Submitted photo: Mieko Peek (back right) took several groups of Lyon students on trips to Japan during her time as the College’s Japanese instructor.
Mieko Uchida Peek, a former Japanese instructor at Lyon College, passed away on April 27. Peek is remembered by colleagues and alumni for her dedication to her students and her commitment to sharing Japanese culture and history with the community.
She was born in Kumagaya City, Japan, on April 18, 1948, to Fusayoshi and Kisae Uchida. Peek obtained her undergraduate degree from Tokyo Women’s College and her master’s degrees from Japan’s International Christian University and the University of Northern Iowa (UNI).
She met and married John M. Peek, another UNI graduate student, in 1975. The family moved to Batesville in 2000. Peek served as an instructor of Japanese language and literature at Lyon College until her retirement in 2015.
Dr. Terrell Tebbetts, the Martha Heasley Cox Chair in American Literature, was Peek’s division chair during much of her time at Lyon. He described her as “a great colleague.”
“She changed the lives of many students,” Tebbetts said. “Her retirement was a loss. Her passing brings that loss close to our hearts.”
Associate Professor of History Dr. Edward Tenace said Peek did an incredible job singlehandedly developing Lyon’s former Japanese program.
“She took the initiative and developed the program on her own. I remember all the guest speakers she used to bring to Lyon from Japan and other universities.”
Assistant Director of the Library Camille Beary said the Mabee-Simpson Library staff often worked with Peek on projects. Every year, Peek spearheaded the “1,000 cranes project,” setting up stations of paper with folding instructions in the library. Students would take a break, fold a crane and put it in the box.
“After 1,000 cranes had been folded, Mieko would thread them into long ropes,” Beary said, “and with her group of students, take them to Japan. I believe the cranes were hung with thousands of others at Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial Park.”
Peek also collaborated with the library staff for a very successful "Images of Hiroshima" exhibit, involving film and displays in the library lobby along with a lecture in Nucor Auditorium by one of Japan's few remaining Hiroshima survivors.
“Mieko was a jewel,” Beary said.
Lighla Whitson, ’12, said Peek made a huge impact on her life as a student.
“I honestly don't know what kinds of changes to my adult life there would have been without her,” Whitson said. “I am so sad to hear that she isn't around to push all of us to be our best any longer.”
“Peek-Sensei was very hard toward me, but it was to make me and everyone a better student and to take the studies seriously,” said Cody Cox, ’07.
He said Peek was very friendly and led her students to learn more about Japan and its culture through the trip they took together to visit the country.
“She was a wonderful person and will leave a lasting memory for me and everyone she taught.”
Tiffany Thiessen, ’13, said Peek helped her make her longtime dreams of studying and working in Japan a reality.
“Without her guidance and mentoring I don't think I would have succeeded in reaching them,” she said. “She started a ripple effect that will be felt throughout the rest of my life.”
Thiessen said she will be forever grateful to Peek for giving her time, wisdom and dedication to teaching students about Japan and about life.
“She was an incredible woman, and I'm so glad I had the privilege of being her student.”
Peek is survived by her husband; two sons, Ken and Kevin Peek; and one grandchild, Liam Peek.
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