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George M. Taoka, [1916-2013]; UT prof endured relocation in WWII



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George M. Taoka, a professor emeritus of international business at University Toledo, who was interned with his wife and other Japanese Americans during World War II until he found refuge, and opportunity, at the university, died Saturday in Swan Creek Retirement Village. He was 97.

He was in failing health only recently, his son, Garret, said.

For more than 40 years, Mr. Taoka taught courses on international business, economics, and trade at UT.

“His generation was more interested in imparting knowledge to the student,” his son said. “His generation wasn’t so worried about publishing or getting tenure or money. He just put his heart and soul into it, and they learned.”

Students felt free to call Mr. Taoka at home and ask questions or just talk.

“I think he was a pure academic. He felt education was the most important thing you could do for yourself,” his daughter, Mari, said.

He was born April 20, 1916, in Watsonville, Calif., to Yukino Koda and Takaji Taoka. He was a graduate student at Stanford University when Japanese planes attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. By mid-1942, he and his wife, Matsuye, had been removed to the Santa Anita race track. By October, they were sent to the Heart Mountain relocation center near Cody, Wyo., each family assigned barracks heated only by a pot-bellied stove.

He received his master's degree in absentia from Stanford. He applied to 15 schools to work on his doctorate. UT was the only place to accept him, though it had no doctoral program for him. The government issued a release order on New Year’s Eve, 1942.

“He was always very positive. He never held any grudges,” his son said. “He was thankful that Toledo accepted him. He was so positive about the whole thing.”

He enlisted in the Army in 1944 and, during the war, his duty was intelligence in the Pacific Theater. Afterward, he was part of the U.S.-occupying force in Japan. He retired from the Army Reserve as a major. He received his doctorate in 1948 from Columbia University.

He was an ardent golfer and had been a member of Heather Downs Country Club.

He and his first wife, Matsuye, married in 1942. She died June 11, 1979. He later married E. Jane Johansen, a UT mathematics professor. The couple were married 23 years when she died Jan. 25, 2003.

Surviving are his son, Garret Taoka; daughter, L. Mari Taoka; two grandchildren, and two step-grandchildren.

Memorial services will be at 3 p.m. Sunday in Christ Presbyterian Church, of which he was a charter member.

The family suggests tributes to UT’s college of business or the church.

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