Letter to Berry president inspires life-changing journey, lifelong family bonds
Dr. Koji Yoda (65C) dreamed of attending college in the United States. As a high school student in Japan, he wrote to a dozen college presidents seeking such an opportunity, but only one responded - Berry's Dr. John Bertrand. Thus began an 18-month correspondence culminating in a life-changing friendship.
With Bertrand's encouragement, Yoda made history in 1961 as Berry's first international student, traveling 18 days via Pacific Ocean freighter and three more by bus just to reach the Gate of Opportunity. He came for an education; what he found was a life.
Determined to make the most of his time at Berry, the high-performing scholar immersed himself in college life. He made lasting connections performing with the concert choir and Berry Singers; serving as SGA vice president; and playing on the tennis, volleyball and soccer teams.
Meeting Reba Ann
Koji still intended to return home after college, but a few months before graduation, he caught the eye of a beautiful woman on the dance floor at Ford Gymnasium, and his plans changed in a heartbeat.
"I mustered up my courage and asked for a dance," Koji recalled. "The song that happened to be playing was More, one of the most romantic in my memory. A month later, to my greatest happiness, that same beautiful co-ed, Reba Ann Nichols (67C), asked me to go to the Sadie Hawkins dance, and the rest is history."
Graduating with highest honors, Koji enrolled in a two-year MBA program at Emory University while Reba Ann finished her Berry degree. Their dream of a life together faced a seemingly insurmountable barrier - a Georgia law preventing people of different races from marrying - but Bertrand stepped in once again, connecting them with a traffic court judge in Chattanooga who would conduct a civil wedding ceremony.
A few days later, the now-married couple returned to Berry for a second ceremony at Barnwell Chapel. Bertrand was best man, and the Rev. Dr. Jorge Gonzales, religion and philosophy professor and Koji's former suite mate at Emory, officiated.
Returning to Berry
The couple has made regular pilgrimages to Berry in the decades since, maintaining connections with Bertrand and his wife, Annabel, and a host of close-knit classmates, including Reba Ann's sister, Theodora Nichols Bowen (67C). That sense of family made Berry the natural choice for three of the couple's four children, Dr. Kyoko LeAnn Yoda (91C), Dr. Koji Nichols Yoda (93C) and Suyo Ruth Yoda (01C). Stephen, their fourth child, joined the U.S. Army before achieving his lifelong dream of becoming a chef.
In 1993, Koji was recognized with Berry's Distinguished Achievement Award, and in 2015, he and Reba Ann returned to Berry for Koji's 50th reunion, during which time he and his classmates celebrated the establishment of two Gate of Opportunity Scholarships named for the Berry College Class of 1965 - a fitting way to welcome others into the Berry family that has meant so much to all of them.
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