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Nikki Torchon reports on how former high school principal Joe DeMarsh and George Ting ’64 reconnected after many decades and the lasting repercussions an act of kindness can have.
In the spring of 1963, George O Ting ’64 was a junior at ASIJ. He was in student council, enrolled in the School’s honor society, and had already been accepted to Columbia University.
“When I was a junior in high school, I was pretty comfortable,” George reflects. “I was class president, played two sports, got good enough grades to get into a good school.” As can be the case with high schoolers, George had his reckless moments, too. “I did something that wasn’t smart. I took something that wasn’t mine. I expected instant expulsion–it would have been appropriate.”
A year prior, in the summer of 1962, Joe DeMarsh moved from Oregon with his family to become ASIJ’s first high school principal, a role necessitated by growing enrollment. His children, Joe ’73 and Leslie ’74, enrolled for the year in the first and second grades. As principal, Joe was lauded for his effective development of a curricular program as well as the administrative organization. He was popular with students and parents alike and contributed to the success of the School’s move the following fall to the Chofu campus.
It was towards the end of the school year that Joe happened to be looking out of his office window and witnessed George’s action. He called George into his office. “I was the definition of falling apart,” George later admitted. “I don’t remember a lot of the details, but after we spoke, Mr. DeMarsh said, ‘let’s see if you can do better.’ And I had no idea what that meant. Were we going to negotiate some sort of suspension?” As George walked out of Joe’s office, he realized Joe had let him off without punishment. “I was feeling that I was going to suffer the worst humiliation, disgrace my family, not be able to go to college... [Joe’s kindness] steered me toward how I should be. ‘Let’s see if you can do better’ was a challenge.”
Though Joe and George only shared one year at ASIJ, Joe’s impact on George endured.
In the late fifties and early sixties, as is the case today, ASIJ’s student body was diverse and what brought families to the School varied widely. Some students had fled Nazi occupation and later the expansion of the Eastern Bloc in Europe. Others fled the communist revolution in China. Some were the children of the American military. Some parents were missionaries, while others’ parents were here on diplomatic posts. Many of these students had seen upheaval beyond their teenage years, and Tokyo in the early 1960s was a city rebuilding itself focused on the future and the coming Olympic Games.
The Ting family was one of many that emigrated to Japan from China in 1950 to escape communism. Simao Ting had managed to obtain Portuguese passports in Macau that allowed him, his wife Gloria and their children, Grace ’61, Maria ’62, and George ’64, to move to Japan, joining relatives who had already made the same move. Cecilia and Liang Chiang, Gloria’s sister and her husband, had already fled from Shanghai in 1949 with their children, May ’64 and Philip ’65.
While their husbands worked separately, Liang at the Chinese Mission in Tokyo and Simao at his import-export business, Cecilia and Gloria worked together at their Chinese restaurant, Forbidden City. Gloria also devoted much of her life to Christian fellowship. Cecilia eventually moved to San Francisco, California, where she opened several renowned restaurants and had a great influence on Chinese food in America, her influence compared to that of Julia Child by chef and restaurateur Alice Waters, among others. Cecilia’s son, Philip, followed her into the restaurant industry, co-founding the chain P. F. Chang’s. Grace and Maria also moved to the United States after graduation, Maria initially studying at Oklahoma Presbyterian College before transferring to the University of Maryland, while Grace earned an undergraduate degree at Westmont College in Montecito, CA.
George also flourished at college, earning his undergraduate degree from Columbia University in 1968. He continued on to medical school at the University of Southern California and completed his residency in internal medicine at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, and then a fellowship in nephrology at Stanford University.
George went on to practice nephrology at El Camino Hospital in Los Gatos, California, for more than 40 years, specializing in treating patients in critical condition with kidney disease, dialysis, and transplantation. He also taught at Stanford University for more than 30 years, and is an adjunct Professor Emeritus of Medicine. Before retiring a few years ago, George served in many leadership positions at El Camino Health, including chief of medicine, chief of staff, district board member, medical director of quality assurance, and medical director of dialysis Services for 29 years. Throughout his career, George was invited to speak at dozens of national engagements, was co-investigator of national clinical trials, and authored multiple peer-reviewed medical journal articles.
“With everything I did, I thought more about Joe DeMarsh – that I wouldn’t be doing what I was doing or have achieved what I had achieved without that extraordinary kindness and grace,” said George.
As George neared retirement, he tried to find Joe, with whom he had lost contact decades prior. “As I was slowing down in my occupation, I thought, ‘wow, I’ve got some unpaid debts,’” George commented. “The event with Joe DeMarsh became bigger, and the burden of the debt became heavier. I didn’t want this feeling I had about Joe DeMarsh to be something I didn’t do anything about. It really made such a difference in my life. I wanted to look him in the eyes and thank him.”
With the help of ASIJ’s Advancement Office, George sent Joe a letter expressing his gratitude for Joe’s compassion. While George wanted to show his gratitude for Joe, merely giving Joe a gift, a token of appreciation, didn’t include a key element of what George wanted to achieve.
“I wanted to make a difference and contribute to his legacy,” he said. Considering George and Joe’s relationship, giving to ASIJ made sense. “I settled on the idea of an endowed fund because it’s permanent. The fund could be in Joe’s name and do good in perpetuity.” George thought endowing a scholarship was particularly fitting, given Joe’s background as an educator. “Helping a kid felt so right,” George said as he reflected on his own education and emotional growth at ASIJ.
An adventurous and lighthearted man, Joe regularly extended kindness to others, enjoyed playing pranks on his friends and family, and worked hard no matter the task. As a teenager, Joe had joined the merchant marines and enlisted in the army. Later, he enrolled in the University of Idaho on a football scholarship and earned degrees in geology and geography. He became a teacher, eventually earning a master’s degree as well. By the time he was offered a position in Tokyo in 1962, Joe had gained extensive experience in the classroom and as an administrator in elementary and secondary schools and was pursuing a doctorate.
During his year in Japan, Joe helped with ASIJ’s internal reorganization, becoming the school’s first principal of junior and senior high school, and dealt with many challenges brought by the School’s impending move to Chofu. The sale of the property and destruction of some of the buildings at Nakameguro had already gone ahead and Joe was faced with providing students PE and co-curriculars without the use of the Mayer Gym or playing field. He got creative in using the front lawn for many PE classes, brokered a deal for ASIJ to use St Mary’s gym four days a week, and even secured access to military-run golf courses for the new student golf club.
Joe returned to Oregon after his time at ASIJ and spent the rest of his career in education. He earned a reputation as an enthusiastic educator because of his engaged and energetic approach. Joe worked hard to secure state funding for his schools and was committed to developing strong programming as “being small and rural was no excuse for being second rate.” He personally arranged and supervised hands-on learning experiences for students.
He also volunteered for decades at the Pendleton Round- Up, an annual rodeo, and was named Volunteer of the Year for the rodeo’s centennial in 2010. Many mornings, before dawn, Joe would be knee-deep in mud and manure taking care of the irrigation system and the animals. “The most humble guy in the world — a world traveler, highly educated — out there battling broncos and bulls,” said Dave O’Neill, a Round-Up past president. “How much he gave in many ways set an example for us.”
While George’s original thought was to bring Joe and Joe’s wife, Susan, to ASIJ’s campus for an event to formally establish the scholarship in Joe’s honor, when George connected with the family, he learned Joe’s health was failing. George quickly planned a trip to Pendleton, Oregon, where he got to meet with Joe and thank him for his compassion all those decades earlier. Joe died two days later, on February 14, 2023.
The celebratory event briefly planned for ASIJ’s Chofu campus became a celebration of Joe’s life with his family and community in Pendleton. The memorial was held on March 11, 2023, at Hamley’s, a saddle and western store and steakhouse. It was an appropriate location as years earlier, Joe had visited Pendleton while moving cattle to the area and bunked in a room above Hamley’s. Joe eventually settled in the town with Susan.
“In Pendleton, Joe was loved. Everyone knew him,” George remarked. George was joined at Joe's well-attended memorial by Joe and Susan’s extended family and members of the local community. ASIJ’s Head of School Dr Jim Hardin and Claire Lonergan, Director of Giving, both flew from Tokyo to participate. It was a fitting backdrop to honor Joe’s legacy as a community man and educator with the launch of the Joseph E. DeMarsh Endowed Scholarship “in gratitude for his exceptional grace and kindness.” The scholarship will be funded in perpetuity through a gift made by George, who is establishing an ¥80 million endowed scholarship fund. George’s generous donation will enable the School to support deserving students through the scholarship — more information on ASIJ’s endowment, planned giving, and our scholarship program can be found on pages 36-39.
Susan’s daughter, Sam Childs, underscored what qualities Joe found important. “Joe kept this William Penn quote in his wallet, as long as I knew him. The paper was worn and torn.”
Joe had written next to this quote, “This I shall endeavor to do.”
George shared with the memorial attendees that their stories gave him a greater understanding of who Joe was.
“The chance he gave me catapulted me into the rest of my life. Now that I’ve heard your stories, I realize that that was who Joe always was — giving people a chance and seeing the best in them.”
“As a nephrologist, I have seen hundreds, maybe thousands of people, in some of the last moments of their lives,” George continued. “None of them talk about the size of their bank accounts. They all talk about their families, their friends, the people important to them. And all of you here,” George said to the memorial attendees, “you are what is important to Joe. He’s a rich, rich man.”
At the end of his remarks, George raised a glass to the room of Joe’s Pendleton community. “To Joe,” he said. “To Joe,” the room echoed. “And to you, George,” they continued.
Life at school is full of stories and the narrative of where our vision will take us is told each day through the learning our students experience in the classroom and beyond.