The UW Nikkei Alumni Association (UWNAA) was originally known as the University Students Club, Inc. The original name was so generic that we continually had to explain who we were. Eventually, none of our members were students anymore. On July 7, 1999, the Board of Trustees voted unanimously to change our name to better reflect our membership.
According to our records, the University Students Club was incorporated in 1922 and organized exclusively for charitable and educational purposes. The incorporation was preceded by a fundraising drive to purchase a building near the University of Washington so out-of-town students would have a place to live and all Nikkei students would have a center to meet at. Because Greek Row membership was restricted and the Nikkei enrollment at UW was on the increase, a fundraising drive was organized to solicit funds for this center. Spearheaded by the Issei, the drive encompassed the entire Pacific Northwest. The result was most gratifying as many donors contributed in large and small amounts, their hard-earned money to this cause. The fundraising drive culminated in the purchase of a two-story building with a basement, located conveniently across the UW campus at 4115 15th Ave NE. The first meeting of the University Students Club was held at this address on June 8, 1922. However, in spite of its legal name, the club was popularly known as the Japanese Students Club until World War II.
After WWII, with the influx of Nisei veterans at UW, the center became a very popular place for all UW Nikkei students, especially the men. The women had their own club called VALEDA. The center took on a new identity as the SYNKOA HOUSE. The name SYNKOA was coined and commemorated in memory of former members who gave their lives in WWII, with each letter representing the last name of a fallen veteran, or in some cases a letter represented more than one veteran. Those commemorated were: George Tatsuya Sawada, Frank Masao Shigemura, George Yamaguchi, Hideo Heidi Yasui, Shigeo Yoshioka, William Kenzo Nakamura, Jero Kanetomi, Yoshio Kato, John Ryoji Kawaguchi, Francis T. Kinoshita, Takaaki Okazaki, and Eugene Takasuke Amabe.
In 1962, the center was sold to the University of Washington. The UW built the Social Work, Speech and Hearing Sciences Building in its place after acquiring the adjoining lots. A plaque honoring the Issei is installed in the new building. Another plaque is affixed to a bench by Drumheller Fountain. Although the students lost a center, the net proceeds, $52,114.31, from the sale have been used to provide scholarships to Nikkei students attending the UW on a full-time basis. We consider the proceeds to be a public trust to be administered with the utmost care and diligence. Since the beginning of our scholarship program in 1965, our club has given over 224 awards for a total of $316,000 while maintaining our original principal.
In the year 2000, the Board of Trustees established the William Kenzo Nakamura Medal of Honor Scholarship in honor of Private First Class Nakamura who distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism in action on July 4, 1944 near Castellina, Italy. When his platoon was pinned down by enemy machine gun fire, Nakamura held off the enemy machine gunners, thereby allowing his platoon to withdraw to safety. He was killed during this heroic stand. The Federal courthouse in downtown Seattle is named after him and a Medal of Honor memorial on the UW campus includes his name.
In 2001, the Yoshito and Yukiko Fujii Memorial Scholarship was established by their daughters, Jean Deguchi, Beth Kawahara, and Irene Mano, in memory of their parents. Mr. Fujii graduated from UW in 1928 with a degree in Sociology. He was the president of the University Students Club during the 1927-28 school year and had led the fund drive to purchase the center. In 1931, he married Yukiko Shitamae who was a Fuyo Kai member on the UW campus. They were both very active in the Japanese community. In 1978, Mr. Fujii received the prestigious “Order of the Sacred Treasure, Gold and Silver Rays” award from the Emperor of Japan.
Membership in the UW Nikkei Alumni Association is open to all UW Nikkei graduates. We welcome all to join us and carry on the rich and proud tradition of the organization.