Katharine Stegner Odum
Katharine Stegner Odum
Date of Birth
Born 1905 Died 2005
Kathy Stegner Odum was the most influential woman at Amache, Colorado’s only Japanese American “relocation” camp during World War II. She was the master teacher/senior advisor at Amache High School; counselor to and advocate for all ages; archivist who stayed after camp closure to make sure student records and Amache newspapers survived; mentor who found colleges, scholarships, and homes for her students; gender advocate who convinced Amache mothers to let their daughters stay after school for advancement; and Amacheans’ lifelong friend who inspired annual pilgrimages they still make from their distant homes.
Odum’s youth in homesteading Saskatchewan, Montana, and Dakota gave her ingenuity and inspiration to help Japanese American families from southern California deal with southeast Colorado. She became a widow in 1934, but completed her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Colorado A & M (CSU). She began teaching in remote Del Norte, Colorado, took summer courses to advance her expertise, and worked as a farm laborer. When she took the Amache job, one of her first bold actions was to insist she should live on site rather in the nearby town of Granada.
Odum took on Amache to do whatever she could for students. They remembered her as the most lauded and beloved teacher. In 1993, many of her students held a reunion honoring her at Tom Nakashima’s farm in Livingston, California. More than 80 former students with their families attended. The one who traveled farthest came from Hawaii. In 1998, at the “Return to Amache Reunion” that she inspired, hundreds of Amacheans honored Odum as one of four people to receive the first Amache Historical Society’s “Distinguished Service Award.”
In 2002, Odum moved back to Ft. Collins to be near family and died there in 2005. In that last year, when she was too ill to attend, the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles dedicated its Annual Award Gala to “Teaching from the Heart: Honoring Educators from America’s Concentration Camps” and included her in honors that were also recognized by a formal letter from President George Bush. The article noted “Mrs. Odum received numerous nominations,” and quoted praises from her former students. When her Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame nominator asked Amache survivors whom they might recommend for induction into the CWHF, they invariably named Kathy Stegner Odum.