Joseph Vard Loomis – A Silent Hero

Warning: This is a long post. But if you read through it. It is definitely worth it.

“Vard was really friendly,…not only to the Japanese. When he talked to …farmers, ..he sat and talked for a half-hour or an hour. He really cared about people, ” said Kazuo “Kaz”, a prominent Arroyo Grande farmer.

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Vard in the middle with the first Arroyo Grande Japanese-American baseball team that he coached. (Photo courtesy of Lilian Sakarai and the South County Historical Society, Heritage Press, Volume II number 6, August 2007)

Joseph Vard Loomis, better known as “Vard” is one of those people that is hard to forget. He was described as friendly, personable and loyal by those who knew him. However, what he is likely remembered most for, is his love and kindness to the Japanese-American citizens of Arroyo Grande.

According to The Heritage Press, “The most prominent supporters of Japanese Americans in Arroyo Grande were J. Vard Loomis and his brothers.”

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Loomis brothers – L Clinton, Ivan and Vard Loomis

Background:
Edward Clinton Loomis, (their father) was one of the area’s early ranchers and founded a feed and grain store in 1905. Over time the business grew and by the 1930s, E.C. Loomis and Sons was the main agricultural supplier in San Luis Obispo county.

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Click to enlarge

During this time period it was clear that “the area’s agriculture was split into two distinct cultures: the largely Caucasian cattle ranchers and dairy farmers, who grew hay and alfalfa and ran their cattle on rolling inland pastures; and the largely Japanese American produce growers, who irrigated labor-intensive vegetables in the fertile coastal valleys. E.C. Loomis and Sons served them both, offering feed and grain to the ranchers and seed, fertilizer and insecticide to the farmers, ” (Heritage Press (Volume II No. 6).

Japanese-American workers tending the fields. (photo courtesy of the Pismo Oceano Vegetable Exchange  - http://pove.net/our-history/

Japanese-American workers tending the fields. (photo courtesy of the Pismo Oceano Vegetable Exchange – http://pove.net/our-history/ In the 1940 census, nearly two thirds of the Japanese American workforce had agricultural jobs.

When Edward Clinton Loomis retired, his sons Joseph “Vard,” Clinton “Buster” and Ivan took over the family business.

John Loomis recalled: Every year, the Loomises threw an annual “Japanese picnic” for their Japanese American customers. Families from Santa Maria to Morro Bay attended the gathering. On the day of the picnic Mr. Hayashi would (bring) crates of his own- grown lettuce, mayonnaise and cases of canned shrimp and crab….and mix it all up in large washtubs. They served sirloin steak, bread, beans, crab salads, coffee and soda pop, followed by …ice cream for dessert. Games followed cigars and cigarettes….those Japanese picnics were wonderful. When Kaz Ikeda became a teenager, Juzo Ikeda decided that his eldest son and the other young Nisei (second generation) needed a constructive physical outlet. At the time, baseball was at the height of its popularity, and every town and city had a sandlot team. Juzo decided the Japanese Americans of Arroyo Grande should have one too. He learned that Vard Loomis had played baseball at Stanford and enlisted his help. In 1931, they organized the Arroyo Grande Young Men’s Association baseball team, which Vard coached for ten years, until the internment. Kaz, the catcher*, was “quite a ball- player”, according to his cousin Haruo Hayashi. The team traveled to Santa Maria, Santa Barbara, Bakersfield, Fresno and San Jose to play other Nisei teams (second generation Japanese Americans.) Vard drove the team, and wife Gladys often went along. One day, a bus full of African American musicians spotted the Nisei team practicing in an Arroyo Grande park and challenged them to a game. Being the only “white guy” and odd man out, Vard was selected to be the umpire.It was one of the happiest days of his life, he later told his daughter Sandy—filled with laughter and good- natured teasing as each team called him “four-eyes” and “blind” whenever he made an unfavorable call (The Heritage Press, Volume II, No 6, pg. 8).

Most of the truck farms in the area were operated by Issei (or first generation) like Kaz’ father. Juzo Ikeda came to America and had began farming in 1929. Because of his success he was soon leasing forty acres of rich in the Arroyo Grande Valley.

“By the late 1930’s, there were about forty Issei farmers in the area. They formed a growers’ co-op—the Pismo-Oceano Vegetable Exchange—to ship produce to the East Coast”  (The Heritage Press, Volume II No. 6, pg. 8).

The success of the Issei farmers was shattered after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. Japanese Internment camps sprang up across the US and Japanese Americans were forced to leave their homes and property. Unfortunately the vast majority of Japanese Americans lost everything during Internment. Because of the California Alien Land Laws, Issei were banned from owning land and lost all rental or lease agreements when WWII started.

Japanese Exclusion Orders of the time period. (Image courtesy of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internment_of_Japanese_Americans)

Japanese Exclusion Orders of the time period. (Image courtesy of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internment_of_Japanese_Americans)

Even though there was unfair treatment, the Japanese American citizens stepped up to the challenge. Gladys Loomis (Vard’s Wife) remained absolutely livid at the treatment of her fellow friends. In 1991 she said, “Never once was any disloyalty found in our area. Nearly all of the young men who played on Vard’s Nisei baseball team who were of draft age volunteered immediately. Not one was drafted. Almost all of them worked in military intelli- gence because they were bilingual. Some served in the 442nd Infantry Combat unit (sic), the most decorated American unit of the war.” 

Despite persecution, name-calling and harassment, Vard and his family continued to be friends with Japanese Americans during and after the war.

According to the Heritage Press, “The Loomis’s stood by their Japanese American friends, even though others in the community called them Jap-lovers. Kaz Ikeda’s family had particular reason to feel grateful for Vard Loomis’s help — so much so that Kaz would later name one of his sons after him. At the outbreak of war, Kaz was twenty-three. He had recently graduated from Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, and was helping his dad farm the sixty acres that Juzo had purchased in Kaz’ name when he turned twenty-one.

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Kazuo “Kaz” Ikeda with Joseph Vard Loomis

About a month after Pearl Harbor, Kaz was abruptly thrust into the role of head of household. His father broke his neck in an accident involving a run- away team of horses. He was paralyzed and required around-the-clock nursing care at the hospital. When the Wartime Civil Control Administration (WCCA) ordered Japanese Americans to move east of High- way 1, quite a few of the Arroyo Grande farmers had to relocate. Kaz’ family moved across the highway to the Arroyo Grande Japanese- language school.

The Arroyo Grande Japanese American Language School (on the right) when they were first ordered to move. (Image courtesy of the  South County Historical Society - http://216.92.187.150/archives/whats_new/2009/january.htm)

The Arroyo Grande Japanese American Language School (on the right) when they were first ordered to move. (Image courtesy of the South County Historical Society – http://216.92.187.150/archives/whats_new/2009/january.htm)

Then they heard that the exclusion zone would be extended to the middle of the state. Kaz and some other Nisei drove east of Highway 99 looking for a place to rent, but, he recalled, “They didn’t want us out there. We couldn’t find any place to rent, so we decided to stay put.” When they learned they were going to be evicted, the family appealed to the WCCA. Juzo needed long-term nursing that was not available at the makeshift “assembly center” at the Tulare County Fairgrounds, Kaz recalled: “The WCCA told us my dad could remain at the local hospital until adequate facilities could be built at Tulare. And Mother could stay with him. But Mom hardly spoke English and didn’t know how to drive, so I asked if I could take her place. That’s when Vard stepped in and said I could stay at his place as long as I needed to. He didn’t hesitate for a second, but I heard he got a lot of flak from his friends.” Kaz’s mother and brothers went ahead to Tulare, while Kaz stayed with Vard and his wife Gladys and visited his father at the hospital every day. In exchange for the Loomis’ kindness, Kaz offered to babysit their daughter, Sandy. For the next two and a half months, he was the only Japanese American in the area. Gladys Loomis recalled that Kaz’s presence caused the sheriff to search their home for short wave radios, and the young Nisei was once stopped by the police for being alone in a car with a young white woman he was driving her home at Gladys’s request (The Heritage Press, Volume II, No 6, pg. 8).

“According to John Loomis, the uthorities enjoyed exercising their power: Soon after Pearl Harbor, we started having blackouts in Arroyo Grande. Most of the air raid wardens were guys that were 4F. They were quite a rowdy bunch. They would threaten to kill people for not having their lights properly shielded.
“They were mean hombres.”

“Finally, the Tulare Assembly Center’s medical facilities were ready, so Kaz and his father rejoined the family. They were eventually transferred to Gila River, Arizona, where the family cared for Juzo in their barrack until he died in the summer of 1943.” (The Heritage Press, Volume II, No.6)

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Gila River concentration camp, Arizona. (Photo courtesy of the National Archives and Records. Gila River Camp). this concentration camp held over 13,000 inmates, most of whom were from California. This camp was known for its baseball team, the Gila River Eagles, its prolific produce that fed most of the camps, and for being visited by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.

During the war, it was also not uncommon to see Japanese property burglarized, and burned. Vard knew this was a possibility, but tried to help the best he could.

During the war, “the Ikeda farm had been rented out to a couple of young Portuguese men. Vard Loomis stopped by regularly to collect the rent, out of which he paid the property taxes. Vard Loomis looked after the The Fukuhara’s 200 acres of choice farmland near Oceano. Their house on Halcyon Road was just about the biggest in town when it was completed in 1941. After Pearl Harbor, the brand-new place be- came a natural target for the resentful and envious. When the Fukuhara’s were interned, they asked Vard and Gladys, then living in a modest little house, to move into their home and keep an eye on their property.

“Vard and his brother Buster leased the Fukuhara acreage and farmed it during their absence. The Loomis brothers also arranged for the evictees to store their personal belongings in a large dehydrator building near their of- fices. Unfortunately, the building was somewhat isolated and easy to break into, so most of the furniture was stolen or vandalized by war’s end.” (The Heritage Press).

After WWII when the Japanese were allowed to return to their homes, only a few people returned to the Arroyo Grande farmlands. The few that did come back, had farms, but did not have the necessary capital to farm. Businesses at the time were not willing to lend credit for the needed supplies and labor to restart their farms.

According to the Pismo Oceano Vegetable Exchange History, “Once again, it was the Loomis family along with Jack Snyder, the village blacksmith, and Earl Wilkinson of Wilkinson’s Meat Market who helped their Japanese friends by extending them credit [and equipment] when no one else would be of assistance.”

Japanese American farmer, Arroyo Grande (image courtesy of http://pove.net/our-history/).

Japanese American farmer, Arroyo Grande (image courtesy of http://pove.net/our-history/).

Re-establishing farm operations under these challenges wasn’t. They worked with little equipment and supplies, only hiring help when they could afford it.

“Instead the entire family both young and old, joined hands and the families helped one another.  Together they labored long and strenuous hours, many times well into the night, to get themselves back on their feet.” (Pismo Oceano Vegetable Exchange History).

Although Vard and Gladys Loomis did not receive a medal of honor for their service, many are grateful for their kindness before, during and throughout the war. Vard may not be living any longer, but his example of loving your neighbor as yourself is a testament to future generations like myself .

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If anyone has any personal stories or memories of Vard or Gladys, I would love to hear them.

Sources:

http://www.southcountyhistory.org/Newsletters/august2007.pdf
http://digitalcommons.calpoly.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1307&context=moebius
http://sloblogs.thetribunenews.com/slovault/2012/02/japanese-relocation-world-war-ii-week-by-week/
http://pove.net/our-history/
http://216.92.187.150/archives/whats_new/2009/january.htm
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internment_of_Japanese_Americans
http://encyclopedia.densho.org/Gila_River/

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Aged Man Must Go to Asylum

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That title certainly caught my attention while I was researching.

I had stumbled across a clipping from the  Bakersfield Californian Newspaper dated August 6, 1907. My heart dropped. Mental care was oftentimes nothing short of abuse in the 1900s. It is the stuff haunted houses are made of.
According to an article from science museum.org, “Large Victorian public asylums haunt the history of psychiatry. They were hailed as places of refuge for some of society’s supposedly most vulnerable men and women. These buildings were called ‘lunatic asylums’, and later renamed ‘mental hospitals’. They earned a reputation as dehumanizing, prison-like institutions.” Perhaps Dewitt Clinton Biggs was not in a “prison-like institution.” I would like to hope.

 Although it is noteworthy that DeWitt spent his last days suffering from mental illness and was repeatedly admitted to an asylum, it doesn’t define his life. He grew up, married, and had a family of his own. He had at least eight children and supported his family through mining.

The article is attached below. Read on to find out more about his family life.

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The article says:

The Bakersfield Californian August 06, 1907

AGED MAN MUST GO TO ASYLUM

De Witt Biggs is in County Jail Again.    Parades Street on Saturday Night with Shotgun on His Shoulder

DeWitt Clinton Biggs, and aged man whose mind has been falling for some time past, was locked up in the County Jail yesterday, after having been released only a short time before, and an effort will  now be made to have him re-committed to the asylum for the insane at Stockton.

    Biggs is over 70 years old. He is connected with one of the best families in the county by marriage, but old age has weakened his mental facilities. He is an old inmate of the northern asylum, but was released about two years ago apparently cured.

    The other day, while in one of his tantrums, he was arrested by the local police officers, who thought he was intoxicated. When he appeared in the justice court the next day, however, he appeared to be perfectly sane and was released.

    Saturday night however, he left Tom Owen’s house where he was seen stopping, and imagining that his life was in danger, paraded up and down before the house for some hours, a heavy shotgun on his shoulder, looking for imaginary enemies, who had threatened his life, he said. The next morning he started out on the street, using and old broom for a cane. Finally he arrived at the County Jail, and went inside, saying that he wanted to see some of the prisoners. His condition was recognized by “Doc” Staley and he was locked up in a cell.

It is probable that Biggs will be taken before either Judges Mahon or Bennett tomorrow, and be examined as to his sanity, there seems to be no other way of taking care of him than by this method.

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The Stockton California Insane Asylum where DeWitt most likely spent the remainder of his days. DeWitt passed away six months after the newspaper article was written on February 15, 1908. (photo courtesy of http://www.asylumprojects.org/index.php?title=Stockton_State_Hospital)

DeWitt Clinton Biggs was the son of David Biggs.His father married a Scotch-Native American woman named Martha “Patsy” Chisholm.

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click to enlarge

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DeWitt Clinton Biggs (Courtesy of James Mahar – from Album of Mary King)

A younger DeWitt on the right with wife Mary Martha Busik and most likely their son David (photo courtesy of James Mahar – print. Original from Mrs. Dorothy Biggs)

According to records, Mary Martha Busik /(Busic) was either 13 or 16 years old when she was married DeWitt, who was 35 years old. (25 February 1866, White River, Tulare, California). Although this seems young, it was not uncommon at the time.

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DeWitt on left, friend on the right. Taken approximately 1870. (Courtesy of James Mahar – Print. Possibly with partner in mining venture)

Most likely where DeWitt is buried.  (photo courtesy of Joanne. "This is an unmaintained cemetery on private lands." )

Most likely where DeWitt is buried.
(photo courtesy of Joanne. “This is an unmaintained cemetery on private lands.” )

May you rest in peace DeWitt Clinton Biggs.

So farewell my love until I return

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Joseph Bryant’s original handwriting copied from a letter he wrote to his wife Amanda. (Background embellished for historical feel).

Love letters, ship voyages – a devoted husband that never returns.
It sounds like a Nicholas Sparks book. However, it is so much more.
Our ancestors were real people with real feelings and challenges.

I came across this letter written in 1839 because of a lovely woman named Marcia Messie. She gave my grandmother dozens of pages full of priceless family history. In turn my mother copied the pages and sent them to me. I was so excited.

This information doesn’t belong tucked in a book or in a file cabinet. I feel it is meant to be shared with all of you.

family

Click to enlarge

Joseph Bryant was married to Amanda Melvina Fitzalin Gault. Joseph worked on ships and was often away at sea for months at a time. I have the a copy of a letter he sent to Amanda. The family legend has it that was his the last letter he wrote before he died at sea. Although it is true he died at sea (seven days from New Orleans). Thankfully,  this was not his last letter. He died nine years later on the 9th of May 1848. (See New Orleans, Louisiana Death Record Index, 1804-1949 about Joseph Bryant.)

A merchant ship similar to the one Joseph Bryant would have sailed in the 1830s (courtesy of http://forum.woodenboat.com/printthread.php?t=80245&pp=40

A merchant ship similar to the one Joseph Bryant would have sailed in the 1830s (courtesy of http://forum.woodenboat.com/printthread.php?t=80245&pp=40

That does not take away from the heartfelt beauty shown in his handwriting. It is a testament of his loyalty and love for his family.

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Although the handwriting is beautiful it is hard to read and so my wonderful Mother-in-law helped me type it. (Question marks mean we were unsure what was said.) We tried to preserve his original punctuation. (If this version is still hard to read, scroll down to the bold print for the edited version.)

New York May 8th 1839

My Dear

Amanda I have been to the post office untill my feet are sore to finde a letter but have been disapointed every time I got your letter of the 2nd? in the two day and I wrote to you immediately but I have not had any answer from you if you have not got it you had Better see if I did not direct it to Wareham for I was in a grate hurry when I directed and I might have made a mistake and not poot an West Wareham

My dear I have been so much ingaged since I have been hear that I could not come home but I shall come as soon as I get hear again my dear I sail tomorrow for St Thomas and Chayses? and with the blessing of god I shall be back in two or three months my Dear I wrote you that I should send you some thing home but there has not been any vessel hear that was bound to Wareham direct So I will weight untill I come home my Self you wrote me you had some money By? you I will send you Some more which will be enought to last you untill I get thereI hope I have bought a grate quantity of things to take out with me for to sell out there and I hope that I shall do well on this for last voyage I made out well and What I carried? out my dear I want to see you so I cannot hardely think of going without comeing home but I shall be ablidged if you get my other letter you will h? all the particulars my dear keep up good Spirits for I hope to be with you in three months from this day god Bless your sweet? hart a my dear a how I long to see you and little Sis a amanda you must take good care but there is no need of that caution my dear I send you twenty dollar in this letter I would send you more but I do not like to send money in letters but I have two hundred that I wish you had but I dare not send it and you say you have some I hope that you will have enough to last you untill I come home my dear give my love to father and mother and mary and my most sincier thank for there kind to you and little sis and rember me to all the rest of the famely and I must conclud wishing healthe and happiness and I Remain your affectionate husband.

Joseph Bryant

PS my dear I shall wright from St Thomases but I should been more happy if I could heard from you again but there has been some mistake about it or I am shure that I should? I am shure that John he must bare a hand? get marred So fare well my love untill I  return,

JB
The type does help, but I also attempted to post an edited version here

New York May 8th 1839

My Dear

Amanda, I have been to the Post Office untill my feet are sore [trying] to find a letter but have been disapointed every time I got your letter of the (2nd? in two days .) I wrote to you immediately but I have not had any answer from you. If you have not received it you better see if I did not direct it to Wareham; for I was in a great hurry when I directed [it] and I might have made a mistake and not put West Wareham.

My dear I have been so engaged since I have been here that I could not come home.  But I shall come as soon as I get word again.  My dear I sail tomorrow for St Thomas and ? With the blessing of God I shall be back in two or three months. My Dear I wrote you that I should send you some thing home but there has not been any vessel here that was bound to Wareham directly. So, I will waight until I come home myself. You wrote me you had some money? I will send you some more which will be enough to last you until I get there. I hope I have bought a great quantity of things to take out with me  to sell out there and I hope that I shall do well.  On this last voyage I made out well with what I carried. My dear I want to see you so I cannot hardly think of going [out] without coming home. I shall be obliged if you get my other letter you will h? all the particulars. My dear keep up [the] good Spirits for I hope to be with you in three months from this day. God Bless your sweet hart, my dear how I long to see you and little Sis, oh Amanda you must take good care, but there is no need of that caution my dear. I send you twenty dollar[s] in this letter. I would send you more but I do not like to send money in letters. I [do] have two hundred that I wish you had but I dare not send it. You say you have some [so] I hope that you will have enough to last you until I come home. My dear give my love to Father and mother and Mary and my most sincere thanks for theire kind[ness] to you and little Sis. Rember me for all the rest of the family. I must conclude [by] wishing health and happiness. I remain your affectionate husband.

Joseph Bryant

PS my dear I shall write from St Thomas but I should [have] been more happy if I could [have heard] from you again. There has been some mistake about it or I am sure that I should? I am shure that John he must bare a hand? get married So fare well my love until I  return

JB

I do not know how he died, or what he sold on the ship. I do know that he loved his wife.
That’s all that matters.