March 19, 2010
As paradoxical as it might sound, Shigeo Imamura found himself in the position of being an American kamikaze pilot during World War II, though he never took off on a mission. His experience led him to devote his life to promoting peace through cross-cultural understanding, eventually spending over 20 years on the MSU English Department faculty and 11 of those years as director of the English Language Center (ELC).
His commitment, well-documented in his memoir Shig: The True Story of an American Kamikaze, is being honored in perpetuity at the ELC through an endowed graduate fellowship, established in 2009 by his wife Isako in his memory. The Shigeo and Isako Imamura Graduate Fellowship in English Language Teaching provides graduate assistantship support for teaching English to international students, which Mrs. Imamura, like her husband, believes is key to cultural empathy and ultimately to peace.
Shigeo was born in California but returned to Japan with his parents when he was ten. As a young adult, he volunteered for the Japanese Naval Air Reserve and trained as a fighter pilot, eventually volunteering for the kamikaze corps. After the war, however, he became an English translator and interpreter for occupation officials. Thanks to a U.S. government scholarship, he returned to America, earned a graduate degree at the University of Michigan in linguistics, and landed at MSU. Before his death in 1998, Professor Imamura had held distinguished academic positions in the United States and Japan, published scholarly works in English and Japanese, and promoted international education.
The first award from the Shigeo and Isako Imamura fellowship will be made in the Spring of 2010, noted Susan Gass, director of the ELC. “The individual selected to hold the assistantship will not only be able to receive valuable training in English language teaching, but will be an important connection with the past contributions of an important educator,” Gass said.
Mrs. Imamura currently lives in Japan but continues to stay in touch with many of her late husband’s former students. Three of Professor Imamura’s former graduate students from the 1970s edited his memoir: Constance O’Keefe, a lawyer in Washington, D.C., Stephanie Vandrick and Johnnie Johnson Hafernik, who are both professors at the University of San Francisco.
“Professor Imamura was a role model for me,” said Hafernik. “He was a gifted educator and an incredible person. I owe much of what I do to Professor Imamura. It was an honor and a privilege to work on his memoir and to assist Mrs. Imamura in establishing this endowment.”
For more information about making a gift to the College of Arts and Letters, contact Senior Director of Development Bridget Paff at (517) 353-4725.