I guess I’ve got more love to give than just with my own family.

Thelma Whitaker and her husband, John, had eight children and two foster children. Now that the children are raised, they have grandchildren and a steady stream of young Japanese students around the house. The Whitakers live in San Fernando.

I was raised on a farm in Idaho. I milked cows and pitched hay and dug ditches and did all that sort of thing, but I was very active in school and drama. We had to catch the bus and go a long way to school and stay after for drama practice.

Now I work in sales, and I’m also involved in the Japanese program. About 2 1/2 years ago a woman called and asked if I would take two Japanese girls. Of course I was delighted to. They were 14 and 15 and darling girls. It was such a neat experience. Another gal heard that I did this and called to see if I would like to be a coordinator and teacher through the American Institute for Foreign Studies. I said, “I can’t teach Japanese.” She said, “Oh yes, you can. They get the grammar and the structure in school in Japan, but they need the conversation English. There is a book that tells you what to do.” I said, “Well, OK. I’ll try it.”

To get them familiar with our holidays, we would celebrate a different holiday every other day. I would decorate a room at our church starting with New Year’s. We would hand out a sheet that told them all about New Year’s and why we celebrate it. I would have food to go along with the celebration. For Valentine’s we had a man who had been a missionary to Japan to come and talk to them about the dating system here. We made Valentine cookies. For Easter we made Easter eggs and took them to the park and hid them. We had Christmas here at our home. We put up the Christmas tree; we hung stockings on the fireplace; we made homemade candy and exchanged gifts.


We would have them go home and in their poor English ask their host family: “What are your traditions for this holiday? What do you do?” This would give them a chance to come back to class and report what their host family did.

There is tremendous pressure for the Japanese kids to learn English. We have two Japanese boys living full time with us now, and I noticed last year that Dai was having a difficult time in school. He said, “I don’t understand, Mamma- san , I can’t do it.” I said, “Dai, do you want to go back to Japan? Why do you have to stay here?” “I must,” he said. “I must learn English. I cannot go back until I learn English.”

More than a year ago Michael Steadman from Cal State Northridge called and asked if I would help him with the program there. And now my largest group is coming. We have 90 Japanese stewardesses coming the 31st of this month for one week. They come here to learn about the customs and the cultures of the families.

This time finding host families was difficult. I made thousands of calls. I know lots and lots of people. If they couldn’t do it, they would refer me to others. It’s just calling and calling and calling and calling. After I lined up the families, I was a week and a half with all the applications all over the floor matching students with families.


The other night I realized I had counted some families twice, and all of a sudden I panicked. I didn’t have six families. Some of the families I had called earlier had said they’d think about it. When I called them back, they said, “Sure, we’ll take a student. We were waiting for you to call.” So it all worked out.

I am a goer. I guess it’s just a drive that I’ve always had. I’m very active in the Mormon church. And I go help little ladies clean their houses in my spare time. I do keep very busy.

Having these students is just a fun experience. Most families get very attached to them. I have really enjoyed it. My husband laughs at me. He says, “Don’t you have enough kids to love?” But each one is more special than the next one. I guess I’ve got more love to give than just with my own family. It’s been a special satisfaction.