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The Chiba Morio Family: Undaunted in the Face of Adversity


Bain Chiba with his father Yasukichi, '17, at Bain's graduation from UW School of Pharmacy in 1937.
Bain Chiba with his father Yasukuchi, ’17, at Bain’s graduation from UW School of Pharmacy in 1937. Photo: Seattle PI 6/15/1937

Second year PharmD student Beau Chiba comes from a long line of UW School of Pharmacy pharmacists. When he graduates in 2018, it will be 101 years since his great-grandfather, Yasukuchi Chiba graduated. Beau is the sixth member of his family to attend UWSOP and his family’s story echoes the social, political, and economic ups and downs of the last century.

Beau’s great-great-grandfather on his father’s side of the family, Shirosabura Chiba, was a pharmacist who emigrated to the U.S. from Japan with his young family, including his son, Yasukuchi, Beau’s great-grandfather. When Yasukuchi graduated from UW School of Pharmacy in 1917, he went to work with his father. They owned several pharmacies in the Seattle-Tacoma area, including Main Drug in Nihonmachi (Japantown) in Seattle’s International District. Twenty years later in 1937, Yasukuchi’s son, Bain, graduated with his degree in pharmacy, likely making them the first father-son graduates from the UW School of Pharmacy. Bain began working as a pharmacist at the family’s Main Drug after graduation. Bain’s brother-in-law, Noboru “Nibs” Morio, began his studies at UW School of Pharmacy just before WWII. Mary Shimoda, who would later marry Nibs, was also a student at UWSOP. 

In 1941, all four members of the family were practicing or learning pharmacy, helping their neighbors and advancing health care. But in February 1942, just three months after Pearl Harbor, all of that ended when President Roosevelt signed an executive order to relocate 120,000 Japanese Americans to isolated relocation centers. 

And sadly the Chibas, Morios, and Shimodas were no exception. 

Beau’s great-grandfather, grandfather, grandmother, and great-aunt were forced to leave their homes in south Seattle and Beacon Hill for the harsh conditions of the internment camps. Automobiles were impounded. Homes and property sold. Families even donated their Japanese trees and shrubs to the UW Botanic Garden for safekeeping. Businesses were lost…including Main Pharmacy. 

The Chibas were initially sent to the short-term detention center at the Puyallup fairgrounds. The Army called it Camp Harmony, and it was anything but that. The family spent months living in close quarters in shacks with limited rations and poor facilities. 

The UW President and faculty advocated for their students. President Seig wrote a letter to 25 college presidents begging them to take UW’s Nikkei students. The Army initially permitted a few students to transfer. Most schools didn’t want the students and some rescinded offers as the story broke in the press. In December 1941, there were 450 Nikkei students enrolled at the UW, including Nibs and Mary. By May 1942, there were none. One dean went to Puyallup to hold an informal graduation ceremony for the Nikkei students who were just one month from commencement. Weeks later, the group was moved to Minidoka internment camp in Idaho. Among them was Mary Shimoda, Nibs’ future wife.  She was a remarkable student and was made a member of Rho Chi, an honor she received in absentia in 1942. She was in Puyallup, on her way to Idaho where she spent the war with her mother and sister. 

Nationwide, there was a shortage of labor. In some cases, people were able to get out of the internment camps—some worked farms in the Midwest and many health professionals were able to go to other parts of the country. As a knowledgeable pharmacist, Bain transferred out of the camp. He worked at the University of Michigan Hospital as a pharmacist until he could afford to move his family to safety in Michigan, where they lived out the war. 

Nibs took a different path. He enlisted to serve with the 442nd Infantry Regiment. With the motto, “Go for Broke,” the Japanese-American regiment was the most decorated in U.S. military history for its size and length of service. Nibs was in the 2nd Division, G Company, and was sent to Italy and then France to fight. He earned two Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star. In 1946, Nibs married his college sweetheart, Mary Shimoda. While Mary was able to leave the camp by transferring to Idaho State University to complete her education, Nibs eventually retired from the Army where he worked as a hospital pharmacist (without a degree!). He returned to the UWSOP to finish the education he had started 20 years prior. Upon graduation, he moved with Mary to Bellevue where they continued practicing pharmacy. She worked at Group Health and he at Overlake Hospital.

Beau Chiba, '18, photographed across from his grandfather, Bain Chiba's, '37, pharmacy location in Japantown, Seattle
Beau Chiba, ’18, photographed across from his grandfather, Bain Chiba’s, ’37, pharmacy location in Japantown, Seattle Photo: Alex Levine Photography/Uknown

Bain and his family returned home to Seattle a few years after the war ended. He was able to resume ownership of Main Drugs, but times were still hard post-War for Japanese-Americans in the Northwest. Many didn’t return. For the Chibas, the International District community came together and provided a safe harbor. In 1966, twenty years after they married, Nibs’ and Mary’s son—Beau’s cousin—Dave Morio enrolled at the UW School of Pharmacy, graduating in 1971. In 1980, he apprenticed with Bob and Maxine Sowders at Fife Pharmacy and Gifts, with the expectation that he would buy the pharmacy. He did just that in 1985. He worked closely with the Puyallup Tribal Health Authority serving PTHA contract-care patients. Dave also served on the UWSOP Pharmacy Alumni Association Board (PAA) as President. As a Clinical Assistant Professor, he helped precept many students. Being a staunch supporter of pharmacy and his community, Dave served as President of WSPA as well as the Fife-Milton Rotary Club. 

In 2008, the UW Board of Regents voted to issue 450 honorary degrees to the students who were pulled from the classroom and sent to camps and war. Among the 2008 honorary graduates were Nibs and Mary Morio. Mary finally gained her full-fledged status as a Husky. 

The Chiba-Morio family history reflects the pharmacy profession’s changes over the last century. Main Drugs closed in 1978 and now there are condos in its place. As physicians left the area and drug reimbursements continued to dwindle, Dave closed Fife Pharmacy in 2010 after 25 years. He now works for Safeway Pharmacy. 

2015 marked a new era in pharmacy practice with the change in Washington state legislation. In fall of 2014, Beau Chiba picked up the family mantle by enrolling at UWSOP. “I never got to meet my grandfather, but I’ve been told he was a character, and that I’m just like him. I chose UW School of Pharmacy to stay connected to my family history. It feels like home.”  

Link to Department of Pharmacy archived news