One of many interesting features of the papers of WKU librarian Margie Helm, available in the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives unit of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections, is documentation of Margie’s unique friendship with Hana (Kato) Kaku, her Japanese-born classmate at the Pratt Institute Library School.
Fluent in English and in Western ways, Hana returned to Japan to help in the rebuilding of its libraries following the devastating earthquake of 1923, but soon left the profession to care for her ailing husband, retired diplomat Michio Kaku. Then World War II brought economic destruction, driving the couple from their comfortable life in Tokyo to subsistence farming in a small village at the foot of Mt. Fuji. Hana made extra money as a translator and craftsperson, but was never able to fulfill her desire to return to library work.
For years after the war, Margie Helm sent Hana and her family gifts of clothing, medicine, toiletries and food (Hana’s stepdaughter June was delighted by a gift of marshmallows, for she didn’t know that “such a delicious thing existed,” and ecstatic when she received her first new dress in seven years). Their many letters of thanks included descriptions of the difficult conditions for ordinary citizens in postwar Japan: inflation, food and housing
shortages, and a “moral mess” that was tempting some to embrace communism. After Hana’s sudden death in 1951, her husband Michio told Margie that her support had been Hana’s “oasis” in a life filled with deprivation and sacrifice.
The upheaval in their country and the postwar communist threat also made the Kakus receptive to Christianity–Michio would formally convert in 1953–and the beautiful Japanese Christmas cards they sent Margie spoke to their evolving faith. Over the years, Margie received Christmas cards from other Japanese friends, tributes to her continuing interest in her former classmate’s country.