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Beloved Pomona College administrator donates $1 million after death

Masago Armstrong knew the names of all 8,752 students she helped to graduate from Pomona College when she was the prestigious liberal arts school’s registrar.

After a 30-year tenure that ended in 1985, Armstrong will now help a new generation of students with a $1-million gift toward scholarships, left to the college upon her death last year at age 102.

Her family declined to disclose the financial source of the gift.

Armstrong’s donation will enhance the scholarship fund she created decades ago in honor of her mother, Towa Yamaguchi Shibuya, who died while Masago and her family were held in a Japanese incarceration camp during World War II.

“Masago Armstrong was known for her skill and diligence as registrar and for her kindness and care for Pomona students,” Pomona College President G. Gabrielle Starr said in a statement. “This endowed scholarship will honor her mother’s memory and support generations of students with financial help to attend Pomona.”

Armstrong was described by Pomona alumni as a “legend,” a “force of nature” and “the definition of integrity.”

“She impacted generations of alumni, and now she’s paying it forward,” said Nancy Treser-Osgood, a 1980 graduate of Pomona and former alumni director for the school.

A registrar’s job description can include handling student records, processing grades and preparing transcripts and diplomas.

Treser-Osgood recalled the personal relationship Armstrong maintained with every individual student, checking in with them each semester to set up their class schedule and ensure they stayed on track to graduate. If a student faced a challenge from a faculty member, she would “move heaven and Earth to help them.”

“Someone said if you got a bad grade, facing Masago was harder than facing your parents,” she joked.

A woman sorts through documents on a table as a man waits.

“I like the detail,” Masago Armstrong, shown in 1957, said years later about her job as Pomona College registrar. “I think that is one of my strengths, and it’s absolutely necessary for the job.”

(Pomona College)

Born Masago Shibuya, she spent her early life in Menlo Park, Calif., where her parents ran a flower farm. The couple had arrived as Japanese immigrants in 1904 and were known for their chrysanthemum blooms.

After getting her master’s degree from Stanford University in 1941, Armstrong’s life was upended with the signing of Executive Order 9066, which authorized the incarceration of Japanese Americans. She was sent with her parents and five siblings to a temporary camp at the Santa Anita racetrack in Arcadia before being incarcerated at a camp in Wyoming.

Her mother would not live to see the family return home in 1945.

After the war, Armstrong got a job at Stanford and met her future husband, Hubert Armstrong. The couple moved in 1955 to Claremont, and she landed a job in Pomona College’s registrar’s office, where she worked until her retirement.

“I like the detail,” she told Pomona College Magazine while reflecting on her career. “I think that is one of my strengths, and it’s absolutely necessary for the job.”

Armstrong’s sister-in-law Lily Shibuya described the gift to Pomona College as an honor to her impact on the school.

“To me the best epitaph that describes her is that ‘to know her was to love and respect her,’ as she enriched everyone’s life that she touched,” Shibuya said.

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