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Washington State University
College of Education

Alumni Profile: JoAnn Sims


Alumna and Cougar husband make social issues a priority

Teacher/artist JoAnn Sims pictures world at peace

By Julie Titone

JoAnn Sims doesn’t wait for Christmas. It’s always Peace on Earth time for the Washington State University alumna.

JoAnn and Larry Sims
JoAnn and Larry Sims

She and her husband, Larry Sims, are longtime peace activists. Their volunteer work has focused on the Northwest but also involves traveling and building friendships around the world.  This past August, they were in Japan for ceremonies commemorating the 65th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Nearly 60,000 people from 75 countries attended the Hiroshima event.

“It was a memorial service of tremendous solemnity and respect,” JoAnn said of the annual ceremony. “For the first time, the U.S. ambassador was there, which was an extraordinarily positive sign for the Japanese community.”

The Simses were in Japan as peace ambassadors from the U.S., a “PAX team” so designated by the World Friendship Center located in Hiroshima. The center was founded by Barbara Reynolds, an American Quaker whose husband was part of the medical team that recorded the condition of bomb survivors. “She was so distraught,” JoAnn said. “She felt that if there were a group establishing friendships between countries, they would be less likely to turn against each other.”

JoAnn and Larry, both Cougars, are retired and living in Amity, Oregon. She graduated from the WSU College of Education with a bachelor’s degree in 1963 and a master’s in 1969. After settling in the Seattle area, she earned an education doctorate from Seattle University. He graduated from the WSU College of Engineering in 1964, and returned to earn a master’s. He had a 40-year career in environmental engineering.

Child at Japanese memorial service
Child at Japanese memorial service

The Simses were among founders of an organization in Seattle now known as Youth Care, which helps young people in crisis. They also helped start the Rauschenbusch Center for Spirit and Action, which focuses on social issues and is now part of the Church Council of Greater Seattle. As members of the University Baptist Church congregation, their good works ranged from helping conscientious objectors to supporting women escaping abuse.

But their activism extends beyond the Northwest. In particular, the couple has a longstanding interest in Asia.

JoAnn taught at the Seattle Country Day School, a private school for gifted and talented students. She once took elementary students to China on a three-week field trip. The family regularly welcomed into their home Japanese exchange students from the University of Washington. The Sims children, Anastasia and Kyle, studied in Japan and mastered the language.

The couple’s association with the World Friendship Center began 10 years ago when they were invited to host a PAX team from Japan, which included two atomic bomb survivors (a group known in their homeland as Hibakusha). The Simses organized concerts, dinners, receptions and classroom visits so the Japanese could share their heart-rending stories and their message of peace. Larry arranged for them to visit classes at Linfield College, where he is a trustee.” The couple is incredibly impressed by the lack of animosity that the bomb survivors and other Japanese show toward Americans.

“Hiroshima is now called the city of peace,” JoAnn said. “The bad feelings and emotions have evaporated, and people gather to say ‘We will work for peace and eliminate nuclear weapons.'”

Their activism didn’t stop with their retirement to the Willamette Valley in 2006.  They’re active with the Community of McMinnville’s Interfaith Advocates of Peace and Justice, and with the Yamhill County Peacemakers. JoAnn is preparing a presentation proposal on peace leadership for the 2011 Leadership Conference at Seattle University. They are also arranging showings of Hibakusha, Our Life to Live, by a filmmaker they met in Japan, David Rothauser of Massachusetts.

When JoAnn was teaching, she kept a poster in her classroom that read “Wage Peace.” Education is a powerful way of doing that, she believes.

“I definitely think peace studies should be part of the education program, K-12 and into college.  An appreciation of diversity — ethnic, cultural, national and international — is imperative,” she said. “And there needs to be active experience in conflict resolution, from playground disagreements to community issues.”

JoAnn also uses art to cultivate peace. Her observations about the sculptures in the Nagasaki Peace Park so impressed British documentary filmmaker Patrick Murphy that he interviewed her on the subject.  Her own specialty is oil painting.  Since 2007, she has been working on a series of landscapes that promote peace, titled “Under the Same Sky.”

"Under the Same Sky"
“Under the Same Sky”

“Since visiting Hiroshima and Nagasaki, I am convinced more than ever that a world without nuclear weapons, and, ultimately, world peace are possible,” she said.