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


The Empty Chair Memorial was recognized by Americans for the Arts as one of the outstanding public art  projects across the country in 2014. 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.” 

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!

Empty Chair Dedication Booklets are Available


The Empty Chair Memorial Dedication Booklet

Karleen Grummett wants followers of the Empty Chair Project to know that booklets are available to those of you who donated to the project but were unable to attend the dedication. If you would like a booklet of your own, please contact her by email at alaskaspecialk@hotmail.com by October 1st and she will send you a copy.

The booklet itself contains:

1. A historical background of the evacuation and internment of the Japanese population on the west coast of the United States.

2. An introduction to the Empty Chair Project

3. A list of those interned.

4. A detailed history of the Juneau Japanese community.

5. A “Special Thanks” section expressing gratitude to a large group of people who helped make the Empty Chair Memorial a reality in many differing ways.

6. A list of donors to the memorial fund at the Juneau Community Foundation.

7. A short history of the Empty Chair Committee, its genesis and purpose.

8. A copy of the Empty Chair Memorial Dedication ceremony.

The booklet itself is a wonderful collection of information and is a jewel of a publication. So, if you’re interested, be sure and contact Karleen, its author and creator. We are fortunate to have money from the NPS grant that funds this publication and the postage to send it to you!

Remember, the deadline is October 1st!


A Plethora of Thank You Notes

Honorees and their families say thank you…in their own words.


Some of the attendees at the Empty Chair dedication ceremony.

Dear Empty Chair Committee, Greg Chaney, Peter Reiquam, Members of the Juneau Community, I would like to express my most heartfelt gratitude for all of the work you have done over these past two years. There were so many amazing details, such as the folded cranes, Karleen’s historical program, the reception at Silverbow Bakery (originally Messerschmidt’s bakery), the media coverage, the tour of the original site of the Juneau Douglas High School, the poster and postcards we were given at the museum, and the list goes on. I was so moved by Peter Reiquam’s Empty Chair piece, the Juneau Douglas City Museum exhibit, Greg Chaney’s film and by the outpouring of support from family, friends and community members. I was inspired by the firsthand accounts by the internees who came to the Empty Chair dedication, including my aunt and my mother. I was inspired by the people of Juneau who supported my mother’s family and others during and in the aftermath of World War II. I was inspired by the friendship between Margie Alstead Shackleford and my mother Mary Tanaka Abo. I was inspired by what a community can do in the name of peace, love and humanity. I am inspired by you all and gladdened that my children can see what simple kindness can do for a community and future generations. I feel as though I have been given a gift of a lifetime and I will share this story as often as I can!

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

In deepest gratitude,

Julie Abo

Thank you so much for all of the work on the Empty Chair Project.
It was so memorable in so many good ways.
I kept thinking of my friend and classmate Gary Komatsubura.
(Gary passed away this last winter.)

Randy Wanamaker

I know all the Japanese-American internees and their families felt honored with the Empty Chair Memorial at the Capital School Park. From the beginning to the end, the flurry of events planned by the town and the Empty Chair Committee kept us in a constant state of marvel and pride.

On my last visit to the Empty Chair Memorial before leaving, I saw a circle of cranes still intact despite the rains and a few rose petals on the bronze chair. This vision made me realize we will be remembered. Thank you.

With deepest gratitude,
Mary (Tanaka) Abo


Karleen Grummett getting ready to hug Mike Tanaka who was representing his father William (Bill) Tanaka at the ceremony.

Hi Karleen,

So good to have met you, Jackie, Betty, Marie, Marjorie and so many more folks. Before more time has passed I want to let you and all the people who worked on the Empty Chair Project know how grateful we are for your heartwarming reception of our family and all the honorees of the Empty Chair. My dad was truly overwhelmed by the event and he keeps saying how glad he was to have gone to Juneau. He can’t believe that the “little town of Juneau” could have put on such a big event! Dad’s enthusiasm, his flood of memories that he didn’t realize he had, have left a lasting impression on our sons too.

Our sons have posted pictures of our trip and the dedication on Facebook and they have been receiving wonderful comments from their friends. So many friends have asked me about the dedication. Cousins have expressed their regret for not going. I know that there is so much more I want to say, but I wanted to get out a quick “Thank you”. Please pass on our heartfelt thank you to everyone from us.

Nancy Albright (Walter Fukuyama’s daughter.)

Thanks to you and everyone on the committee for doing such a great job. I’m
sorry we weren’t there to help celebrate but it looked like you had a great
crowd and lots of fun. We appreciate the efforts that both of you made to keep
us informed and thank you, Karleen, for sending us copies of the program. That
was beautifully done. Hopefully, we will see Mary this weekend as we are having
a graveside service in Seattle to inter my mom’s and Gary’s ashes in the family
plot. We are also having our first family reunion of mostly our generation
families on my mother’s side – will be a busy weekend – and we just returned
from visiting friends in Canada.

I’m sure you are both enjoying the freedom of a successful years long project.
Again, congratulations and thank you also for the blog entries. Lots of fun to
see the familiar faces and keep abreast of the project.


Nancy (Komatsubara)

Thank you Empty Chair Project Committee for all your commitment, energy, and perseverance in putting together the Empty Chair Project and Dedication. Thank you Juneau city community for all your love and support from the past, to the present, and to the future. We were amazed and so appreciative of the welcome home and will forever hold Juneau in our hearts as the most blessed homeland of our family and relatives. May the story and project touch the lives of many just as it has ours.

From the bottom of our hearts, thank you,
From all of the Japanese American families and relatives who came to Juneau for the dedication of The Empty Chair ( including Tanaka, Abo, Hikido, Fukuyama, Taguchi families)

Jeanne and Cathy Tanaka (Widow and daughter of John Tanaka)


Listening to Juneau’s mayor, Merrill Sanford, deliver his touching yet amusing speech.

We’ve been back in San Jose for a week now, and are still thinking about what a great experience the Empty Chair weekend was for everyone. Everything about it was perfect in the way it captured the spirit of the people of Juneau, refusing to let the injustice of the relocation of the Japanese American families and individuals during World War II go unnoticed. I had heard stories from my mom about how the town had welcomed them back after the war and helped them get back on their feet, so I knew of the kindness of the people up there. It must have been that same spirit that provided the energy needed to enable the whole thing to come to fruition. It was apparent that a huge amount of planning went into making the Empty Chair go from idea to reality, it must have been a major exercise in project management, what with all the different aspects of this project, from obtaining the grant funds, to commissioning the sculpture to planning the dedication event itself.

Elaine and I wanted to say thanks for all your work in making this wonderful project become a reality. To me, the real significance of the story is the way the people of Juneau rallied to support its own, but the tribute to those Japanese Americans who had to leave their home, including members of the Tanaka family, was a most touching remembrance as well. Thank you for your energy, persistence, and passion in making it happen.

All the best

Rob and Elaine Hikido

Congratulations on the wonderful Empty Chair dedication and ceremony last week.
It was a wonderful ceremony and I know that you all put in countless hours of
effort. I just wanted to thank you and congratulate you. Coming from
California, I got a real feeling of the Juneau community and how you all support
each other, no matter your background or situation. I think the ceremony, the
museum exhibit and the documentary film really showcased that theme. So, thank
you very much for everything. Take care and hope you find another project so
more can benefit from your talents!


Peter Hikido


Always prepared, Juneauites brought their chairs and umbrellas.

Thank you to you and the Empty Chair Committee for an outstanding job for providing the leadership to accomplish such a wonderful tribute to a person who was taken away from his community during the 2nd World War. I am very thankful to be included in the dedication. And a special thank you for including my Granddaughter in the ceremony. The community of Juneau has reason to be proud to be able to look to the future by remembering the past. Also Greg’s documentary was very well done and I am sure that my family will appreciate watching it. I would appreciate it if you could forward this thank you to the committee .

Sam Kito Jr.

Thank you so much for the heart and soul you put into the Empty Chair Project. I’ve been following all your great work from San Francisco and was able to attend the recent dedication ceremony. It’s very meaningful for me as a Tanaka descendant. It’s been fascinating and wonderful to hear all the stories of our family and the Juneau community over the last couple years. I enjoyed hearing about all the acts of kindness: the special graduation ceremony, the chocolate cake sent to camp, the care packages, the loans to help people get back on their feet, and so many more. It’s a heartening American story that inspires you to stand up for what you believe in and help those in need. The speed at which the project came together shows how deep those Juneau roots of friendship are sown even to this day.

With warm regards,
Andy Abo
Son of Mary Tanaka

Dear Empty Chair Committee, July 20, 2014
My name is Richard Tanaka. I am the second-born son of John and Jeanne Tanaka. I had the privilege of coming to Juneau for the Empty Chair dedication. I am so glad I got to meet most of you. Thank for making this all possible. I am so glad that my Mom (90 years old) and Uncle Kats (also 90 years old), and good family friend, Walter Fukuyama (89 years old) along with 30+ relatives made it up to Juneau. My father took my two brothers and myself to Juneau in 1972. Word got out that that my father came to town and crowds met him at the City Cafe, where Sam and Gim were owners. It was nice to eat at the restaurant my Grandfather began and where my father worked. At that time I remember meeting Vern Metcalf, Kenny and Bob Thibodeau- good friends of my Dad. To all of those wonderful memories I can now add of these memories. Our visit began with a welcome committee at the Juneau Airport and Marsha Bennett taking my family to the Mendenhall Glacier. Thank you! Next day visiting the Juneau-Douglas Museum- Jodie the curator did an outstanding display! The following day, viewing the Empty Chair documentary by Greg Chaney. So informative. I learned so much and the most moving part was to discover so many affidavits written on behalf of my Grandfather despite the growing anti-Japanese sentiment. They put their reputation on the line to support our family. That is love! Saturday, the Empty Chair Memorial Dedication. What a turn out! Karleen Grummett- the “Empty Chair Story” booklet was wonderful! It was so nice to meet so many of you. Sunday our relative went to Evergreen Cemetery and placed flowers on my Grandfather,Shonosuke’s grave site. Earlier that day I walked along the Gold Creek flume and came to that Cemetery and found not only my grandfather’s grave site but also found a grave site with this inscription. “To Our Beloved Baby, In Memory, F. Tanaka, Born-Died, June 20, 1925″ I never remembered my Dad ever mentioning that there was a still born directly after him. I met my Auntie Alice eating breakfast and asked her about this. She said that she had long since forgot, but now with this reminder she remembers visit the cemetery and placing flowers not only on her father’s grave site but also on a still born’s site. Another piece of the puzzle found. I truly believe God helped me to find not only my grandfather’s site but also my uncle/aunt’s site, as it was partially buried. I leave Juneau feeling more connected with my roots and more connected with the community that my father loved. It was evident 70+ years ago as demonstrated so well in how the Juneau community loved and supported all the Japanese before, during and after these difficult times and is still evident today. I teach my nine children that “integrity” is “doing what is right when no one else is looking.” I think I need to change that it is also: “doing what is right when everyone is looking”. As you did when you loved the Japanese when it was very unpopular. My deepest gratitude to all of you for your unfailing love you showed to my family. My only regret is that I was not able to bring my entire family to Juneau, but I did bring my wife, Lori and two of my daughters, Bethany and Kristi. I hope to once again return to your wonderful town. Thank you for making this such a memorable trip!
my website: http://www.teamtanaka.com
check out “Rich’s Updates”- pictures of our trip and learn about my Uncle Teddy who was lost in Juneau 1939 (under “letters”- 2007)
My story of the Empty Chair- (under “letters” -2013)

Richard Tanaka

photo (1)

Richard Tanaka sitting in his father’s chair.

I would like to add my gratitude and appreciation to the wonderful Juneau community for extending such a welcome to all of us who returned  for the Empty Chair Dedication.  Our hearts were forever touched by the sight of so many that stood in the rain to share that wonderful day with us.  We wished that we could have shook the hands of each one that made the Empty Chair so memorable.  Thank you for such a very special homecoming that we will never forget.

Alice Tanaka Hikido
I can’t say enough of the great time we spent in Juneau. Thank you  for making The Empty Chair Project the huge success that it was. I marvel at what an enormous job it must have been for all of you to put together such an event and have it take off without a glitch. Unfortunately, we missed the most important part of the program (Reiko’s flight was cancelled because of weather.), but were glad that my niece, Lisa, was able to represent the Taguchi family. Lisa was here for 10 days visiting us and we had such a good time rehashing the event. The people were so friendly and made us feel like one of them. It was a letdown getting home but I have recovered and will always remember all of you and your goodness. What a job you all did!
Reiko Sumada…Gim and Sam Taguchi’s sister
*A special thank you to both Marcelo Quinto for his pictures of the audience and Lorraine Boyden for her photo of Richard Tanaka.

Dedication Video on You Tube


The Empty Chair adorned with 1000 cranes.

David Albright of Albright Media has edited his filmed footage of the Empty Chair Memorial dedication ceremony and posted the finished product on You Tube. He is the grandson of Walter Fukuyama, one of our honorees, and we are very grateful that David has used his skills and creativity to make this very special addition to the archives of the Empty Chair project.

So, if you were unable to attend the ceremony or if you just want to savor some of your favorite moments from the dedication ceremony, I am sure you will enjoy his efforts. It’s about 30 minutes long.  Just click the link below and you are whisked to his video.

Thank you David!