Victoria Vaughan, Chicago Housing Authority worker who backed education in native Saipan, dies at 84

WORLD War II was the beginning of the end of an idyllic childhood growing up on the Pacific island of Saipan for Victoria Vaughan, who had just turned 11 when war came to her home.

“My world was defined, safe, and secure,” recalled Vaughan, in an interview for the 2009 book “Saipan: Oral Histories of the Pacific War” by Bruce M. Petty. “How was I to know that it would be torn apart, and never put back together again?”

After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Allied forces began taking control of Pacific islands held by the Japanese, including Saipan, the largest of the Northern Mariana Islands, which they invaded on June 15, 1944.

“The next thing I remember is the house disintegrating and catching fire,” Vaughan recounted in an oral history. “My sister Teruko just disappeared. I never found any trace of her after that. I looked over to where my step-mother and baby brother were. His head was cracked open … I am sure he was dead, but his lips were still moving as if sucking on his mother’s breast.”

She and some of her siblings survived, but most of her family was killed. Years later, after graduating from college, marrying an American serviceman and settling in Chicago, she began working for the Chicago Housing Authority, where she helped care for the elderly living on the North Side.

Vaughan, 84, died July 14 in her daughter’s home in Aurora, from complications related to her long battle with Parkinson’s disease.

“After everything she’d been through, all she wanted to do was help make people’s lives better,” said her son Steve. “If she thought somebody was getting the short end of the stick, she’d speak up. If someone’s rights were being violated, she’d try to fix that.”

Victoria Akiyama was born in Garapan, Saipan, in 1933, one of 10 children of Japanese and Chamorro — the name given to the indigenous people of the island— parents. Her father was of Japanese descent and an attorney, who met her mother while living as a student in Saipan. When Vaughan was five, her birth mother died, and her father later remarried, this time to her mother’s sister.

“Her aunt became her stepmother at that point,” her son said.

After the war, Vaughan attended the American Dependents School on Saipan, and she was one of the first Saipanese natives to win a scholarship to the University of Hawaii, her son said.

Upon graduating from college, she returned to Saipan, where she briefly taught school. She later met Robert Vaughan, an American serviceman in the Navy who was from Chicago. They married in 1956 and divorced in 1984.

“When we were kids, she rarely talked about the war and never let us play with toy guns,” recalled her son. “From her perspective, toys like that were terrible.”

In the 1960s, Vaughan worked for the Association House, a nonprofit, social-services agency in Humboldt Park, prior to joining the CHA.

While working for the CHA from the early 1970s into the ‘90s, Vaughan managed several senior living facilities, including a 10-story building in the Wicker Park neighborhood.

“Whenever something needed fixing or if there were questions of where to go for assistance on anything, the residents would turn to her,” her son said. “She’d take them on outings to the Botanic Garden and to museums. On the bus there and back she’d lead them in sing-alongs.

“When she finally retired, they were all saying, ‘Please don’t go!’”

She retired in the early 1990s and returned to Saipan and volunteered at the Saipan International School, where she was known as “Miss Vickie” and later financed the construction of a new campus.

“Miss Vickie was a kind, thoughtful force of nature when it came to her love of children and her dedication to SIS,” wrote Roland Johnson, the school’s director emeritus, in an email. “She was instrumental in getting our school off the ground. Indeed, it’d be no flight of fancy to say that without her effort, our school would not exist.”

Founded in 1994, the school was designed as a small school offering individualized attention to students. It includes kindergarten through 12th grade and enrolls more than 220 students.

“Ms. Vickie came to school often to help in different events and fund raising efforts, but especially to work with our little ones,” Mili Saiki, a top administrator at the school, wrote in an email. “Reading books to them was her favorite thing to do.”

One of the buildings on the new campus was named after Vaughan’s father and is known as Akiyama Hall.

“She was a small woman with a big heart,” Johnson wrote in his email. “I believe it’s safe to say that the world, and especially the little island of Saipan, is a better place because of her.”

Other survivors include another son, Ronald; three daughters, Vicki Pavek, Valerie and Suzanne Vucovich; a brother, Max Akiyama; a sister, Mariko Aldan; 10 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Services were held.

Source: Marianas Variety :

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