IN MEMORIAM: Isao Fujimoto, Jo Ann Stabb


  • Isao Fujimoto, College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, and College of Letters and Science
  • Jo Ann Stabb, College of Letters and Science

Isao Fujimoto: Scholar and activist

Isao Fujimoto, a beloved senior lecturer known for his intense energy, curiosity and ability to bring people together across diverse communities, has died.

Isao Fujimoto headshot
Isao Fujimoto

Fujimoto, 89, came to Davis in 1967 and helped found the Asian American Studies and Community Development programs through which he mentored generations of students and faculty.

Even after retiring in 1994, Fujimoto continued to teach dozens of courses, maintained a campus office and was quick to attend department events. He also was a project facilitator for the Central Valley Partnership for Citizenship, fostered a summer abroad program in Kyoto, Japan, and worked with community groups.

“That’s the nature of Isao: infinite energy, lifelong curiosity, creative synergies and expansive networking skills,” said Wendy Ho, a professor of Asian American studies who met him in the early 1990s when interviewing for a faculty position at UC Davis.

Fujimoto’s early life helped frame his future. He was born in 1933 on the Yakama Indian Reservation in Washington state at a time when people of Asian descent could not become citizens or own land. During World War II, he and his family were imprisoned at two internment camps, including one at Tule Lake, California.

After the war ended, this child of strawberry farmers drew from his time on the reservation and the camps to guide his adult life. His fondness for the people who tried to help those in the camps prompted him to also provide service to others.

“It really shaped my outlook on what I am doing now,” he said in a 2003 interview with the American Folklife Center.

His work centered on the lived experiences of people in rural areas and their connection to the land, Ho said. To Fujimoto, land was not symbolic. It was like family, and the people who lived and worked in rural communities held deep knowledge. Recognizing that could empower communities, foster sustainability and connect people, she said.

Fujimoto had appointments with what are now known as the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and the College of Letters and Science. His work as a rural sociologist with a focus on farmworkers could put him at odds with agriculture and college leadership.

“He was a significant critic of agribusiness and its impact on small farms, communities and the workers,” said Jonathan London, a professor of human ecology who worked with Fujimoto over more than two decades. “He was a friendly, wonderful, gracious guy but also had a strong political point of view and was very courageous for expressing that.”

Ever the brainstormer over how to connect people, Fujimoto’s house became a sort of incubator for community groups like the Davis Farmers Market and Davis Food Co-Op, which still operate today.

Jo Ann Stabb: Scholar of textiles

Jo Ann Stabb, a founding member of the Department of Design and a widely recognized scholar of textiles, died Feb. 13 in Walnut Creek. She was 80.

Jo Ann Stabb headshot
Jo Ann Stabb

“Jo Ann Stabb essentially started the textile and fashion curriculum in the department,” design professor Susan Taber Avila said in a 2017 interview. “She captured the zeitgeist of the wearable art movement and brought that creativity into her teaching. She understood and championed the value of studying actual textiles and artifacts.”

Stabb was a designer, author and lecturer focusing on the field of fashion and wearable art. She was executive producer of the video series “Wearable Art from California,” which was distributed through the University of California and internationally through the United States Information Agency. Her own textile work was shown around the globe.

She taught at UC Davis from 1968 to 2002 and continued collaborating with the Department of Design long after her retirement. The department’s textile collection was named in her honor in 2017. Stabb donated many items to the collection.

“Jo Ann was my teacher, mentor, friend and colleague,” said Avila, M.F.A., textile arts and costume design, ’96. “She was larger than life in her accomplishments yet humble and a bit of a goofball. She was devoted to UC Davis and a great connector — always forwarding items she felt were important for me or our students.”

Another of Stabb’s students, Adele Zhang (M.F.A., textile arts and costume design, ’99), is now the design collection curator and manager.

"I was so fortunate to meet Jo Ann as a student before her retirement,” Zhang said.  “Without Jo Ann’s belief in me, I wouldn’t be where I am today in my career path. She taught me to be a thoughtful teacher and a caring individual."

Her former student Mary Schoeser (B.S., design, ’72) also reflected on Stabb as mentor and friend.

“From September 1969, when I got to UC Davis, until just two days before we lost her, Jo Ann was the greatest coach one could ask for, always expecting the best but equally supportive, welcoming and generous with her knowledge and connections,” said Schoeser, author of The Art of Mankind and World Textiles: A Concise History.


Media Resources

Dateline Staff: Dave Jones, editor, 530-752-6556,; Cody Kitaura, News and Media Relations specialist, 530-752-1932,

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