Batavia woman shares research on her family's time in World War II Japanese-American internment camp
Ellen Huxtable has built an excellent reputation in her hometown of Batavia over the past two decades as a small-business consultant and a volunteer for the Congregational Church of Batavia.
She's looked upon as having a wise approach to solving business challenges and helping people build their network of contacts.
She can add "extensive historical researcher" to that reputation based on findings of her family's history at the Manzanar Relocation Camp for Japanese-Americans during World War II.
Huxtable, who has recently presented her findings of Manzanar to area churches, libraries and service organizations, had a good reason to dive into her family's experiences as detainees. They were kept in the desert of California when the U.S. government's fear of Japanese espionage and its long-rooted racism against Asian immigrants resulted in these camps throughout the western states.
"Seeds for the research were planted when my son was in second grade," Huxtable said. "He met my mother, and he was close to her, but he never met my dad before his passing. He was interested in him because he was a semipro baseball player on the Japanese-American baseball team in the 1930s, and my son loved baseball, so there was a baseball connection."
Huxtable decided she would write "a historical fiction novel for kids and young adults" that would be a time travel story. It would give her son "a virtual exposure to my dad because he would go back in time to Manzanar and meet my dad and have some experiences with him," she reasoned.
Huxtable had a rough draft of the book that she felt was OK, but as time went on, obtaining more information about Manzanar became an easier task because newspaper clippings and other archives were digitized. Her son is in graduate school now, so you can see how long this research has unfolded.
Plus, just before the COVID outbreak, she and her son visited the Manzanar tourist site at what was the first relocation camp in the U.S.
She discovered her father, 'Min' Watanabe, was an active Manzanar community member. His name appeared in newspaper articles often as the coach and player on the camp baseball team and the camp sporting goods and flower stores operator.
It became a fascinating study of how 10,000 Japanese-Americans lived in a one-square-mile camp from the spring of 1942 until the war ended in 1945.
"Most people lost everything they had when they relocated," Huxtable said. "If they had a farm, they lost it; some fishermen who had boats and radios were considered big threats, and they lost it all."
Still, it was not like a "prison" experience, said Huxtable, who was born in 1953 in Chicago, about eight years after her parents' Manzanar experience.
"Japanese have much personal pride, and many in the camps were (Manzanar was one of 10 camps) ashamed of it, that something horrible had happened, and many felt it was their fault," Huxtable added.
The detainees had little choice but to make the best of their situation and turn the camps into functioning communities.
Huxtable noted that most Japanese-Americans who spent time in relocation camps never spoke about their experiences. "But my parents were different; they wanted to talk about it and wanted people to know what it was and what it was like."
Huxtable has found her research to be a method to tie historical facts with the stories she heard as a child on the north side of Chicago.
It's been an interesting research project Huxtable can add to her already impressive resume. She holds an MBA from the Kellogg Graduate of Management at Northwestern University, operates Advantage Business Concepts consulting, teaches a class and consults at Waubonsee Community College about starting a business in Illinois and volunteering to lead the Congregational Church of Batavia's networking group.
"This has become like a never-ending story for me now," Huxtable said of her family research. "I got so engaged in this process and kept finding more information that I could weave into the detail of my story, as well as background on the family research."
By the way, Huxtable recently finished the draft of her time-travel book and is in the process of editing it. It won't be long before her son will "meet" his grandfather on this journey back to Manzanar.
For a drier Island Park
Not many parks in the region suffer like Island Park in Geneva when it rains a lot here or up north, swelling the Fox River.
Large pools of water can sit on the park grounds for several days when things get super soggy in the spring.
But Geneva Park District's creation of new drain basins in the park should be completed, or nearing completion, this week.
"I wish it wasn't just a Band-Aid, but alleviating the water quicker is what we are trying to do," said Sheavoun Lambillotte, the Geneva Park District executive director. The only other option would be a major reconstruction project to build up the island barrier to avoid flooding altogether, she added.
"We put together a plan to put some additional drain pipes that go to the lower spots on the island," Lambillotte noted. "The water will drain out, as opposed to the water pooling and staying on the island longer as the river recedes."
She said that an Island Park that dries faster would be good for the turf and trees, which tend to uproot in a softer turf.
"We don't think it will alleviate the flooding, but it will help dry things out," Lambillotte said.
That pod launch party
There was a lot to like about the launch party at the Arcada Theatre in downtown St. Charles last week for the "Justa Coupla Guys" podcast series hosted by former St. Charles Mayor Ray Rogina and Geneva lawyer Pat Crimmins.
First, I hadn't been in the Arcada for far too long. It looks great inside, and the ongoing work on the entertainment complex gives everyone a reason to be excited about what is coming with new restaurants, hotel suites and dance clubs.
Second, the food at the party was classic Ron Onesti stuff, as the Arcada frontman had his staff supply pulled pork sandwiches, meatballs and cannoli.
Third, entertainment from Chicago singer Diva Montell reminded us again that this lady can sing it all, from pop to disco to opera. She's the daughter of opera singer Freddie Montell and has displayed her vocal skills since age 6. It was a nice touch to have her belt out a few songs, and certainly no surprise that she was impressive.
Fourth, it was fun to talk to crooner extraordinaire and Arcada mainstay Johnny Maggio in the lobby. We covered a lot of bases while he was directing people around and manning the elevator.
Finally, of course, there was Ray and Pat explaining how their podcasts, supported by Fox Valley Magazine and various sponsors, came about and what is in store for listeners.
Basically, these fellows had so much fun years ago talking to each other when driving to Springfield together to take high school students to mock trial competitions that they figured it could work in a podcast format.
Based on their first couple of podcasts, they were right.
Three decades of 'Country'
Sue Hadley and her sister Deb were looking for a perfect mix of taking on a project that would expand their creative skills while also allowing a more flexible schedule to raise their children.
That perfect mix unfolded in the Country Naturals store at 316 Campbell St. in Geneva, a historic 1850s house with several rooms of interesting gifts for home and garden.
The ladies will celebrate their 1992 opening with some special sales on Friday, May 6, and their usual pleasant interaction with customers.
Continuing to help
The Hope for Haitians organization continues to raise funds for a school it recently built in the troubled country, adding to its list of accomplishments, including the construction of 16 villages.
The annual Fun Bun Run 5K will be held at 7:30 a.m. Saturday, May 14, at the Kane County Government Center in Geneva, 719 S. Batavia Ave. The walk/race begins at 8:30 a.m.
The race theme coincides with the organizers' call for people to dress in anything resembling bunnies, buns or sweet rolls. Those participating will have plenty of buns or sweet rolls to eat.
Registration is $25 for adults at funbunrun.org, while those 12 and younger can participate free.
Options for joining a team or donating to a team effort are also available.
The organization has built more than 700 homes in the poorest regions of Haiti. The school was built in Garde Saline as Hope for Haitians continues to focus on the country's northern region near Cap-Haitien.