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Respect, hospitality and friendship mark Tabata’s life

The embodiment of the Japanese tradition of respect for one’s teacher and the Hawaiian devotion to hospitality and friendship, Dr. Russell Tabata, D.D.S. ’67, seamlessly blends these cultural influences.

He is quick to deflect the credit and attention for the overwhelming success of the University of Missouri-Kansas City Hawaiian dental alumni group to others, especially those who have gone before:  his father, Dr. Ichiro Tabata, D.D.S. ’38, alumni leader until his death in 1970, and Dr. George Tanaka, D.D.S. ’49, who headed the Hawaiian alumni group until he died in 1996.

But ask anyone, and they will tell you it is Tabata’s indefatigable enthusiasm that keeps the School of Dentistry Hawaiian alumni association intact and growing. In appreciation for their unrivaled service, the entire group received the university’s highest non-academic honor, the Chancellor’s Medal, at a ceremony in Hawaii in 2009.

And when UMKC’s Hawaii Roos gathered on Saturday, February 9, for an alumni reception at the Oahu Country Club in Honolulu, Tabata was on hand to welcome the contingent from his beloved alma mater, UMKC. Tabata, recipient of the 2013 Bill French Alumni Service Award, is the elder statesman in a long line of Hawaiian UMKC School of Dentistry graduates dating back to the 1940s.

The connection between UMKC’s School of Dentistry, and Hawaiians interested in dental careers, is a story that begins with tragedy but endures in triumph.

With the United States’ entry into World War II, American citizens of Japanese descent were dropped from higher education institutions without recourse, summarily rounded up and sent to internment camps. The Kansas City Dental School (now the UMKC School of Dentistry) stood apart, admitting students of Japanese ancestry and accepting them into the school’s culture and society.

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