After 50 years – Japan group enjoys a reunion

Posted by Charlaine Tolkien 

In September of 2009, 1959 SPANners Zita Kennedy, Roger Morcomb and Ida (Sather) Martinson had a long overdue reunion in Bemidji, Minnesota at the home of Ida and her husband, Paul. 

I talked to Zita recently and she said, “It was a wonderful reunion – beyond my expectations. I thought it might be awkward because we had not seen each other in 50 years, but that was not the case. Don’t wait 50 years to get your group together. We had a wonderful time.” 

Zita commented on several highlights – first of all the wonderful home-cooked meals provided by Ida and Paul!  The other highlight was looking at their slides and getting their memories going. The three of them also were able to call other members of the group and it was enjoyable to visit with them.

 I asked Zita to share some of her memories of her SPAN experience: 

 “My parents did not even know that I had applied. I just saw an ad in the paper, so I applied. My family is quite Irish so we had always danced at the Festival of Nations in St. Paul and that sparked my international interests.

“In Japan, each SPANner had his or her own housing arrangement. I stayed with three separate families in three cities and was very fortunate to see more of Japan. One special memory was waking up on my last morning at one of the families and finding a box of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes on the table. It was such a tender gesture on their part, one that I have not forgotten! 

“Mr. Kaye Matsumoto was our advisor and he was exceptional. I deeply appreciate everything that the Matsumoto’s did for us. In fact, I did not graduate after SPAN but went back to college in the mid-70’s and took a year of Japanese from Mrs. Matsumoto. There were events with Japanese students to practice our language skills and that was a highlight for me.  

“In addition to the joys of raising four children, my SPAN experience is one of the highlights of my life. It gave me a lifelong deep interest in people all over the world – in fact, that is just a given when you join SPAN! My family often had international students in our home and all my children can speak a little Japanese. Even my grandchildren are interested in Japan; my granddaughter recently took a classical Japanese dancing!” 

In closing, Zita said, “I think of the SPAN motto quite often. I really do believe that one person can change the world.” 

Jerry Loomis British Isles 1952

Jerry Loomis always wanted to be a Jazz Piano improviser. He played often in high school but never had much of an opportunity to improvise his music. After attend the University of Minnesota and obtaining a degree in Business Administration, he spent two years in Germany in the army. Upon returning, he married and had two children—with music performance being absent from his life for the next 25 years!
In the mid 1970’s, Jerry purchased a grand piano and took lessons from a jazz teacher. While he had no plans whatsoever for a second career, after volunteering for two years to play piano for the social hour of his bike club’s annual meeting, he decided to accept tips in a tip jar. After earning $300, he decided to become a professional!
Still, his dream was to improvise his music. Combating self-doubt, (“Am I good enough? Do people like what I’m playing?”), he remained persistent in his dream. He volunteered to play patriotic music for his Rotary Club, started the “Hope Jazz Group” at his church, and played with the Swing Beat Big Band. Through all these gigs and playing for the Von Maur department store in Eden Prairie, MN he honed his performance skills and learned how to play his way out of mistakes. He can now play 3-4 hours at a time and aims to form his own jazz group. Looking back, he says it was a “journey of skill building. My suggestion for changing careers is to work on skills by training, learning, and practicing. Overcome your fear of failure by continuing to keep at it.” Jerry now plays the background for soloists at funerals, wedding ceremonies and receptions. And he’s happy

Rodney Hokenso India 1953

“[SPAN] was a pivotal experience in my life. My ongoing concern for other nations/peoples stems from those days.” Rodney Hokenso marvels at his interaction with religions and academic leaders through is SPAN experience. He went on to lead two Rotary projects to provide wells to Indian villages.

Patricia Brockman    Philippines 1958

Patricia is involved with the Portland Art Museum. She recently traveled to Egypt for 15 days and experienced a tour by an Egyptologist.