FEBRUARY 20-25, 2013
Our five-day trip to Juneau to attend Steve Tada and Nancy Nash’s benefit concert for the Empty Chair was MAGICAL. We (Margie, Karleen, Alice and I) had to fly up because we didn’t want to miss out. Unfortunately, Betty Marriott, who first approached Steve, was unable to attend because of recent surgery, but her inspiration carried us all through. In her stead, Steve was ably assisted by the committee, especially Dixie Belcher, in arranging for the venue. Steve, the maestro extraordinaire, created the posters, tickets and program. His friends at KTOO handled stage lights and radio publicity and the Juneau Empire printed quarter-page ads at no charge during the week leading up to the concert.
Throughout our time in Juneau, Karleen Grummett doubled as public relations liaison and graphic designer for fliers to make sure everyone had the information they needed and everything hummed along smoothly. Many emails about arrangements flew back and forth prior to our visit.
First off, on Thursday evening, Janie and Frank Homan hosted a dinner for the Empty Chair Committee members who were in Juneau: Jackie Triplette, Marie Darlin and Dixie Belcher along with special guests Randy (Akagi) Wanamaker and his wife, Greg Chaney (Community Development, videographer), Brent Fischer (Director of Parks and Recreation) Sam Kito and the violinist Steve Tada.
With a magnificent view of Mount Roberts and the channel from their front window, we feasted on sushi, crab dip, lasagna, salads and brownies. Everywhere I looked, people were talking in a continuous buzz for several hours. Among the many connections discovered, I learned that Randy was in Gary Komatsubara’s high school class. He was happy to know I would give Gary his greetings.
Friday morning, as Dixie, Karleen, Margie, Alice, Marsha and I were eating blueberry and strawberry waffles at the Waffle House in Auke Bay, Nancy Nash and her husband Dwight came up to our table. She said, “I couldn’t help overhearing you. I’m Nancy Nash, Steve’s accompanist. We just got off the ferry from Haines.”
So began the first of our many meetings with people connected to the project. We went by the Juneau Empire offices to thank the publisher, Mark Bryan, for the fantastic ads advertising the concert in the paper. He wasn’t in his office but we were able to thank Melissa Griffiths for her continuing coverage of the project.
When we got to town, Margie, Alice and I dropped by the Juneau Community Foundation offices to chat with Amy Skilbred and express our appreciation for the foundation’s efforts on our behalf and her efficient handling of our donations. Then we went by to see Kim Metcalfe whose father was our brother John’s friend. As we wandered the State Office Building sharing our brochures with legislative staff members, we met Alan Akiyama, whose father was our mother’s doctor, and thanked him for his father’s care of her. Next on our itinery was the Juneau-Douglas Museum where we discussed a future Empty Chair Project exhibit with Jane Lindsey and Jodi DeBruyne in connection with the dedication of the memorial in the summer of 2014. We topped it off with a visit to Capital School Park to see where the memorial would be located.
Then, at 3:00, Margie, Steve and Alice were interviewed at KTOO, Juneau’s public radio station by Matt Miller. Later, a story written by Casey Kelly after the Steve Tada concert, was posted on the KTOO website and picked up by papers throughout Alaska. Professor Ron Inouye emailed me that he read it in Fairbanks.
That evening Dixie made a Swedish style dinner of smoked Alaskan black cod with boiled potatoes smothered in butter and cherry tomato salad for Margie, Alice and me, which we devoured.
Alice and I visited Roberta (Messerschmidt) Spartz at the Pioneer’s Home with her cousin Jack Hermle. They are special to our family because their fathers, who owned Messerschmit’s Purity Bakery and Hermle’s Home Grocery, gave our father credit for bread and groceries after he returned from Minidoka and reopened the City Cafe.
Later, we met up with Greg Chaney who is filming a documentary of the Empty Chair Project. With he and his camera aimed at us while walking backwards, ably assisted by his wife as his walking guide, we visited our old house, the dock where we probably boarded a troop ship for Seattle, the former site of the federal jail where the FBI took our father, and our father’s grave at Evergreen Cemetery.
Coincidentally, our father passed away on February 20, 1957, 56 years before this most recent trip to Juneau. Alice and I remembered the many cars lined up the hill to attend his graveside service. It was snowing then as it was on the day we visited his grave. It was snowy, windy and cold but we persevered with Greg, and he later remarked that he thought we were “tough ladies.” I think our children would agree to that assessment.
That evening the Empty Chair Project committee arrived at the Northern Light United Church for the concert early enough to get the programs folded and to greet the concert goers. The whole church was full by 7:30. The music selected by Steve and Nancy was by Shubert, Schumann and Brahms. One song that resonated so beautifully was “Haru no Umi” (The Sea in Spring) by Miyagi Micho. The musicians blended so beautifully with the program’s soaring and haunting music, they were given two standing ovations.
At a break in the program, the Gastineau Channel Historical Society presented the Empty Chair Project Committee with a check for $5,000, which together with over $2,000 from the benefit concert, brought our fundraising to $33,000 of our $40,000 goal. We also learned that the church waived their usual rental fee for the concert. At the end of the concert, the musicians, adverse to custom, asked all the committee members to come forward and presented us with beautiful flowers. We were overwhelmed, but we also loved having the opportunity to face the large audience who came together for that wonderful evening.
In the crowd afterwards, the children of Bob Thibodeau, Vern Harris and Vern Metcalfe, who were all friends of John in Juneau, came up to greet Alice and me. Those of us who still had energy met at the Prospector Hotel restaurant to bask in the golden glow of a wonderful evening. Andy and Jan Pekovich generously treated Steve and Nancy to an after-concert repast.
Marsha Bennett arranged a WWII Evacuee Panel Presentation with Carol Race, the Juneau Down Town librarian. Margie showed her Power Point (designed with the help of her 9-year-old granddaughter Tessa) which detailed the progress of the Empty Chair as well as Alice’s Youtube video produced by the San Leandro Library titled “In the Same Boat.” The panel included Marie Darlin, who witnessed John’s graduation assembly 71 years ago and was in Walter Fukiyama’s class, and Randy (Akagi) Wanamaker whose grandfather was evacuated from Killisnoo.
Alice and I talked about our camp memories. Alice, who was 10 at the time, remembered the FBI coming to our house and visiting our father in the Federal Jail. I remembered little at that time since I was only two; but I remembered my shame after returning from Minidoka, because my family and I looked like the enemy who were protrayed so villainously in movies and history books with no mention of the concentration camps we Japanese-Americans had been sent to for the duration of the war.
Later, at the end of the question and answer segment, Jackie Triplette asked how many in the audience had eaten at the City Cafe. Everyone shot up their hands! We all looked at each other and laughed in recognition that it was still remembered as a Juneau institution. After the presentation, we met many interesting people like Marie Olson, in her 90’s, who said she used to play near the laundry with the Fukuyama children. We saw many friends who had also attended Steve and Nancy’s concert, so it was a busy Saturday and Sunday for them as well. Afterwards, a stalwart few relaxed at the Hanger restaurant for a last hurrah.
Before we left for home, Alice and I were interviewed by Mandy Pershing, a senior at the Universty of Alaska, and her professor, David Noon, who are collaborating on an article about the Japaense evacuated from Alaska. Fortunately, we had just enough time after the interview for one more blueberry waffle at the Waffle House with our wonderful “hostess with the mostest,” Dixie Belcher. Then we dashed off for the airport on a beautiful sunny day with one last look at the snow-capped mountains.
On the plane trip back home, Alice and I became speechless. Margie and Karleen, who left a day later, said they had a similar experience. But after a few days of rest, we all looked forward with renewed excitement. Sometimes, you just get a feeling and have to go with it, for sure! If the four of us hadn’t come up for the benefit concert, we would not have seen the friendly faces and felt all the warmth of the Juneau people. We have our great memories, and we also have Greg Chaney’s videotapes. He taped all of the Steve Tada and Nancy Nash concert as well as the library panel. He must have been one tired guy afterwards, along with a few others!