Priscilla Wegars earns ILA book award with "As Rugged as the Terrain"
Priscilla Wegars, volunteer curator of the Asian American Comparative Collection in the Laboratory of Anthropology, has received an Idaho Library Association Book of the Year Award for 2013.
The research associate in the College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences was recognized by association members at their conference recently in Lewiston.
Wegars’ book, “As Rugged as the Terrain,” focuses on Idaho’s Civilian Conservation Corps recruits (1933), federal prisoners (1935-43), and Japanese internees (1943-45) at the isolated, mountainous work camp near Kooskia as well as on the few Italian and German internees who worked at other camps in the vicinity.
Wegars said the text includes insights from Dick Hendricks, the chief clerk at the federal prison camp for two years. Hendricks, now 105 years old, added his young family's experience at the federal facility on the Lochsa River.
“Dick really added the human touch to the history of the camp,” Wegars said. “The men sent there were put to work building roads and learning other trades, so they would be employable once released, with less risk of re-offending.”
He stressed that the prison camp’s emphasis was on rehabilitation, not punishment, the author said. For example, the term “correctional officer” was preferred, rather than “guard.”
During her research Wegars collected information about the 265 World War II alien internees who spent up to two years at the Lochsa River site. One chapter shares stories about the men who were taken from their homes and families while the U.S. was at war. Seldom does a month go by when Wegars doesn't hear from a family seeking details about their loved one who spent time in the camp.
“Usually I can provide materials from the National Archives and other collections that will expand on the internees’ personal histories,” the UI historical archaeologist said. “It is so rewarding to be able to add to the memories of those men who really were patriotic Americans facing a country filled with fear.”
Wegars said family members also helped by providing photographs and, especially, a copy of the Rev. Hozen Seki's diary. Seki, a Buddhist minister from New York City, kept a diary in English during his second year at the Kooskia internment camp.
“His comments, perspectives and insights are an invaluable contribution to understanding the internees’ experiences from their points of view,” Wegars said.
The book also features stories from the time when the camp held nearly 200 tent-dwelling Civilian Conservation Corps recruits, most from New York State. The antics of these city fellows provide colorful insights into the CCC camp that housed young men far from home.
Wegars’ 2010 text also details the lives of internees at the Kooskia camp. “Imprisoned in Paradise: Japanese Internee Road Workers at the World War II Kooskia Internment Camp” (Asian American Comparative Collection), tells about the World War II rendition of Japanese Latin Americans, including men kidnapped from their homes in Peru, Panama, and Mexico and interned at the Kooskia Camp.
Each year the ILA recognizes works that make a outstanding contribution to Idaho literature.
- Article by Sue Hinz, for the College of Letter, Arts and Social Sciences