Clarence Sakimura (pictured with his wife, Herta)
Attended Messiah Academy 1950-1951
Joined Messiah College faculty in 1955 to teach Greek
Walk in front of Climenhaga Fine Arts Center, and you’ll notice a cherry blossom tree. Beneath the tree, stands a plaque with the following inscription:
“If someone wishes to know the essence of the Japanese spirit, it is the fragrant cherry blossom in the early morning.”
How does this quote from an 18th-century Japanese scholar converge with the history of Messiah College? The plaque and the tree are gifts from Clarence Sakimura, a man integral to the campus’ multicultural fabric.
|Sakimura family. From left to right: Harvy, Sakaye, Alice, Clarence, Ivan (Undated file photo)|
Although he is 76 years old, Sakimura still remembers leaving his California home as a pre-teen in the 1940s when World War II began. Along with his parents and siblings, he was forced into internment camps with 120,000 other Japanese-Americans who had been living on the west coast. Despite being U.S. citizens, the Sakimuras had to give up their home and sell the family’s floral shop. They were kept in one camp in California before being moved to another in Arizona. While there were no fences keeping them in, the people were confined by the vast desert surrounding them.
“We were restricted in our movements during this time,” says Sakimura. “My parents were concerned about how the children would react to this unusual set of circumstances.”
After two years of imprisonment, the family was permitted to move east to find work. They moved to Michigan to work on a farm but the conditions were harsh. Then Messiah College president C.N. Hostetter Jr., who had heard about the family while making rounds to various churches in the area, invited the Sakimuras to move to the Grantham campus and hired the patriarch, Harvey, as the caretaker and gardener from 1946 to1962. The three Sakimura children-Clarence, Ivan, and Alice-all eventually attended Messiah Academy, and Clarence later joined the faculty in 1955 to teach Greek. His son Gregory is a 1996 alum.
As one of the few Asian-American families in the central Pennsylvania area, Sakimura says he sometimes felt like an outsider because of his ethnicity. But, Messiah and the surrounding area of Grantham embraced the family. “Dr. Hostetter made us feel definitely a part of the College community,” says Sakimura.
Sakimura’s mother, father, and grandmother lived in Grantham for the rest of their lives. “Both my mother and father are buried near the College in the cemetery on the hill that overlooks the campus,” he says.
In the 1970s and 1980s, the U.S. government provided reparations for those who had been forced to live in the camps. Although Sakimura and his siblings received redress, their parents did not live long enough to be compensated. “We as children thought that was unfair,” says Sakimura. To honor his parents’ memory, he presented the cherry tree-a symbol of his parents’ Japanese heritage and of his father’s profession-to the College to be planted in front of Climenhaga Fine Arts Center. The plaque is inscribed with the Norinaga quote and the words “in tribute to Harvey and Sakaye Sakimura from their children.”
Sakimura is now retired and still lives only minutes from campus with his wife of 44 years, Herta. His ties to the Messiah community remain strong. “It goes back to the treatment the College has shown me,” he says with fondness.
The essence of the Japanese spirit embodied in the Sakimura legacy has been bestowed eternally upon Messiah College not only through the fragrant cherry blossoms that emerge each spring at the Climenhaga Fine Arts Center, but also in the Sakimura family’s continued love for the College that boldly extended its hospitality across a cultural divide.
Posted on January 7th, 2010