By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer
In 1914, President Woodrow Wilson established Mother’s Day, Babe Ruth made his major league debut, the Panama Canal opened, World War I started — and Fred Yaichio Hoshiyama was born in Livingston, Merced County.
About 150 friends, relatives and associates of Hoshiyama, a hero and a legend to both the YMCA and the Japanese American community, gathered Dec. 7 to celebrate his 100th birthday at the Japanese American National Museum in Little Tokyo.
Attendees lined up to congratulate the guest of honor. Because his vision and hearing are impaired, each guest was given a card with his or her name printed in large type and was asked to show it to Hoshiyama, who warmly greeted each well-wisher. Birthday messages were written on the back of each card to be read later.
Nelson Louis, president and CEO of the YMCA of Greater Bergen County in New Jersey, served as co-emcee. “It was in 2008 that we were here last … It was Fred’s 93rd birthday party,” he recalled. “We had the honor of announcing the creation of the Fred Hoshiyama Asian Leadership Fund of the Y-USA. That fund was an endowment fund set up to honor Fred’s legacy of developing Asian leaders in the YMCA.
“We had a goal back then of $500,000. Since then, we’ve surpassed the number. It’s my honor to say that the Fred Hoshiyama Asian Leadership Fund is at $530,000.”
Florence Ochi, who worked with Hoshiyama on establishing JANM, organized the event and served as co-emcee. She recognized current and former YMCA staff members and representatives of other organizations that Hoshiyama has worked with as a board member and fundraiser: Little Tokyo Service Center, Japanese American Community Services, Japanese American Korean War Veterans, Venice Japanese American Memorial Marker Committee, Venice-Culver JACL, and Go For Broke National Education Center.
She added that Hoshiyama’s family members “came from all over California and the East Coast to be here. They wouldn’t miss this event for anything.” Also present were members of his church, Palms Westminster Presbyterian.
“There are many people in this room for whom this institution would not exist if it wasn’t for their hard work, their dedication, their love,” JANM President and CEO Greg Kimura said. “But tonight we say a special birthday thank-you to Fred because it’s absolutely true — this institution … would not exist if it wasn’t for your dedication. You’ve been involved in many nonprofits. You’ve always been dedicated to serve your fellow man and woman.”
John Preis, president and CEO of the YMCA Retirement Fund, said, “There’s nobody in the YMCA who doesn’t know who Fred is … It’s just an honor to celebrate with him.”
As CEO of the pension fund, he joked, “Of course, he’s killing us here — but we wish him many, many more years.”
Hoshiyama was presented with an award by Rodney Chin, executive director of the Buchanan YMCA in San Francisco, and Kathy Cheng, chief financial officer of YMCA of San Francisco.
Noting that the Japanese YMCA was established in San Francisco in 1886, Chin said, “In 1936 there was a new building erected just for the Japanese YMCA, and I looked at a picture of the dedication and sure enough, Fred was there. Fred had started his YMCA career at the Buchanan YMCA, and we’re very proud that he had helped the community.”
Following the Pearl Harbor attack, which happened on Hoshiyama’s 27th birthday, he was interned at the Tanforan Assembly Center and Topaz, Utah, and organized YMCA programs in camp.
“After the war, Fred came back and was executive director of the Buchanan YMCA,” said Chin. “He integrated the African American community as well as the Japanese community in the Western Addition of San Francisco.”
During his nearly 39 years as a full-time employee of the YMCA, Hoshiyama served in local, regional and national staff positions in California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New York and Illinois. He then became a part-time consultant and full-time volunteer.
The lifetime achievement award — which had also been presented to Hoshiyama at a birthday event in Long Beach — inducts him into the Buchanan YMCA Wall of Fame.
“Fred has enriched the ‘Y’ movement … with his dedication to community outreach and engagement,” said Chin. “Fred’s continuous service to underserved populations and his commitment to youth development has led to innovative and inclusive ‘Y’ programs, which in turn have inspired and motivated emerging leaders across the nation.”
A birthday proclamation from City Councilmember Mike Bonin was presented by his field deputy, Len Nguyen, who thanked Hoshiyama for “your support of Asian American leaders through the scholarship that bears your name.”
Born at Yamato Colony
Matthew Hoshiyama, Fred’s son, said that his father’s birthplace was Yamato Colony, which was founded in 1906 by Japanese Christian immigrants who belonged to the Japanese YMCA. The first of six children born to Yajuro and Tani Fusa (Takato) Hoshiyama, both from Niigata Prefecture, Fred lost his father, who was only 46, in 1922 and lost his sister and a brother around the same time. His mother raised four sons on the farm, struggling through poverty and starvation for seven years.
In 1929, friends of the family moved them to San Francisco. Fred had a paper route, worked in sales and marketing for the Nippon Goldfish and Tropical Imports Co., earned a bachelor’s degree from UC Berkeley in 1941 and a master’s in education from Springfield College in Springfield, Mass. in 1945, and did graduate work at George Williams College in Downers Grove, Ill. and Yale Divinity School in New Haven, Conn.
Matthew listed some of his father’s accomplishments at the YMCA. “Fred founded the YMCA National Youth Program Using Minibikes (1970-84), an outreach tool for reaching youth and prevent them from getting in trouble with the criminal justice system … He also established a Home to Home Youth Exchange Program to Japan (1960) from sister city San Francisco to Osaka … This opened the door to sister programs in Seattle and Los Angeles.”
“During the time we lived in San Francisco, a young African American man came to me and said I had a great dad,” Matthew remembered. “He loved his work fixing computers … My dad had approached him and asked him to answer a question, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up? Fireman, policeman, carpenter — it doesn’t really matter, just choose one. Don’t tell me now, think about it overnight and let me know tomorrow.’
“He told me that this made him think about what he should do. My dad said, ‘Once you decide what you want to do, then you make plans to make that happen … go to school, trade school … As long as you have a plan, then you can achieve it.’ He said my dad got him thinking about his future, and if he did not change his path then he would have ended up in a bad situation, probably prison or even worse.”
Fred Hoshiyama and Irene Sumiye Matsumoto were married in 1948 and had a daughter, Bella, and a son. They were married for 58 years.
Matthew shared fond memories of fishing with his dad as well as helping out at the “Y” on weekends, mopping floors and replacing lights.
When Fred received an honorary degree from Springfield College in 2002 along with Bill Cosby and other recipients, Matthew learned something new about his father. “I was surprised to hear him talk about the old days in San Francisco … playing basketball … I wasn’t aware that he played basketball. I knew that he played tennis and badminton.”
Ochi added, “There were two young men that Fred played against in the Bay Area, and they were my father Tom and my uncle Fred. How about that for a small world? … There are great photographs of those days before the war in our museum collection … It was something that Fred and I worked on when we were traveling around the state and he introduced me to some of the guys that were on the tennis teams, either my dad’s tennis team or Fred’s, and we were able to wrangle some photographs.”
Vocalist Lauren Kinkade-Wong, a granddaughter of Hoshiyama’s cousin, performed Josh Groban “You Raise Me Up,” Johnny Mercer and the Pied Pipers’ “Accentuate the Positive,” and “Happy Birthday.”
Irene Hirano Inouye, founding CEO of JANM and president of the U.S.-Japan Council, said, “Someone once said it’s not the years in your life that matter, but it’s the life you put in your years. Fred, you have put so much life in your 100 years that we could easily celebrate 200 years of all that you have accomplished. As I look around this room I see so many people whose lives you have touched …
“Fred, along with Florence Ochi, led a national community campaign and inspired a volunteer campaign that raised millions of dollars to build this institution. If you look in the main lobby … When I think of Fred, I often have the image of the Pied Piper, who could convince anyone to follow him. He was a superstar trainer and to this day there is no one (else) who I have worked with that can convince people that raising money was fun …
“Another image that I have of Fred is that he is tenacious … like a bulldog but very lovable. I have Fred to thank for initially approaching me to come and work at the Japanese American National Museum. Fred would not take no for an answer. I am sure there are many in this room that could not say no to Fred. He will get an idea and he will be relentless, and his many ideas led to many, many accomplishments.”
Describing Hoshiyama as “a very humble individual,” Hirano Inouye said, “I heard many stories about his upbringing, which was very hard. Fred never forgot where he came from, and he always valued the hardships that his mother and the Issei generation faced over those early years, and that was a lot of the heart that he wanted to bring to the National Museum …
“With such modest beginnings, I’m sure that he would not have imagined that 100 years later he would have riches, not of money but of a lifetime of friends, of colleagues and memories of the many ways that he made each of us a better person and collectively a better community.”
After blowing out the candles on his birthday cake, Hoshiyama said, “I want to welcome everyone here because you are responsible for what happened. You built this place, this museum, and … we appreciate what you have done to make this possible.
“Thank you for coming tonight … I love you all and I thank you all. They say that the first century is the hardest, so I’m looking forward to my second century … I hope to see you all there at that time.”
Photos by J.K. YAMAMOTO/Rafu Shimpo