Watada Lectures Origins and History

Watada Lectures Origins:

The Watada Lectures are sponsored by Church of the Crossroads and are made possible through the generous support and encouragement of Kathy Watada Wurfel and her husband David Wurfel. Kathy grew up in the Crossroads’ congregation; she and David return to Hawai`i frequently. They lived for many years in Windsor, Ontario where David was on the political science faculty at the University of Windsor and Kathy taught elementary school. Since their retirement they have resided in Toronto and Seattle.

Recognizing the Watada’s concerns for social justice and peace, and their love for introducing young people to the environment, these lectures will always focus on one or more of these themes. Additional gifts are welcome and will make extended educational opportunities possible.

A Biographical Sketch of Umematsu and and Yasu Watada:

Umematsu Watada was born in Makaweli, Kaua`i on June 10, 1894. Following a childhood on the plantation, he went to Honolulu for high school, graduating from Mid-Pacific Institute. He began his university studies at the University of Hawai`i, and served in the Army in Hawai`i during World War I. Following the war he matriculated at the University of Missouri where he obtained a Bachelor’s degree in agronomy. Wat read and was profoundly influenced by the works of Walter Rauschenbusch who was the father of the Social Gospel Movement. His hope was to return to the islands to work on a plantation where he could work towards ending the injustice he had seen and experienced while growing up. After graduation he discovered that the plantations were not hiring non-whites in upper-level white-collar positions, and his agronomy degree never really got put to use.

Fortunately for Hawai`i, the YMCA knew about him because of his involvement with the Y at the University of Missouri. They offered him passage back to Hawai`i from Missouri if he would come to work for them. He started in Honolulu, then went to work for the YMCA on Kaua`i in June of 1922. He developed an excellent reputation for his work, and stayed on Kaua`i until 1929. Each year the national organization evaluated YMCA’s across the nation. There were different categories of branches, including those with gyms, pools and other major facilities…and those that were known as “non-equipment Y’s” which utilized resources in the community. During the time that Mr. Watada was executive director on Kaua`i, his branch was rated as “the best non-equipment Y they had ever seen,” according to his longtime friend, Bob Dye. Says Bob, “Wat was surely doing something right on Kaua`i.”

Yasu was born and raised in Koloa. She came to Honolulu after high school to attend the Territorial Normal School. She returned to Kaua`i and was teaching in Koloa when she met Wat. They were married at Lihue Christian Church on December 29, 1927. She later commented frequently, that she didn’t know she was marrying Wat and the YMCA!

In 1929 the Watadas moved to Honolulu where they remained for the rest of their careers. Wat assumed the position of program director of the Nu`uanu YMCA which was then located where the Pali Safeway is today. He became known for his leadership that embraced Christian values and ethics. “How much Mr. Watada did for us cannot be measured, but undoubtedly his enthusiasm for Christian living and our exposure to his fine character had a deep and permanent effect on all of us,”

Compiled by Sigrid B. Southworth