“Sixty Years of Linking Generations” was the theme of the Japanese Women’s Society Foundation’s 60th anniversary celebration, which was held in conjunction with its annual general membership meeting on July 27 at the Hawaii Prince Hotel.

The event, which was attended by over 100 members and guests, honored the four surviving founding members of the organization — Elizabeth Russell, Mariko Sumida, Rose Kamuri Shigemura and Lillian Yajima. Two of the honorees, Elizabeth Russell and Lillian Yajima, shared their memories of the organization in a short video. Each honoree was presented a commendation by the Hawai‘i state Senate, represented by Sens. Michelle Kidani and David Ige.

Lt. Gov. Shan Tsutsui installed the officers and directors for 2014-15. They are: Ann Kobayashi, president; Irene Nakamoto, president-elect; Melanie Takahashi, vice president; Suzette Lau Hee, secretary; Patti Fukada, treasurer/budget; Debbie Huebler, historian; Wendy Abe, immediate past president; Lori Fujikawa-Casey, by-laws; Gwen Ishikawa, communications; Ruth Matsunaga, community service; Patty Matsuo, development; Janice Tashiro, membership; Amy Young, nominating; Ivy Takahashi, scholarships and grants; Cathy Iwai, programs; and Bernice Hirai, policy manual.

Other items on the business agenda included the introduction of seven new members, bringing JWSF’s total membership to 232 members.

Grants were awarded to Nippon Culture Day, represented by Susan Hirate, and to Ikebana International Honolulu Chapter 56, represented by Patricia Kubo. Also introduced were the scholarships recipients, Emily Murai and Jennifer Chomko.

A donation was presented to Kuakini Health Systems, represented by its president and CEO, Gary Kajiwara. Since its founding in 1954, the JWSF has donated more than $1 million to community organizations, with its main beneficiary being Kuakini Home for the elderly.

A silent auction, bake sale and lucky prize drawing was held prior to the luncheon. Entertainment included a hula by Vickie Kennedy and a Japanese song and dance by Cara and Lacy Tsutsuse.

Following lunch, Dr. Dennis M. Ogawa, professor of American Studies at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, spoke about Japanese women who helped to shape history. His examples were based on his experiences interviewing Issei and Nisei women for his books.

Ogawa relayed a story about a picture bride who had a difficult time adjusting to her new life in Hawai‘i. Her husband’s only request was “don’t cry.” Ogawa explained that the woman’s job was to carry two buckets suspended on a pole, three miles up the mountain, where she filled the buckets with water and brought them back down again while her husband worked on building an aquaduct.

“A grain of sand and a grain of sand builds a mountain,” Ogawa said, reinforcing the idea that there are no shortcuts to success.

Lt. Gov. Shan Tsutsui installed the officers and directors of the JWSF. (Photo by Noriyoshi Kanaizumi)
Lt. Gov. Shan Tsutsui installed the officers and directors of the JWSF. (Photo by Noriyoshi Kanaizumi)

In another story, Ogawa shared his experience interviewing Mitsue Onizuka, the Nisei mother of astronaut Ellison Onizuka, following his death after the space shuttle Challenger exploded seconds after lifting off in 1986.

Ogawa was approached by NASA to write Onizuka’s memorial book, “Ellison Onizuka: A Remembrance.” Ogawa co-wrote the book with his longtime American Studies colleague, the late Glen Grant. In the course of their interviews with various family members and friends in Kealakekua, Kona, on the Big Island, Ogawa recalled Mrs. Onizuka’s graciousness and kindness.

“She was straightforward and humble,” Ogawa said. She allowed them to borrow letters Ellison had written to her, as well as family photos.

Ogawa said he did not know what direction the book would take in its early stages. In time, however, it became evident that her letters would be the focal point in telling the special relationship between mother and son relationship and how much Mitsue supported her son, always encouraging him to follow his dream.

Ogawa told the audience a story about Ellison’s exchange with his mother after returning from one of his missions. “He called his mother and said, ‘I’m back.’ Her simple reply, ‘You have a nice trip?’”

His last story brought tears to the eyes of most in the audience. It was the message Ellison wrote to his mother on a photo: “Mom, thank you for letting me follow my dream. Mom, come fly with me.”


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