New Endowment Fund Helps Support Japanese-American History In Minnesota

For immediate release

Release dated: 
April 21, 2010
Media contacts: 

Jessica Kohen, Marketing and Communications, 651-259-3148,
Cassie Cramer, Director, Development, 651-259-3116,

New Endowment Fund Helps Support Japanese-American History In Minnesota

The Minnesota Historical Society is pleased to announce a new, endowed fund which honors Earl and Ruth Tanbara.  The fund will be known as The Earl K. and Ruth N. Tanbara Fund for Japanese American History in Minnesota, and is created by Ruth’s nephew, Thomas M.  Kurihara of Arlington, Virginia.

The fund will be used to support a variety of activities related to Japanese American history in Minnesota.  This may include, but is not limited to oral history, women’s history, exhibitions, conservation, education, public affairs, publications, collections, and statewide outreach, all consistent with the Society’s charitable purpose.

Earl Tanbara, born in Pleasanton, California, in 1905, to parents who had immigrated to the U.S. from Okayama Ken, Japan, graduated from Los Gatos High School and received a BA from the University of California Berkeley in 1927.  Ruth, born in 1907 in Portland, was one of the first Japanese Americans to grow up in Oregon.  She earned her BS degree with honors in Home Economics from Oregon State College in 1930.

When she and Earl married in 1935, they moved to the Bay Area where Earl worked for the Dollar Steamship Company for several years. Ruth authored a cookbook “Japanese Food Recipes”, one of the first books on Japanese cooking in English, which helped introduce Japanese recipes and methods to first generation Japanese Americans.  In 1942, the couple  relocated from Berkeley to a farm in Reedley, California in an attempt to avoid wartime internment.  During the registration process, the Provost Marshall of the U.S. Army stationed in Reedley gave Earl and Ruth the option to go to the Eastern or Midwestern part of the United States and help build community acceptance and resettle Japanese American internees from the Relocation Centers on a volunteer basis.  They made the journey to Minnesota where Ruth’s brother, Paul Nomura, was enrolled in the Military Intelligence Service Language School at Camp Savage. They eventually settled in Saint Paul, and together, they assisted over 100 evacuees to leave internment camp and find a place in the Twin Cities.  They worked to place a number of Japanese Americans in work situations in the Twin Cities, helped evacuees continue their college education, found retailers who would accept Japanese American customers both during and after World War II.

During her lifetime, Ruth directed 60 adult education classes and the world fellowship international program while working for the YWCA for 30 years.  She helped establish the Saint Paul Council of Human Relations, and in 1955, the St. Paul-Nagasaki Sister City Committee which had been organized by Louis W. Hill, Jr.  She served in leadership positions for the Festival of Nations and the Japan America Society of Minnesota.  Many honors were bestowed upon Ruth during her lifetime, including the Mondale Award in 2000.

To celebrate her life, her nephew, Tom Kurihara, commissioned the artist HIRO to create a biographical portrait painting in recognition and in honor of Ruth’s lifetime of public service to the communities of Portland, San Francisco, Saint Paul, Minneapolis, Minnesota, and the international community.  The painting, and Ruth’s papers are in the archives and collections of the Minnesota Historical Society.

Tom Kurihara, who was interned at concentration camps Heart Mountain, Wyoming and Poston Camp III, Arizona moved to Saint Paul with his parents with the assistance of Earl and Ruth.  He attended Linwood Grade School and graduated from Monroe High School where he was elected Junior and Senior Class President, and received the Franklin Blue Award for Scholastic and Athletic Accomplishments.  He is a 1957 graduate of Stanford University in electrical engineering and served as an officer in the U.S. Navy from 1957-1968.  He retired from federal civil service in 1991, and is currently an independent consultant.

Mr. Kurihara serves on the Board of Directors of the Saint Paul-Nagasaki Sister City Committee, and is involved with the Twin Cities Japanese-American Citizens League.

The Minnesota Historical Society is a non-profit educational and cultural institution established in 1849. Its essence is to illuminate the past as a way to shed light on the future. The Society collects, preserves and tells the story of Minnesota’s past through museum exhibits, libraries and collections, historic sites, educational programs and book publishing.