Beloved Registrar Leaves $1 Million for Pomona College Student Scholarships at Her Passing

Headshot of Masago Armstrong, long time registrar of Pomona College

Revered in campus lore, Masago Armstrong helped thousands of students stay on track during her 30 years as registrar of Pomona College in Claremont, California.

Now, leaving a $1 million gift for scholarships at her passing, Armstrong will continue to shape students’ lives for years to come.

The daughter of Japanese immigrants, Armstrong found her world upended in 1942 during World War II when her entire family was sent to a U.S. government incarceration camp, where her mother died. In time, Armstrong rebuilt her life and went on to shape the academic lives of generations of students during her tenure as Pomona College registrar from 1955 to 1985.

Coming from an administrator whose work unfolded behind the scenes, the bequest is a testament to the close-knit community at this small residential college—and to the extraordinary nature of Armstrong, who passed away last year at the age of 102.

Masago Armstrong was known for her skill and diligence as registrar and for her kindness and care for Pomona students,” says Pomona College President G. Gabrielle Starr. “This endowed scholarship will honor her mother’s memory and support generations of students with financial help to attend Pomona.

The gift through her estate builds on the smaller Towa Yamaguchi Shibuya Scholarship Fund that Armstrong launched in honor of her mother decades earlier.

Masago Shibuya Armstrong was born in Menlo Park, California, one of six siblings, working on the family’s flower farm. Her parents, determined that all their children would attend college, saw most of them off to Stanford, where Masago graduated with a master’s degree in 1941.

Her father, Ryohitsu, and mother, Towa, were both born in Japan and came to the United States in 1904. Masago’s father is said to have arrived with just $60 in cash and a basket of clothes. Together with his wife and children, the family built a thriving flower business renowned for its prized chrysanthemums.

The Shibuyas’ hard-won prosperity was interrupted by catastrophe in April 1942. Due to the executive order issued by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the entire family was sent to temporary quarters at Santa Anita Racetrack in Arcadia, California, and then moved to the detention camp for Japanese Americans at Heart Mountain in Wyoming. Tragically, her mother died there at the age of 51, and the family would not return to their Menlo Park home until April 1945.

After the war, Armstrong worked at Stanford University, where she met and married her husband, Hubert Armstrong. Together they moved to Claremont, where she was hired by the College in 1955. During her long career, Armstrong helped guide 8,752 students through to graduation.

Before her death and in celebration of her 100th birthday, Julie Siebel ’84 joined a group of alumni to share memories of Armstrong’s influence on their lives at Pomona and afterward. Siebel recalled how Armstrong knew her mother—Cynthia (“Sue”) Cudney Siebel ’59—who had attended Pomona – and also remembered Julie as a child growing up in Claremont.

“Masago’s warm welcome to me as a first-year in Sumner Hall really surprised my sponsor group because they had been told to fear her at registration,” recalled Siebel. “And later, when I applied to graduate school, the hand-calculated GPA on my transcript was a point of interest to the historians on my admission committee. I gave them the first hand-calculated GPA they had seen since computerized transcripts had become the norm, and they asked me about it. I assured them that Masago was more accurate than a computer.”

Beloved and respected by the Pomona community, Armstrong was known as a woman of gracefully opposing forces. She was kind and stern, patient and efficient, self-effacing and accomplished, mild and meticulous. Her memory for names and faces, majors and GPAs remains the stuff of legend. She was both a masterful student mentor and an exacting, indomitable college administrator.

When she retired, Armstrong reflected on her career in an interview for Pomona College Magazine. “I like the detail. I think that is one of my strengths, and it’s absolutely necessary for the job. … And I haven’t denied myself the pleasure of meeting the students,” she said.

In the same magazine piece, then Associate Dean of the College R. Stanton Hales ’64 agreed. “She is the ideal registrar. She is efficient, patient and has a deep and sincere interest in every individual student,” Hales said.

Even decades after retiring, Armstrong stayed close to Pomona’s campus as a resident of Mt. San Antonio Gardens at the time of her death last fall at the age of 102.

Lily Shibuya, Armstrong’s sister-in-law, says of the gift and the College’s plan to celebrate Masago and her enduring impact on Pomona: “To me the best epitaph that describes her is that ‘to know her was to love and respect her’ as she enriched everyone's life that she touched. Thank you to Pomona College for honoring her in this special way.”