V.D. Channabasappa, immigrant leader
Vimala Devi Channabasappa, a leader in the Indian immigrant community in the Washington, D.C., area, died Sept. 7 of cancer in Arlington. She was 71.
Mrs. Channabasappa had lived in Alexandria since 1966. She was born in Dharwar, Karnataka, in India in 1932. In her youth, she was an accomplished dancer and a scholar in literature.
She married Kenkere C. Channabasappa, a scientist, in 1950. He came to the United States under a Fulbright Scholarship and she joined him a few years later in 1955.
She received a master’s degree from the Illinois Institute of Technology.
Mrs. Channabasappa was one of the few immigrant women from her region of India during the 1950s and 1960s.
Later immigrants from India received her hospitality and guidance in adjusting to American life while maintaining their heritage.
As the community in the United States grew, she became a leader in the Kannada cultural and Veerashaiva communities.
Along with her husband, she began supporting one of the first Indian cultural radio programs in the area during the 1970s.
Her love for her native Kannada language and India’s people and culture led her to become the founding president of the Kaveri Kannada Association in 1972.
She was a songwriter and singer, releasing seven music albums in her native language.
Seeking to expand and support her religious community, she was the founding president of the Basava Samiti of the District and Virginia in 1975.
Mrs. Channabasappa founded the Language Bank, an emergency language support service for the non-English-speaking community in the region.
She received the Woman of the Year award from the Alexandria Council in 1976, the Paul Revere Silver Bowl from the American Association of University Women in 1982, and the Distinguished Kannadiga of North America award in 1987.
After her husband died in 1978, Mrs. Channabasappa continued their efforts to advance the blending of their heritage in the American community, traveling between the United States and her Karnataka state in India.
Her surviving two sons, Deepak and Nandan (married to Stacey) Kenkeremath, live in Northern Virginia.