Dear Abby, Ellen & Fred

Jan 20, 2013
Manzanar, June 1942; photo by Dorothea Lange

Manzanar, June 1942; photo by Dorothea Lange

In honor of the 2nd officially recognized Fred Korematsu Day Pasadena and, in his words, to highlight that “even in times of crisis, we must guard against prejudice and keep uppermost our commitment to law and justice,” Ellen Snortland shares a camp story.

Back in the 1970’s, I rented my home in McArthur Park to a woman who became a mentally ill tenant, combing through dumpsters every night for months, bringing all the “treasure” home with her. When I found out, I had to evict her, then wade through knee deep junk to clean up.

Out of all that junk, I salvaged just a few items of value or interest. One was a vintage photo album. When I got home I saw immediately that the album had belonged to a Japanese-American family and there were pictures from one of the camps. That’s when I determined that I needed to return the album to the family to which it belonged.

I called reference librarians at the L.A. Central Library and various associations in Little Tokyo but ran into walls everywhere. As it turned out, the name of the family was obvious from the album, but it was not a typical or common last name. Finally, Susie, a friend of mine, said, “Oh, I know what you can do! It’s perfect for Dear Abby. I’ve read her for years and if you write her, she’ll run your letter and you’ll find your family.”

Sure enough, Susie was right—the family contacted Dear Abby the day after publication.

I sent the album to Abby’s office as the family preferred to be anonymous. A month later, I received a big box in the mail. In it was a beautiful quilt, a box of apples, and a note that sent shivers up my spine. They said that since the camps, they’d lost touch with so many people and were so sad. Because of the Dear Abby letter, which was published in all the English-speaking countries of the world, they were contacted by people they hadn’t seen since the 40s—people in Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and England.


One woman’s pack-ratism, my curiosity, and an advice columnist brought people back together.

The photo album had ended up in a dumpster because a beloved aunt and uncle had passed away within months of each other and an over-zealous, non-sentimental nephew cleaned out their house without regard to sentimental items. That photo album was determined to be found.

Copyright © 2013 Ellen Snortland

Ellen Snortland Headshot (Small)Ellen Snortland has her J.D. from Loyola Law School, Los Angeles and her B.A. in theater and film from University of California, Irvine. She has a rare degree in Norwegian baking: a YUMMY degree. Ms. Snortland discovered her mother’s kransekake, in English, “Crown Cake” recipe and makes it for weddings and all special occasions. Gluten free and a combination of chewy and crunchy, crown cakes are truly royal in how special and delicious they are. Ellen is fond of saying that “My grandmothers would completely plotz if they knew I was baking Norwegian goodies. (

She has also written and performs a solo show entitled, “Now That She’s Gone,” which was at the Edinburgh Theater Festival in August of 2011. Ellen has published commentary in Pasadena Weekly, The Los Angeles Times and the Huffington Post (among a dozen others), and is a professional writing coach for first time authors. She’s on the boards of Fifty-Fifty Leadership in Glendale and Consumer Watchdog, and she’s a goodwill ambassador for the National Women’s History Project.

Ellen lives in Altadena with her beloved husband, Ken Gruberman, and their two ill-behaved and darling dogs. (

Thank you “Dear Abby,” aka Pauline Phillips, 1918-2013.

Fred Koramatsu Day Pasadena
Saturday, Jan. 26th, 10 a.m.-noon
McKinley School auditorium
325 S. Oak Knoll, Pasadena 91101
Event free to the public
Parking is free across the street
Registration at 9:30 a.m. with light refreshments and viewing of exhibit “Internement Camp Photos, 1942-1946” by educator and photographer Stone Ishimaru
For more info, visit

For the full biography of Fred Korematsu, visit

Fred and Karen Korematsu; photo by Shirley Nakao

Fred and Karen Korematsu; photo by Shirley Nakao




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