity] are the people who come up with dreams.”
Naito dreamed big. He ignored his banker’s advice and bought an old hotel in the heart of skid row to open a retail outlet for giftware from East Asia. That building, which became Portland’s Import Plaza, marked the beginning of a real estate empire. Naito went on to spearhead the revitalization of Portland’s Old Town and was named Portland First Citizen by the Portland Association of Realtors in 1982. He was influential in the development of Pioneer Courthouse Square, light rail, and—from his deathbed—the building of the Portland Classical Chinese Garden. “I’m the local busybody,” he delighted in saying of himself.
Commenting on the value of a legacy in a 1995 interview in Reed magazine, Naito said: “Here’s something I read a while ago: A person realizes that you can’t take it with you, so what you want to do is leave something that’s splendid.”
Naito’s legacy includes a revitalized Portland downtown, a Reedie granddaughter in Erica Naito-Campbell ’04 (who also graduated Phi Beta Kappa), and now, through the generosity of his widow, Millicent “Micki” Naito, splendid student housing that will memorialize the Buildings & Grounds Committee chair’s long service to Reed College.
Other survivors include Naito’s children—Anne, Ken, Steve, and Bob—eight grandchildren, and one great-grandchild.