Heidi M. Pascual*
Publisher & Editor
* 2006 Journalist of the Year for the State
of Wisconsin (U.S.-SBA)
|For more Asian American
stories in Wisconsin, click:
|March 1950 Was Special for
My Wife and Me
that served clam chowder, something I can always do without.
Atsuko and I met while employed at the Cook County Public Welfare Department (CPW-Midwest) office in the south side of
Chicago. The Quakers’ American Friends Services’ Student Relocation Committee expedited her leaving the Jerome
(Arkansas) War Relocation Center. She went to Columbia, Missouri, where she completed her undergraduate work and
earned a bachelor’s in Sociology. Her tuition was paid by the National YWCA. The dean of women at Mizzou helped her find
housing in a co-op residence for women. She was able to earn enough to pay rental fees by baby-sitting during afternoons.
So, she mixed attending classes, earning a small income, and studying to enable her to attain her degree with honors.
In my case, the American Friends Student Relocation Committee members helped me obtain approval to move to Chicago,
the destination I chose because at that time, I knew of only two schools of social work I wanted to attend — Columbia
School of Social Work in New York and School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago. The plan was
for me to stay in a Brethren Society Hostel in Chicago; however, by the time I got War Relocation Administration clearance to
make the move, the Hostel was full. The American Friends Services was able to find an alternative — Meadville Seminary
House, just off campus of the University of Chicago. The Unitarian Church’s academic plan was to have its divinity students
in the seminary student housing to enable aspiring ministerial students the opportunity to interact with students following
other secular careers such as business, physical sciences, social work, and linguistics. I fit into the group called social
work. The experience was worthwhile, and I was able to make friends who later became ordained ministers and scholars.
After enrolling in the University of Chicago and taking extra courses to enable switching from engineering to social work, I
was accepted by its School of Social Service Administration and earned a graduate degree. Part of my curriculum required
fieldwork assignments. I interned for three academic quarters at CPW-Midwest where I first met Atsuko who was a case
worker. I was introduced to others of the team of six as a student worker assigned a relatively small caseload. After I had a
different three-quarter internship at a different social agency, I got my degree in 1949. My first job as a professional social
worker was at CPW-Midwest. By happenstance, I was assigned to the same unit as Atsuko, so that’s where I got to know
her. I was there for about six months or so before moving to Illinois.
After passing a written examination for the position of research analyst for the Illinois Division of Child Welfare, I became a
state employee in Springfield, Illinois. The job turned out to be that of supervisor, Statistics Unit, and I never met the person
whom I replaced. The chief statistical clerk was very helpful and mentored me into the position and introduced me to
professional and clerical staffs. Absent her help, I was not too certain about survival as a unit supervisor. Within a few
months after starting the new job, Atsuko and I were married in Chicago, and we moved to Springfield. Recognizing our
newness to the community, the statistical clerk invited us to meet her husband, daughter, and other family members, all
African Americans. Our friendship lasted for decades, continuing even after we moved to Wisconsin a little more than a year
Atsuko got a federal job sorting mail at the Springfield Post Office, also downtown and within walking distance of an
apartment I had found a couple of months previously. With our two incomes, we could afford a better place to live, especially
since when Atsuko first saw the second-floor one-bedroom utility apartment, she said, with determination, we had to find a
place to live. I couldn’t blame her. A large bed with brass head and foot boards took up most of the space. There was a
stove, a small refrigerator, and a wash basin with running hot and cold water. The bathtub and toilet were on a shared
basis with another couple. We tried to find a better place but gave up after a few tries. The major obstacle was that we had
no car, so that narrowed the possibilities.
After about a year and a half, I was asked to take a civil service examination for a social research analyst position in
Madison, Wisconsin. Examination papers were sent to the Springfield post office where I completed a four-hour test in the
presence of a proctor whose job was to make sure no one helped me and that I did not use any reference materials. (At
one time, Wisconsin’s civil service procedures were strict, fair, and assured selection of qualified employees.)
Later, being one of three top candidates, I was hired following an oral interview in Madison. The change suited both Atsuko
and me, and we lived about a year in a one-bedroom utility apartment recently vacated by a fellow state employee and his
wife and two young children. The four-flat remodeled home had backyard parking spaces for renters. We had no car;
however, public transportation was excellent, with a bus stop only a block away.
About a year later, our first child was born, and we decided more space was needed. Rental units in the vicinity exceeded
our ability to pay; we looked at ads and found a farmhouse that had been remodeled into two apartments with upstairs
bedrooms. It was outside a bus line and outside Madison city limits, but fortunately, we had bought a used car, so the move
was possible. The home owners (man, wife, and three children) lived in half of the house. Our two families became good
friends, and we enjoyed living with our landlords and getting to know our neighbors who lived in the vicinity.
Life bounced well for us, and the people Atsuko and I worked with became good friends. They helped Atsuko, our three
children, and me to become part of the community. We’ve lived in Madison for more than 60 years. As expected, we’ve
encountered racism from time to time; however, we’ve also experienced welcome and genuine acceptance.
Part 2 of 2
By Paul H. Kusuda
Atsuko and I were married in Chicago in March 1950, so its special significance continues.
Anniversaries were much more important to her than they are to me. I found that out very quickly. I was
reminded in April of that year that I had not mentioned it was our first month anniversary. What? What? I
never heard of such a thing. Well, we celebrated it, I think, by going out to eat. Probably, I picked Chili
John’s Place because I had frequented it a few times during the month or two I was living at the YMCA.
The only item on the menu was chili and beans and oyster crackers, all served on a metal pie plate. One
could have water and coffee or milk with the order. That may have been Spartan, but it was inexpensive
and filling. Most of the customers were men, which suited me just fine. Well, Atsuko wasn’t too
impressed, but we did go there a few times; for me, it was much better than a place Atsuko preferred