A Leadership Legacy Created Through Relationships with Honor

Dr. Kenji Tanaka, honorary chairman
of Tanaka Ikueikai Educational Foundation and Chairman of Tanaka Memorial Foundation, passed away on Feb. 1 at age 89. With gifts exceeding $1.3 million, the generous support of Dr. Tanaka and his family have enabled 76 McKendree students and 26 faculty members to visit Tokyo, Japan during Technos International Week. In addition, 25 graduating seniors have received the annual Technos Prize at commencement, and 208 students have been Tanaka Scholars.

Dr. Cynthia Dennis Cherrey shares her tribute to the man President Jim Dennis called “a thoughtful leader, strong and effective educator, astute businessman and wonderful McKendree friend.” This article originally appeared in ILA Intersections. Cynthia Dennis Cherrey, president and CEO of the International Leadership Association (ILA), publishes in the areas of leadership, organizational development, and higher education.



by Dr. Cynthia Dennis Cherrey

Dr. Kenji Tanaka and Dr. DennisIn this time of fractured societies, we can all take leadership lessons from Dr. Tanaka–a man who lived his life bridging cultural differences.

My husband Jim and I attended his memorial service in Tokyo. Among the many who came to pay their respects were representatives from McKendree University, Pembroke College, University of Oxford, Johns Hopkins University and Internazionale Milano, a global youth sports program. On our return flight home, I had time to reflect on Tanaka’s leadership legacy. His leadership unfolded through the relationships he developed around the world to further education and cultural understanding. In this and all things, he modeled the way with honor and humility. Tanaka was a visionary, a philanthropist and an educator. He grew up during World War II, a time that defined his teenage years and his future. He experienced the loss of his brother, witnessed widespread destruction, and saw his country in ashes, but he was also there to see the rebuilding of his beloved Japan. Throughout his life, he expressed gratitude for the resulting gifts of prosperity, freedom and the democratic ideals that grew from those ashes.

Tanaka had an innovative vision for education. In 1959, he founded a technical education college in Tokyo to meet the needs of students and businesses in Japan’s growing economy. The college grew to six vocational colleges, which in 1991 were united into Technos International College. It was the first institution of its kind to create a campus-like environment with the latest technological amenities to train a workforce for a rapidly changing 21st century society.

Attentive to the increasing interdependence of the world, Tanaka was a forerunner in promoting cultural and international understanding. He established the Tanaka Memorial Foundation in honor of his father, who founded Meijo University in Nagoya, Japan. The Foundation funds collaborative, cross-cultural exchange programs such as Technos International Week, when students and faculty from countries around the world immerse themselves in the richness of Japanese culture.

He modeled his eminent belief in the importance of international understanding and cultural exchanges through his relationships and his family. His international network was built one relationship at a time, and those relationships frequently deepened over time with benefactors often becoming friends of the Tanaka family.

In celebrating the tenth anniversary of the Tanaka Foundation, Tanaka quoted a Japanese expression, Ichi-go Ichi-e—which can be translated as one time, one encounter or a once in a lifetime encounter. He expressed what a lucky man he was to have encountered so many people who changed his life and contributed to his life’s work. He paid it forward, influencing change through his work and the relationships he developed around the world. Dr. Tanaka’s leadership will surely be felt—and honored—for many years to come.