The original executive vice president of Mukogawa Fort Wright Institute had a passion for education, an appreciation for the English language and American culture, and an effective but gentle leadership style.
Hiroshi Takaoka, 78, died Monday in Kobe, Japan. He leaves behind his wife Michiko, son Manabu, daughter Fumi and two grandchildren. Takaoka was a leader at Mukogawa when it opened in 1990 until his retirement in 2006.
Mukogawa Fort Wright Institute is a subsidiary of Mukogawa Women’s University in Spokane’s sister city of Nishinomiya, Japan. Takaoka taught at the university in Japan before coming to Spokane.
“He had a vision to build an institute where Japanese women students could learn about other cultures and contribute,” Janet Sahlin, who worked with Takaoka at the institute, said in an email. “Mr. Takaoka oversaw the refurbishment of the Ft. Wright campus, including the building of the Kusaka Library; the development of its now internationally accredited English language programs and the promulgation of the MFWI mission to outreach between the American and Japanese communities.”
Douglas Griffith, who was his neighbor and colleague for 16 years in Spokane, said Takaoka was “the one who called us all together (to start the institute).”
Then he entrusted the success of the school to the people he’d hired, Griffith said. “When the faculty met, if the ideas were moving along fine, he didn’t say anything. He did not have to be involved in everything; he listened.”
And “he was very devoted to his work,” Griffith said. Often, Takaoka was up past midnight so he could talk to university leaders directly in Japan.
“He had a love of educating the whole person. He believed in the mission of education, just as we did,” said Holy Names Sister Celine Steinberger, who was the executive director at Holy Names Center at Fort Wright when the property was sold to Mukogawa. “We had taught in Japan and we were asked to leave because of the war. And we never dreamed our site would become the site for educating women internationally.”
She added, “He used to say: ‘You saved this for us.’ ”
Holy Names Music Center remains on the institute’s grounds. “Hiroshi always wanted us to work together, and so did his wife,” Steinberger said. Holy Names sisters still help the students with conversational English.
“From the day I met him, we became friends,” she said. “His friendship was a gift to me and all the sisters. He was most gracious. He had the most kind eyes. He was a man of integrity.”
She added, “He was very committed to having the best for every student who was there. His work was a mission.”