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Tanbara, Ruth Nomura (1907–2008)

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Ruth Nomura's college graduation photo

Ruth Nomura, graduate of Oregon State University, 1930. Photo from the private collection of Judy Nomura Murakami; used with the permission of Judy Nomura Murakami.

In August of 1942, Ruth Tanbara and her husband, Earl, were the first Japanese Americans to resettle in St. Paul as a result of President Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066. They assisted the St. Paul Resettlement Committee during World War II and remained in the city after the war’s end, becoming life-long community leaders in St. Paul.

Ruth Tokuko Nomura was born in Portland, Oregon, on October 15, 1907. Her parents had come to America from Japan in 1903.

In 1930, Ruth was the first Japanese American to graduate from Oregon State Agricultural College’s home economics education program. In Portland, she worked as a secretary for the Japanese Consulate and the YWCA.

Ruth married Earl Tanbara in Portland, Oregon, in 1935. The couple moved to Berkeley, California, where Ruth worked as a social worker for Japanese clients of the International Institute in San Francisco. Ruth also taught glove-making, led craft workshops, and helped a Japanese chef write a cookbook in English.

After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt declared war against Japan on December 8, 1941. On February 19, 1942, Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066 authorized the creation of military zones on the West Coast and the forced removal of residents of Japanese descent. The Tanbaras took their valuables to a bank, stored furniture with white neighbors, and rented their home with forty-eight-hours’ notice. On March 2, they moved inland to a friend’s farm in Reedley, California.

In March of 1942, Public Law 503 forced Japanese and Japanese Americans on the West Coast into ten US concentration camps. In July of 1942, the Tanbaras received War Relocation Authority (WRA) permission to move to St. Paul, Minnesota, where they knew a Japanese man who had offered them a place to stay. In August, they arrived in St. Paul, then reported to the International Institute in St. Paul with letters of introduction. There, they offered to help with the forced relocation of other Japanese Americans.

The St. Paul YWCA hired Ruth as a secretary. The Tanbaras joined the St. Paul Resettlement Committee, formed by the International Institute, and Ruth gave public talks to help foster community acceptance of Japanese American evacuees. The Tanbaras also personally helped family and friends relocate to St. Paul. In 1943, they sold their house in California and bought a home at 218 S. Avon Street in St. Paul, When the internment camps closed in 1945, more Japanese and Japanese Americans arrived in St. Paul.

Ruth received her master’s degree in home economics education in 1953 from the University of Minnesota. She attended the YWCA World Council in 1955 and proceeded to work for the YWCA in St. Paul for thirty years, teaching flower arranging and Japanese cooking classes. The YWCA honored Ruth with a memorial garden at its location on Kellogg Boulevard when she retired as director of adult education in 1972.

Ruth was active in community service. She was a board member of the St. Paul Council of Human Relations and joined the Governor’s Committee on Human Rights. She also served on the boards of the Family Service Center of Greater St. Paul, the Minnesota Museum of Art, the International Institute, and Unity Church-Unitarian. She was a member of the Japanese American Community Center, the Twin Cities chapter of the Japanese American Citizens’ League, the Altrusa Club, and the Japan America Society.

In 1947, Ruth led the first Japanese group in the Festival of Nations, a program of the International Institute; she continued this work for many years. In 1955, Louis Hill invited her to help him start the St. Paul–Nagasaki Sister City Committee. Ruth also led six group tours from St. Paul to visit atomic-bomb victims and city leaders in Nagasaki, Japan.

The 1958 and 1964 editions of Who’s Who in Minnesota included Ruth; in 1991, a “Women in Minnesota History” series of booklets featured her. In 1994, she and thirteen other Japanese American women contributed their stories to the book Reflections: Memoirs of Japanese American Women in Minnesota, published in 1994. In 2001, Ruth received the Walter Mondale Award from the Japan America Society.

Ruth passed away on January 4, 2008, at the age of 100. Her family honored her with a memorial bench next to the Global Harmony Labyrinth in Como Park in St. Paul.

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Albert, Michael. “The Japanese.” In They Chose Minnesota: A Survey of the State’s Ethnic Groups, edited by June Drenning Holmquist (558–571). St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1981.

Densho Encyclopedia. Executive Order 9066.
http://encyclopedia.densho.org/Executive_Order_9066/

Densho Encyclopedia. Public Law 503.
http://encyclopedia.densho.org/Public_Law_503/

Densho Encyclopedia. War Relocation Authority.
http://encyclopedia.densho.org/War_Relocation_Authority/

"Minnesota Women; Minnesota Women’s History Month, 1991" (booklet). Personal collection of the author.

Sickels, Alice. Around the World in St. Paul. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1945.

St. Paul Resettlement Committee (St. Paul, Minn.), 1942–1953
Manuscripts Collection, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul
https://mplus.mnpals.net/vufind/Record/001730962
Description: Correspondence, minutes, reports, clippings, records of its St. Paul Hostel (1945-1948), and other papers of this organization formed to help provide homes, work, financial aid, and social services to Japanese Americans evacuated from the Pacific Coast during World War II. After 1948 it devoted some attention to living conditions among urban Native Americans. Correspondents include Ruth Gage Colby, Ruth Tanbara, Martha Magraw, and officials of the US War Relocation Authority, the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA), and the International Institute of St. Paul.

Ruth Tanbara papers, 1906–2008
Manuscripts Collection, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul
https://mplus.mnpals.net/vufind/Record/001735068
Description: Correspondence, biographical materials, photographs, newspaper clippings, and printed material related to the relocation of Japanese Americans from the West Coast during World War II, memoir correspondence and drafts for Reflections, an oral history transcript for the St. Paul–Nagasaki Sister City Project, and a manuscript copy of her cookbook, Ruth Tanbara’s Japanese Food Recipes. Included are official pamphlets regarding restrictions placed upon Japanese Americans and letters from friends in relocation and internment camps describing conditions in various camps.

Tanbara, Ruth Tokuko Nomura (Mrs. Earl K.). Biography card file. Manuscripts collection, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul.

Tsuchida, John Nobuya, ed. Reflections: Memoirs of Japanese American Women in Minnesota. Covina, CA: Pacific Asia Press, 1994.

White, Bernice, ed. Who’s Who in Minnesota. [St. Paul]: Hugh L. White, 1958.

——— . Who’s Who in Minnesota. [St. Paul]: Hugh L. White, 1964.

Related Images

Ruth Nomura's college graduation photo
Ruth Nomura's college graduation photo
Ruth Nomura and family
Ruth Nomura and family
Earl and Ruth Tanbara on their wedding day
Earl and Ruth Tanbara on their wedding day
Ruth and Earl Tanbara at St. Paul’s Festival of Nations
Ruth and Earl Tanbara at St. Paul’s Festival of Nations
Painting celebrating the life of Ruth Tanbara
Painting celebrating the life of Ruth Tanbara

Turning Point

In July of 1942, Ruth and Earl Tanbara receive WRA (War Relocation Authority) approval to relocate to St. Paul, Minnesota, where a Japanese friend has offered them a place to stay. With letters of introduction, they report to the International Institute in St. Paul and offered to help with the relocation of other Japanese Americans.

Chronology

1907

Ruth Tokuko Nomura is born in Portland, Oregon, on October 15.

1926

Ruth wins a competition to travel to Japan with other first-generation Japanese Americans (Nisei). This educational trip lays the foundation for her understanding and appreciation of Japanese culture.

1930

Ruth becomes the first Japanese American to graduate from Oregon State Agricultural College’s home economics education program.

1935

On September 16, Ruth marries Earl Tanbara at the Centenary Wilbur Methodist Church in Portland, Oregon.

1941

On December 7, the Japanese Imperial Navy Air Service bombs Pearl Harbor in a surprise attack. On December 8, 1941, the United States Congress declares war on the Empire of Japan.

1942

President Franklin D. Roosevelt signs Executive Order 9066 on February 19. It requires all persons of Japanese descent to move inland, away from the coast, and creates an official war zone on the West Coast of the United States.

1942

On March 18, the War Relocation Authority is put in place through Executive Order 9102.

1942

Congress passes Public Law 503 on March 21, forcing the removal of 110,000 Japanese Americans and their native Japanese parents to concentration camps built by the US military in ten remote locations.

1942

In August, Ruth and Earl Tanbara are the first Japanese Americans to relocate to Minnesota with War Relocation Authority approval.

1947

Ruth leads the first Japanese group participation in the Festival of Nations. She continues to be involved with the International Institute of Minnesota, and this event, for decades.

1954

Ruth receives her master’s degree in home economics education from the University of Minnesota.

1955

Louis Hill, son of James J. Hill, invites Ruth to help him start the St. Paul–Nagasaki Sister City Committee. She leads six delegations from St. Paul to visit atomic-bomb victims and city leaders in Nagasaki, Japan.

1972

Ruth retires from the YWCA in St. Paul after thirty years of service. Her last duties were as director of adult education. Colleagues honor her with a Japanese-style garden at their (former) location on Kellogg Boulevard.

1992

Ruth and thirteen other Japanese American women record their stories for the book Reflections: Memoirs of Japanese American Women in Minnesota (Pacific Asia Press, 1994).

2008

Ruth passes away on January 4 at the age of 100.