LMU ANTI-RACISM PROJECT | Every donation to LMU has a story behind it, and benefactors come from a wide range of backgrounds. Some philanthropists are fabulously wealthy and share their good fortune with students at the university who show great promise for the future. Other donors want to support important programs, or endow professorships, or erect buildings that carry their names. The motivations are numerous, and the designations of these contributions reflect a wide and diverse range of personal values and interests. One custodian, however, exemplifies the gratitude that some have felt for what the university did for them in their hour of need.
During World War II, Japanese and Japanese Americans on the West Coast were deemed potential threats to the nation and removed to 10 relocation camps across the country. Over 120,000 persons lost their homes, jobs, businesses, and virtually all their possessions in this tragic example of hysteria and racial prejudice. When the federal government began to release people from incarceration as the war ended, finding jobs and housing proved daunting challenges. The president of Loyola University of Los Angeles, Edward Whelan, S.J., received a telephone call from Father Hugh Lavery, the Maryknoll pastor of the Japanese Catholic church in the Little Tokyo section of Los Angeles. Would Father Whalen hire some of his parishioners to assist them getting back on their feet?
Not only did Father Whalen hire Japanese and Japanese American returnees, he also arranged to house as many men as possible on the then all-male campus. At the time, government aid enabled military veterans to enroll in college, and here at Loyola these ex-GIs came face to face with people long considered enemies. Some of the new workers remained here for weeks or months, others stayed for many years and lived in the basement of St. Robert’s Hall. The only resident married couple, the Takeuchi’s, found housing for 20 years in the gymnasium and worked for Athletics.
Of the more than 60 men of Japanese heritage who were employed, Frank Miyagi Hara served the university as a custodian for 20 years. Upon his retirement in 1966, Hara, who was a widower, returned to Japan to live with his niece in Tobu-machi (known now as Tobu), 90 miles northwest of Tokyo. Before departing, he conveyed his lifetime investments of $72,789.50 to Loyola University in an annuity agreement, from which Loyola paid him a monthly stipend until his death in 1978 at age 88. ($72,789 in 1965 would equal $607,792 in 2021 dollars).
Hara wished to express his gratitude to the university for the longtime support of the Jesuits, Father Whelan and Whelan’s successor as president, Father Charles S. Casassa. When Casassa retired, friends gave him a round-the-world trip, during which he made a point of visiting Japan and again thanking Frank Hara for his generosity.
Frank Hara’s story is not found in any history book, nor does his name grace a beautiful building on campus. Rather, his legacy reminds us that this university rests on the labors and love of many otherwise unknown individuals who believed in the mission and values of this institution. In this month of Asian American and Pacific Islanders Heritage, we salute those like Frank Hara who found a home here and gave from the heart all that they could to build the LMU of today.
Michael Engh, S.J.
- May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month! LMU honors the Asian American and Pacific Islander community with a new focused hub page.
- The Inclusive History and Images Project (IHIP), in cooperation with the university’s Anti-Racism Project, will gather oral histories and artifacts from alumni and public sources with the goal of knowing ourselves better, and gaining a deeper understanding of Loyola Marymount University. Recognizing that there have been periods of failure, of inattention, and ignorance that have not served our students well, IHIP is digging into the institution’s lived history to gauge a more full understanding of who we are in all our diversity, where we need to continue to grow to be more inclusive, and to chart a course for a better future. View the website and submit your own contribution here.
- In Six Words gets to the heart of our community’s struggles and fight against the unjust and unequal experiences that plague our society, in hopes of sparking conversation, understanding, and empathy, as well as further igniting our desire to become better angels.
This week, we feature the story of Paul Vu, S.J., assistant dean of students, who writes on fighting racism:
“Fear not differences. Diversity strengthens us.”
Father Paul says: “The earth and its creatures need diversity when it comes to surviving and thriving. I am Vietnamese. I am American. I am a proud Vietnamese American and am very fortunate to live in this country which has been shaped and transformed by immigrants. Let’s celebrate our diversity instead of being afraid of it.”