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Wendell Furnas papers

Identifier: COU:3998

Scope and Contents

The Wendell Furnas Collection is organized into four categories. I. Correspondence contains letters and documents sent between Furnas and other JLS attendees including Roger Pineau, and Carl Bartz. II. Military Records contains documents relating to Furnas’s service in the Navy which includes JLS documents, panels and symposium Furnas participated in and records from his time at the Defense Intelligence College. III. Clippings, contains newspaper articles saved by Furnas relating to him or other JLS attendees – many are in Japanese. IV. Audio/Visual Materials contains photographs of Furnas and other JLS attendees at the class reunion.


  • 1988 - 2000

Biographical Note

Wendell Furnas, born on July 27, 1917 on his family’s farm in Wichita Kansas, to Edgar and Dottie Furnas, Furnas was the middle child of three brothers. After the passing of his mother early in his childhood, Furnas and his two brothers were sent to live with their grandmother in Peabody, Kansas while their Dad, moved to Santa Paula, California to be the parts manager for Ed Lawrence Ford Motor Co. After buying a license and a car at age 14, Furnas and his brother Bob attempted to drive out to Santa Paula to live with their father. Car trouble eventually prevented the boys from reaching California so they returned home until 1934 when Furnas successfully moved in with his father.

Furnas attended Santa Paula High School and was an active member of the “Epworth League” of the Methodist Church. Upon graduation, Furnas attended Ventura Junior College, where he was later honored as an outstanding graduate. After working his way through junior college, Furnas headed to the University of California Berkeley where in 1939 he graduated cum laude, and Phi Beta Kappa with a degree in English Literature and History.

After college Furnas accepted a position teaching at the Shanghai American School in Shanghai, China. By the spring of 1940 the situation in Shanghai had worsened significantly and the city was being taken over by Japan. Americans were ordered to leave immediately, and Furnas found himself trying to escape with a band of POW Marine escapees led by Chinese guerilla freedom fighters. Wendell was captured by the Japanese and sent to Bridge House Prison where he would eventually be sentenced to death. However, at the last minute he was traded in the first ever prisoner exchange program and, Furnas was thus dubbed, “The luckiest man in China.”

Once Stateside, Furnas was asked to join the US Navy Japanese Language School at the University of Colorado Boulder. After graduating from the JLS Furnas was stationed in Pearl Harbor as an intelligence agent deciphering and translating codes. After The War, Furnas remained in the Navy Intelligence field, where he served on numerous units including Head of Naval Intelligence Collection for Western Europe, the Mid East, and Africa. Furnas’s service in the Navy lasted 33 years.

Furnas passed away on November 15, 2011 at the age of 94. He is survived by his wife Karen, his daughter Tammi, his grandchildren C.G. and Vanessa Gray, Maryrose Gray, and a brother Raymond.


.5 linear feet

Language of Materials



Furnas (1917-2011) served in the Navy intelligence branch for over 30 years. Furnas was a graduate of the US Navy Japanese Language School which was located at the University of Colorado from 1942-1944. The Furnas Collection contains documents pertaining to his service in the Navy, including correspondence and official records, there are also newspaper clippings and photographs.

Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
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Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the University of Colorado Boulder Libraries, Rare and Distinctive Collections Repository

1720 Pleasant Street
184 UCB
Boulder Colorado 80503 United States