The Manzanar Committee announced on March 31 that Owens Valley native Robert W. “Bob” Gracey has been chosen as the 2016 recipient of the Sue Kunitomi Embrey Legacy Award.
The award, named after the late chair of the Manzanar Committee who was also one of the founders of the annual Manzanar Pilgrimage and the driving force behind the creation of the Manzanar National Historic Site, will be presented at the 47th annual Manzanar Pilgrimage, scheduled for 12 p.m. on Saturday, April 30, at the Manzanar National Historic Site, located on U.S. Highway 395 in California’s Owens Valley, between the towns of Lone Pine and Independence.
Gracey, 87, born in Kearsarge (formerly a narrow-gauge railroad station about five miles east of Independence), was elected in late 1992 to the Inyo County Board of Supervisors, representing the 4th District, which includes the Manzanar National Historic Site.
Gracey served only one term, but he made Manzanar one of his top priorities immediately after taking office, most notably the monumental tasks of the hazardous materials cleanup of the high school auditorium (now the Visitors’ Center), one of the remaining original structures at Manzanar, that had been used by the county as a maintenance facility for decades, along with the land exchange process that expanded the Manzanar National Historic Site from its original 500 acres to its current 813 acres.
“Those were two huge tasks that Bob took on right after he took office,” said Gann Matsuda, a member of the Manzanar Committee who served on the Manzanar National Historic Site Advisory Commission from 1992 to 2002. “He played a major role in the hazmat cleanup of the Manzanar High School auditorium, and in the land exchange agreement that not only added an additional 313 acres to the site, but also allowed Inyo County to build a new, replacement maintenance facility.”
Few know of Gracey’s contributions to these projects, work that the first superintendent of the Manzanar National Historic Site, Ross Hopkins, said was “far more complicated than anything else I had done in the National Park Service over a long period of time.”
Gracey’s behind-the-scenes work was critical to the success of both projects.
“There are the people who get out in front, carrying the flag in the parade, and then there are those who are just on the fringes of the crowd, but are the ones who really got it done,” said Hopkins, who worked closely with Gracey. “In terms of his work on Manzanar, Bob was certainly one of those people. He got the big picture. He had his finger on the pulse of the projects.
“Bob always had his finger on the pulse of the community, and he worked behind the scenes to grease the skids for me to get things done with county officials. I was an unknown quantity in Inyo County, and when you come in as a federal employee in a rural area, they look askance at you until you prove yourself.”
Manzanar Committee Co-Chair Bruce Embrey said, “I know it’s a cliché, but Bob is really an unsung hero. Bob exemplified the ideal of public service. What he did was essential to making the dream of the Manzanar National Historic Site a reality. We truly are pleased to be able to thank Bob for his vision and honor him for all of his hard work on behalf of the Manzanar National Historic Site.”
In addition to the afternoon event, the Manzanar At Dusk program follows that evening from 5 to 8 p.m. at the Lone Pine High School auditorium, 538 S. Main St. (U.S. Highway 395), in Lone Pine, nine miles south of the Manzanar National Historic Site, across the street from McDonald’s.
Manzanar At Dusk is co-sponsored by the Nikkei Student Unions at CSU Long Beach, Cal Poly Pomona, UCLA and UC San Diego. Through a creative presentation, small group discussions and an open-mic session, participants will have the opportunity to learn interact with former incarcerees and hear their personal stories, share their own experiences, and discuss the relevance of the concentration camp experience to present-day events and issues.
The Manzanar Committee has also announced that bus transportation to the pilgrimage from Little Tokyo is available. The bus will depart at 7 a.m., arriving at the pilgrimage at approximately 11:30 a.m., and will also take participants to the Visitors’ Center following the afternoon program. The bus should arrive back in Los Angeles at approximately 8:30 p.m.
Reservations will be accepted on a first-come, first-served basis. The non-refundable fare is $40 per seat, $30 for students and seniors. Complimentary fares are available for those who were incarcerated at any U.S. confinement sites during World War II.
Anyone wishing to attend Manzanar At Dusk should make other transportation arrangements.
Pilgrimage participants are advised to bring their own lunch, drinks and snacks, as there are no facilities to purchase food at the Manzanar National Historic Site (restaurants and fast-food outlets are located in Lone Pine and Independence). Water will be provided at the site.
Both the Manzanar Pilgrimage and Manzanar At Dusk are free and are open to the public. For more information, or to reserve a seat on the bus, call (323) 662-5102 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.