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Diane Harris Hara: Checking the Pulse of Pasadena and Beyond

Each week, Jeremy Rosenberg (@LosJeremy) asks, "How did you -- or your family before you -- wind up living in Los Angeles?"

This week he hears from Diane Harris Hara, Vice President and board member of the Western Conservancy of Nursing History at Azusa Pacific University.

"I was lucky to have been born in California. California has wonderful weather of all kinds at just a short drive away. You can ski in the winter in Big Bear and walk barefoot at the beach in the evening. We have beautiful deserts a couple of hours away by car and the gorgeous Arboretum just east of Pasadena. What's not to love?"

"I was born in Pasadena at St. Luke's Hospital in 1950. I lived there until I was eight-years-old when my father was transferred to Sears Roebucks Santa Monica and we moved to the beach (or 21 blocks from it). I grew up in Santa Monica and only moved away for a few years when I went to nursing school.

"My mother, Virginia Wadsworth Vail, was also born in Pasadena, in 1914 in the family home on Painter Street near Summit Avenue.

"My dad, John Emmett Harris, was born in Harrison, Nebraska, in 1913 on a cattle farm.

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"My dad's parents James Paul and Elizabeth Harris had a farm there but sold it and moved the family to a new farm in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. The farms acreage went up a mountain with a "lower, mid and upper 40" -- as in, acres.

"My grandfather lost the farm due to the plunge of beef prices. When you're a farmer or a rancher, all you have to do is lose one year and you've lost everything. Before this happened, my grandparents sent my father to Pasadena to live with his aunt Lelah Garst.

Diane Harris Hara and Jimmy Hideo Hara, in a 2011 photo

"My father went to school and graduated with honors at sixteen -- this was in 1929. By this time my grandparents had moved to Pasadena and my grandfather was working putting up fences. He developed sciatica pain and my father had to go to work to help his family survive. He started as a dock worker for Pasadena Sears Roebucks.

"My dad was a tinkerer and used to work on cars and just about anything gas, plumbing or electric. He could fix anything in the house, probably from being a farm boy. Most of his friends were of a similar ilk.

"He was unable to go on to college, but his friends went on to start TRW and work for Hughes and for McDonnell-Douglas. These were a lot of the kids that came out of the Pasadena schools and went into the aerospace industry. I can say I have seen every space flight that ever happened due to my father pulling me out of bed at 3:00 a.m.

"As for my mom's parents -- their story is also tied up with Pasadena. My mom's grandmother, Ida Smith Wadsworth, was pregnant when her husband suddenly died of scarlet fever. She took a job taking care of a woman who had tuberculosis and her family in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. This allowed her to work and also raise her daughter at her side.

"My great-grandmother ended up developing tuberculosis herself. She later came to Pasadena, because the climate was supposedly better for her lungs. She was a beautiful seamstress and made a living doing handwork.

"My great-great grandfather, David Vail, lived in New Sharon, Iowa. He owned and ran the newspaper, the New Sharon Star. His first wife died after the birth of their last child, and her cousin Vesta Coulson helped my grandfather out with the three children. They fell in love and were married and had three more children, including my grandfather Harrison J. Vail.

Diane Harris Hara's grandparents, the Vails. Photo courtesy Diane Harris Hara

"He was getting on in years and the winters were terrible and his brother, who was living in Pasadena, told him to move out here. So my great-great grandfather came out to Pasadena and, with his brother, bought the Pasadena Evening News. They changed the name to the Pasadena Star-News.

"My great-grandfather worked there for a while, but he and his brother didn't get along. So his brother, Hervey, stayed with the paper, and my grandfather retired.

"My grandfather, Harry Vail, was not interested in politics or news or any of that. He loved tinkering and he started working on some of the early automobiles and he became the mechanic to Barney Oldfield, who was one of the first racecar drivers. Later when I was driving my grandfather in Santa Monica down San Vicente Boulevard, my grandfather told me that this had once been a racing oval that went from San Vicente Boulevard to Ocean Avenue, to Wilshire Boulevard to Federal Avenue, and back to San Vicente, and he had raced there.

"My grandfather owned one of the first service stations in Pasadena. Once, when he was fixing a car, the doors to the service bay blew closed and he succumbed to carbon monoxide poisoning. He survived, but he could never continue on with that business; he worked as a chauffeur and sold for Drapers Dry Goods Store. But being a mechanic was what he really loved to do. The Packard was his favorite car.

"So, you're asking me why did I stay in Pasadena and then Southern California for all these years? It's because I met a young man. I was a nurse and he was a physician and we met through bird watching friends. We've been married for thirty-eight years this year.

"My husband, Jimmy H. Hara, M.D., was born in an internment camp called "Gila River" in Yuma County, south of Phoenix, Arizona.

"His mother, Tatsuye Hirano, was a farmer with her husband in Stockton, California. Her husband had been hospitalized with tuberculosis just prior to the family being moved to camp, ordered by Executive Order 9066. She was notified shortly thereafter that he had passed away.

Top row -- Brothers Tad Hirano, Yoshio Hirano, Jim Hara. Bottom row -- Sumi Hirano and sister Nancy Hirano Fujikawa. Photo courtesy Diane Harris Hara

"She was a widow with four children between two and eighteen years of age, and spoke only Japanese. In camp, English was the only language allowed so my mother-in-law hardly spoke.

"Her eldest son went into the Army as an interpreter. Tatsuye started working in the kitchen and met the head cook, Frank Hara. They spoke Japanese while they were working, so she finally had someone to talk to. They fell in love and got married, and my husband was born in 1945.

"Jim's dad had been a farmer, cook, carpenter, and done many other jobs, but had to figure out what to do for a living when they finally let them out. He finally decided to become a gardener -- that was the cheapest thing he could do involving tools. He moved to Los Angeles and started his gardening service. And his son -- my husband -- grew up here in L.A.

"He went to Manual Arts High School and UCLA, and eventually moved to San Francisco for medical school. Then he came back here and did a residency at the Wadsworth V.A. and then had to go to Vietnam after his internship was over. This was called the Barry Plan.

"He went to the Navy for two years and did moonlighting for Kaiser. He spent thirty nine years with Kaiser running the Family Clinic Residency at Sunset Hospital.

"Anyway back to growing up. Our neighborhood had a blend of everything. My dad worked for Sears. He had worked in the Pasadena store, and Downtown Los Angeles at Boyle Heights store. They finally moved him to the Santa Monica store as the hard lines merchandise manager. Our neighborhood in Santa Monica was filled with children and I had a wonderful childhood.

"Years passed and I was volunteering for a Santa Monica elementary school. A lot of wealthy people had now moved into the neighborhood. The PTA was having a meeting; we were talking about having the school's annual Fair. We were saying how it was a lot of work but it was great because we got to meet all the dads and moms whom we usually didn't get to meet.

"This guy stood up and said, 'How much do you make on this thing? And if I write a check can we not do it?' They told him the amount. The leadership voted and he said, 'Okay,' and wrote the check so we didn't have the Fair. The community changed in many little ways like this.

"We eventually moved to Woodland Hills for many reasons, one of which was we could by a home with ½ acre to garden. I garden year round and absolutely love it.

A family reunion, in 2010. Photo courtesy Diane Harris Hara

"Right now I'm putting together a Nursing History Museum. The east coast has several archives and museums of nursing history. We're working out of Azusa Pacific University. We have three rooms full of items. We are lucky enough to have a doctoral student, Marcia Harris-Luna, who is working on a project, collecting oral histories from all types of nurses. She'll be working with the sixty-year reunion class from Huntington Hospital School of Nursing in Pasadena.

"In doing all this, I'm learning about the history of Los Angeles, California and the United States. Right now we're working on the story of a group of nurses who came to the Los Angeles area and were deployed to the Philippines during WWII. They were held as prisoners of war by the Japanese and were named 'The Angels of Bataan.'

"When I think about the places my family has lived, I think of everywhere from the internment camp to the family farm to a changed Santa Monica to life in the Valley.

"I do like to look back at the past -- whether for better or for worse. Years ago, my dad took me back to Steamboat Springs, Colorado. The only thing that was left of his farm was the bottom of the barn, which was made out of stone. Back then, the barn had a creek running by it. Today, I think the whole area is a ski resort."

-- Diane Harris Hara
(as told to Jeremy Rosenberg)


Top photo: Top row -- William, Paul and Jack Harris. Lower row -- Mary Ann (Dee), Florence, Jessie and Jennie Harris. Photo courtesy Diane Harris Hara

Do you or someone you know have a great Los Angeles Arrival Story to share? If so, then contact Jeremy Rosenberg via: arrivalstory AT gmail DOT com.

About the Author

Jeremy Rosenberg is a Los Angeles-based writer, editor, and consultant whose work has appeared in various books, magazines, newspapers, and online.
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