Topaz class of ‘45 holds 69th reunion


The Topaz High School class of 1945. photo by Robbin Kawabata

The Topaz High School class of 1945. photo by Robbin Kawabata
The Topaz High School class of 1945. photo by Robbin Kawabata

OAKLAND, Calif. — The Topaz High School class of 1945 held their 69th year reunion  June 28 at the Sequoyah Country Club. The former classmates spent their entire high school years,  from 1942 to 1945, imprisoned in the Topaz (Central Utah) concentration camp.

Bob Utsumi of Oakland was the reunion chairman, and Daisy Uyeda Satoda of San Francisco served as events coordinator. The gathering attracted  more than 80 people, which included 20 former classmates, their spouses and offspring.  

Photographs, yearbooks and a wide array of artifacts and memorabilia from Topaz were displayed.   

A “Tag” display  by Patrick Hayashi, former University of California associate president, served as a feature exhibit. Hayashi designed and built a display on which to hang replicas of identification tags that the inmates had to wear when they were sent to the concentration camps. Hayashi serves as a special consultant to the class.  

Assisted by several former Topaz students, Hayashi researched and stamped the classmates’ family numbers and names onto the tags. Tags were made for each of the 254 students in the Topaz class of 1945. The classmates who were present, or their family members, hung their tags onto the display. The concept for the project was based on “The Tag Project” by artist Wendy Maruyama of Southern California, who provided the replica tags.

Classmate Mary Tamaki Murakami of Bethesda, Md. presented a talk, “From the Nation’s Capitol to Far Away Places,” about her personal experiences as a young teenage inmate. Murakami gives similar talks to schools and organizations in the Washington D.C. area. 

Mark Inouye, principal trumpet player of the San Francisco Symphony and son of the late Topaz classmate Takara Inouye, accompanied by guitarist Jeff Massanari, entertained the audience with songs from the 1940s and 1950s. Many audience members danced to the music. Classmates Jay Sasagawa of Palo Alto, Calif. and Masaru “Wacky” Sumimoto of Oakland, along with their partners, amazed the reunion once again with their fancy footwork jitterbugging. 

Diane Matsuda, former director of the California Civil Liberties Public Education Program, and class “mascot,” introduced Hayashi, who delivered the keynote speech, “Topaz, a Beautiful Place that is Hard to Find.” Hayashi had previously interviewed many classmates and their relatives, and commented on their stories.

Kathy Lilienstein spoke of her father, Sumimoto’s, recounting of his experiences as a fun-loving teenager in Topaz. She explained that in attending the reunions, she came to understand how the isolated and harsh conditions of camp helped her father build strong bonds of friendship and affection with his Topaz High School classmates.

Hanamura, daughter of classmate Mary Tsuchiya Hanamura, reflected on the day’s events and the strength of her mother and her classmates in succeeding in life in spite of the enormous trauma and distrust thrust upon them by their own government.  

Sumimoto closed the reunion with his traditional “State of Topaz High 1945 Address,” reminding classmates to stay healthy to celebrate their 70th anniversary celebration next year.

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