Source: | Staff | March 3, 2016

Masami Kinefuchi, Consul-General of Japan, will present The Foreign Minister’s Commendation Award on March 2 to Shigeko Uppuluri, recognizing her contributions to the friendship and understanding between Oak Ridge and Japan. The East Tennessee Economic Council (ETEC) will join the Consul-General in honoring Ms. Uppuluri and hosting the ceremony.

Ms. Uppuluri will be honored at a conferment ceremony and reception at 6 p.m. Wednesday, March 2, at the Pollard Technology Conference Center of Oak Ridge Associated Universities, 210 Badger Ave., Oak Ridge. She is the first Oak Ridge resident to receive the award.

The Consul-General is honoring Ms. Uppuluri for her dedication to the creation and maintenance of the sister city relationship between Oak Ridge and Naka, Japan. She has advocated for and participated in exchanges between the two cities, contributing to the goodwill and understanding between Japan and Oak Ridge.

The Consul-General will also recognize her dedication to the International Friendship Bell, a bell cast in Japan and installed 20 years ago to celebrate Oak Ridge’s 50th birthday. Ms. Uppuluri, who was born in Kyoto, Japan, and her late husband, Dr. Ram Uppuluri, originally from India, proposed the bell for Oak Ridge as a symbol of unity and a monument representing peace and friendship with Japan.

Ms. Uppuluri will also be presented with a Muddy Boot Award, given by the East Tennessee Economic Council. The Muddy Boot Award is an on-going tribute to individuals who through their work and activities build Oak Ridge into a better community. Oak Ridge National Laboratory Director Thom Mason will present the award.

“The Muddy Boot Award is given to people who get things done, and Shigeko is clearly a person who has gone above and beyond to make this community special,” ETEC President Jim Campbell said. “It’s been a pleasure working with her on many community projects, but especially watching her work with the students in our schools over the past decades. She is a very special person.”

Tennessee State Senator Randy McNally sponsored a resolution from the Tennessee General Assembly to honor and congratulate Ms. Uppuluri for receiving The Foreign Minister’s Commendation Award from the Consul-General of Japan. The resolution will be presented during the ceremony on March 2.
The ceremony will also include statements from students who have participated in the Naka Exchange Program and a special song sung by local Girl Scouts.

Ms. Uppuluri and her husband moved to Oak Ridge in 1963. She has been involved in the community as a volunteer for many organizations and a strong advocate for Japanese-American friendship. Ms. Uppuluri is a founder, past president, and active member of the Oak Ridge Sister City Support Organization. She assists Oak Ridge middle school students and teachers with language and cultural information as they prepare to travel to Naka for an exchange program each summer.

Mr. Kinefuchi began his duties as Consul-General of Japan in Nashville in April 2015. This will be his first visit to Oak Ridge since assuming his post in Nashville. Besides Tennessee, the Consulate covers Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana and Mississippi, where more than 400 Japanese companies are operating and 11,400 Japanese citizens are residing. He began his career at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan in 1983 and has held office in a variety of responsibilities.

More: Marty Adler-Jasny writes about her friend “Japanese Government Honors Shigeko Uppuluri”

Soft-spoken and unassuming, she is known at ORUUC for exquisite flower arrangements, intriguing origami for the children, amazing chopping abilities at Tabitha’s Table, delicious Japanese and Indian dishes for potlucks, and most of all, for her lasting legacy to Oak Ridge: the magnificent 4-ton International Friendship Bell in Bissell Park.

She has been central to the Sister City Support Organization, preparing seventh-graders and City officials for their exchange trips to Naka, Japan. She has taught UT students and others who wish to learn about the culture and the language of her native country, and served as translator and guide for visitors and companies in both Japan and the United States.

Shigeko Uppuluri is now being 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.

The prestigious Commendation Award will be conferred on Wednesday, March 2, 2016 at a ceremony at the Pollard Technology Conference Center from 6 – 8 pm. The Japanese Consul General and the East Tennessee Economic Council invite her friends and request that they RSVP by February 24 to, 865-946-3246.

This quiet dynamo was born in Kyoto, Japan in 1931 and lived there until first grade when the family moved to Shanghai for her father’s business. They lived through the privations of WWII and returned to Japan in 1946. Shigeko immediately entered Kyoto Women’s High School (which soon became co-ed), followed by Doshisha Women’s College majoring in English. Last year she had her last reunion with the girls from her years in Shanghai.

She and her family moved to Tokyo where she worked until, curious “to see the other side” and encouraged by an American faculty couple, in 1958 she came to Indiana University’s graduate school on a scholarship to study anthropology. She met (at the university president’s Christmas day reception for foreign students) and married Ram Uppuluri, an Indian PhD mathematics candidate. Ram and Shigeko’s only language in common was English. A few years later they moved to the University of Michigan while Ram finished his dissertation and in 1963, with their 2-year-old son Rammy, came to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. That winter they made their first visit back their native lands to introduce their spouses and grandchild to their parents.

In Oak Ridge, Shigeko became active in the YWCA, school activities, and church events at ORUUC. She helped visiting Japanese scientists’ wives, who spoke little English and did not drive, with children’s school activities and doctor’s appointments. She and Ram bought a house, studied for their citizenship, and when it was granted in 1972, celebrated with neighbors at an Indian Lane picnic.

In 1977, after the Uppuluris returned from a year at the University of California Santa Barbara, Shigeko began work at ORNL in the Information Division helping build data bases for carcinogens and teratogens for the National Library of Medicine. In addition to translating technical papers, attending meetings in Japan and teaching Japanese language and cultural norms to researchers from ORNL who were going abroad, she participated in local International events and assisted Japanese people who came to establish Japanese businesses in the East Tennessee area.

Shigeko and her husband developed the idea for the International Friendship Bell and proposed it as a project for the 50th anniversary of Oak Ridge in 1992. They, and members of the community, raised the funds (from the US and abroad) needed for its completion. The Bell, initially controversial, has become a symbol of Oak Ridge, featured on brochures, and rung in celebrations. The beautiful, deep-toned bell honors the Manhattan project workers, expresses the hope for everlasting peace, friendship, and understanding among all peoples, and exemplifies the Oak Ridge 50th anniversary theme: “Born of war, living for peace, growing through science.”

Following her retirement and Ram’s death, Shigeko worked for three years in India, helping young professionals as they prepared for careers with Japanese software companies. After her return to Oak Ridge she continued her volunteer work with the Girl Scouts, Children’s Museum, and assisting executives from local Japanese companies. In 2008, Shigeko received the Covenant Platinum Award, given to people for their accomplishments after the age of 65.

Shigeko Uppuluri has been described as a person of “inner peace and outer strength”. She continues to make a lasting impact on Oak Ridge, and the larger world, and ORUUC is one of the many beneficiaries.


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