News & Stories
June 24, 2022

Finding it all

By Debbie Rasure



Growing up in Japan, Koji Yoda dreamed of attending college in the United States. He wrote to a dozen U.S. college presidents seeking the opportunity, but only one responded: Berry’s Dr. John Bertrand. They corresponded for 18 months before Yoda set off for America, traveling 18 days by Pacific Ocean freighter and three more by bus to make history in 1961 as Berry’s first international student.



Yoda was determined to make the most of the opportunity provided by Bertrand, who convinced Berry’s board to change existing policy by allowing a foreign student to pursue a full-time, four-year degree. He also assured the U.S. immigration office that Berry would serve as Yoda’s de facto financial sponsor.

Justifying the faith the Berry president had shown in him, the high-performing scholar immersed himself in campus life and made lasting connections with fellow students. He intended to return home after college, but a few months before graduation, the sight of a beautiful woman on the dance floor at Ford Gymnasium changed his plans in a heartbeat.

 “I mustered up my courage and asked for a dance,” Yoda recalled. “The song that happened to be playing was “More,” one of the most romantic in my memory. A month later, to my greatest happiness, that same beautiful co-ed, Reba Ann Nichols [67C], asked me to go to the Sadie Hawkins dance, and the rest is history.”

Graduating with highest honors, Yoda enrolled in a two-year MBA program at Emory University while Reba Ann finished her Berry degree. They dreamed of a life together, but a seemingly insurmountable barrier stood in their way: a Georgia law preventing people of different races from marrying. Once again, Bertrand stepped in, connecting them with a traffic-court judge in Chattanooga, Tenn., who would conduct a civil wedding ceremony.

Koji Yoda and Reba Ann Nichols Yoda during their wedding ceremony at Barnwell Chapel.


A few days later, the now-married couple returned to Berry for a second ceremony at Barnwell Chapel. This time, the officiant was the Rev. Dr. Jorge Gonzales, Yoda’s former suitemate at Emory, who was just beginning his long tenure as a religion and philosophy professor at Berry. Bertrand, of course, was best man.

Not long after, at the height of the Vietnam War, Yoda was drafted into the U.S. Army. He served until 1971, during which time he graduated with distinction from the Army’s Engineer Officer Candidate School in Fort Belvoir, Va.

The same year Yoda was honorably discharged as a first lieutenant, he became a U.S. citizen, possessing a deeper perspective on his adopted homeland thanks to his service.

 “The true value of the U.S. flag and the true meaning of the word ‘freedom’ for me would not have and could not have been grasped had it not been for my induction into the U.S. Army,” he explained.

After earning a Doctor of Education degree in educational operations research from the University of Tennessee, Yoda embarked on a long career in business and education, serving in upper-level management for Rollins Inc., in Atlanta; PRT Group Inc., in Manhattan; and RRR Associates (Rollins’ think tank/consulting group) back in Atlanta. In 2002, he traded the boardroom for the classroom, teaching business education, computer technology and mathematics to Georgia middle and high school students until his retirement in 2015.

The place where it all started has never been far from his thoughts. He and Reba Ann have made regular pilgrimages to Berry while maintaining ties with those they held dear, including Reba Ann’s sister, Theodora Nichols Bowen (67C), and the now late Bertrand and his wife, Annabel.

Clockwise from top left: Dr. Koji Yoda (65C) celebrates Mountain Day in the early 1990s with family members Dr. Koji Nichols Yoda (93C), Suyo Ruth Yoda (01C), Reba Ann Nichols Yoda (67C), Stephen Forrester Yoda and Dr. Kyoko Leann Yoda (91C).


“To our children, Dr. Bertrand was always ‘Uncle John,’ and Mrs. Bertrand was ‘Aunt Annabel,’” Yoda said, adding of the man who changed his life: “I admired him, adored him, respected him and above all, I loved him beyond bounds.”

That powerful sense of family made Berry the natural choice for three of the couple’s four children: Dr. Kyoko Leann Yoda (91C), Dr. Koji Nichols Yoda (93C) and Suyo Ruth Yoda (01C). Stephen, their fourth child, joined the U.S. Army before achieving his lifelong dream of becoming a chef.

In 2015, the couple returned to Berry for Yoda’s 50th reunion, joining his classmates in celebrating the establishment of two Gate of Opportunity Scholarships named for the Berry College Class of 1965, a fitting way to welcome others into the Berry family that has meant so much to all of them.

Yoda is profoundly grateful that the Gate of Opportunity was opened to him, praising two fundamentally “Berry” principles for propelling him to new heights.

“I learned to internalize the motto, ‘Whether at work or at play, do your best,’ and I have strived to live according to Miss Berry’s motto, ‘Not to be ministered unto, but to minister,’” he declared. “Those ideals have turned out to be the core sources of success in my life.”

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