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According to a recent article in the “Oregonian”, the US has 53,364 centenarians, but Japan has the most with more than 58,000. Of course the US population is about three times that of Japan. It is remarkable how many Nikkei centenarians we have in our own community. We were honored to have four of them at the Nisei Appreciation/Day of Remembrance Luncheon on February 22, 2015 at the Multnomah Athletic Club. The fifth person, Suma (Akiyama) Kobayashi was unable to attend the luncheon but I would like to tell you a little about her.
Suma (Akiyama) Kobayashi was born November 30, 1914 in Hood River. The Akiyama’s had a fruit orchard in the Oak Grove area of Hood River which is still in the family today run by her son Dick Kobayashi. On February 12, 1939 she married Nobuo (Noby) Kobayashi in Vancouver, Washington. The couple moved to Boring, Oregon, where they helped her husband’s family run their truck farm. In 1940 Suma and Noby returned to Hood River to run the family orchard. During the war, she and her family were relocated to the Tule Lake, California Internment camp and then to Heart Mountain, Wyoming. Her two children, son Dick and daughter Nancy, were born during her internment. While in camp she took embroidery, craft and sewing classes. Suma has long enjoyed crafts and gardening. She continues to live alone in the original family home on the farm and enjoys working in her yard and garden. Suma has three grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
Our second centenarian is Lilly Yuriko Ono who was born on June 9, 1914 in Clackamas, Oregon and spent some time in Okayama, Japan attending a sewing school prior to WWII. Lilly spent the war years in Tule Lake, California and spent the entire time working at the mess hall. Her hobbies are sewing and cooking. She was married in 1938 and has five children. Ken is the oldest, Wayne, who passed away at the age of 56, daughter, Barbara Morisato, son, Clyde, and the youngest daughter, Pat. Lilly also has seven grandchildren and four great grandchildren. She spent most of her life farming in Vancouver, Washington. While working on the farm, she was known for her great speed and accuracy. Lilly drove a tractor and did precision-cultivation of rows and rows of lettuce without “chopping” them. When her husband passed away, so, too, went the means for her transportation. Her husband was from the old school and would not let her drive. Lilly was in her seventies when she decided to learn how to drive. She enrolled at the Sears Driving School and received her driver permit. She practiced diligently and tried to pass the driving test the first time. Unfortunately she failed. She practiced some more and re-took the test but failed again because she could not back up the car properly. She continued to practice diligently with her son, Ken, who helped her by using the safety cones. Finally, she passed the test and what a joy it brought to her and her family. But in her early 90’s, she kept having fender benders and had to stop driving. It was a very difficult time for her as she lost some of her independence. She’s retired now and lives at the Royal Anne Assisted Living Center in Portland. Lilly has been very active in her Henjyoji Temple leading in their chanting.
Our third centenarian is Bill Otani who participates at the Ikoi No Kai lunches when he’s in Portland. Bill Otani was born on July 1, 1912 in Honolulu, Hawaii. His father, from Fukui Prefecture, was in insurance business, and his mother, a Nisei, taught school. Bill moved to Los Angeles after high school and worked to put himself through college. It was on a break from the University of Chicago that he was drafted in 1942. At first the Army did not know what to do with the Nisei, but eventually he was able to take training, studying Japanese at Harvard where he met Mary Yamashiro who had left Topaz to study at Boston College. They got married before he shipped off to serve as a medic in Europe. After World War II, Bill and Mary returned to her home town of Berkeley, CA where he worked as a civilian employee of the Navy. His three children, Valerie, Kimi and Bill all live in Portland, and he divides his time between his home in Richmond, California and Gresham. His lifelong interests are fishing and hunting, car repair and collecting cameras. While in Portland, he centers his life around the warm company and good food at the Ikoi no Kai lunches and deeply appreciates the care the volunteers devote to this program.
Our fourth centenarian is Lury (Shiogi) Sato. Lury was born on January 25, 1915 to parents who farmed off Main St. east of Portland in Montavilla. Among the crops they grew were strawberries and cucumbers which expanded into canning/pickling and ultimately running a grocery store as well as a downtown hotel. After graduating from Franklin High School, she used the credits from night school at Lincoln (now PSU) with a couple of years at Oregon Nornal to earn a teacher’s certificate. Barred from teaching in the state, she continued schooling at the University of Oregon from which she earned a Bachelor Arts Degree. She married Yoshio Sato in August 1939. While she was interned at the Portland Assembly Center, she helped organize the school system there and also at Minidoka. A shortage of young men with advanced degrees provided an opportunity for Yoshio who had both a Reed College degree and an Master of Science from OSU to join Professor Tarbell in Rochester. The couple left the exclusion zone. After a post-doctorate with Jacobs at the Rockefeller Institute, he took a permanent position with the National Institute of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. Relocating to the Washington, DC area, Lury spent the first six years getting her two sons, Ron and Paul born respectively in Rochester & New York into the public school system and then started teaching there herself. After her husband’s death, she stayed in Bethesda, Maryland. In 1978, Lury returned to Portland. Lury volunteered for over thirty years at the Emanuel Hospital. She was instrumental in getting a million dollars for senior housing which gave the Nikkei community the Ikoi so Terrace. Lury also was the first site manager for Ikoi No Kai and she was very fond of eating her lunches there. She currently resides in a foster care facility.
Our final centenarian is Alice Sumida. Alice Etsuko Sumida was born in Oso Flaco, (Santa Barbara County) California on July 18, 1914. She married Mark Sumida (an Issei) who was 10 years older and moved to Seattle. They had a business selling seeds to farmers all over the West Coast. When WWII started they were herded into the Portland Assembly Center (now the Expo Center). Instead of being sent to Minidoka Concentration Camp in Idaho, they opted to work in Eastern Oregon in Nyssa, Oregon. Once the contract work was completed they got a small loan and purchased a small farm and decided to grow potatoes and onions. However, since the market was saturated they could not make a living growing potatoes and onions. So they opted to try growing gladioli bulbs. After sending samples all over the U.S., they were flooded with orders and it took them 5 years to fill all the orders. They became the largest gladioli bulb growers in the U.S. They wanted to pass their business to their nephew but he declined so they sold their business. After moving back to Portland around 1965, they started a Japanese Koi (carp) business. They moved to Woodburn, Oregon and continued the Koi business. After 10 years of Koi business her husband passed away due to a stroke. Alice sold the business and moved to Portland and at 88 years of age started ballroom dance lessons. She traveled the world attending dance competitions and winning each time. Alice is currently the President of the Hyakudo Kai (Century Club) and she remains very active attending many functions. Her generosity and support is legendary to various non-profit organizations to include, the Japanese Ancestral Society, JASO, the Minidoka Swing Band, Nikkei Fujinkai, the Oregon Buddhist Temple, Oregon Hiroshima Club, the Oregon Nikkei Endowment, Portland JACL, the Portland Japanese Garden, Portland State University, Portland Taiko, Tomodachi-Kai and Unite People, Portland JACLs youth group. She still drives during the day and currently lives at Edgewood Downs Retirement Center. Her advice to us is: “Be patient, accept whatever comes to your life, happy or sad, and make the best you can from every circumstance. Then enjoy every day as it comes!”
Explain how the Japanese American experience, or your own experiences in working with the community, has shaped your life.
My Japanese American experience began at birth with my parents and grandparents being Japanese American and my Ji-chan, first generation Isei. I was brought up to respect my elders and was close to my Ba-chan who lived with us. She taught me from an early age to listen to my parents, study hard, play hard in sports, respect others and to do the very best I could in everything I did. While probably not unique to being Japanese American, it represented what my grandparents and parents worked for; respect, caring for others and the need to excel. Read more >>>
Keep Oregon Free from Discrimination
The Portland JACL has become co-sponsors of efforts by Basic Rights Oregon to fight discrimination against gay and lesbians. The Oregon Family Council is working to qualify an initiative that would allow businesses to deny commercial services to people based on their sexual orientation. The ballot title for IP 52 is up for review by the Oregon Supreme Court. A decision will be made in late April or early May. This measure weakens our current anti-discrimination laws so that corporations and commercial businesses can discriminate against gay and lesbian couples because of who they are and who they love. Treating people differently based on race, religion, or sexual orientation is discrimination. Religious beliefs don’t entitle any of us to discriminate against others. Freedom means freedom for everyone.
August 6th commemorates the 69th anniversary of the first and only time nuclear weapons were detonated on human populations. The United State government chose to unleash these super bombs because it was widely believed that this drastic action was necessary to bring an end to the war in the Pacific. Not only were thousands of people killed in an instant, the horror of the event traumatized many more Japanese citizens. Read more >>>
Abby Matsushima (Grant High School) and Kirt Achterman (Central Catholic High School) share their thoughts with us about their leadership experience at this year’s 2014 JACL National Convention in San Jose, California. Read More >>>