A group of Webster volunteers held hands and bowed their heads in a circle in the St. Peter and Paul kitchen on Monday, June 13. The volunteers consisting of Webster staff and faculty, stood silently and reflected on their time with Anna Barbara Sakurai, a retired math and computer science professor. Anna Barbara started the volunteer group about 20 years ago.
Anna Barbara died from car accident injuries on June 3. This is the volunteer group’s first time together since her death. Once a month, the group comes together to prepare and serve a meal. Turkey sandwiches, salad and slow-cooked beans are served on June 13 to 166 St. Louis homeless men, women and children.
Those closest to Anna Barbara say she was a social activist who had a passion to help others. Through feeding the homeless, she was able to live out this passion. Now, the volunteer group, with both returners and newcomers, is carrying out Anna Barbara’s work.
Last month, Anna Barbara was serving food. She was picking up a tray full of two plates and walking out into the dining room full of hungry people. She saw there was a shortage of servers, so Anna Barbara, 80, filled that need.
“People encouraged her to stay off her feet, but she was going to serve,” said Maxine Bauermeister, a Webster professor who met Anna Barbara in 2005.
Kit Jenkins, a School of Communications professor who has volunteered for about 13 years, said Anna Barbara saw the dining space more as a restaurant. The people eating the food were not homeless people in Anna Barbara’s eyes—— they were her guests.
“I think her spirit will be there always,” Jenkins said. “I can’t help but think about her when I’m there.”
Jenkins remembers Anna Barbara as a spiritual person. Although she handed over responsibility of the group to Anne Schappe and Mary Ann Drake, both Webster nursing professors, Anna Barbara and her husband, Ed Sakurai, still attended meals when possible. When she did attend, Anna Barbara would say a prayer before serving the meal.
Anna Barbara would always start of the prayer, “Our heavenly Mother and Father, creator of all…” Jenkins said she liked Anna Barbara’s perspective of the prayer because she included, “Mother,” as well as “Father.”
Anna Barbara wasn’t only an advocate for the homeless, but also a fighter for women’s rights. She served on the Women’s Studies Committee until her retirement in 2009.
Anna Barbara was a Sister of Loretto before marrying her husband and Webster computer science professor, Ed Sakurai, in the 1960s.
Mary Ann McAvoy, friend of Anna Barbara and a Sister of Loretto, says she and Anna Barbara both joined the order in 1950. Upon joining the order in her early twenties, Anna Barbara met many friends like McAvoy, who shared a passion for the Loretto order. Anna Barbara graduated from Webster in 1956.
When Anna Barbara met her future husband, Ed Sakurai, she was faced with a decision to either leave or stay with the Loretto order.
“Falling in love with Ed was one pull and her love for Loretto was another,” said McAvoy.
After marrying, Anna Barbara still remained a co-member of the Loretto order and Ed Sakurai became a co-member as well. McAvoy says the Loretto sisters supported their marriage and celebrated the union with the Sakurais.
In the 1960s, Anna Barbara became involved with the peace movement and traveled to Paris to protest the Vietnam War. Mary Louise Denny, a Loretto sister and former student of Anna Barbara’s, says she continued to be very active in the anti-war movement after the Vietnam War.
The same determination Denny and McAvoy saw in the 1960s carried on until Anna Barbara’s death. Tom Burnham, director of the St. Peter and Paul Center, remembers Anna Barbara as a woman who always got involved.
“She never said, ‘Somebody ought to do something,’” said Burnham. “She was soft-spoken, but she had a real strength behind that.”
Denny says Anna Barbara was bright, spontaneous and extremely creative in the classroom. Anna Barbara taught Denny in Webster’s religious studies department and was also Denny’s supervisor when Denny was a student teacher.
“Anna Barbara would make up wonderful games in class,” Denny said. “She always approached teaching from a different perspective.”
Denny added that Anna Barbara always saw the importance in what her students had to say. The two remained friends even after Denny graduated in 1969.
“My friendship with Anna Barbara was an important relationship in my life,” said Denny. “I thank her for that.”
Brenda Boyce, who first met Anna Barbara 21 years ago, said Anna Barbara was a committed educator. Anna Barbara’s love for her students inspired Boyce in her own teaching and life.
“By knowing her I became a better teacher, a better person,” Boyce said. “She made everyone who knew her better.”