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Tribute to Yuki Llewellyn

A Life of Leadership:

Yuki Helen Okinaga Hayakawa Llewellyn,

April 22, 1939 to March 8, 2020

created by Sam De Sando


Los Angeles, 1939-1942

Born April 22, 1939, to Jacob Okinaga (1915-1990) and Mikiko Hayakawa (1918-2009), Yukiko “Yuki” Helen Okinaga Hayakawa (later Llewellyn) lived in Pasadena (and later Los Angeles) until her parents’ divorce in 1941. While in Los Angeles, Mr. Okinaga worked as a fruit stand clerk and Mrs. Okinaga worked as an apartment manager.


Manzanar War Relocation Center, Los Pines, California, 1942-1945

Following U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066 issued on February 19, 1942, American residents and citizens of Japanese (as well as German and Italian) ancestry were incarcerated in interment camps throughout the country. Separately, Hideto Okinaga as well as Mikiko Hayakawa and Yukiko were sent to live in the Manzanar War Relocation Center in Lone Pine, California, for the duration of World War II, from March 1942 to October 1945, when they were later relocated to Cleveland, Ohio.

Cleveland, 1945-1959

Asiatown and Home


For the remainder of her childhood, Yuki lived in the Asian majority neighborhood of “Asiatown” in Cleveland, with at least one address at 1461 E. 33rd Street, and her mother would work as a seamstress and garment worker for H. Levine and Company. While Yuki’s career would continue to take her across the country, Mikiko would remain in Cleveland until 2004 when she moved to Champaign.

School and Community Life


Local newspapers, like the Cleveland Call and Post, document Yuki’s childhood involvement in local communities and schools. In February 1949, as part of an inaugural folk festival’s Friday evening program “Nationality Groups in Song and Dance”, it was reported that alongside a Miss Katsuichi Satow, Yuki performed a Japanese dance. In 1953, in a Patrick Henry Junior High School news column, Yuki was recognized with four other girls as gym leaders who supplied a Caliphone Record Player to the school. In 1954, as part of an end-of-the-year school ceremony, Yuki received two awards, which would foreshadow her future: there was one award for art and one award for service.

Summer: Student Leader at Lake Forest College and Tulane University

Student Leadership at Lake Forest College

From 1959 through 1962, Yuki completed a bachelor’s degree in Dramatic Art, at the private school Lake Forest College in Lake Forest, Illinois. During her undergrad, she would also distinguish herself as a student leader in debate, theater, religious activities, Greek life, and yearbook. In her senior yearbook, in the 1962 entry for Chi Lambda Phi, she would be remembered as “one of the most active women on campus”.

Theater Performing and Directing at Lake Forest College and Tulane University

Following a sophomore year performance in MacBeth, it was during her senior year at Lake Forest College, when Yuki directed the American premier of German playwright Emil Erich Kästner’s “School for Dictators” also known “Die Schule der Diktatoren” (1956).

After graduation, following her interests in theater, Yuki later relocated to New Orleans to complete a Master of Fine Arts degree with the thesis, “An analysis and production book of Fay and Michael Kanin's Rashomon” in 1966. Together, with fellow student and future spouse Don Alvin Llewellyn, Yuki directed a performance of “Rashomon” for which Don created the sets and Yuki created the costumes too.

Fall: Theater, Mothers Association, and Student Affairs at UIUC

After completing her degree and marrying, the Llewellyns relocated to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where Don taught theater and Yuki directed local theater before beginning her University career.

The Depot Theater and Collegiate Players

As early as 1967, Yuki directed a performance of Shelagh Delaney’s “A Taste of Honey” (1958) at the local Depot Theater off campus in downtown Urbana. The play examined class, gender, race, and social issues in contemporary working-class England.

Mothers Association

From 1977 through 1983, Yuki was the Executive Director of the Mother’s Association which serves the University and its students by an organization of mothers and all others interested in its mission. Under Yuki’s leadership, a cookbook of member-supplied recipes was sold to raise funds for provide new uniforms for the Marching Illini band. The cookbook even includes a recipe for crabmeat dip by Yuki too.

Student Affairs

Among her many positions in student affairs, Yuki was an advisor to the national first-year student honor society Alpha Lambda Delta, Assistant Director of Campus Programs, a member of the Organization Fund Advisory Board (later Student Organization Resource Board) which provides grants to registered student organizations seeking funds for educational programs on campus, a member of the Illini Union Board which serves as a voice for students to administration on building policies and procedures, and Assistant Director of Registered Student Organizations.

Winter: Local and National Asian American Advocate

Local Advocacy

By the 1990s, as University support for Asian American education initiatives manifested fruitfully, Yuki was involved in many administrative projects. In 1990, with Susan Maul and Samira Ritsma, Yuki was part of the Asian American Task Force which proposed the formation of the Asian American Advisory Council. The following year, the Council was led by Yuki, Susan Maul, and Jackie Sepulveda-Wallace. Later that year, for the East of California Conference on Asian American Studies, Yuki and Clark Cunningham’s report on the status of University of Illinois Asian Americans and education identified opportunities and proposed a vision of many future programs, including today’s Asian American Cultural Center. At the same time, Yuki was also the staff advisor for the Illini Union Board Cultural Performances Committee, and it produced the first Asian Variety Show which was scheduled for academic year 1991-1992. During the next few decades, Yuki and colleagues would support the growth and development of many Asian American programs and services, including many registered student organizations, the Asian American Studies program, and the Asian American Cultural Center.

National Advocacy

As a former interned person during the period of U.S. internment of Japanese Americans, Yuki was a frequent speaker on her experiences for the University, she was often interviewed by newspapers including the local News Gazette and the Japanese American Citizens League’s Pacific Citizen. In later years, she was photographed during a return visit to Manzanar and that image was used as part of the Paul Kitagaki Jr. exhibit Gambatte! Legacy of an Enduring Spirit.

During her own lifetime, Yuki’s experiences were already inspiring other advocates too. As recently as 2018, Art Academy of Cincinnati professor Emily Momohara included the original Clem Albers’ photograph of Yuki waiting at the train station during the internment as part of a billboard advocacy project which criticized recent internment of Mexican Americans in the U.S.

Yuki’s passing has been covered by local, national, and international news media. Here are just a few of the obituaries noting the significance of her life:

Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette:

Columbia Missourian:

Los Angeles Times:

People Magazine:

Yahoo news:

Rafu Shimpo, Los Angeles Japanese News Daily:

Japan Times: