February 9, 2012
Baylor Law alumnus Takashi Kitaoka turned 100 on Feb. 1. Kitaoka, who was the first Maui-born circuit court judge with jurisdiction over Maui, Molokai and Lanai, lives in Honolulu and received his LL.B. from Baylor Law in 1940.
Judge Kitaoka was the youngest of four children and was born in Hana, Maui. He attended Mid-Pacific Institute and graduated from the University of Hawai'i in 1934. After graduation he worked at the Honolulu Star-Bulletin
and the Palama Settlement. He received a scholarship to Baylor Law through the auspices of Lloyd Killam, who was head of the YMCA at the University of Hawai'i.
"I considered careers in education and journalism, but I got interested in law while taking political science courses at the University of Hawai'i," he said.
In 1937, when Kitaoka arrived in Waco, the law school was vastly different.
"I lived in Brooks Hall, on campus," the Judge said. "My fellow students and teachers treated me like a prince. I enjoyed that part of it. I was a novelty. I got to know the people and they were very nice, very kind, very hospitable."
Kitaoka said he spent approximately four to six hours in class during the day and studied from six to seven hours after class. His favorite classes were contract law with Dean Thomas E. McDonald and Practice Court with the legendary Judge J.P. Alexander. Unlike today, when women make up just over half of Baylor Law students, Kitaoka recalls there being only one woman in his class, Mattie Beryl Montgomery. He became friendly with his classmates and would visit their homes during vacation, Christmas and Easter.
"I even went to Oklahoma and New Mexico during one Christmas because that was my first year," he said, during an interview with the University of Hawai'i Center for Oral History. "We were in the dormitory and one of my friends was a pure Cherokee Indian. So he asked me to go [with him] to the Indian reservation in Oklahoma and I did. I had a wonderful time. I learned about the Indians, how they lived, what they ate."
Kitaoka graduated from Baylor Law School in 1940 and was drafted when he returned to Hawai'i. He served with the Hawai'i Army National Guard's 298th Infantry. Ironically, he was discharged in September 1941, just a couple of months before the attack on Pearl Harbor, but after the attack he returned to his old unit.
In 1942, he was assigned to the 100th Battalion, the primary Nisei battalion that was composed primarily of members of the Hawai'i Army National Guard. Kitaoka saw his first combat action in Benevento, Italy, and later was injured at Monte Cassino.
Kitaoka was discharged at the war's end and returned to the United States. He lived in Chicago for a year with his wife, Yuki. When he moved back to Hawai'i, he worked for the VA and the city and county of Honolulu prosecutor's office. From 1960-62, he served as director of the Hawai'i Department of Labor. In 1962 Governor Bill Quinn appointed him to the Second Circuit Court on Maui. He served in that roll until 1968.
Over the years he has kept abreast of his alma mater. Thirty-five years ago he returned to Waco when a party was held at Baylor in his honor. He also met classmates Clarence Guittard and J.C. Turner in Dallas. Once he met then-Baylor President Abner McCall in Honolulu (McCall stopped over on a trip to Asia).
Kitaoka continues to follow Baylor athletics and, according to his son, Lloyd, was very excited when Robert Griffin, III, won the Heisman Trophy. Kitaoka also has been a stalwart supporter of Baylor Law and particularly the Faculty Fund.
The Judge lives with his son and daughter-in-law and is in good health while his wife of 71 years lives in a care facility.
"Judge Kitaoka left Baylor Law over seven decades ago and is separated from us by many thousand miles, but his heart, his loyalty and his support are with us always," said Baylor Law Dean Brad Toben.
You can learn more about the Takashi Kitaoka's remarkable life at nisei.hawaii.edu