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Donna Yount to tell of Japanese family's transition from internment camp to respectability

Because Donna Yount was an infant when she and her Japanese parents lived in a World War II relocation camp in Idaho, she has no direct memories of the experience.

That said, years of talking with her parents — and knowing she was right there in the volatile mix through it all — has given the Tigard resident (and former Beaverton resident) a unique perspective on her upbringing and what it was like for other Japan natives in the period between the bombings of Pearl Harbor in 1941 and Nagasaki in 1945.

She will share her knowledge, insights and indeed memories of her early childhood with the Beaverton Optimist Club on Thursday morning, Aug. 7, at 7 a.m. at the Peppermill Restaurant, 17455 S.W. Farmington Road. The event is free to the public.

Yount, a retired Japanese language teacher who was recruited to speak by Optimist Club President Wally Johnson, will share her family's experience as they worked through a challenging time, and how their optimism and faith helped them transcend a frighteningly uncertain time.

"I was an infant and born in the camp, so I don't remember anything about that," she says. "The things I learned were from my parents about their experience."

Her father, who owned a grocery store in Portland, was forced to sell the store at a loss when her parents and 2-year-old brother were forced to relocate to the so-called Assembly Center internment camp, first in Idaho, then in Northern California.

"They said it wasn't a good experience because they were worried about what was going to happen," Yount says of the two-or-so-year experience. "But they didn't have a lot to lose. The uncertainty was what was hard for my dad. He volunteered to do what he could."

When the family was released from the camp, her father relocated to Eastern Oregon to work for a lumber company, while Yount's mother took her and her brother to Burns.

"My brother and I grew up in a railroad camp," she recalls. "There was no electricity. This was a regular railroad camp, but coming from an internment camp, which is basically a prison, the actual living conditions were worse."

Despite mistreatment from a mean-spirited railroad foreman who held a grudge after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, Yount's parents persevered and never blamed those who mistreated them.

"My dad said, 'Ah, that was wartime. You can't help it. When there's war, people act differently from how they normally would.'"

When looking back on her family's struggles during the war, she feels blessed that her parents kept their heads on straight and laid the groundwork for their children's education. While Donna became a teacher in the Portland area, her brother went on to work as a diesel mechanic.

"As I look back, I see God's hands on it in many ways," she says. "It could have been much worse (for my parents). For me and my brothers, it was maybe better. My parents saved money and got us an education.

"'What are we going to make of it?' That is the lesson our parents taught us."

To hear more about the story of Yount's rise from war prisoners to prominent Oregon citizens, visit the Optimist Club meeting on Thursday morning.

For more information on the Beaverton Optimist Club, visit beavertonoptimist.webs.com or contact Wally Johnson at 503-680-5350.

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