| Dear Toshiko
Letters From 1942 Unearth a Tantalizing Mystery for 2004 History Students
THERE ARE CERTAIN DISCOVERIES that quite literally cause a history
buff to tremble. This was one of them.
In February, Seattle Pacific junior and history major Katie Stalley
stumbled upon two yellowed letters found in Seattle Pacific University’s
archives by student employee Adrienne Thun. More than just everyday
correspondence, the aging pages brought to light a mystery — one
Stalley says she was determined to solve.
“It was like stepping
back in time,” she says of the letters, one from Seattle Pacific
College student Toshiko Senda ’42 and the other from former SPC
President C. Hoyt Watson.
Senda’s words were cheerful but urgent,
and Stalley read them with increasing amazement. “Dear President
Watson, when I left SPC you asked about my coming back for Commencement
exercises,” wrote Senda. “The Headquarters’ Office has told me
that if I have someone be my custodian while I am gone and also
have someone come and get me I will have an easier time getting
Another thing, too, will you please arrange about my cap
Under normal circumstances, Senda’s plea
might not sound so extraordinary. But it was five months after
the attack on Pearl Harbor, and she was Japanese-American. “Leaving
SPC” meant being incarcerated at a camp in Puyallup, Washington,
for Japanese-American citizens.
“President Watson recognized the
urgency of her message,” says Stalley. Written two days later,
his letter on behalf of Senda to the camp manager read, “By vote
of our faculty, she is being graduated
We are very anxious for
Miss Senda to be present to receive her diploma and degree.” He
goes on to say that he has arranged for another student to pick
her up from camp.
“We had these two beautiful letters from 1942,
but we didn’t have all the evidence to know what actually happened,” relates
Stalley. So she looped in her roommate, SPU junior Kirstin Shomura,
and the other eight members of the history club Histeria!, and
in her spare time led a massive research project to solve the mystery.
The students were able to locate Senda’s husband, Kay Takeoka,
a dentist living in Alameda, California. But the discovery was
bittersweet; they learned that Senda died in 2001 after a long
battle with Alzheimer’s disease.
While their friends spent Spring
Break relaxing, Stalley and Shomura flew to California, where they
interviewed Takeoka and learned more about Senda’s life: her graduate
education at Columbia University, her years of teaching children
at a small Christian school in California and her love of singing
in the church choir.
Takeoka even brought out Senda’s 1942 SPC
yearbook. “Just by reading her yearbook, you can see how well-liked
she was,” says Shomura, noting that Senda was a member of several
campus clubs, as well as student government.
From there, Stalley
contacted Senda’s younger sister, Miyoko McCoy, who said she remembered
her sister leaving camp in time for Commencement. “Of course, it
was very rewarding to hear that,” says Stalley. “But in my mind,
I’m still a little skeptical, because I don’t know the whole story.
Toshiko isn’t here to tell me, and Will Hunter ’41, the student
who was supposed to pick her up from camp, has passed away.”
in some ways, the story remains a mystery — one Stalley hopes won’t
be forgotten. She wants to help create an on-campus memorial for
Senda and other Japanese-American students sent to internment camps
during World War II.
“When we began digging, we discovered so many
connections to Toshiko’s life, and I know there are more out there,” says
Stalley, who urges Response readers with ties to Senda’s story,
or stories of their own related to the Japanese-American internment
during World War II, to contact her. “It’s such an important piece
of history, and it reminds us that this is a campus that stands
for justice, peace and love.”
Even though delayed by more than 60 years, Senda relays that same
message in her 1942 letter to her Seattle Pacific friends, then and
now. “May the Lord’s richest blessing and guidance be upon you and
yours for the remainder of the quarter and always,” she writes. “Most
sincerely yours, Toshiko Senda.”
— BY SARAH JIO
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Editor’s Note: For full transcripts of the 1942 letters of Toshiko
Senda and President C. Hoyt Watson, click
here. Readers may write
or email Katie Stalley c/o Response.
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