You are here

Grace Amemiya

2016 Iowa Women's Hall of Fame Honoree: Grace Obata Amemiya

“All of this may sound ‘ordinary.’ But the way Grace went about it – in fact, the way she goes about her whole life – is extraordinary. Grace would tell you that she is really ordinary, and that is about the only untrue thing she would ever say. Grace has taken what life has given her – whether confinement in a camp during World War II or caring for a son with profound disabilities – and used it to educate and make life better for the people around her.”
--Written by Michael Davis, PhD, in a letter of support

photo of Grace Amemiya

Grace Obata Amemiya was born on October 26, 1920, in Vacaville, California, the youngest of six children born to Japanese immigrants. At ten years old, her father died and Grace decided to dedicate her life to service by becoming a nurse. On December 7, 1941, as a 21 year old nursing student at the University of California, School of Nursing in San Francisco, she heard radio news that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. Within hours Japanese citizens were being picked up, investigated, and told not to travel more than five miles from their home. Two months later President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 that authorized the incarceration of more than 120,000 Japanese/Japanese Americans. Grace’s family was hurried off to Turlock assembly center, then on to Gila, Arizona, where one of the country’s ten internment camps was located. They were given only a few days to dispose of their homes, businesses, pets, and possessions. While Grace was in Gila, she used the nursing skills she had learned in nursing school. She was desperately needed for this service since even persons who had been in nursing homes and hospitals were taken away to internment camps.

Grace was determined to complete her education when internment ended, and she wrote to nursing schools around the country. Many of them told her they didn’t need any more of “her kind” in their school and she was rejected. Finally she was accepted at St Mary’s School of Nursing in Rochester, Minnesota. She spent her final six months of nurses training as a senior cadet nurse in the U.S. Cadet Nurse Corps, working at Schick General Army Hospital at Clinton, Iowa.

Throughout her life, Grace made two great commitments based on her experiences in the internment camp, and with a disabled son. She volunteered at Woodward Resource Center, the YWCA and the Special Olympics for many years, and was committed to sharing her story of internment with all who were not aware of this injustice. At the age of 95, when she was inducted into the Iowa Women's Hall of Fame, she continued to tell this story of grace, forgiveness, and service through hundreds of speeches across the state of Iowa and beyond.

Grace passed away on July 22, 2017 in Ames, Iowa.