(This blog was originally posted "In Your Neighborhood" on Monday, Februay 11, 2008, however due to a recent format changeover, it did not travel to the current blog and has been reposted. - MS)
Above: Federal Way residents Hank Fenbert (top far right) and his wife (second row, far right) poses with (from left to right) Elsie Dennis, Mary Ehlis and Mizu Sugimura at the City of Federal Way Art's Alive Juried Show in October 2007. Photo copyright 2008 by Mizu Sugimura.
Henry R. (Hank) Fenbert doesn’t live on my street, but he’s one of my good neighbors in Federal Way. He’s been one of those people whom you keep running into as you go about your business, who make living in one of the ten largest cities in the state less cold and unfamiliar
Hank is a mainstay of the Multi-Cultural Book Group meeting monthly at the Federal Way 320th Library, was a regular customer at the big chain bookstore in town when I worked there many years ago, and is with his wife Gwen, an ardent supporter of youth, family and arts associations in the area.
Only a few years before I met him when Hank was a younger man attending Notre Dame, he was classmates with Charles (Chuck) W. Hummer, Jr. now a third-generation Panama Canal employee and president emeritus of the Panama Canal Museum in Seminole, Florida.
Recently I’ve become aware of the Panama Canal Museum and it’s work, particularly the uplifting project Mr. Hummer has been working on to research the untold story of West Indians who worked on the canal have been largely overlooked in previously tellings of canal history.
While Mr. Hummer is not of West Indian heritage himself, but he has taken up this project in the interest of having the most complete account of the story of the Panama Canal available to those persons who value a full history.
Getting back to my neighbor Hank, Hank has been aware of the story I told in a blog at this site in March 2007 regarding my granduncle Akira Aoyama, the only Japanese engineer to participate in the building of the Panama Canal and he was kind enough to link Mr. Hummer with me via e-mail a few weeks ago for I’m very grateful.
It turns out Mr. Hummer was also familiar with the outlines of my granduncle’s story having visited the Inter-Oceanic Canal in Panama City in 2005. As with the story of the West Indian laborers, Hummer expressed an interest in having someday materials having to do with Akira Aoyama be included in the museum’s archival collection.
Hummer wrote: “I was intrigued by his significant involvement as a professional engineer in those formative days because at the time there was almost no contribution by engineers from outside the US or France. I rather imagine that his participation fell prey to history and the period where Japan and the US were adversaries.”
That the stories of those in this particular case non-white, non-American individuals are being uplifted by the interest and efforts of my world neighbors like Charles Hummer and others at place like the Panama Canal Museum in Seminole, Florida is a cause for personal celebration.
And the whole glow of these few wonderful minutes are a gift I owe to my own Federal Way neighbor and humanitarian, the fellow I have mostly had a nodding acquaintance with, who in this small and simple way has brightened the life of myself and my family forever.
“History is the essence of innumerable biographies." - Thomas Carlyle