Ronald Oba
F Company, 442nd RCT

Life After the War

After one year at the University of Hawaii, he pursues a degree in physical therapy at Washington University in St. Louis. To supplement GI Bill benefits, he works in the household of an attorney.

He returns to Hawaii and works as a physical therapist. After earning a master’s degree in health administration, he becomes a hospital administrator.

In 1987, he retires from Hilo Hospital.

Married since 1953, Ronald and Michiko Oba have three children.

Hickam Air Force Base

After the war, after I came home, I rested about a month and I said, “By gosh, I cannot just stay home, there’s nothing to do.” Aiea is a dead town, so I went to apply for a job at Hickam Air Force Base at maintenance and I became an electrician helper. I worked there from December until September, when university started.

While I was working there as an electrician helper, the superintendent called me one day and he said, “I want you to become the fire marshal for this whole base.” You know, as a fire marshal, you get some help and you go and check all those fire extinguishers, make sure the big building has sprinklers and all that. Later on, I found out that that was a good job, fire marshal for a whole base, big pay and all that. I told the superintendent, “Sir, I was planning to go to college.” “Oh, go college. You should go, go, don’t take the job, go college.”

University of Hawaii

Like a damn fool, I went to University of Hawaii. And the boys only played, they didn’t study, they took up liberal arts or they took up history, maybe geography, Japanese, maybe speech and whatnot. They had exam once a semester. I was taking applied science. I took chemistry, German, physics, zoology, all of those.

Like a damn fool, I thought, I don’t want to go to college more than four years so I took eighteen credits. I nearly died taking eighteen credits. All you needed was twelve credits per semester. My father got me a little room behind the barbershop so I was living there alone. Then my friends started to come. They would come and chat and they pretend they’re studying because they’re all liberal arts. And here I got to, “Hey, I got test in German this Friday, I get test in physics and I get test in chemistry every week.”

They used to come and spend time, about three, four of them would come and I found myself, “Hey, I’m getting Ds and Cs.” And German, I found out that I was the only student in the German class that was brand-new. Everybody else had taken German in high school. My attitude was, I want to learn something new. I was getting a C. Finally, I told Mrs. Hormann that, “What can I do to improve?” She kind of coached me and I ended up with a B in German, an A in philosophy, an A in psychology — those are liberal arts courses, easy.

But then I was failing all these other things. So I said, “Hey, before I get thrown out of this college, and the veterans are not helping one bit, I’m going to quit. I’m going to go Mainland someplace.”

Ronald Oba leaves Honolulu

One of my parent’s doctor friends told my father, “Tell him to take up physical therapy, there’s no physical therapist in Hawaii.” But actually, they had two guys. And that’s a new field, so that was in my mind. But at the same time, I still wanted to take up science.

Kansas City

I just hop on the plane. Before I went, I put my finger and pointed to the map, I said, “I don’t want to go West Coast and East Coast is too far.” So I picked Midwest. I hit Kansas City. I said, “Okay.” I go to Kansas City. I went all the way to Kansas City. I said, “Oh, what a lousy place.” This was by the stockyard. There were all kinds of stock and trade, going back and forth.

St. Louis University

I said, “No, this is not the place for me, I’ll go to the next town, St. Louis. I’ll go to St. Louis.” I hop on a grasshopper plane and went over to St. Louis. I caught a taxi. I said, “Take me to a hotel.” I told something like Sheraton. No, he took me to someplace that I don’t even know. Was already dark and I registered, they took me upstairs to a small little room. Oh, what a crazy place. People were yelling and screaming and fighting all night long. Couldn’t sleep at all. During the night, was so rowdy that I had to put the chair against the doorknob to prevent anybody from coming in because they were going back and forth in the hallway.

Next morning when I got up, I grabbed my bag, I went downstairs. Rowdy people, probably homeless guys, all over the place. Hoo. So I got out of there real quick and got into another taxi, I told him, “Take me to St. Louis University.” Because that’s all I knew about St. Louis, Missouri.

He took me to Grand Avenue, all the way to the administration office and I waited and they said, “Father O’Reilly is ready to see you.” I went, I sat down. Father O’Reilly said, “You previously registered, what’s your name?” I gave him my name, but I said, “No sir, I did not - Father, I did not register yet.” He said, “You didn’t? So how are you going to enroll?” I said, “I’m here to enroll.”

So he was flabbergasted. I took my Iolani School grades, so that helped me. To hell with university grades (chuckles). At Iolani, I had all As and Bs so I showed him, he said, “Okay. Well, you’re going to have to take metaphysics, Catholic religion and all this and all that.”

By that time, I said, “I only get two electives.” What was it, quantitative chemistry and what was it zoology or something. After the second semester, I got another three religious classes and one was Catholic conduct for non-Catholics. I thought to myself, told Father O’Reilly, “You know, when I transfer or graduate, are these religious courses going to count?” He said, “It will here.”

But then I thought, “Chee, what if I transfer, these courses are not going to count at all. Maybe one course but not two, three metaphysics and all that.” So I then thought, “Gee-whiz, before it gets too late, I better transfer.”

Washington University

In the meantime, I said, “Hey, this is no place for me.” I went over to Washington U [University in St. Louis] and I said, “My second choice is going to become a physical therapist, can I come?” They said, “Oh, yeah.” They have a space.

Ronald Oba, St. Louis, Missouri

Those days, physical therapist school was kind of new and Washington U was one of a few that gave bachelor of science, only because we work on cadavers. Other schools, you ended up with bachelor of arts because you didn’t have the heavy science and cadavers to work on. We worked on cadavers for a whole year. And I was going from there. Finally, as we [roommates] parted, Donald [Fong] went to dental school, Carl [Nemoto] came back home, he took up ichthyology, and I was still there.

Ronald Oba and Carl Nemoto, St. Louis, Missouri

I had just about all As in physical therapy, I had one C because the instructor wanted us to massage her shoulder. There were twelve of us, see, that was the final exam. And I was number twelve! By the time I massaged her, her shoulder was sore already, raw. She said, “Ronald, you’re massaging too hard.” But me, I’m Japanese, I like to massage hard and massage the muscles. I said, “Oh, okay.” “You’re still massaging too hard.” She gave me a C, that was the only C I got, otherwise.

Later on in life, at age forty-seven, when I went to the School of Public Health [University of Hawaii], that really helped me because to go to the School of Public Health, you have to have B+ or over. With all my As and one C, I was able to go School of Public Health.

Working for Mr. Leo Rassieur

One of my Hawaii friends, Clarence Oshita, said, “Ronald, do you want to work for a lawyer? You get room and board you know.” I said, “Oh, that would be great.” He said, “Oh, but you got to clean the yard and you got to serve dinner, you got to drive the car and all of that.” I said, “Yeah, well, if you’re going to be a household helper with free room and board.” He said, “They have a garage and in the back, they have a tool-room which was converted into a bedroom with a chest of drawers, a bed and a sink and a toilet.” So I said, “Okay.”

I went to work for Mr. and Mrs. Leo Rassieur at Webster Groves, a very high-class community where [members of the family that established] Anheuser-Busch had a home there. I would go to school like three or four times a week and some of the days I would come home half a day. Mrs. Rassieur said, “Okay, today you clean all the windows, tomorrow you scrub and clean all the shower stalls, and do the yard work, and at night, you help Tilly — Tilly was the maid — serve the dinner. On Saturdays, drive the Buick, go shopping at Schwab’s.”

On Saturday, I would put on my black cap, my black coat, black pants, black shoes and I became a chauffeur. Come home, I would take off that and put on a white coat and go around, dust the piano and all that. When Tilly said, “Food is ready,” Mr. and Mrs. Rassieur would walk down the steps, especially if we have liver. Because she wanted the liver to be put in the frying pan only when they start walking down, see.

I had to serve but before we served, I had to make a cocktail for Mr. Rassieur. He always had a martini. At first he didn’t know me too well so I put the white onion, what you call that, with Vermouth and gin, Gordon’s gin. I would give it to him, take it to the dining room, he would sip that, and we would serve dinner. But as he got to know me, he said, “Put another one please, don’t tell my wife.” (Chuckles) Every day I would have to give two, you know, instead of one.

The thing is, whenever we went shopping, Mr. Rassieur would always buy enough for four people. She always used to buy filet mignon long enough so that all four of us get. She used to buy tongue. We ate tongue, I used to like tongue. You know, as long as you peel it and you slice it, it’s just like corned beef, red, just like corned beef. We ate pickled Bartlett pear. We ate sour cream, herring — and she had places to go, you know. For herring, we had to go to east St. Louis to go pick it up, that creamed herring. And then we had to go only to Schwab’s to buy all the food. I drove her on Saturdays with a black uniform, and at night, I was the butler, and during the day I would clean the yard. I would clean the yard, dig up all the daisies. She said, “What happened to the daisies?” I said, “What? Threw it away.” She said, “Oh, they make good salad.” You know, the leaves.

I found out that you don’t just dig it up and throw it away. And then, I told you previously, that they had a row of day lilies, forget the colors, yellow and white, three colors. Anyway, so she said, “Well, winter’s coming, dig it up and cut the [top] - and leave only the bottom and put ’em in the burlap sack and put it in the basement, in the cellar.” So I did. Then when spring came, she said, “Ron, remember all the day lilies that we put away, stored away? Can you plant it again?” So I planted it again, see. When they came up, and flowers came up, instead of a row of all white flower, row of all orange flowers, all mixed up, chop suey. She said, “What happened?”

I said, “You didn’t tell me that you wanted” (Chuckles) “it to look all like that.” I put all in one bag and replanted it, the lilies all chop suey. Then one day, I came home from school, Mr. Rassieur had come home, too. I said, “What’s that over there, from the house to the garage?” He said, “Oh, the plumbers came and dug the trench to see if the hot-water line was leaking or not.” I said, “Oh, did they find a leak?” He said, “No, nothing wrong with it, so they covered it up, went home. Well, lately, our water bill has been going up, especially the hot-water bill.” I said, “Oh, I see.” I went in, and after dinner, I was going to take a shower, I said, “Wow, I take shower every day, and they take shower once a week or once a month.” I said, “Chee, I must be the cause of the electric bill going up, chee.” They had on oil furnace downstairs, see. He said, “Boy, the bill went up.” But I didn’t tell him I was the cause of it.

GI Bill

Those days, while we were soldiers, we got twenty-one dollars a month, see. After discharge, the number of months you serve is converted into a number of semesters you can go to school. I had enough to go to school for a little over four years. They gave everybody seventy-eight dollars. You could go to any college, anywhere and the tuition was paid, the books were paid. But for room and board, they gave you seventy-eight dollars. Every boarding house you went, it’s always seventy-eight dollars, they knew that you got seventy-eight dollars. We stayed in this boarding house. It’s always seventy-eight dollars. So that carried us through.

But when I went to work for the Rassieurs, I saved the seventy-eight dollars. They were so pleased with me that they started to pay me an additional ten dollars a month, besides room and board. So I had enough money working there.

Maluhia Hospital

Anyway, I came back home and my first job was at Maluhia Hospital. Dr. [Thomas] Mossman wanted a therapist so bad. But after a little over a month, the health department had a job opening for a physical therapist for maternal and child health to treat crippled children at Puuhale School. I took that job. Dr. Mossman wanted to give me a pay raise, “Don’t leave, don’t leave.”

I said, “But you know,” Maluhia was for the aged and all those patients in those days — it wasn’t quite like a snake pit — but there’s hardly anything being done. Patients had bed sores and everything. I thought, “I’d rather treat young children, crippled children.”

I went to Puuhale School, I worked there about over a year, I think.

Straub Clinic

Then Straub Clinic called me and offered to pay me a fabulous sum of three-hundred dollars a month. Those days, government, you get barely two-hundred, yeah. I said, okay. And then the orthopedic surgeon said, “If you take this job, I’ll make sure that you get pay raises every year.”

It never happened. Instead, they gave you a turkey at Christmastime. I went to work at Straub and I worked there for nine years. And I told one of the partners, “I have to leave because instead of accumulating savings, I’m using up all my savings already, I got nothing.”

He said, “Oh Ronald, don’t leave, don’t leave. Just put down what you’re paying, your mortgage, if you buy lawnmower, whatever, how much you paid for that, and what your car mortgage, loan, and all that, and put it all down. And I’ll make sure that you get this amount.”

I said, “Oh, I already took a job at state hospital, they’re going to pay me five-hundred dollars.” He said, “Change your mind and stay, I’ll make sure. . .” I said, “No, I’m going to state hospital.”

After I left, Straub Clinic hired a female wage analyst. She came from the Mainland and after one month of studying everything, she made sure that every person at the clinic got a raise. She said, “You don’t need cleaners, you go hire Lien [Services], you know, professional cleaners. You don’t have to hire yardmen on a monthly basis, have some outside outfit come and clean so many times a week, that will save you money,” and whatnot.

She ordered that the Straub Clinic pay overtime because we used to work so much overtime and never got paid. For instance, Saturdays, we worked from eight o’clock and I never went home until after two o’clock because the doctors had patients going on from twelve, twelve-thirty, one-thirty, two o’clock. We got paid only until twelve. The nurses, same thing, we never got overtime. But after the wage analysis, they made sure that [they] got paid overtime. But it was good working for Straub, they were good people. Only thing is, it was owned by five original doctors. The rest were all hired hand, see.

Hawaii State Hospital

I worked at state [Hawaii State Hospital], which was really a snake pit. You had to treat violent patients, you could never turn your back on them. One of the nurses got hit with a bucket, steel bucket, on the head because she turned her head away. The nurses used to tell me, “You’ve got to whip them, you know, that they behave.” I said, “Whip them with what?” They said, “You get a wet towel, big bath towel, wet ’em, and you whip them with that and it won’t leave any scars or any welts.” The nurses used to whip them with wet towels, yeah. And they used to doo-doo over all over the place. Hoo. After one year, I said, “Oh, I’m going to go crazy over here.”

Waimano Home

When Dr. [Angie] Connor, who was a crippled children director physician at Puuhale, went to Waimano Home for Mental Retardation [now known as Waimano Training School and Hospital], I said, “Oh, get me a job over there. You should start a physical therapy department.” She hired me, I went to Waimano Home, and I worked there for about two years.

In the meantime, School of Public Health [University of Hawaii] was giving scholarships and whatnot for students. By gosh, I was forty-seven by that time. I said, “You know, I cannot be a therapist forever, my back is hurting too much, I cannot be lifting children and all that.” So I applied, and my physical therapy grades was terrific, they [enrolled] me right away. And they had a federal grant, where they gave subsidies to students. I went to school with a lot of the co-called Peace Corps, former Peace Corps workers and former health workers from all over the United States.

Hospital Administration

I finally got my degree, master’s in health administration, hospital administrator. Before I graduated, I did a study of the use of emergency room at Kuakini Hospital. And Mr. Kenji Goto liked my report so much that he hired me on the spot.

I showed him that the emergency room utilization is out of whack because 75 percent of people who go there, don’t need emergency care. Especially five o’clock in the morning, mothers would bring their crying children with a little fever because they have to go work by seven o’clock and they think the emergency room can cure the children. Find out that 75 percent was unnecessary [usage].

I got hired as an assistant administrator, worked myself up to senior vice president, chief operating officer and I did a lot of work there.

Later, I went to Hilo Hospital. First as the assistant and then I became the administrator. I worked there for three years. I went to Hilo Hospital 1983, that’s when the volcano erupted, and it’s still erupting till today. That’s November of 1983, it erupted. [I retired in 1987].

Marriage

Ronald and Michiko Oba

After returning from college, I joined the Aiea Sr. YBA and became active with the group. Michi, who was the minister’s daughter, also was active in this group. We met and began dating. We got married on May 3, 1953. We then had three children: daughter Charlene, sons, Gary and Gerald who are now married with their own children.

Ronald and Michiko Oba with children Charlene and Gary

Ronald Oba's interview courtesy of the Center for Oral History. Photographs courtesy of Ronald Oba.

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