Densho Digital Archive
Oregon Nikkei Endowment Collection
Title: George Nakata Interview
Narrator: George Nakata
Interviewer: Masako Hinatsu
Location: Portland, Oregon
Date: August 23, 2004
Densho ID: denshovh-ngeorge_2-01-0018

<Begin Segment 18>

GN: Stafford School fortunately is located in Block 32. There was no Block 33, and so we walk across the baseball diamond and are directly at Stafford School, so Block 34 was from that point of view a very nice location. We had teachers that were Nikkei Japanese Americans that were teachers before entering Minidoka supplemented by teachers from nearby communities. I became particularly close to Mrs. Edith Kleinkauff, who came in from Twin Falls, Idaho, and coincidentally, her husband, Arthur Kleinkauff, was the superintendent of schools there at the Minidoka internment project. But Betty Murakami and various teachers taught various grades, and I think the schedule or curriculum if you will were quite standard if you will because as the months and years went by, we had textbooks, we had desks, we had writing instruments, and my recall is that it was extremely competitive. I think for some cultural or perhaps other reasons, the Japanese Americans were used to the regiment of studying, of doing their homework, of trying to be the best, of trying to get a one or an A, to do superior, outstanding work. And so when you have a group of students whether you are in the fourth grade, the sixth grade or in high school, I'm of the opinion that you have an extremely competitive environment if they're all Japanese Americans. So we had, I think, stimulating classes. We did the required three R's, but we also had time to do artwork, music. I particularly enjoyed art. I later on went to art class back here in Portland and continued that as a hobby which I'm again pursuing with painting and other things now that I'm a senior, so it had its beginning days back there at Stafford School. One of the things I vividly remember is Mrs. Kleinkauff reading a chapter of Lassie Comes Home every day until she finished the book, and then she would pick out another book and read it, a chapter each day. And although we had our own books to read and our own daily requirements, that was sort of an extracurricular sort of a bonus, if you will. And so those of us that had Mrs. Kleinkauff, there are stories like Lassie Come Home that we know very, very well because first of all, she was an excellent reader and her emphasis and enunciation and dramatics, and she's simply a very good reader.

I became very close to Mrs. Kleinkauff. She was not that close to me, but she just seemed like I could relate to her, and I was probably just another student perhaps. But many years thereafter, I happened to attend a conference in Idaho that required my going through Twin Falls. So I went through Twin Falls, and I told Keiko that I want to look up the Kleinkauff phone number and just telephone her, which I did. A gentleman answered the phone. I identified myself as having been to the Minidoka internment camp. He in turn identified himself as Arthur Kleinkauff, and I immediately said, "You were the superintendent of the school." He said, "Well, that I was indeed." And I said, "I called because I was a student of your wife, Edith Kleinkauff." There was this pause, and then he said, "I'm sorry, we lost Edith last week." And so that was really a blow to me personally having had such high regard. It's probably like a lot of us. We have a favorite teacher. You have someone that you can relate to back in grade school, back in high school, and Edith Kleinkauff was just one of my favorite teachers along with Sister Mary Madaliva and a couple of others. And just sort of being a week late was an extreme disappointment to me. So that happened a few years ago.

But reflecting back on Stafford School, I believe that it was really a good learning process. I don't feel that because I didn't remain in Portland, I didn't go to Couch School, I didn't go to a standard school if you will that we lost a step. I say that because when we came back, Mary and I and others that I was close to, we were able to hold our own in the classroom academically, scholastically, really from day one. And so I think that if we were fourth graders, whether we were sixth graders, eighth graders from first day, we were right up there with our classmates as we returned. So I think academically, even if it was a makeshift faculty, even if temporary barracks, even if the equipment was less than superior, I think that the, and probably a lot of credit has to go to the teachers, the staff, the superintendent, and someone that knew how important education was to the Japanese Americans. But Stafford was a pleasant experience for me. I look forward to going to school each day as we were all in there for three and a half or whatever years. I think that we kept up academically, and I believe that competing with fellow Japanese Americans and their competitive nature and the discipline and dedication that they have, I think, helped all of us. I don't recall any weak students in my class. I don't recall any severe disciplinary problems. I just recall a group of really hard studying students that participated in everything from class discussion to you name it. And we had plays; we had enjoyment; we had music; we had art; we had sports. I remember two people in our class did a great Abbot and Costello, kept us just rolling, "who's on first" routine. They had it down pat. And we're talking about movies and talking about movies in Mr. Kondo's theater in Block 34, they always had a serial. They had a movie special like Sunrise Serenade with John Payne and Sonja Henie maybe. But at the same time, they would have an episode of Rin Tin Tin or they'd have an episode of Flash Gordon. And of course, it ends with him falling off a cliff or something, and you're just waiting for the next episode which won't go on until next week. So here we are, fifth graders, six graders talking about the last episode of that serial. It's there that we got acquainted with what a German police dog look like. And so a there's lot of things that through classmates we learn about.

<End Segment 18> - Copyright © 2004 Oregon Nikkei Endowment and Densho. All Rights Reserved.