CODY, Wyo.—More than 100 former internees, families, and friends converged in Wyoming over the weekend to celebrate the progress on an Interpretive Learning Center at the site where the Heart Mountain internment camp once stood. Some of the Nisei had not been back to the site since it closed in 1945.
At the Aug. 21 meeting, the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation (HMWF) board of directors set Aug. 19-21, 2011 as the dates for the new Center’s grand opening, pilgrimage and reunion. The board announced the appointment of Kathleen Saito Yuille as chair of a national committee to plan next year’s event.
Yuille, who was born at Heart Mountain, grew up in Northern California, where she attended the University of California, Berkeley. She currently resides in Milwaukee, Wisc.
HMWF board chair Shirley Ann Higuchi said that the Center will not only help preserve and commemorate the site, stories, and artifacts associated with Heart Mountain, but it will eventually support advanced studies in the psychological and legal aspects of the Japanese American internment experience in collaboration with other organizations, museums, and universities.
One such collaboration will take place Sept. 24-25 when HMWF joins with UCLA and the Japanese American National Museum to present “Removal, Resettlement, Redress…Reflection,” a community conference bringing together many of the nation’s leading experts on the wartime experience.
“We are entering an exciting new phase in the development of the Interpretive Learning Center. What began as a remote dream 14 years ago, with a core group of Wyoming friends led by David Reetz and former internees, will soon become a reality,” stated Higuchi.
Reetz recently stepped down as HMWF executive director and president to pursue other personal and professional endeavors, but will remain on the board of directors.
Located between the towns of Cody and Powell, Wyo. and about 64 miles east of Yellowstone National Park, the $5.3 million Center is designed in a style reminiscent of the wartime barracks erected in 1942. Schutz Foss Architects created the structure, while Split Rock Studios is in charge of the interior exhibit design.
Oscar-winning filmmaker Steven Okazaki is producing the introductory film that will be shown to Center visitors.
According to Douglas Nelson, fundraising chair and board vice-chair, the capital campaign is within “striking distance” of its $5.3 million goal, with only $600,000 to go.
The effort has been bolstered by grants from the National Park Service Japanese America Confinement Sites Program, Kresge Foundation, Ford Foundation, Annie E. Casey Foundation and other institutions as well as donations from about 1,000 individuals and corporations. Nelson added that HMWF is simultaneously developing a strategy for sustainability to ensure that its educational mission continues to benefit generations to come.
Last weekend was highlighted by the Foundation’s Aug. 20 Progress Celebration banquet. Wyoming dignitaries and local supporters turned out to participate. Among them was Rep. Cynthia Lummis, who introduced the Special Resource Study Bill for Heart Mountain recently passed by the House of Representatives. Former U.S. Secretary of Transportation Norman Y. Mineta reunited once again with Sen. Alan K. Simpson (ret), whom he met at Heart Mountain when the two attended a Boy Scout jamboree and became lifelong friends.
Consul General Kazuaki Kubo traveled from Denver to attend the gathering. Also in attendance were actor-producer Ken Watanabe and a film crew from Japan’s Nippon Hoso Kyokai (NHK) television network who are documenting Mineta’s life and early years at Heart Mountain.
Professor Peter Simpson of the University of Wyoming led a spirited panel discussion focused on the new Center’s future that included Karen Roles, a teacher from Wyoming’s Powell High School; Bill Collier, a recent George Washington University graduate; film student Vanessa Yuille; and artist Jamie Poulsen. Prof. Simpson is also arranging for the acquisition of historic Heart Mountain photographs by Jack Richards. LaDonna Zall, HMWF Acting Curator, included the images in an artifact exhibit she organized in conjunction with the weekend events. In addition, Split Rock Studios and HMWF Program Committee co-chairs Eric Muller and Carolyn Takeshita previewed plans for the exhibit design.
On Thursday, Nelson along with Bacon Sakatani led 29 hikers up the iconic mountain. It was Sakatani’s seventh ascent. Among the hikers was Judge Raymond Uno (ret) of Salt Lake City and Allen Rapacz, architect who designed the Interpretive Learning Center building.
At the Saturday board meeting, Kathleen Yuille announced the launch of the Foundation’s new web site, www.heartmountain.org, that will become a centralized source of grand opening information and HMWF news. During elections, Peggy Fuson was elected treasurer to replace Patricia Wolfe, while Richard G. Ewig became the new secretary, replacing John Collins. Higuchi praised and thanked Reetz, Wolfe, and Collins for their many years of commitment to the establishment of the Center and the HMWF mission.