By Barbara Takei
SACRAMENTO — A group of dedicated Manzanar volunteers journeyed to Sacramento last month to accept a 2019 Governor’s Historic Preservation Award given to the Manzanar Community Archeology Program.
Each year since it was begun in 1986, the Governor’s Historic Preservation Award has recognized exemplary achievements in historic preservation and the preservation of California’s heritage. The award is sponsored by California State Parks and the Office of Historic Preservation.
The Manzanar Community Archeology Program was developed by Manzanar’s cultural resources manager, Jeff Burton, who has been an archeologist at Manzanar for over 20 years. Burton was not present to receive the honor; however, he was represented by a steadfast group of volunteers who continue their involvement in Manzanar’s archeology project.
Crediting Burton as the force behind creation of the Manzanar Community Archeology Program, Laura Ng said, “We couldn’t have done it without [him].” Ng worked with Burton on multiple archeology digs at the Manzanar Historic Site from 2010 to 2015, beginning first as a volunteer at Manzanar, then progressing to an internship, and to a seasonal archeologist.
Ng was inspired by her experience in the program and today she is a student at Stanford University, pursuing a Ph.D. in archeology.
The program is very popular, Ng said, and exposes volunteers to the work of archeologists and encourages the deeper examination of historic artifacts and structures at the Manzanar site.
“We wouldn’t have been as successful a community archeology program at Manzanar without our dedicated volunteers,” Ng said, reading Burton’s prepared remarks and expressing his appreciation to those who donated their time, skills, and labor to help preserve the Manzanar site.
“Even though Manzanar is located in a beautiful setting, environmental conditions during Manzanar’s volunteer projects always seemed to be uncomfortably hot or cold or windy or dusty — often on the same day,” wrote Burton, noting, “These were the very same conditions that incarcerated Japanese Americans experienced during World War II.”
Volunteers for the Manzanar Community Archeology Program come from nearby towns and as far away as Japan. Volunteers have ranged in age from 9 to over 90, and represent diverse socio-economic classes and ethnicities. At town-era and WWII-era sites, three generations of Japanese Americans have worked alongside tribal members, inner-city youth, and local residents, sharing stories and perspectives.
Ng concluded by giving tribute to four Manzanar volunteers who passed away in 2019, individuals who played a significant role in preserving and interpreting the Manzanar site:
Dick Lorde drove from his home in Arizona twice a year for more than a decade, photographing many of Manzanar’s artifacts and was 94;
Dennis Bambauer was a 7-year-old orphan in Manzanar who worked to preserve the Children’s Village, Manzanar’s orphanage, and died at age 84;
Art Williams was the son of Manzanar’s assistant security chief and wound up returning to Manzanar to author “Reflecting on WWII, Manzanar and the WRA”;
Hank Umemoto, who died in December at the age of 91, was a teenager during WWII who volunteered at Manzanar for the past 25 years, and wrote a memoir, “From Manzanar to Mount Whitney: The Life and Times of a Lost Hiker,” that merged episodes from his early life with stories of his later hiking exploits.
Ng had fond remembrances of how Umemoto would encourage volunteers to join the community archeology program, telling them, “if you want to know what it was like in Manzanar, volunteer for an archeological dig!”
“From these different backgrounds, all four came together to preserve the legacy of Manzanar, so that we can all learn from the past,” said Ng in closing remarks. “We’re grateful for knowing and working with them and for all the volunteers, past present and future.”