Joanne Udo Schmitt was born Chiharu Udo on March 18, 1924 in Tokyo, Japan to Takehisa and Yasuko Udo. Chiharu was the youngest of three children: Chiyoka was six years older, and Takehiko, three years older. Her father Takehisa was a physician who owned and ran a successful hospital in Tokyo. Thanks to her father’s education and busy medical practice, Chiharu was exposed to a more western lifestyle at a young age.
After high school, she attended Tsuda College, a prestigious women's college that specialized in classical, English-based education. At Tsuda she became fluent in English, a skill that would open doors for her for the rest of her life. On December 7, 1941, the Japanese army attacked Pearl Harbor, and the country was swept into World War II. Joanne remained at Tsuda, but her education was put on hold while the gymnasium was converted into a weapons factory that the students worked in. As the war continued and resources grew thin, some of her classmates died from malnutrition.
During this time, Chiharu relied heavily on her faith. Her brother Takehiko had been instrumental in leading her to Christianity; before his untimely death, he invited Chiharu to go to church with him. When she was 15 she was baptized in the Methodist tradition. At the baptism, Chiharu’s pastor gave her the Christian name she would use for the rest of her life: Joanne. She continued to follow her faith at Tsuda, where she was involved in a Bible study. Later she became involved in the Lutheran church.
On March 9, 1945, when the end of the war finally seemed close, the Allied forces firebombed Tokyo and the Udo family home and medical practice were destroyed. This bombing would later be recognized as the most destructive bombing raid in history. Fortunately, the Udo family survived, and was able to live in their summer home in Chigasaki by the sea. Chiharu joined them there after graduating from Tsuda in 1945. Three years after the war, her father, Takehisa, passed away. Her mother lived for nearly twenty more years in the house at Chigasaki with Chiyoka.
After the war, Joanne met Robert “Bob” Miller Schmitt, of West Newton, Pennsylvania, who had gone to Japan with the army, and stayed afterward as a civil service engineer working for the Headquarters 5th Air Force. On November 20th, 1951, Bob and Joanne were married in Yokohama. Their only child, Margaret Ann, was born some years later. Meanwhile, Joanne earned her U.S. citizenship in 1956 and found employment at the Tachikawa Air Force base as the assistant manager of the largest officers’ open mess in the world, where her duties included supervising the entire office staff.
Bob retired from the civil service in 1971, and the family moved to the US, first near Rochester, Pennsylvania, before finally settling in the Penn Hills area of Pittsburgh. Bob eventually became head of engineering and maintenance at Columbia Hospital (later named Forbes Regional) in Wilkinsburg. Joanne continued working as an executive secretary with a number of companies. In her last full time job, she served as a translator and interpreter for TYK, a Japanese refractories company with offices and a factory in Pennsylvania.
When Bob retired, it brought a more leisurely pace of life for the couple. Joanne joined Bob in the Kiwanis Club and golf, where she enjoyed taking lessons and playing with Bob against other couples. She also was a regular attendee of Japanese flower arrangement classes, called ikebana in Japan. She continued to be involved with the Lutheran church.
Bob passed away in 1995, and Joanne relocated to North Carolina (initially Southport and eventually Wilmington) to be near her daughter Margaret and her family - and near the sea. Finally she moved to Cary, NC to be even closer to her family. Joanne spent her days drawing, watercolor painting, golfing, and remained an active member of the Lutheran congregation.
Joanne passed away peacefully in her sleep on January 16, 2020 in Cary, NC. She was 95.
She is survived by her daughter Margaret and son-in-law Jay Rogers (Apex, NC); grandsons Domingo (Dunn, NC) and Christopher (Brooklyn, NY), and granddaughter Stephanie (Asheville, NC); great-grandchildren Nicole, Kai and Malia Rogers (Traverse City, MI); nephew Katsuhiko Murakami (Japan), and nieces Masako Kanda (Japan) and Kimiko Murray (Berlin, MD). She will be buried beside Bob in West Newton Cemetery in West Newton, Pennsylvania.
The visitation is at 1 PM on Saturday, January 25 at Christ Lutheran Church, Vine and 3rd Streets, West Newton; followed by a service at 1:30 PM. Interment will be at West Newton Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, please send donations to Lutheran World Relief. Arrangements entrusted to the J. William McCauley, Jr. Funeral Home, West Newton. Condolences may be left at http://www.mccauleyfuneralhomes.com
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