Marion Wake

Interview by Jun Stinson

Marion Wake played an active role expanding mental health services to ethnic minorities in the United States as a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. She is the mother of four children and is married to Reverend Lloyd Wake, a United Methodist Minister and civil rights activist. Marion spent her early childhood in the Santa Monica Canyon of California. Her father, a Coast Guard veteran, was a cook and chiropractor and her mother was a housekeeper. When she was fifteen, her family was interned along with the other 120,000 Japanese Americans who were incarcerated by the US government in 1942. She’s dedicated much of her life to working as a counselor for ethnic minorities in the Bay Area because says she had always wanted to help people live to their fullest potential and noticed a lack of psychological services available to people of color.

The daughter of Japanese immigrants

Marion’s family photo in 1929. Marion is in the center.
Marion Yamabe was born in Los Angeles, California in 1926. Her parents, Umeshichi and Toku Yamabe, were from Hiroshima, Japan and had immigrated to the United States.

Marion spent her early childhood in Santa Monica Canyon. Her father, a United States Coast Guard veteran, worked as a cook for a couple of film directors, including Cecille B. DeMille. Her mother also worked as a housekeeper for one of the movie directors her father had worked for.

Then the director for whom Marion’s parents were working  got married and his wife chose to keep her own household employees, leaving Umeshichi and Toku without jobs.The  family was struggling to make ends meet, so her father Toku decided to become a chiropractor.

Marion at 6 years old in 1932.
They later moved to Santa Monica proper. Marion went to a public school in Santa Monica during the day and to a Japanese school in the afternoon. She was a good student at the “American school,” as she called it, and said she was respected by her classmates and friends. But she preferred going to Japanese school because she felt like she had more in common with her Japanese American peers.

Excerpt from the transcript:
Wake: “I went to school out there and I did well in school… but I didn’t like American school as we called it and after school – American school – I’d rush home and then the Japanese school teacher came after us in the school bus. Japanese school was just fun for us…”

Stinson: “Why did you prefer Japanese school over American school?

Wake: “Because we felt secure and all others were Japanese. In the American school I had one other Japanese boy who was in my class and you know, we were treated fine. You know if he was Jack, I was Jill. We were both in the safety patrol and you know everyone treated us well because we behaved very well [laughs] in American school.”

The Yamabes become Christians

Marion with her mother in the mid 1930s. Marion’s mother was later diagnosed with cancer and passed away in 1940.
Marion’s parents were skeptical of Christianity, but times were tough for them and they sought out spiritual guidance. After her father had been working as a chiropractor for a while, he found that his clients weren’t getting better. He met with a Methodist minister, known as Baba Sensei, to learn about how he could heal people. After spending time with Baba Sensei, Marion’s father converted to Christianity. Around the same time, a woman from the local Free Methodist Church had spoken to Marion’s mother and also converted her to Christianity. Marion’s parents were then baptized as Free Methodists.

110,000 Japanese Americans are Interned

During World War II in 1942, 120,000 Japanese Americans were sent to Internment camps across the United States. Marion, her father and two brothers were first sent to live in horse stables at an assembly center at the Santa Anita Race Tracks with about 40,000 other Japanese Americans. Marion had just stared her sophomore year of high school when she was told she had to leave for camp.

Excerpt from transcript:
Marion: “That was the really hard part because my sophomore year of high school had just started and I had to leave school. Nobody had said good-bye, sorry, we’ll miss you or anything like that. And so then we went to camp. There was no school in Santa Anita, so all the college graduates and others who were already certified teachers organized a wonderful school from pre-school through high school.”
But the school only lasted a short time, because those 16 and over were eventually drafted to make camouflage nets for the war.

Marion’s father was able to get a job as an assistant to the head of the food department at the camp since he was fully bilingual in Japanese and English, an experienced cook, and a patriotic World War I veteran.
Excerpt from transcript. Marion, referring to her experience at the Santa Anita internment camp: “He [Marion’s father] used to say, ‘I went into the warehouse and all I could find was beans, beans, and beans.’”
Marion was actively involved in the church community while interned at Santa Anita. She said that some of her best memories from camp were through the Holiness Association where she joined the choir, taught Sunday school and made friends.
Excerpt from the transcript:
“As far as resentment and anger about camps, we left everything to our father. At least my younger brother and I did. My older brother was on his own – he had his own friends. So you know it was like this is what’s happening and you make the best of it. And it wasn’t until later when I became an adult and the civil rights movement started that I realized how much we had been wronged.”
Marion recalled how, in November of 1942, they were packed into dilapidated trains with the blinds shut and not to be opened. They were not told where they were going. Her father was assigned as a monitor and collected money from those who wanted to buy things when the train made its few stops. According to Marion, if you didn’t have money, you didn’t eat because the War Relocation Authorities didn’t provide food on the train. After six days and five nights they found themselves in desolate Rohwer, Arkansas. Marion’s father was hired again as the assistant to the food director. But her family didn’t stay long at Rohwer. A lot of the kids formed gangs at the camps. Her five-year-old brother joined one and got himself into trouble. As a result, Marion’s father was eager to leave Rohwer. Because of her father’s service and good reputation, their family was given the permission to leave the camp two years before most internees, in May of 1943.

Life after Internment

Marion’s father was allowed to take a crew of cooks, bakers, waiters, dishwashers and locker room workers to work at a golf resort in Flossmoor, Illinois. Marion, who worked as a dishwasher and locker room worker, was one of his crew members.

Marion’s family moved to Naperville shortly after the camps. She attended Naperville High School.
Marion’s high school basketball team. Marion was athletic and went out for every sport. She later wrote a sport column called Queen Sports for her college school newspaper.
Her family moved into run-down dorms at the golf resort. They were out of jobs by August because the resort was closing down for the winter. They then moved to Naperville, near Chicago, and her dad found work as a cook at a tuberculosis sanitarium. Marion worked as a server in the sanitarium’s nurses’ dining room while attending Naperville High School.

Marion becomes a Licensed Counselor

Marion graduated from high school in 1944 and spent her first year of college at North Central College in Naperville. She had had a dream of becoming an elementary school teacher since she was a child. But her college counselor told her that no one was hiring Japanese American teachers and strongly advised her to choose another major. Reluctantly, she changed her major to Psychology, and then left North Central after her first year to find a better paying job in Chicago.

Marion and Lloyd on their first date (a double date to a river).
She spent her sophomore year studying at Wilson Junior College in Chicago, and helping out at a new Fellowship Church that was started by a young minister named John Miyabe. John had invited Lloyd Wake, a young seminary student from Asbury College in Wilmore, Kentucky to speak at his church. It was then that Marion met Lloyd for the first time. Having a number of friends and acquaintances at Asbury College, Marion ended up transferring there to finish her degree. She and Lloyd met again and eventually started dating.

Marion in the late 1940s

Marion graduated from college in 1948 and began working with children in Chicago at the Ellis Community Center. She and Lloyd were engaged and Lloyd moved to Berkeley to finish seminary at the American Baptist Seminary of the West. Marion eventually moved to California and they married in December of 1948.

Marion and Lloyd’s wedding photo, 1948

In San Francisco, Marion was asked to become a teacher at a school for severely emotionally disturbed children.

Marion working with children who were severely emotionally disturbed.

She worked at the school for ten years and went to graduate school for a Masters in both School and Family Counseling. She worked at a Japanese counseling center for a while, and then began working again in the school district. She eventually became a counselor at a school in San Francisco.

Marion was later asked to do marriage counseling with Pine United Methodist Church and Berkeley United Methodist Church, both congregations that Lloyd served at different points throughout his life.

Life as a Pastor’s Wife

Marion faced hard times as a pastor’s wife. Lloyd spent long hours with the church and away from the family. Congregations had expectations that Marion should also work for the church because she was the pastor’s wife. But Marion had four small children to take care of, and personal goals in her community that she wanted to pursue.

Marion and Lloyd’s family photo in the late 1960s.
“He (Lloyd) was really married to the church. That’s the common complaint of minister’s wives. When I look back upon it you know I realize he was a young minister trying to establish himself, trying to become self-confident and he felt like he needed to put in all this time relating to the young people. And instead of coming upstairs to be with the family in the parsonage, he played ping-pong with young people or whatever they were doing. It just seemed like the kids and I didn’t have any of his time.”
While Lloyd was becoming a prominent Japanese American minister active in the Civil Rights movement, Marion continued her work as a counselor and mother of four children. In 1972 she was asked to be one of six interns in a federally funded program that grew out of the Educational and Development Act. It was created for ethnic minority counselors, social workers and psychologists in graduate schools at Stanford, University of California Berkeley, San Francisco State and Hayward State. She was training to work in communities with large populations of ethnic minorities. She chose to work at George Washington High School in San Francisco’s Richmond District because it had a large number of Japanese Americans.
“The head counselor at the school said to me, ‘You know, our minority kids don’t want to work with minority counselors. They want to work with white counselors.’ So I gave up on her. I didn’t deal with her anymore. There was one Chinese counselor that I worked with and the Asian American Studies teacher referred students to me.

The Early Beginnings of the Richmond Area Multi-Service Center

Then one day her supervisor inadvertently mentioned to her that money was coming in from the Federal Government for another mental health center in the Richmond District. At the time the Richmond District had a large population of Asian Americans. Marion was working at the Sunset Mental Health Center, which had predominantly white staff members and therefore an all-white clientele, except for court cases. She knew there was a need for minority groups to have counselors from similar cultural backgrounds and with shared languages. As soon as she found out about the funding, she went home and called every Asian American mental health worker she knew to tell them about the new health center and that they could apply for the funds to create a center for the Asian American community. At that time she and her colleagues knew they had to change the District V advisory board that decided where the money would go. The board was made up of people who would not fund projects to help minorities. Marion invited busloads of people from Delancy Street to come to Temple Methodist Church where the board elections were taking place. Delancy Street was a center in District V that was started in 1971 for ex-offenders, the homeless and those fighting against substance abuse. With all the support, they were able to out-vote those who didn’t support funding community-based projects for ethnic minorities. She and other organizers then used the office of Asian Inc., a non-profit organization in San Francisco, to write grants for their project.

Their hard work paid off, and they eventually received the award. They helped establish the Richmond Area Multi-Service Center, otherwise known as the Richmond Maxi Center, which opened in 1975. Today the center’s website says that it continues to be dedicated to “providing community based, culturally-competent, and consumer-guided comprehensive services, with an emphasis on serving Asian & Pacific Islander Americans.” It offers services in 30 languages including Cambodian, Cantonese, Mandarin, Toishanese, Taiwanese, Hindi, Japanese, Korean, Lao, Punjabi, Tagalog, Thai, Vietnamese, Russian, and Spanish.

Marion later served on the board for Asian American Recovery Services, at the time the only organization available specifically to Asian Americans addicted to drugs.

Nearly 85 years old at the time of our interview, Marion continues to live with her husband Lloyd in San Francisco. She doesn’t attach herself to any religion, but says that she lives her life as a spiritual and giving person. Her and Lloyd’s family has expanded, and many of their children and grand-children live out their legacy dedicated to human rights in their community and around the world.
“I’m interested in helping people live as fully as they can. If I could help them achieve that by listening to them, you know I’d be very happy.”

Marion and Lloyd continue to live in San Francisco and are still dedicated supporters of the Delancy Street Project.

Marion and Lloyd’s family photo from January 2010