NASW Foundation National Programs
NASW Social Work Pioneers®
Tsuguo "Ike" Ikeda (1924 - 2015)
Pioneering Contributions: In 1953 Tsuguo "Ike" Ikeda was hired as the first professional director of the Atlantic Street Center, a non-profit social service agency that has now been operating for over 100 years in Seattle. He was the first Asian American executive director of a nonprofit in the United States and served until his retirement in 1986. The Atlantic Street Center focused on services for troubled youth, utilizing faculty from the University of Washington School of Social Work and social workers from various other service organizations. The center developed the first computerized system for case records in the US with funding from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). The NIMH study lasted seven years and produced “Effectiveness of Social Work with Acting Out Youth,” which at the time was ranked as one of the top ten studies of its kind in the nation. The Atlantic Street Center was committed to the surrounding community and when Ikeda, in the late 1960’s, allowed the Seattle Black Panthers to use their facilities to provide a breakfast program for local underprivileged children, it was a controversial decision. But the benefit to the children was clear and the leader of the Black Panthers and Ikeda ended up developing a mutually respectful and constructive relationship. Ikeda also organized and facilitated a minority inmate coalition at the Washington State Department of Corrections Monroe Reformatory (now Correctional Complex). The coalition was successful at decreasing the incidents of violence between the groups of minority inmates and was the first of its kind in the state.
Career Highlights: Ike Ikeda first got his inspiration to become a voice for others when, in 1942 as a 17 year old American of Japanese descent, he was ordered to leave his home and to report to the North Portland War Civilian Control Administration Center along with his family. This was the first stop on the way to the Minidoka concentration camp in Idaho where he would spend the next year and a half. The United States government had ordered the mass evacuation of all residents of Japanese ancestry (even those who were Americans, born in the U.S.) who were living on the west coast. As Ikeda walked from freedom to imprisonment, he vowed he would spend his life working for those without a voice. After his time in the Minidoka concentration camp, Ikeda served, along with more than 33,000 other Americans of Japanese descent, in the U.S. Army until the end of the war. Ikeda and other Nisei (second generation) World War II veterans were awarded a Congressional Gold Medal in 2011.
In addition to his work of over 30 years at the Atlantic Street Center, Ikeda provided consultative services to Seattle area minority community service organizations by providing management training, grant writing education, and serving as a mentor for many new executive directors. On the state level, Ikeda was tapped by various Washington State Governors to serve on the Committee on Law and Justice, Commission of Vocational Education, Commission on Ethics and Campaign Practices, and the Executive Task Force on the Department of Youth. On the national level, Ikeda served on the United Methodist Church Commission on Religion and Race, the National Task Force for Development of Standards and Goals for Juvenile Justice, and the U.S. Attorney General’s Committee on Criminal Justice Standards and Goals.
Biographic Information: Ikeda obtained his Bachelor’s degree from Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon. In 1951 he earned his MSW and was one of the first graduates of color from the University of Washington School of Social Work. During that time, Ikeda met and married Sumiko Hara from Hawaii, also a student at the university. They had four daughters, seven grandchildren, and were married for 62 years.
In 2007, Ikeda wrote “Ike’s Principles” - a book of principles that was based upon his Japanese heritage and was helpful as he navigated his life and career. The principle of “ukemi” or “learn to fail to succeed” recognized the strength and opportunity that can arise from failure before achieving success. The principle of ukemi empowered him to persevere.
Ikeda was active and kept up with current social welfare issues. He remained committed to the under-represented, oppressed and voice-less members of society. Ikeda was asked about his goal in life during retirement, and he said without any hesitation that he wanted to continue to help others in any way that he could.
Significant achievements and awards received: Ikeda was the recipient of the Puget Sound Chapter of NASW’s Social Worker of the Year, Seattle Rotary’s Community Service Award, the Municipal League of Seattle and King County Citizen of the Year Civic Award, the University of Washington School of Social Work Distinguished Alumnus Award, and the Multicultural Alumni Partnership of the University of Washington Alumni Association Distinguished Alumnus Award.