U professor

by Amy Olson

George Tani, ophthalmologist and University clinical professor who spent time in a Japanese-American detention camp during World War II, died at his home March 22. He was 83.
Although he retired from teaching in 1986 after teaching in the Medical School for more than 30 years, Tani continued to see patients at his own St. Paul clinic until his death, said Jay Krachmer, head of the ophthalmology department.
During his career, Tani also worked with the ophthalmology department’s Vision Foundation and established a low vision center to help people with poor eyesight.
Tani was born in Oakland, Calif. In 1939, he graduated from the University of California School of Optometry.
During World War II, Tani was held at the Minidoka prison camp for Japanese-Americans in Idaho for nine months, where he helped provide eye care, said his wife, Yoshi. He was released from the camp to serve as an autopsy assistant at Mercy Hospital in Chicago in 1943. In 1944, he joined the U.S. Military Intelligence Language School at Fort Snelling.
In 1945, Tani married Yoshi at the Fort Snelling Chapel while his parents were still imprisoned at the camp in Idaho. He was sent to the Philippines to interview prisoners of war and was later assigned to the U.S. Typhus Commission in Japan. After the war ended, he received a medal and citation for meritorious service.
He returned to Minnesota in 1947 to study medicine at the University and graduated in 1950, later establishing his own practice in St. Paul. Krachmer said Tani was proud that his two sons, Doug and Paul, had joined him at the renowned clinic.
Tani began instructing students at the University in the mid 1950s, teaching them how to measure the power needed to correct a patient’s vision using contacts or eyeglasses, said Krachmer.
In addition to teaching, Tani supported fund-raising efforts to develop the department’s Macular Degeneration Center with professor William Knobloch.
At the memorial service held Friday, former Medical School Dean Neal Gault commended Tani’s philanthropy, adding that Tani was a superb teacher and he felt privileged to know him as both a classmate and as a clinical professor.
In addition to his practice and teaching, Tani was president of the Mayo Clinic Ophthalmology Alumni Association and the University of Minnesota Medical Alumni Association. In 1991 he received the first Outstanding Alumni Service Award from the Vision Foundation, recognizing 30 years of volunteer service to the University’s ophthalmology department and the Lion’s Eye Bank.
Memorial services were held Friday at Centennial United Methodist Church in Roseville. Tani was buried at Fort Snelling National Cemetery.
He is survived by his wife, Yoshi; two sons, Paul and Doug; a daughter, Kay; a brother, Shinobu of Oakland; three sisters, Nobuye Yokomizo of Oakland, Yasu Mitchell of Texas and Chieko Sujaku of Japan; seven granddaughters; and one great-grandson.