Look to the Future

Photo of Dr. Walter Wada and his wife Helen
Dr. Walter Wada and his wife Helen

Sometimes a "planned gift" doesn't turn out exactly as planned. In the case of Dr. Walter Wada, it turned out even better.

Walter was 91 years old when he died on March 7, 2010. His estate plan included a $10,000 gift to the University of Utah to create scholarships benefiting undergraduate students in physics. Walter had been one of those students himself before going on to become a highly regarded nuclear physicist.

The circumstances surrounding Walter's studies at the U were anything but typical. Born in California to Japanese immigrant parents, Walter spent his formative years in Japan but returned to the United States to pursue a degree at the California Institute of Technology. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, Walter, along with 110,000 first- and second-generation Japanese Americans, was relocated to inland internment camps such as Topaz in Delta, Utah.

Thankfully, Walter was one of the few internees (one of only about 5,500) who was able to take advantage of a special provisos that allowed those who were able to find a job and a place to live and enroll as full-time students at accredited institutions to evade the camp. The only other alternative was to enlist in the military.

Walter's academic credentials enabled him to immediately enroll at the U, where he was welcomed into the department of physics and given financial aid. In addition to providing him hope, safe haven, and an education, it's at the U that Walter met his wife Helen. Like Walter, she was able to circumvent the internment camps by enrolling at the U. The couple married in 1943 and remained married until her death in 1985.

Throughout their lives, Walter and Helen spoke often and warmly of their experiences at the U. Inspired and moved by their wartime stories, Walter's remaining heirs decided to make their own gifts in honor of him—elevating the planned gift to a named endowed scholarship. The Walter W. Wada Endowed Scholarship will help support undergraduate students pursuing a degree in physics and astronomy for years to come.

When life changed course on Walter, he adjusted—taking to heart the motto, "You don't look back, you look to the future." And, just as he dealt with changing courses during his lifetime, his "planned gift" changed course and just got better.


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