Retired Professor Kay Ryugo Passes Away

Masako and Kay Ryguo (circa 2005)
Masako and Kay Ryguo (circa 2005)

April 10, 1920 — June 13, 2016

Kay Ryugo died peacefully in Boise, Idaho, on June 13, 2016.

He was born on April 10, 1920, to Juntaro and Mutsu Ryugo in Sacramento, California. During World War II, he served stateside in the 442nd Regimental Battalion and 100th Infantry Battalion.

He attended UC Davis and completed his Ph.D. in plant physiology. From 1955 to 1988, he was a UC Davis Pomology professor and had many colleagues in Japan, Italy, Chile, Greece and China. In his spare time, he enjoyed ceramics and woodworking, and crafted numerous violins and other stringed instruments.

Kay and his deceased wife Masako had wonderful times together traveling abroad, and spending time at their Soda Springs cabin.

He is survived by five children, six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

The family requests that donations be made to the Parkview Presbyterian Church, 727 T St., Sacramento CA 95811 or to a charity of the donor’s choice.

(Reprinted from the Davis Enterprise)


WWII Internment changed many lives

(by Jeff Hudson, reprinted from the Davis Enterprise; additional information about Kay Ryugo)

When President Franklin Roosevelt authorized an executive order in February 1942, calling for the internment of roughly 110,000 people of Japanese descent in states on the Pacific Coast, the repercussions were felt far and wide — including Davis. And those repercussions would continue long after World War II ended.

Davis was a small town then — the 1940 census reported 1,672 residents, not counting some university students living in dorms. And Yolo County as a whole had just 27,243 residents. Government records indicate that there were 1,109 people of Japanese descent whose last known address was in Davis, Woodland or Winters.

The Davis City Council basically slammed the door on the departing internees, unanimously passing a resolution in 1943 that not only supported the federal internment order, but also demanded that internees of Japanese descent be prohibited from returning to Davis once the war ended.

The reaction at the College of Agriculture (not yet known as UC Davis) was more temperate. A 1942 editorial in the California Aggie urged support of a Japanese-American student-athlete who was heckled at a boxing competition at Oregon State University. The editorial said, “Don’t think simply because that boy is Japanese, born in America, that he, too, does not regret the atrocities done at Pearl Harbor. He already has one of his brothers in the Army, and he, too, will be destined for the Army soon. … Let’s not just be tolerant, let’s be decent.”

Kenji Tashiro was living in a dorm at UCD at the time of the internment order. Born in California, he was sent to an internment camp in Poston, Ariz. He did not return to UCD after the war, but Tashiro — along with more than 40 other Aggies who were interned — was granted an honorary degree in 2010.

“The camps were not quite traumatic, but it was hard,” Tashiro said at the time. “I am glad the UC thought about us.”

Kay Ryugo

Kay Ryugo, UC Davis
Kay Ryugo, UC Davis

Kay Ryugo was born in Sacramento, and was a student at Sacramento Junior College when the war started.

“I got drafted right after Pearl Harbor,” he recalled and was sent to Arkansas as part of a group of Japanese-American soldiers from the West Coast.

“The first thing that I was exposed to was the segregation — blacks and whites in the Southern states. That was absolutely new to me,” including separate bathrooms for blacks and whites at train stations, Ryugo said.

He saw stateside duty until he was discharged, and along the way he married wife Masako (who had been interned at Tule Lake, Calif.) in St. Louis in 1944. Daughter Martha was born there in 1946.

“Then I applied to UC Davis, and they accepted me,” Ryugo said. “I got an advanced degree in plant physiology.”

Eventually, a faculty position opened up, and Ryugo became a professor in the pomology department and worked there until his retirement in 1988.

He recalls that “the university accepted us. There were some guys who were, well, what I would consider rednecks. They were on the faculty. We just ignored them, but some of them were pretty hard to ignore.

“Dr. Warren Tufts, the head of our department, had an apricot orchard in Winters. Some of his employees were Japanese, so he knew what we were like, and he welcomed us.”


  1. Thank you for this post on Kay Ryugo. Kay and Masako and our neighbors from the mid 50s up until the time my family left Davis to the mid 60s. They were wonderful neighbors and outstanding citizens. I later encountered Kay on occasional professional visits to UCD in the 80s and 90s. He was a man of great dignity and wisdom. I consider myself very fortunate to have known him and his family.

    Michael Clegg, Professor emeritus, UC Irvine

  2. So sorry to hear of Dr. Ryugo’s passing – and I am sorry not to have taken more opportunities to learn more from his vast experience and skill set,
    Allan Lombardi, MS 1981

  3. Kay was a real gentleman and it was my honor to have had him as a pomology professor during my graduate studies. How many people do you know that can make violins in their woodshop? What an amazing guy and an amazing life that he lived. My best wishes to his family, friends, and colleagues.

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