Source: The Oak Ridger | Russel Langley | March 4, 2016
Japanese and American officials came together in the Oak Ridge Associated Universities’ Pollard Technology Conference Center on Wednesday evening to pay tribute to an Oak Ridge woman who has contributed much to the community and international relations.
Shigeko Uppuluri as she is known here — in Japan she is Shigeko-san — was honored by the Japanese foreign minister “for her many years of effective work in building relationships between her native Japan and her adopted country, the United States.” A full listing of that work is exhaustive, but here are some of the things she has done to help those relationships:
- Involvement in the Sister City Support Organization. Through this organization she has helped prepare Oak Ridge seventh-graders and city officials for their exchange trips to Naka, Japan.
- She and her late husband, Ram Uppuluri, first brought the idea of the International Friendship Bell forward. Some 20 years ago, the bell was erected in A.K. Bissell park to mark the city’s 50th anniversary.
- Her local efforts include being active in the YWCA, school and church activities and helping Japanese visitors to Oak Ridge.
- After Ram died, she traveled to her husband’s native India and helped young professionals prepare for careers with Japanese software companies.
Japanese Counsel General Masami Kinefuchi, from the Japanese Consulate in Nashville, gave a moving speech about Shigeko Uppuluri and her contributions to world peace and friendship. He called the presentation one of “the happiest opportunities that I have as Consul General.”
After going into details about her contributions, he thanked the people of Oak Ridge for supporting her efforts. He then read the Foreign Minister’s Commendation Scroll to her in their native Japanese language.
Naka program participants Ainslee Raasch (2015) and Elias Brown (2012) spoke of their experiences in Japan and how much the work Uppuluri did in preparing them for the trip enhanced their experiences. Brown said his grandfather, Walter Brown, a former Oak Ridge mayor, was on the first exchange trip to Naka and that Uppuluri has greatly impacted his family.
Oak Ridge resident Pat Postma represented state Sen. Randy McNally, who couldn’t attend, and read a proclamation prepared by the Oak Ridge Republican legislator, who sponsored the resolution before the Tennessee General Assembly. The proclamation declared March 2, 2016, “Shigeko Uppuluri Day” in Tennessee.
Oak Ridge National Laboratory Director Thom Mason presented Uppuluri with the coveted “Muddy Boot” award from the East Tennessee Economic Council. The award is given to those who make contributions in building the Oak Ridge community. Mason called her a “woman of many talents, an artist and a musician.”
A clearly overwhelmed, but smiling Uppuluri took the microphone and thanked all the people in attendance for being there and their recognition of her. She also expressed her feelings at the standing-room only crowd.
“I’m so overwhelmed I don’t know what to say,” she said. “There are so many people (here) and I know everybody.”
She said her son Ram told her not to cry.
“I’m not crying,” she said in a quivering voice.
Uppuluri told the crowd that it wasn’t just her efforts that have helped some 250 Oak Ridge students travel to Japan, but “many people in this room worked hard on the exchange program.”
She also spoke of the experiences the students have both in Japan and the United States. In Japan, Oak Ridge students get to experience the culture, food and “get to take a Japanese bath” while with their host families. She also spoke about what Japanese students have written about the program. One student wrote how nervous he was on arriving at the airport until he saw his host family “with a big sign with his name that said welcome.”
Uppuluri closed her remarks by saying she was “very, very honored” and proud of the students and host families in the exchange program.