Minidoka Pilgrimage


2015 Minidoka Pilgrimage participants.

A contingent of past and present Alaskans arrived in Twin Falls, Idaho, on June 25th of this year to join fellow participants on an annual pilgrimage to the nearby Minidoka National Historic Site. We made this journey to ensure that the stories and memories of Alaskan internees would be shared and recorded for future generations. We also wished to honor the hardships those incarcerated had endured and to renew memories of those who had passed on.

Among the sagebrush and blowing dust of a desolate southern Idaho plain, the Minidoka internment site was established during World War II. After 70 years, there are fewer and fewer of the thousands of Japanese Americans removed from their homes during the war who are willing or even able to make a pilgrimage to this remote area. For many of us in the Alaskan group, this was the first time we had ever attended. However, Judy Geniac, the superintendent of this historical site, encouraged us to come because so little was known about those who were incarcerated from Alaska. She wanted our group to add to the storehouse of information located there. And so we came to share the stories of Alaskan internees.


Presenting for the Empty Chair Project were (left to right) Jeff Tanaka, Mary Tanaka Abo, Maya Abo Domingus, Alice Tanaka Hikido, Sam Kito, Harriet Miyasato Beleal and Margie Shackelford.

On the first full day of the pilgrimage several educational sessions were offered on different elements of the Japanese American incarceration. The Empty Chair Project was one of the presentations. On stage representing the group were Jeff Tanaka filming the event; Mary Tanaka Abo acting as moderator at the podium; Mary’s granddaughter Maya Abo Domingus handling the Power Point; and Alice Tanaka Hikido, Sam Kito, Harriet Miyasato Beleal and Margie Shackelford telling their respective stories. Mary, Alice, Sam, and Harriet reflected on personal memories of their family’s incarceration at Minidoka. Harriet’s daughter, Paulette Moreno, added to Harriet’s story with a photograph album detailing their family’s history and Margie spoke about the evolution of the Empty Chair Project, focusing on the myriad contributions of the Juneau community.

Flanking the presenters were banners featuring the development of the Empty Chair Project and the stories of some of the Juneau families who were incarcerated during WWII. There were eight family banners and they were all displayed at the pilgrimage. They will be available for viewing on our website following this article. These memories were written by members of each family and amplified by personal pictures. The banners will travel to various sites under the auspices of the National Park Service and then be returned to Juneau next February for use in schools, libraries and museums.

Gracing the podium were 1,000 cranes used during Empty Chair events. Additionally, introduced from the  audience were Karleen Grummett and Betty Marriott. Karleen informed the audience that the dedication booklet she created for the Empty Chair Memorial, which contains a history of the Juneau Japanese population during the war years, was available to those interested. Betty told the stories and explained the symbolism of the over 3,000 cranes that were made in Juneau and many distant locations for use during the dedication ceremony and other events surrounding the Empty Chair Project.

Introducing the session was one short film titled In the Same Boat (available on this website) featuring Alice Hikido telling the Tanaka family’s incarceration story. Another titled The Empty Chair Project was used to close out the session and featured Walter Fukuyama’s trip to Juneau for the dedication ceremony. It was developed by his grandson David Albright who accompanied him to Juneau. You can access David’s video at

Finally, Harriet Miyasato Beleal was the recipient of a special acknowledgement from the National Park Service. Harriet’s father, George Miyasato Sr., was evacuated from Wrangell and incarcerated at Santa Fe right after Pearl Harbor occurred. His son, George Miyasato Jr., was also evacuated from Wrangell at a later date but interned at Minidoka. Harriet and her mother were left in Wrangell alone. Harriet never saw the subsequent letter of apology from President Bush because her father had passed away before reparations were given. However, George Jr. did receive reparations and the letter of apology. Judy Geniac, the site superintendent, presented Harriet with her own framed copy of the apology as well as an official letter from Judy acknowledging Harriet’s family’s ruptured Japanese/Tlingit lives when she and her mother were left in Wrangell on their own.


The Alaska Contingent: Mary Abo, Alice Hikido, Sam Kito, Paulette Moreno, Betty Marriott, Harriet Beleal, Margie Shackelford, Karleen Grummett and Joe Abo.

On the second day we took buses to visit the remains of the Minidoka site and went on a guided tour put together by members of the National Park Service. Looking out the windows of the bus, we could see fields of potatoes, sugar beets and wheat stretching out to meet the distant horizon as we made our way to the site. One of the riders on the bus mused out loud, “It didn’t look this green when we were sent here!” Irrigation had come to the desert of south central Idaho in the ensuing years.


Sign marking the entrance to Minidoka.

It was very hot! Even though we were visiting during the morning hours, the organizers were worried about heat stroke, so water and shade were being offered in abundance. We wondered what it would have been like to live in the uninsulated barracks in the summer time without air conditioning, not to mention the cold Idaho winters. It wouldn’t have been a very hospitable environment.

The first structure to grab our attention was the reconstructed guard tower near the entrance. It was a somber reminder of all we had come to reflect upon.


Reconstructed guard tower at Minidoka.

Traveling further on down the road our bus first visited an original warehouse where we disembarked and were given an overview by Judy Geniac, the park superintendent, so we could orient ourselves to landmarks at the location. Today the historical site is much smaller than what it once was but contains several buildings which have been restored or rebuilt over the years. Among them are a fire station, warehouse, barrack and cafeteria. A visitor’s center and baseball diamond are in the works.


The original warehouse.


The National Park Service orienting us to Minidoka and also telling us to drink LOTS of water!

Alice was delighted to discover a teacher she had while attending school at Minidoka awaiting our arrival at the warehouse. Later, she also ran into one of her former classmates!


Alice Tanaka Hikido with her teacher on her left accompanied by a friend.

Next we visited a barrack in the process of restoration. Each 400 sq. ft. room contained a bare light bulb, a stove and cots for each member of the family.


A barrack in the process of restoration on the left. On the right you can see a restored cafeteria.


This picture was taken inside the barrack being restored. Two families would live in this space. One between the red rope and the door and the other just beyond the door. In the area where we were standing to take the picture, the third family would live. No kitchen or bathroom facilities were provided. Those facilities were communal.

Then, we visited the cafeteria next door, still under reconstruction, the scene of all meals and gatherings for one block of barracks.


Inside the cafeteria which is also in the process of being restored.


Four friends visiting the cafeteria at Minidoka, happy to be together no matter what the circumstances. They are Marsha Bennett, Alice Hikido, Karleen Grummett and Margie Shackelford.


Joe, Margie and Mary outside the cafeteria.

Mary Tanaka Abo and Sam Kito were interviewed about their experiences as children at Minidoka while wandering the Minidoka site with Tom Banse from Northwest Public Radio. The link to an article titled “Passing On Legacies On Pilgrimage To World War II Internment Camp in Idaho” and a recording of portions of the interviews with Sam and Mary is at: .


An overview of the cafeteria and the barrack.


Those in our group who were bused to each site and were actually incarcerated at Minidoka. Alice is fourth from the left. Behind her in the blue t-shirt is the artist Roger Shimomura. I’m sorry I can’t identify any of the others. There were additional groups who did a walking tour.

One other location that captured our imaginations….the baseball field. It reminded us of the book Baseball Saved Us.


You can barely make out the outlines of the bases just beyond the sagebrush. There is an effort afoot to completely restore it and actually play games here!

The last and most impressive site was the Honor Roll Memorial honoring those from Minidoka who served in the U.S. Armed Forces. What a conflicting decision that must have been…incarcerated by your country yet deciding to fight for it.

Honor Roll Memorial

We thanked Judy for facilitating our visit to the Minidoka site and for being so instrumental in helping us spread the story of the Alaskan internees by inviting us to share their stories at this Minidoka Pilgrimage.


Karleen Grummett wearing her name tag accompanied by Judy Geniac, Superintendent of the Minidoka National Historic Site.

Upon our return to Twin Falls, we met in private discussion circles to reflect on our experiences. It was here that many people revealed their own personal stories, sometimes with tears or anger and sometimes even with laughter. Our group ran the gamut of emotions. However emotional, there was a shared comfort for many Japanese internees in just being together reflecting on a shared experience as well as conveying their experiences to children and grandchildren. For those of us who were not Japanese, it was simply the honor of sharing such a personally painful story with our friends.

The last day there was a closing ceremony at the memorial and participants hung their name tags, replicas of the tags worn by those incarcerated, after writing private messages on the back. As you can imagine, it was a very moving moment. However, there were many of those moments at the pilgrimage — moments when tears flowed, moments when you couldn’t speak, moments when a flash of anger or humiliation punctuated the conversation, moments when you felt grateful just to be there.

When asked about her impressions after the pilgrimage was over, Mary Abo responded, “It was good to be around the people who experienced the incarceration together. It’s a strange feeling. I’m also grateful that my daughter and two grandchildren could share my past, which is now part of theirs.”

Sam Kito said, “But you can’t rewrite history. You live history the way the cards are dealt to you and then make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

Mary Abo’s nephew, Jeff Tanaka, put it most poetically in the piece he wrote below. (The phrase “nidoto nai yoni” means “Let it not happen again.”)

let it not happen

(for that which remains unresolved)

nidoto nai yoni

you incarcerate me.

would you do it again.

nidoto nai yoni

you take my culture.

would you do it again.

nidoto nai yoni

you kill my language.

is it still dead.

nidoto nai yoni

you break me from my god.

how will i return.

nidoto nai yoni

you speak for me.

will you ever learn.

nidoto nai yoni

i speak for myself.

nidoto nai yoni

Jeff’s additional observations, insights and pictures can be viewed at the following website:

Greg Chaney’s Film Slated to Show at the Japanese American National Museum


Tateuchi Democracy Forum

Documentary filmmaker Greg Chaney has been invited to screen his film The Empty Chair at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles, CA, on April 2, 2016. The showing will take place in the Tateuchi Democracy Forum at 2:00 p.m. A question and answer period with Chaney will follow the screening.

Some of the people featured in the film will be attending along with members of the Empty Chair Committee. Our hope is that others will make a commitment to be there also. Let it be you! If you want to attend, please contact us so that Greg can provide your name to the attendance list.


Greg Chaney at Roosevelt Middle School

In addition, while at the DisOrient Asian American Film Festival, Greg was invited to show his film to students at Roosevelt Middle School in Eugene, Oregon.


Greg introducing his movie to the students.


Alice Tanaka Hikido on screen.

We are delighted that students are viewing the film so they can appreciate all the nuances of Juneau’s Empty Chair story and begin to think about the ramifications of denying American citizens due process under the law.

Thanks Greg for passing on the messages of the Empty Chair to our youth.

Akiyama Family Donates Bronze Plaque

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Alan Akiyama, whose family donated the plaque, left, with committee member Roger Grummett.

A year and a day from the date of the Empty Chair Dedication on a similarly misty day, the final piece, a bronze plaque, was added to the memorial site at Capital School Park. Alan Akiyama, whose family donated the plaque, joined committee members Karleen Grummett, who developed the plaque, and her husband, Roger, as Triplette Construction’s Tom Dougherty and Loren Hope attached the plaque to the sitting wall. I think we can safely say, the Empty Chair site is now officially completed, thanks to the Akiyama family.

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Loren Hope, left, at the air tank as Tom Dougherty drills holes for setting the plaque.

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Triplette Construction’s Tom Dougherty, left, and Loren Hope, who were also instrumental in constructing the memorial site, placed the plaque.


Roger and Alan flank the plaque which is centered atop the sitting wall.

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The placement of the plaque in relation to the chair.


The bronze plaque.

Many thanks to the Akiyama family and everyone concerned for their part in adding this finishing touch to the memorial site which honors the committee and their advisors.

Kudos All Around

Philanthropic Business of the Year


Jackie and Jim Triplette

Triplette Construction was chosen as the Philanthropic Business of the Year by the Juneau Community Foundation. The award reads as follows:

In recognition of your dedication to the community of Juneau, and generous support of the Caouette Cabin, Empty Chair Project and other Juneau Community Foundation special projects.

Thank you, Jim, for all you have done to provide a beautiful and enduring site for the Empty Chair Memorial. We are very proud and grateful for all you have quietly accomplished for the Empty Chair Project and the community of Juneau.

Congratulations on your award!

Empty Chair Memorial Receives National Honors


Here is the introduction to an article written for the Juneau Empire on June 12th by Melissa Griffiths in which she shares this honor with the Juneau community.

The Empty Chair has been honored as an outstanding public art project for 2014 by Americans for the Arts, a national nonprofit focused on advancing the arts and arts education.

Along with 30 others, The Empty Chair was selected from among 300 entries across the country and recognized at the organization’s annual convention in Chicago.

“The best of public art can challenge, delight, educate and illuminate. Most of all, public art creates a sense of civic vitality in the cites, towns, and communities we inhabit and visit,” Americans for the Arts President and CEO Robert Lynch said. “As these Public Art Network Year in Review selections illustrate, public art has the power to enhance our lives on a scale that little else can. I congratulate the artists and commissioning groups for these community treasures, and I look forward to honoring more great works in the years to come.” 

Americans for the Arts Certificate 001

The Americans for the Arts website is at the following link where The Empty Chair is featured along with 30 other pieces of American public art that were selected to be recognized in their 2015 review :

Peter Reiquam, the memorial’s creator, responded as follows:

I’ve just learned of the award myself and it is an honor to have my work recognized among all of the public art projects created nationwide in the past year. In fact it’s been an honor to be a part of the Empty Chair Project since I was asked to create the memorial sculpture over two years ago and I’ve been so impressed with all of the hard work and dedication the Empty Chair Committee has put into bringing the project to fruition. Not to mention all of the people who contributed time and money and in-kind donations. I’ve met and become friends with several of the key players and I’m especially pleased to see how the memorial has taken on a life beyond its initial conception and creation. The story continues to be told, adding a new chapter every few weeks or months. It truly is what I would call a living memorial and I’m honored to be a part of it.

The Juneau community raised significant funds for the memorial enabling a contract with Peter to be drafted before the National Park Service grant came through. As Karleen Grummett was quoted as saying, “This is an award all of Juneau can share and be proud of.”

Thank you Peter for creating this powerful “living memorial” with such insight and sensitivity. We know your sculpture will continue to inspire people for years to come. Also, congratulations on your recognition at a national level.

Here is a link to the article in the Juneau Empire:

In addition, Casey Kelly at KTOO covered this honor in a post of his own at the following link:

The Alaska Legislature Honoring the Empty Chair Project


The Twenty-ninth Alaska Legislature honored the Empty Chair Project with a legislative citation on March 27, 2015. The citation was created in the office of Representative Sam Kito. Dennis Egan was the prime sponsor in the Senate. A list of cosponsors follows the text of the citation below.

     The Twenty-ninth Alaska Legislature honors the work of the Empty Chair Project Committee for their efforts in memorializing members of Juneauy’s Japanese community who were interned by the federal government during World War II. The project consisted of several components, including a bronze sculpture, an exhibit at the Juneau-Douglas City Museum, a documentary film, and several public talks. The project received the Esther Billman Certificate of Excellence from the Alaska Historical Society.

     World War II saw over 200 Alaskans interned, including Juneau’s John Tanaka. Though the designated valedictorian for Juneau High School’s class of 1942, John was unable to appear at his graduation as a result of internment. The Juneau High School, and the residents of Juneau, showed support for John by placing an empty chair on stage during the graduation ceremony to bring attention to his absence and, by extension, all those Alaskans interned.

     Several decades later, Margie Shackelford and Karleen Alstead Grummett, with the support and encouragement of Tanaka’s sisters Mary Tanaka Abo and Alice Tanaka Hikido, co-founded the Empty Chair Project Committee. The Committee worked tirelessly to raise funds, with Roger Grummett’s guidance, and to coordinate efforts for each aspect of the project, from the sculpture to the exhibit, from the documentary interviews to the public talks and on-going blog.

     The memorial, the first of its kind in Alaska, is located in the park beside the Terry Miller Legislative Office Building, previously the Juneau High School. The bronze sculpture depicts a slightly oversized replica of the chair that was placed on the stage during the 1942 graduation ceremony. The museum exhibit at the Juneau-Douglas City Museum featured photographs and artifacts from Juneau families affected by the internment and told the stories of those who were interned.

     Juneau filmmaker Greg Chaney, in collaboration with Mary and Alice, led work on a documentary of the events. This piece,  “The Empty Chair”, received the Made in Alaska Honorable Mention at the Anchorage International Film Festival. A special highlight of the project included several public talks and viewings of the documentary. This provided an opportunity to engage the community in a discussion of the events that impacted our families and friends in Juneau, Southeast Alaska, and beyond.

     Members of the Empty Chair Project Committee include: Mary Tanaka Abo, Dixie Johnson Belcher, Marsha Erwin Bennett, Marie Darlin, David Gray, Karleen Alstead Grummett, Roger Grummett, Alice Tanaka Hikido, Janie Hollenbach Homan, Betty Echigo Marriott, Andrew Pekovich, Janet Borgen Pekovich, Marjorie Alstead Shackelford, and Jackie Honeywell Triplette. Project Advisors included: Ron Inouye, Greg Chaney, Jim Triplette, Brent Fischer, and Steve Mcphetres.

     The Twenty-ninth Alaska Legislature is proud to highlight the Empty Chair Project and are grateful for the many contributions of all those involved in creating a lasting memorial. The Juneau community as well as the many visitors who come each year now have the opportunity to experience a thought-provoking sculpture that may lead to further investigation and understanding of a time in our nation that bears remembering so that it never happens again.

Signed by: Mike Chenault, Speaker of the House; Kevein Meyer, President of the Senate; Representative Sam Kito, Prime Sponsor; Senator Dennis Egan, Prime Sponsor.

Cosponsors: Representatives Munoz, Chenault, Claman, Colver, Drummond, Edgmon, Foster, Gara, Gattis, Gruenberg, Guttenberg, Hawker, Herron, Hughes, Johnson, Josephson, Kawasaki, Keller, Kreiss-Tomkins, LeDoux, Lynn, Millett, Nageak, Neuman, Olson, Ortiz, Pruitt, Saddler, Seaton, Coghill, Costello, Dunleavy, Ellis, Gardner, Giessel, Hoffman, Huggins, Kelly, MacKinnon, McGuire, Micciche, Olson, Stedman, Stevens, Stoltze, Wielechowski

The Empty Chair Committee is very surprised, yet grateful, for this honor. A heartfelt thank you to all the legislators who signed the citation! You’ve validated our conviction that establishing the memorial will, in some small measure, acknowledge a past injustice and help to insure that it will not happen again.


Representative Sam Kito flanked by Alice Hikido, Mary Abo and Margie Shackelford at a brief ceremony at the Empty Chair Memorial. Sam read the citation and copies were passed out to all those who helped the Empty Chair Memorial become a reality or helped its message spread throughout the community of Juneau.

Empty Chair Interpretive Sign Arrives at the Site


Empty Chair Memorial Interpretive Sign

Karleen Grummett is instrumental in seeing to it that an interpretive sign has now been added to the memorial site. It tells the story of the Empty Chair, embellished with photos of the era and the names of the community members who helped develop the site and the committee members who brought the memorial to fruition.

Sarah Olsen is credited with the layout and design of the interpretive sign. Thank you Sarah for your talent and creativity as you have made the story come alive so that all who pass by will be drawn to read the sign and understand the significance of the chair.

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Greg Chaney Scores Awards at Two More Film Festivals

After winning an Honorable Mention at the Anchorage Film Festival for his film The Empty Chair, Greg Chaney was accepted into two more festivals.


DisOrient Asian American Film Festival of Oregon.

The first was the DisOrient Film Festival in Eugene, Oregon, and on April 19th Greg received an Honorable Mention.  Below Greg is being interviewed by a local TV station right after stepping off the plane to attend the festival. This was the film’s first showing outside of Alaska.

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Greg then received Best Documentary Feature at the F3 Film Festival in Fairbanks for his film after showing  at the Alaska Centennial Center for the Arts on April 23rd!.

F3 Fairbanks Film Festival

F3 Fairbanks Film Festival

Pretty exciting stuff! Congratulations Greg on work well done. We love your film and are very happy for you

Empty Chair Documentary Invited to DisOrient Asian American Film Festival


Alice Tanaka Hikido and Greg Chaney celebrating the premier of his Empty Chair documentary.

Greg Chaney’s documentary “The Empty Chair” will be shown at the “DisOrient Asian American Film Festival of Oregon” in Eugene, Oregon.

Here is Greg’s take on the festival:

“Although the festival name is a bit unusual, our little documentary will fit right in. It will be humbling to have “The “Empty Chair” showing at the same festival with large budget films about the Japanese American experience during WWII.

I will be attending to represent Juneau.

I want to stress that if anyone knows someone in the Eugene/Oregon/Pacific Northwest area who has some connection with the internment story, I’d love to have them attend. I am trying to arrange to have Alice and Mary (Tanaka) phone in for part of the Q&A session.”

Location:  Bijou Art Cinemas, Eugene, Oregon

Date and Time:  April 19, 2015, at 1:30 p.m.

Congratulations Greg!

Empty Chair Project Update

After taking a holiday from the blog, I realized there were a number of things which have occurred in the last three months that need to be acknowledged and recorded. Below you will find a compilation of notable events. Please excuse the delay.

The Esther Billman Certificate of Excellence awarded to the Empty Chair Project by the Alaska State Historical Society.

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Margie and Mary gratefully admiring the Empty Chair Project’s award in a window of Shattuck and Grummett’s Insurance Agency on Seward Street in Juneau, Alaska.

At the bottom of the plaque it reads: “Making the important story known of the removal and resettlement of Juneau’s Japanese people.”

Here’s the text from the awards ceremony:

The Esther Billman Certificate of Excellence recognizes a state or local society, museum, government agency, or an organization that has completed a project contributing to the preservation and understanding of Alaskan history during the past year. Esther Billman’s efforts to preserve Alaska history and develop the Sheldon Jackson Museum are commemorated by the award given in her name. The Empty Chair Project, that involved many individuals in Juneau, is being recognized this year. This project made the important story known of the removal and resettlement of Japanese people who lived in Juneau before and after World War II. In 1942, valedictorian John Tanaka was not at his high school graduation ceremony because he and his family had been moved to Minidoka, Idaho. The community had an empty chair on the stage that year, and this year the community had a bronze chair made and placed as a memorial at Juneau’s Capital School Park. In addition, there is a publication and a documentary film, and the Juneau-Douglas City Museum had a special exhibit”.

Thank you so much Alaska Historical Society for this unanticipated honor. We are awed.

Greg Chaney’s documentary wins recognition at its World Premiere in the Anchorage International Film Festival.

anchorage poster

Congratulations to director Greg Chaney for winning an Honorable Mention at this year’s Anchorage International Film Festival. Greg’s documentary won one of the three awards given in the “Made in Alaska” category.

We’re very proud of Greg’s accomplishment and happy for his success. We’re also grateful that he elevated the Empty Chair story and helped to preserve this important piece of Alaskan history in the world of film.  Due to his efforts,  this story of a community’s humanity will be available to a much wider audience.

Thank you Greg for your passion, sensitivity and insight.

Below is a link to the latest Juneau Empire interview of Greg talking about his documentary. I think you’ll find it very interesting.

The ECP White and Blue Hat Hero and Heroine Awards


Roger Grummett, recipient of the ECP (Empty Chair Project) White Hat Hero Award, displaying his amusement and his Certificate of Recognition.


Roger joined by his wife, Karleen Grummett, the gleeful recipient of the ECP Blue Hat and White Gloves Heroine Award.

A self-selected ad hoc subcommittee of the Empty Chair Committee presented Roger and Karleen Grummett with their “White Hat Hero” and “Blue Hat and White Gloves Heroine” awards for their dedication to the goals and aspirations of the Empty Chair Project.

Roger excelled at the art of fund-raising, tirelessly taking the message of the Empty Chair to various service organizations and businesses in the Juneau community. He artfully convinced a circle of his friends and acquaintances to donate their time and energy to developing the site which the Empty Chair Memorial now occupies in Capital School Park. He spent countless hours overseeing the completion of the site up to cutting sod, reseeding grass, pruning roses and covering beds with mulch near the site. This is a man for all seasons.

Karleen spent endless hours writing a dedication booklet which included a wonderfully detailed history of the Juneau Japanese community. Add to that the brochures she developed for the Empty Chair Project and the Juneau-Douglas City Museum; an invitation and program she designed for the dedication ceremony; flyers created to advertise events put on by the committee; publicity and press releases in various newspapers; conversations on the radio and finally, editing this blog (thank you very much)!

So, as you can tell, the Grummetts are very worthy recipients of their awards. Together they became  principal movers and shakers of the Empty Chair in Juneau. Congratulations and best wishes to them both.

May the Empty Chair Project be ever grateful for their heroes and heroines.

Letters of support from the Sonoji Sakai Intermediate School in Bainbridge and the Bainbridge Japanese American Exclusion Memorial.

Sakai Intermediate School:

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Johanna Vander Stoep, Margie Shackelford, Mary Tanaka and Kathleen Ellison at Sakai Intermediate School.

Margie, Mary and Karleen Grummett  visited Sakai Intermediate School where we were greeted by Johanna Vander Stoep, a former principal at the school, and Kathleen Ellison, the present librarian. Their current principal, Jim Corsetti, also joined us.  We were introduced to their literature based curriculum for educating students about the internment and they graciously shared their materials with us. They have followed our progress over the past two years. Mr. Corsetti came to Juneau for the memorial dedication and brought the following letter with him:

Sonoji Sakai Intermediate School
July 12, 2014
Empty Chair Project
Juneau, Alaska

Sonoji Sakai Intermediate School sends its congratulations and appreciation for your hard work and success in the Empty Chair Project. This project brings the story of the incarceration of Japanese Americans in concentration camps to a place in the community where it needs to remain, up front. Thank you for providing the Juneau community, and all of us, with this beautiful memorial.

As a child growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area in the 70’s and early 80’s, I don’t recall learning of the forcible removal of Japanese Americans to concentration camps. If it was covered in school, it was not covered very well, evidenced by no lasting impression on myself and my classmates. I did not begin to really learn of this injustice until I became a teacher at Sonoji Sakai Intermediate School in 1999. At Sakai, the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Community and the dedicated teachers and principal made sure this became part of our curriculum. It is our goal to continue to teach this story. We also want students to feel that they are part of the story. It is important they recognize that they are the sequel in which the story is not forgotten and will be retold for generations to come.

The Empty Chair Memorial is a beautiful piece of art. It is such a fitting memorial. In my understandings of this chapter in our history, and in my conversations with so many other who lived through this, I continue to be awestruck by the overwhelming capacity for grace in those that were incarcerated. This grace is enduring strength. Thank you for all of your work. The Empty Chair is not just a reminder of the shameful injustice brought upon those incarcerated, but also honors the strength and dignity represented in the past and present by those who endured this chapter. This memorial also sets a high standard for generations that follow. Thank you, thank you.

Jim Corsetti
Principal, Sonoji Sakai Intermediate School
Bainbridge Island, Washington

The Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion Memorial:

Clarence Moriwaki, President of the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion Memorial Association, was very helpful in the beginning stages of developing the Juneau memorial. Mary Tanaka met with him to find out how they had approached funding and designing the Bainbridge memorial, which we had visited more than once, and was inspirational in the development of Juneau’s memorial. We are very grateful for his advise and support. He sent the following letter to the committee via Mary:


The Bainbridge Island Memorial which follows the pathway to the docks of those who were rounded up and sent to Seattle by boat and subsequently interned at Minidoka.

Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion Memorial Assn.
July 12, 2014
Empty Chair Project
Juneau, Alaska

The Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion Memorial Association is delighted to offer our heartfelt congratulations to the Empty Chair Project on this special day of celebration dedicating the unveiling of the Empty Chair Memorial.

The sad chapter of the unconstitutional incarceration and exclusion of more than 120,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans during World War II must forever be retold and must never be forgotten, and perhaps one of this shameful period’s most overlooked stories is the forced removal of hundreds of Japanese and Japanese Americans from the Alaska Territory.

With beautiful grace and powerful imagery – the empty single chair representing the absence of Juneau High School’s 1942 valedictorian John Tanaka, placed upon a floorboard recreation with the stories, memories and names of those forcibly removed from their Alaskan homes permanently inscribed for perpetuity – this memorial successfully shares this significant yet relatively unknown story in American history; honors the Japanese and Japanese American community; and recognizes those who supported their Japanese and Japanese American friends, business associates and neighbors and welcomed them home.

Ironically, also in the spring of 1942, thirteen empty chairs were left on the stage at Bainbridge Island High School’s commencement ceremony, honoring their beloved classmates who were missing on that special day, banished a thousand miles away behind barbed wire in an American concentration camp.

We were humbled and honored when Mary Tanaka Abo reached out to us years ago and asked for our advice and ideas at the early idea stages of the Empty Chair Memorial. We’ve followed your progress with earnest, and we applaud your hard work making your dream a reality.

Our warmest and sincere congratulations to the Empty Chair Project Committee for your vision, energy, passion and leadership; Seattle artist Peter Reiquam for creating a beautiful and moving piece of art; and to all of your partners including the Juneau Parks and Recreation Advisory Board, Juneau School District, Juneau City Museum, Juneau Community Foundation, Juneau Historical Resource Committee, North Pacific Erectors and all of your generous donors and supporters.

Clarence Moriwaki
President, Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion Memorial Assn.
Bainbridge Island, Washington


One of many pieces of ceramic art embedded in the wooden wall that traces the pathway of internees. “Back home at graduation they had thirteen empty chairs on the stage that day. I felt empty and sad. I sat on my bunk and cried.” -Nobuko Sakai Omoto.

Living Voices presented “Within the Silence” at Harborview and Auke Bay Schools and the University of Alaska, Juneau campus.


Classes at Auke Bay School responding to “Within the Silence.”

Here you see storyteller Ruth Coughlin answering students’ questions after her mixed media presentation called Within the Silence at Auke Bay School in mid-October. It is a dramatization provided by Living Voices as one of their pieces on civil rights and financed by anonymous donors to the Empty Chair Project, whom we warmly thank.

In this performance, fifth graders at Auke Bay and Harborview followed the journey of one Japanese American family as it was sent from Seattle to an internment camp in Minidoka. As the hand-out to 5th grade teachers defined it:

“Ruth’s goal is to awaken the imagination and change the way people experience history, inviting audiences to walk in the shoes of the characters and go on their personal historical journeys with them.”

Ruth’s performance was magnetic and fascinating.


Ruth Coughlin’s interactive performance in “Within the Silence.”

Here are some excerpts from thank you notes sent to the committee from fifth graders at Auke Bay School following the performance which highlight Ruth’s wonderfully talented ability to capture students’ attention:

“I personally think these stories need to be heard about the internment of the Japanese community.”

“I thought it so good that I wanted to shout out loud, do it again!”

That was so unfair how they were taken to internment camps.”

“For so many people to be interned so harshly is very sad! For me, realizing this happened was surprising and did change my way of thinking.”

“Thank you for telling our community this story. I know that it will now be remembered and respected among the Juneau people.”

“I like to think that my generation will not even think about doing it again. So I thank you. I still can’t believe such a terrible thing even took place.

Art as a medium for expressing lessons learned through history.

Nancy Lehnhart presented an art lesson to 5th grade classes based on the lessons learned from the internment of Juneau’s Japanese community which is now available in kit form for following years. Her prompts for visualization were “Dreaming of….Missing…Wishing for.”


Student art reflecting lessons learned in classrooms and during the “Empty Chair” activities at the Juneau-Douglas City Museum. Note the origami chairs in the blue and yellow pieces on the bottom shelf.

Ruth then repeated her performance for a third time as part of the Egan Forum lecture series at the University of Alaska Southeast’s Juneau campus where she was warmly received and spent additional time discussing the history of the internment and addressing audience questions and comments.


Advertising on a monitor in the Egan Library for the upcoming dramatization in the Egan Lecture Hall at the University of Alaska Southeast (UAS).


Some of the cranes made to celebrate the Empty Chair were exhibited at the University of Alaska Southeast’s Egan Library.


The Egan Llibrary’s display of books, pictures, and documents pertinent to the Juneau evacuation. Thanks to Beatrice Franklin for arranging this colorful and informative collection.

The following night at the Egan Theatre, Greg Chaney showed his documentary titled The Empty Chair to an audience who missed its premiere in Juneau in July. What a magnificent contribution it is to Juneau history.

Student tours of the Juneau-Douglas City Museum’s exhibit titled “The Forced Removal and Resettlement of Juneau’s Japanese Community, 1941-1951.”


A very pertinent quote.

In addition to the dramatization by Ruth Coughlin, tours were arranged to the exhibit at the Juneau-Douglas City Museum for 5th grade students. Buses were financed by the Empty Chair Project and entrance to the museum was free.

Marjorie Hamburger, the museum’s educational consultant, prefaced her lesson on the Juneau internment by having students use paper and pencil to “pack their one suitcase” as the internees had to do before they were taken away.

She then pointed out the experiences of specific Juneau Japanese people who were featured in the exhibit and ended the students’ field trip with a walk to the memorial and a discussion of its symbolism .

Thank you, Marjorie, for your sensitive interpretation of the exhibit to the student attendees.

Living Voices presents Within the Silence


On Friday, October 17th, a performance of Living Voice’s Within the Silence will be featured at 7:00 p.m. at the UAS Egan Forum to be held in the Egan Lecture Hall in Juneau. The actress, Ruth Coughlin, tells the personal story of Emiko Yamada against a filmed backdrop of World War II history.

According to an article written for the Washington State University website by Ken Mochizuki, Emiko is a teenage girl growing up in Seattle’s Nihonmachi (Japantown) when, in 1942, President Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066 imprisons thousands of loyal American families who struggle to maintain their families while incarcerated. Witness this silent chapter of our history as one Japanese American family fights to sustain love and faith in the country they love.

The performance is being brought to Juneau through an anonymous contribution to the Empty Chair Project through the Juneau Community Foundation and is free to the public. Two additional performances will be given to 5th graders at both Auke Bay and Harborview schools.

The following night, Greg Chaney will be showing his documentary titled The Empty Chair also held at the UAS Egan Lecture Hall at 7:00 p.m. This is your chance to see the film if you missed the July premiere at the 20th Century Theatre or at Gold Town. Donations are gladly accepted.

We hope you will be able to attend both of these events!