By JORDAN IKEDA
Rafu Staff Writer
Nearly a hundred friends, family, and acquaintances attended a recognition luncheon in honor of former Southern California Gardeners Federation president Wesley Koyano on Sunday at the San Fernando Valley Japanese Community Center.
The key speakers at the event were: Nob Tamai, president of the San Fernando Valley Landscape Gardeners Association; Brian Yamasaki, president of the Southern California Gardeners Federation; Yasunori Arakaki, president of the Southern California Gardeners Federation Co-op; and Roy Imazu SFVJCC installation chairman and secretary of the San Fernando Valley Landscape Gardeners Association.
“The speeches were really nice and it meant a lot to me to be the first one that they are honoring,” Koyano told the Rafu Shimpo. “After all, everyone has to pitch in and do their part.”
Included in the celebration was Hide Yokomizu, a man Koyano had not seen or talked to in over 60 years since they served together in World War II. Despite both living in the San Fernando Valley, Yokomizu and Koyano had not spoken since they left the army in 1945. But Koyano’s influence, however brief it might have been, left a lasting impression on Yokomizu.
“I didn’t even know if he could remember me or not, but he’s got a good memory,” Yokomizu told the Rafu. “When they told me they were going to have the luncheon, I thought yeah, I wanted to be here.”
Everyone in attendance felt the same.
“I thought it was a really nice tribute for my dad,” said Yoko Shimoda, Koyano’s daughter. “I’m really proud of his work ethic, his integrity in being a role model. I think that’s what stands out with my dad. He’s truly a role model for other people and younger generations.”
Koyano has also been an enduring example for his peers.
“Twenty-seven years ago, I met Wesley when he was the Southern California Gardeners Federation president,” said Nob Tamai in his speech. “Wesley, you are my mentor, advisor, supporter and also monkutare (whiner) to me. But, you have been the most important person to me after I became (SFVLGA) president 13 years ago. When I have a problem or whatever I need to know, you were there for me…I have learned a lot from you.”
The soon-to-be 85-year-old Nisei was born in San Louis Obispo to Kiyoshi and Shikiye Koyano. His early adulthood was the life of a farmer, but he moved to Thousand Oaks in 1966 and took up gardening.
Initially, he didn’t know a weed from a flower. However, like everything else in his life, he quickly excelled and mastered his craft.
“Today, many gardeners are just mowers, blowers and goners,” said Koyano’s son Duane who spoke on behalf of his father. “Come to think of it, they really aren’t gardeners. Japanese American Issei and Nisei were really gardeners. It was gardening that had a certain artistic and unique quality to it. Looking back, I think there was no better way to earn a living.”
While a learned and accomplished gardener, Koyano was also a soldier, a member of the 171st Battalion, the first battalion of the 442nd.
“Those who know Wes or who are close to him know that he carried on the 442nd motto,” said Frank Tanaka commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4140. “Whatever he did, through the federation or through the community, he went all out, ‘Go For Broke.’”
“He lives by this code that you just have to do the best job you can and everything is going to work out,” said Wayde Shimoda, Kayano’s son-in-law. “I really learned a lot just from that time I spent with him and you can tell that he lives his life by that code. Just to be a part of that and for me to be a part of his family has been a blessing.”
From clean-up duties at the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center, Irvine Garden and Keiro Home, to his impeccable craftsmanship at the art of gardening on his daily routes, Koyano’s work and influence have been widespread.
He has held a major position or been a significant volunteer over the course of his lifetime for the Southern California Gardeners Federation (president 93-94), the Southern California Gardeners Federation Co-op, the San Fernando Valley Landscape Gardeners Association (president 80, 82), the SFVJACC, and the VFW Post 4140.
For all of these reasons, Imazu felt it vital in organizing the luncheon on behalf of Koyano. Imazu along with John Kobayashi, Fumio Nakama, and Nob Tamai were responsible for making the luncheon happen. Lunch was provided by Musashi Restaurant.
“We were brought up during the Great Depression,” said Koyano’s wife of nearly 60 years, Sumi. “We were really poor and struggling. So we had to go out and work from sun up to sun down. We’re used to hard work. You have to go through some human suffering in order to understand human value. You have to go through kuro a little bit.”
“That lady backs him up 100 percent,” a tearful, and under-the-weather Yamasaki said in his speech. “I want you, especially the kids to understand that (Wesley) and (Sumi) really affected me. They have shown that they can not only talk about it and do it, but maintain their family at the same time.”
“It’s one of the duties that a man has got. He should do it,” Koyano explained to when asked what has kept him going throughout the years. “You’d be surprised. When I’d come home from one of those outings, I was really relaxed and happy at what I did.”
The luncheon on Sunday was the community’s way of letting Wes Koyano know that they feel the same about the work that he has done.