He grew up in Encintias and graduated from high school in 1945, but his path from elementary school to San Dieguito’s commencement ceremony took him to an internment camp in Poston, Arizona, to Chicago, and back. More than simply a San Dieguito story, his is a story of strength and humanity, an inspiration and affirmation of the human spirit, much like the man himself.
I met Tak at his home in Encinitas and we talked for almost two hours, a beautifully meandering conversation in which tales of adventures from sun drenched Leucadia to the coldest winter of his life serving in the Army in Korea followed his charming and lyrical transition from one tale to another, always delivered with a smile, when he would look me in the eye and say: “Now that’s another story…”
The story that first led me to Tak has been recorded before. A local boy, he was born in 1927, attended elementary school in Encinitas, and was set to attend San Dieguito Union High School when it housed grades seven through twelve. Then, in 1942, he and his family were taken from their home and “relocated” to the Poston War Relocation Center along with other Japanese American families from California.
While his Caucasian friends began high school, got jobs, and drove cars, Tak found himself at an improvised school in an internment camp in the the middle of the Arizona desert. Here students carried their own chairs to a hundred foot long abandoned hangar where they had to learn science without materials for labs and had to share five students to one copy of Silas Marner.
When he was fifteen, Tak followed his older sister north to Chicago where he attended high school and made plans to go to college to study medicine. The freezing Chicago winter was nothing like San Diego County, but Tak felt welcomed by the people of the windy city and a sense of possibility.
Then, when he was beginning his senior year, his brother was “drafted out of camp” into the Army, his father contracted tuberculosis and was sent away from Poston, and Tak had to return to the desert and his mother.
By 1944 the families of the camp had built a school using adobe bricks as taught to them by local Native Americans. Students had classrooms and an auditorium, and Tak resumed classes and moved toward earning a diploma.
San Dieguito Spanish teacher Josephine Yoch visited Poston periodically, and Tak would ask her about his friends still in Encinitas. He heard about life at the high school, football games, dances, and students living life near the ocean and among the flower fields.
Then, near Thanksgiving, they talked about the possibility of his return to San Dieguito to finish his senior year and graduate with his class. Ms. Yoch returned to Encinitas and, according to the stories told to Tak, conducted a vote amongst the student body, who agreed almost unanimously to welcome him back for the new semester. “I heard that one fellow voted no,” he told me, “but that he went into the service before I got back to San Dieguito.”
Back on campus, Tak played became an infielder for the Mustang baseball team, earned a varsity letter, and wore his blue letterman’s sweater with more pride than most can imagine. He attended classes in the beautiful buildings he’d seen built when he was a young boy, driving in each morning with a teacher, Mr. Dobbins, who agreed to let him live with him at his house in Oceanside.
“My happiness came when I was on campus,” Tak remembered, “when I could be with my friends.”
With those friends, Tak was able to be just another proud senior in the class of ‘45. He carved his name on the Senior Bench alongside his classmates, he attended school functions, and recalled that “everybody knew everybody, and all the students really felt like siblings.”
When his name was called at the graduation ceremony, Tak remembers not only the students standing to applaud, but the crowd of parents and friends standing as well. “It wasn’t just the teachers,” he told me, “or the students, but it was the community.” It’s a moment he has never forgotten.
Tak’s love for the San Dieguito and Encinitas community is profound. “Better than good,” he described it. “Home.”
His dramatic story of returning to graduate with his class, however, is only part of Tak’s San Dieguito story.
With opportunities still limited in North County and a draft notice looming, Tak moved to Los Angeles after graduation. He soon served the country that had interred him, becoming a soldier in the US Army. Life led him to Japan and later Korea, and finally back to California, where he settled into family life in Los Angeles, raising children of his own.
Then, in 1974, Tak and his wife moved back to Encinitas, where his two daughters registered for classes at San Dieguito HIgh School.
“You’ll enjoy it here,” he told them, his senior dubious, her younger sister open to the idea. They did. “There weren’t the cliques at San Dieguito,” Tak explained, “and that stems from the general public.” He smiled at the memory. “From the warmth of the city.”
Tak’s grandkids graduated from San Dieguito, just as their mothers did, and this year his great-granddaughter begins classes, some in the same buildings Tak sat in to learn English and history and math.
“Some things are different now,” he said, “but at the core of it San Dieguito is the same.”
Tak’s spirit is powerful and his positive attitude palpable. Talking with him, hearing his story, and seeing San Dieguito through his eyes can inspire us all to do our own part to make every student’s San Dieguito experience “better than good.”