Toshiko Nagamori “Toshi” Ito ‘46, who worked to preserve the experiences of Japanese Americans sent by the U.S. government to a Wyoming internment camp known as Heart Mountain during World War II, passed away July 14. She was 93.
Born in Los Angeles, Ito did not allow her internment to derail her education. Though her family was forced to leave their home in the months after Pearl Harbor, Ito graduated from John Marshall High School in Los Angeles on time in 1942. Her high school principal personally delivered the diploma she earned to the camp at Santa Anita racetrack in Arcadia where the family was initially sent.
Once at Heart Mountain, Ito applied to National College in Kansas City, Mo., after seeing a notice that students would be allowed to leave the camp if accepted by a college in the Midwest or East that had housing available. Ito met her future husband, Jim Ito, when he processed the paperwork allowing her to leave the camp. When the war ended, she completed the final courses she needed at the former Chapman campus in Los Angeles, earning her degree in 1946.
After raising a family and teaching kindergarten for nearly three decades, Ito published a book about her life in 2009. “Memoirs of Toshi Ito: USA Concentration Camp Inmate, War Bride, Mother of Chrisie and Judge Lance Ito,” is available in the Leatherby Libraries. In 2015, she spoke on a panel at Chapman after a screening of the Emmy Award-winning documentary “The Legacy of Heart Mountain,” and later she became involved with the University’s Rodgers Center for Holocaust Education. Ito spoke to winners of the Holocaust Art and Writing Contest and their teachers on study trips to the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles, including a final trip last summer.
“It was unforgettable – as was Toshi herself,” said Marilyn Harran, Ph.D., director of the Rodgers Center. “Toshi Ito was physically diminutive but a giant in spirit.”
Ito is survived by her daughter, Chrislyn Kodama, and son, retired Judge Lance Ito, in addition to grandchildren Kevin Kodama and Sherri Densmore and great-grandchildren Amaiya Kodama and Cora Densmore. Donations may be made to the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation, 1539 Road 19, Powell, Wyo. 82435.