Nick Offerman joins Japan House fundraiser

By Gillian Dunlop, Assistant News Editor

Actor Nick Offerman will be paying homage to his roots as a former Illini by participating in an April 1 Japan House fundraiser.

Offerman, who is best known for his role as Ron Swanson in Parks and Recreation, graduated from the University in 1993. He has returned multiple times to see friends and mentor, former professor Emeritus Shozo Sato.

Offerman first met Sato when he was a student and took Sato’s kabuki class, which is a form of Japanese theatre. He later toured with Sato and the cast of their kabuki show internationally.

“He and Shozo always kept in touch,” Cynthia Voelkl, assistant director of Japan House, said. “They became really close, and Shozo became a mentor to Nick.”

The fundraiser, Whiskey, Wood and Barbecue, will feature samples of Japanese whiskey as well as samples from the local restaurant, Black Dog Smoke and Ale House. Offerman will be reading from his new book, “Good Clean Fun: Misadventures in Sawdust,” which he dedicated in-part to Sato.

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Roughly 75 tickets were available for this event due to the small size of Japan House. Tickets sold for $125 for members of Japan House and $150 for the public. Tickets sold out in about 20 minutes, Voelkl said.

Raffle tickets are available for purchase as well before the event. The prizes include a ticket to the fundraiser itself as well as several items from Offerman’s workshop, who is a prominent woodworker.

“The thing about Nick Offerman is he’s known as being so funny, but we have found him to be a really sweet, kind man and the relationship he and Shozo have is kind of like what Japan House is all about,” Voelkl said. “It’s about really opening someone up to another culture and sharing it and letting them change their life.”

Offerman has contributed to the University through his woodworking as well. In the fall of 2013, he constructed an azumaya, a Japanese gazebo, which sits outside of Japan house.

“(I hope people) first, get to know who is Nick Offerman other than TV star,” Sato said. “But more likely down to earth human being, he’s a wonderful person.”

The fundraiser is important as well, because Japan House’s programming is mostly paid for by private donation, Voelkl said.

“Japan House doesn’t receive any financial support from the University, but we are active in the community,” Sato said. “Nick Offerman knows that and offered to help us by using his name.”

Voelkl is also very thankful for Offerman’s attendance.  

“It’s not ‘oh somebody famous is coming.’ It’s more the idea that Japan House and its teachings meant so much to this man that he wants to pay tribute to that,” she said. “He’s just been a wonderful supporter. It’s really generous of him to support us, talk about us and be a good friend.”

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