On December 7, 1941, an Encinitas vegetable-farming family of Japanese descent had little idea how their lives would be impacted.
In February of 1942, San Dieguito High School student Tak Sugimoto’s family received notice of President Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066: the family would need to give up their home and leased farm on Saxony Road (where the YMCA sits today) and be relocated to the Poston War Relocation Center in Yuma County, Arizona.
Sugimoto says family members — his mom, brother, and sister — could only take two suitcases each — whatever they could hold in two hands. Everything else was left behind. Poinsettia farmer Paul Ecke, whose large farm was across the street, offered the Sugimotos a warehouse to store large items and farm equipment. Many local farmers did the same for the numerous farmers of Japanese ancestry in the coastal North County area.
Sugimoto’s father had tuberculosis and therefore was not allowed to go with his family to the camp. He was transported to a hospital in the Los Angeles area, where he died prior to being reunited with his family.
By April of 1942, the Sugimotos were residents of what would temporarily become Arizona’s second largest city, Poston, in the middle of the desert between Quartzite and Parker.
When Sugimoto was growing up in the 1930s in Encinitas, he and his grade-school buddies watched as the new San Dieguito High School campus was being built on Santa Fe Drive. The boys talked about what it would be like to become teenagers and attend the new school. They talked about graduating together in the Class of 1945.
In January of 1945, sponsored by the school’s business and bookkeeping teacher, Earl Dobins, Sugimoto returned to the San Dieguito campus to finish his last semester of his senior year. Because of the tensions during World War II, the student body was asked to vote on whether to allow Sugimoto back on campus.
It was a unanimous vote: Sugimoto was welcomed back with open arms. Later that June for his class’ graduation commencement, when he walked onto the football field, he received a standing ovation. He said of his graduation day, “It was exhilarating. It was a dream come true.”
After graduation, Sugimoto planned to go to UCLA, but the draft board said he was going to be drafted into the U.S. Army. Having put off his college plans, the war ended on August 15, 1945, without Sugimoto being inducted. He later attended college, and although his family never returned to Encinitas, he did.
On the high school campus in October, the first phase of alumni “legacy” brick pavers was dedicated. The largest of the bricks had Tak Sugimoto’s name on it, inscribed in acknowledgement to him and each one of his family members — three generations of Sugimotos that have now graduated from San Dieguito High School.