[Suzanne Hiyama Ross ’85 passed away shortly before the publication of this edition of BeLight. An In Memory notice will be included in a future Kalamazoo College publication.]
On a hot June day, he sat on the Quad, surrounded by family, so many of whom were also Kalamazoo College alumni. He watched his granddaughter climb the steps to the platform to proudly receive her diploma, and his own heart swelled. Three generations of the Hiyama family had now made that same walk—only his had started in an internment camp.
The Rev. Paul Hiyama ’49, now 94, still has vivid memories of his time living in an internment camp for Japanese-Americans during World War II. President Franklin D. Roosevelt established the camps after the Pearl Harbor attack, when it became the policy of the United States that anyone of Japanese birth or descent was to be interned. Hiyama and his family lost their home, their ability to make a living, their freedom.
“I was attending high school in Seattle, two months short of graduation, when my family was forced to evacuate,” Hiyama says of the policy, for which the U.S. government formally apologized in 1988. “My parents, my older sister, my younger brother and sister—we lost our home, we lost everything.”
Then he found himself with a sudden and exciting ticket out. Royal Fisher, a 1906 graduate of Kalamazoo College and a former missionary in Japan, provided four young Nisei—North American-born children of immigrant Japanese parents—scholarships so that they could come to Kalamazoo College. Hiyama says he was contacted by a representative of the American Baptist Home Mission Society, a group from the denomination then tied to the College, and ended up being one of the lucky few.
When he recalls that long-ago train trip to Michigan, Hiyama chuckles, as he often does while telling his story, with no indication of resentment at his experience. He expresses only gratitude.
“I’d never heard of Kalamazoo,” he says. “It was a scary idea at first, crossing the country to attend this small college in Michigan, but it was wonderful how I was accepted when I got there. When I arrived, all the dorms were full. The treasurer of the college invited me to live with him in his home.”
Hiyama began as a double major in economics and sociology, but as he delved deeper into both areas of study, he increasingly focused on sociology. He recalls the influence professor Raymond Hightower had on his studies.
“K was small enough that we could develop personal relationships with our professors,” Hiyama says. “Dr. Hightower broadened my view on life, and my years at Kalamazoo College contributed to my decision on a vocation.”
Hiyama spent the 1943-44 school year at K, then was drafted into the U.S. Army to serve in the 442nd Infantry Regiment, a combat team of Japanese-descended men.
“They didn’t know what to do with us,” Hiyama says. “I was sent to Minneapolis, where I was trained as an interpreter-translator, and while I was there, VJ Day [victory over Japan] happened, so I didn’t have to go into combat. I worked three doors away from General McArthur’s office and served two years in Tokyo. I visited Hiroshima while I was there, and that was a devastating experience.”
After Hiyama returned to Kalamazoo College to resume his studies, the vision of Hiroshima, where upwards of 146,000 people died as the result of the first wartime use of an atomic bomb, stayed in his mind, leaving him wondering: How might we all learn to live together in peace?
“I went to grad school in New York City, but before I was finished, I got a call from Father Joseph Kitagawa,” a fellow former internee who went on to become an eminent scholar in the history of religions, “inviting me to the University of Chicago Divinity School, where he was the dean,” Hiyama says.
Hiyama accepted the invitation and his calling. He was ordained an Episcopal priest in 1957 and served 33 years ministering to Detroit-area congregations. Now retired, he still volunteers for the church, golfs and laughs a lot.
“I’m trying to do what I can to improve racial relations and improve the ecumenical movement at large,” he says. “I’ve learned the lesson of forgiveness and to live my life with gratitude. It opens doors.”
He was especially grateful to attend the 2018 Commencement at Kalamazoo College for Ella Schodowski ’18, his granddaughter. Hiyama sat in the audience beside his daughter Karen Hiyama ’88, and her husband, Joseph Schodowski ’87. All three of Paul Hiyama’s children, including Stephen Hiyama ’76 and Suzanne Hiyama Ross ’85, are Kalamazoo College alumni. Ella Schodowski, a physics major, represented the third generation of the family to earn a diploma at K.
“I couldn’t have picked a better school myself,” Paul Hiyama chuckles. “It’s a mystery to me how my children and grandchild chose K, but my results must have made an impression on them.”
Karen Hiyama, an environmental lawyer working in Detroit, says she was attracted to K by its small size and study abroad program. She only learned about her father’s experience in the wartime internment camp while working on her senior individualized project at K. Her subject: the Nisei.
“I was surprised to learn about it,” she says. “The Nisei tend to be quiet about the internment camps until asked.”
She met her husband at K when he kindly offered her a ride to her then-boyfriend’s house. She laughs at the memory. “He was the only guy at school that I knew who had a car. We became friends, and when I broke up with the boyfriend, well, the rest is history.”
The couple now have three grown children. They feel it is important to expand their children’s world view because of their own study abroad experience in Madrid, Spain. Watching their daughter graduate on the quad brought back happy memories along with a sense of wonder at the passage of time.
Ella Schodowski says that for her, too, the study abroad program was a large part of the decision to attend Kalamazoo College — that, a scholarship and being a part of the women’s soccer team.
“I made most of my friends at K from playing soccer,” she says. “We played and lived together. It was a great way to bond.”
Her grandfather had a similar experience at K, playing basketball and became briefly famous for it. The 1944 Hornets were billed as the “shortest basketball team in the nation” because none of the members stood over 6 feet, and a photo of the starting five, including Paul Hiyama and fellow Nisei Thomas Sugihara ’45, was featured in newspapers nationwide.
Hiyama remembers it well: “We took a photo of our team captain on a ladder, shooting the ball into the basket. I played forward. It was one of my highlights at K. We played two other major universities. I won’t tell you who won.”