Virginia May Kurata, aged 96 to near perfection, caught her comet to eternal life in Heaven on September 21, 2018. Surrounded at her bedside by close family members, Virginia departed peacefully with her eyes closed and her heart full of love and compassion for all of humanity.
She was the first born to Milton “Pap” and Elizabeth Mefford in a coal mining camp in Star City, West Virginia next to Morgantown on May 25, 1922. The Mefford family moved around often from camp to camp in the region, eventually settling near Washington, PA where Virginia and her sister, Louise, and two brothers, Mel and Don, attended local schools. Following high school graduation during the Great Depression, Virginia found work as a secretary for a company named Protected Steel Products in Washington, PA. Soon thereafter, she would meet Fred Kurata, a Japanese-American and the love of her life, who worked at the company as a plant engineer.
When the U.S. entered WW II following Pearl Harbor, Virginia and her two younger brothers, Mel (deceased) and Don (deceased), became members of what former NBC news anchor Tom Brokaw described in his highly acclaimed book, “The Greatest Generation,” by answering their country’s call to serve in the war effort. Fred had proposed to Virginia, but she told him he would have to wait until after she had finished her service in the United States Marine Corps. Fred waited patiently, writing and sending a love letter every day to Virginia while she was a Marine. Following her honorable discharge, Virginia and Fred married on January 14, 1946 in Maryland, one of a handful of states at the time without laws forbidding inter-racial marriage.
After countless rejection letters, Fred finally got his chance to pursue his true professional passions, teaching and research in chemical and petroleum engineering, after successful interviews with the late chemical engineering professors at KU, James O. Maloney and Shelby Miller. Virginia, Fred and their first son, Phil, settled into a new life during January, 1947 in Lawrence, Kansas where Virginia and Fred would remain the rest of their lives.
In addition to Phil, Fred and Virginia raised, educated and launched three more kids: Elizabeth, Doug and Tom. While Fred taught, and drove his graduate students crazy with frequent all-night data collecting sessions at KU, Virginia happily kept them fortified with sandwiches, gallons of coffee and other goodies from her kitchen. She had a magical touch with people and naturally built and nurtured life-long friendships with countless people in Lawrence and at KU while working full-time as a homemaker. Her love of family and friends was unconditional and without boundaries. She expressed her deep Christian faith through active participation over several decades at Plymouth Congregational Church. She found ways to love people completely without complete understanding of them, all without expecting anything in return. Virginia’s ethos was driven by the notion, “be the miracle you wish to see in others.”
Virginia and Fred traveled extensively in Asia, Europe, Latin America, North Africa and East Africa during Fred’s sabbatical leaves from K.U. They also traveled the world to visit Phil, Elizabeth, Doug and Tom wherever they might be on the planet pursuing careers in journalism, medicine, business and chemical engineering. Virginia learned to adapt, overcome, improvise and appreciate the rich and challenging cultural and linguistic environments she found herself in, all the time humbly speaking the universal language of wide smiles, big hugs and warm handshakes with whomever she met.
It has been said that there is no love more powerful than the love a mother has for her children. No doubt, Virginia deeply loved and took great pride in her kids and their families. She looked upon her 3 daughters-in-law as if they were her own daughters. The love Virginia expressed to her 10 grandchildren and 5 great grandchildren was infinite.
It has also been said that on facing the pearly gates of Heaven St. Peter asks two questions of each new arrival, the answers to which determine whether you get in or not. The first is whether you brought joy to others. The second is whether you found joy in your own life. Virginia can honestly answer yes to each.
During a sermon, many years ago, Rev. Peter Luckey compared human lives to streams flowing into the same river headed towards whatever Heaven lies in the mist beyond the falls. So now, Virginia, you are free to go to your great beyond. You fulfilled your mission on Earth with grace and dignity. To those of us you touched, we will never forget you. We salute you. Bravo Zulu and Semper Fi, Virginia. With love and Godspeed, close your eyes, keep your heart open and ride your comet to Heaven.
Virginia’s family expresses its appreciation for the loving care and attention by the staffs at Pioneer Ridge Retirement Community, Lawrence Memorial Hospital, Warren-McElwain Mortuary and Rev. Peter Luckey. Virginia requested cremation and her ashes will rest next to Fred’s at Pioneer Cemetery in Lawrence, Kansas at a later date. A celebration of life for Virginia will be held on Tuesday, September 25, 2018, 4:00 pm at Pioneer Ridge Independent Living.
For more information or to post a condolence go to warrenmcelwain.com.