In the late 70s, the Kenneth and Phyllis Prodoehl family had a visitor who stayed with the family for several months; as a student in the Renville School District during the 1977-78 school year, Nakano developed a relationship with her host family that has spanned more than three decades....
In the late 70s, the Kenneth and Phyllis Prodoehl family of rural Renville County received a visitor who remained with the family for several months.
That visitor, who had never been to the United States, called Japan her home, and she had come to live with the Prodoehls through a student exchange program.
“I wanted to see another part of the world besides Japan,” said Fumiko Nakano, adding the chance to improve her English skills was another incentive to visit.
As a student in the Renville School District during the 1977-78 school year, Nakano got to know the American culture and developed a relationship with her host family that has spanned more than three decades.
Nakano turned 18 during her time with the Prodoehls, and now in her 50s she returned to Minnesota recently to meet with the family.
This was not her first contact with the Prodoehl family since she had returned home in 1978. In fact her family had paid a visit back in 1995, which had been preceded by a visit from her host mom and dad in 1989.
“Ken and I visited Japan,” said Phyllis Prodoehl, who Nakano said she still considers her American mom.
That American mom has seen her international family grow over the years, as Nakano has gotten married and now lives in Nara City, Japan with her two sons, Atsuhiko and Naruhiko.
The two boys had been along for the 1995 visit (see a photo of the Prodoehls and their extended family on the front page of this special section), but being very young they did not remember that trip.
Prodoehl said having raised four boys it was a bit different having a girl in the house, but added it was a good kind of different.
When Nakano was a high school student, there were two of the Prodoehl sons left at home, and Nakano actually graduated from high school with one of them in 1978.
Phyllis, whose husband, Ken, passed away, was glad to have the visitors in her home in early August and said she enjoyed the chance to take them around to see their extended exchange family years later.
Prodoehl said she keeps up with Nakano and her family and corresponds with them.
“She is like our American grandma,” agreed Atsuhiko and Naruhiko, who are both college age today.
Nakano said she gets a call from her American mom at least once a month.
Nakano and her sons did not come to visit the sites. For them the trip was about family and doing family kinds of things.
Like a proud grandmother, Prodoehl bragged up Atsuhiko and Naruhiko who have seen successes and continue to im-press her with what they have accomplished. Just like she is impressed with her own children and grandchildren.
Nakano recalled life on the farm back in the 70s when she stayed with the Prodoehls, adding she was part of the family and did everything they did, including picking eggs.
“They all treated me just as if I was part of their family,” said Nak-ano, adding that made a lasting impression. “We all did everything together.”
The fact that more than 30 years has passed and she still is in contact with her family, despite the significant distance between them, indicates just how important family is to all of them.
When Nakano was first in Minnesota, Prodoehl recalled her smile, adding she was involved in school music and got involved in Middle Creek Church activities with the rest of the family.
Nakano, whose family had farmed, was used to a rural way of life when she arrived in Renville County, but she said the scale of farming in Japan was totally different – as farms are much smaller and farmers in Japan just did not have thousands of chickens.
Nakano returned to Japan and finished her education in high school before attending college where she earned a degree in literature and English linguistics. She has worked for the same company in Japan for 30 years and is currently working in the training department.
Nakano and her two sons returned home Aug. 20 after more than 10 days in Minne-sota with her host mom who now lives in Red-wood Falls.
Prodoehl said she is very glad they decided to become a host family back in 1977-78. She would encourage others to do it, too.
“It is the best program around,” Prodoehl said. “It was one of the best experiences we ever had.”
Nakano echoed that sentiment, adding her time in Renville with the Prodoehls was truly life-changing.
“I am very thankful for the warm hospitality I experienced her in America,” Nakano said, adding she continued to experience that friendliness in more recent visits and over the past three decades as the two families have stayed in touch with each other.
Atsuhiko, who graduated from college in March is hoping to get a job in civil service, while younger Naruhiko is going to continue his education in college toward earning a degree possibly in chemistry.
Both expressed how much they appreciate their American family, especially their American grandma, adding they could always tell their mother appreciated her experience based on the way she talked about the Prodoehls when they were growing up.
The contact between the international families is going to continue, as Prodoehl makes her phone calls, sends her birthday cards and keeps track of those across the ocean.
After all, that’s what families do.