MISSOULA – Philip West, loving father, husband and dedicated teacher, passed away June 21, 2012, at St. Patrick Hospital with his wife Young-ee Cho, twin brother Larry, and all four of his children, Barbara, Jennifer, Daniel and June, at his side.
Phil and his twin Larry were born Oct. 4, 1938, in Goshen, Ind., to Dan and Lucille West. He grew up on a small farm in Elkhart County working the fields with draft horses and milking cows. His life was guided by a strong work ethic, a sense of humor and the pacifist principles of the Church of the Brethren. His father, Dan West, founded the worldwide hunger-relief organization Heifer International based on these principles.
While attending Manchester College, Phil traveled to Japan by ship as a “seagoing cowboy,” caring for heifer cows en route to farmers struggling to recover from World War II. He remained in Japan to study at the International Christian University in Tokyo, igniting a love of East Asia that would become his life’s work, searching for common ground between the people of America and East Asia.
After graduating from Manchester as a premed/peace studies major in 1960, he served as a conscientious objector teaching English for two years in Warsaw, Poland, with the Brethren Volunteer Service, another organization founded by his father. By 1971 he had earned his doctorate from Harvard University in modern Chinese history and East Asian languages. He would laugh at himself as the “Indiana farm boy” amongst the East Coast academics. To balance out the intensity of graduate school, Phil would escape Cambridge for the Maine Coast, building a cabin with his hands. He was particularly proud of the spiral staircase, which was held together by a single bolt running down the center post.
Throughout his career, Phil expanded East Asian curricula in university and public school classrooms. He tirelessly engaged in interdisciplinary work that bridged the worlds of academia, language studies, culture, arts and business. Before he came to the University of Montana, he taught at Indiana University for 18 years. During the last seven years he was the director of the East Asian Studies Center, where he established the Summer Language Institute for intensive training of Chinese, Japanese and Korean.
He had remarkable foresight, fostering trade relationships between Indiana and China when China was just opening up to the West. His work with Gov. Bob Orr to establish a sister-state relationship between the state of Indiana and Zhejiang Province in China directly correlated with the explosion of Chinese education programs and trade relationships in Indiana today. During this time he met and married Young-ee Cho, a partnership that would blossom for the next 28 years.
They moved to Missoula in 1988 when Phil became the Mansfield Professor of Modern Asian Affairs, a position he continued to serve until his death. He was the director of the Maureen and Mike Mansfield Center for 10 of those years. The Mansfield Center gave him a platform to further his interdisciplinary work, in which he organized conferences allowing scholars, artists, environmentalists, governmental and military leaders from Asia and America to work side-by-side. His projects focused on the human experience of American wars in Asia, the Korean War in particular, creating opportunities for dialogue and healing between former enemies.
During his 24 years at the University of Montana, he worked abroad serving as the co-director for the Center for Chinese and American Studies at Johns Hopkins University in Nanjing, China. He also spent a semester as a Fulbright professor returning to the International Christian University in Tokyo in 2007. During that semester, he reconnected with a heifer recipient from his first trip to Japan, a former Kamikaze pilot who had turned his cow into a prospering dairy business over the past 50 years.
His book, “Yenching University and Sino-Western Relations,” 1916-1952, Harvard University Press, 1976, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and was recently translated into Chinese. Other scholarly contributions include numerous articles, anthologies, conference presentations and grants, including the creation of a digital teaching library.
Despite his love of research, Phil’s passion was teaching. His devotion to students was reciprocated as both graduate and undergraduate students found him to be an inspiring teacher, opening their minds to a larger view of the world and themselves. His carefully crafted lectures were always supplemented with works of art, music and film from both sides of the Pacific.
In 2011, he received an Alumni Honor Award from Manchester College for his scholarly achievements, his commitment to exposing the realities of war and for illuminating paths to peace. Following the footsteps of his visionary father, Phil fully dedicated himself to his work with the idea that “big oaks from acorns grow.”
At home, he was the gentle father who shared his love of music with his children, often accompanying their practice of various musical instruments. He had a beautiful tenor voice and was a talented pianist. In later years, he delighted in serving on the board of the String Orchestra of the Rockies, for which he was the president from 2003 to 2010.
He found daily joy in the wonders of nature, enjoying storms from the deck of his beautiful Missoula home. He loved songbirds and often expressed his early desires to be an ornithologist. The mountains, rivers and cool air of western Montana made him truly happy.
He is survived by his wife Young-ee Cho; son Daniel; daughters June, Jennifer (Emeryville, Calif.) and Barbara (Davis, Calif); grandchildren Isaiah, Clara and Fiona; brothers Larry (Olympia, Wash.) and Steve (Richmond, Calif.); sister Jan Schrock (Westbrook, Maine); and numerous nephews and nieces.
A memorial service to celebrate Phil’s life is planned for Thursday, Aug. 9, at 4 p.m. at Christ the King Parish, officiated by Father Jim Hogan.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Maureen and Mike Mansfield Center.