SEATTLE — Elaine Reiko Akagi, a leader in the Japanese American Citizens League for many years, passed away on Oct. 19 at the Casey House End of Life Center in Rockville, Md., from aggressive pancreatic cancer.
Born in Highland Park, Mich., on Aug. 23, 1945, she was the only child of Ben Akagi and Dorothy Kinuko Akagi. After graduating from Cass Technical High School in Detroit in 1963. She attended Wayne State College, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in family life studies, a master’s degree in special education, focusing on visual impairments, and later an additional master’s degree in vocational education rehabilitation.
Akagi taught in the Detroit Public Schools as a special education/visually impaired teacher from 1974 to 1985. In 1987, she joined the Seattle Public Schools, where she taught special education and ultimately became the consulting teacher for the visually impaired. Upon her retirement in 2010, Gov. Christine Gregoire appointed her to the Washington School for the Blind Board of Trustees.
“Elaine’s life was dedicated to her passion for justice born out of the experience of the imprisonment of Japanese Americans during World War II,” her family said. “She joined the Japanese American Citizens League in her teens, dedicating the rest of her life to advocating for minorities discriminated against because of their race, ethnicity, religion, color or disability … Her life legacy is seen in the scores of people she encouraged to be advocates for the disadvantaged and marginalized. Through them, her work will continue forward.”
She began her work with the JACL when she joined the youth council of the Detroit Chapter. She was active in the Seattle Chapter and was its co-president at the time of her passing.
Akagi served on the JACL National Board as the Pacific Northwest District governor and was chair of the National JACL Convention held in Bellevue, Wash., last July. She was elected to the National JACL Board as vice president of general operations during the convention, but resigned when she was diagnosed with cancer.
She was presented with the JACLer of the Biennium Award at the convention and received the Ruby Pin at the National JACL Gala in Washington, D.C. in September. She was a tireless worker who supported and strengthened the JACL in many ways.
Remembrances may be made to any of the following (indicate “In memory of Elaine Akagi”):
• Elaine Akagi Scholarship Fund, Seattle JACL, P.O. Box 18558, Seattle, WA 98118
• King County Animal Humane Society, 13212 SE Eastgate Way, Bellevue, WA 98005
• Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Washington, 1414 S. Weller St., Seattle, WA 98144
• Nisei Veterans Committee/NVC Foundation, 1212 S. King St., Seattle, WA 98144.
She is survived by many Akagi, Nakatani and Yamamoto cousins, as well as a host of friends and admirers of her work as an advocate for both civil rights and children with disabilities.
A celebration of her life will be held at 6 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 8, at the Nisei Veterans Committee Hall, 1212 S. King Street, Seattle. Those planning to attend from out of town are asked to notify Bill Tashima, Seattle JACL co-president, at [email protected] or (206) 525-0531.