Rafu Staff Report
Fred Yaicho Hoshiyama, a hero and a legend to both the YMCA and the Japanese American community, passed away on Nov. 30 in Los Angeles, just one week shy of his 101st birthday.
A year ago, about 150 friends, relatives and associates of Hoshiyama celebrated his 100th birthday at the Japanese American National Museum in Little Tokyo.
“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,” he told the gathering.
Born on Dec. 7, 1914 at a YMCA community for Japanese immigrants, Yamato Colony in Livingston, Merced County, Hoshiyama was the first of six children of Yajuro and Tani Fusa (Takato) Hoshiyama, both from Niigata Prefecture. He lost his father 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. Hoshiyama 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.
Hoshiyama and Irene Sumiye Matsumoto were married in 1948 and had two children. They were married for 58 years until Irene’s passing in October 2012.
Hoshiyama lived his entire life in association with the YMCA. He served as the boys’ work secretary at the San Francisco Japanese YMCA Branch. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, which happened on his 27th birthday, he was interned in 1942 at the Tanforan Assembly Center in San Bruno and the Topaz War Relocation Center in Utah, where he helped to create YMCA-based programs to help address the social, educational, and recreational needs of the Japanese Americans held there.
Gift of Emiko and Chizu Omori, Japanese American National Museum (94.127.123)
An offer to study at Springfield College provided Hoshiyama with an early release from the camp. In 1946, he served as the community youth program director in Honolulu, before returning to San Francisco in branch executive roles. In 1971, he was appointed associate staff of the National Program and Urban Development Division.
He developed NYPUM (National Youth Program Using Mini-Bikes), which eventually engaged 250,000 high-risk youth in productive activities. From 1976 to 1983 he assisted in the formation of the National Association of Student YMCAs.
Hoshiyama also established a Home to Home Youth Exchange Program to Japan from sister city San Francisco to Osaka. This opened the door to sister programs in Seattle and Los Angeles. In 2002, he was part of a group of staff and volunteers who visited the Nagoya YMCA to help celebrate its centennial.
In retirement, he continued to contribute his expertise to help community oganizations with financial development, planning, building staff effectiveness, and program development. He maintained an active presence in YUSA’s principles and practices training, regularly giving inspirational presentations well into his 90s.
In 2008, on the occasion of his 93rd birthday, the creation of the Fred Hoshiyama Asian Leadership Fund of the YUSA was announced. The fund, which now stands at $530,000, assists full-time Y staff of Asian/Pacific Islander heritage through scholarships for professional development opportunities, such as Principles & Practices and the Executive Preparatory Institute, and college tuition reimbursement.
In celebration of his 100th birthday, Hoshiyama was inducted into the Wall of Fame at the Buchanan YMCA, where he was credited with serving as a bridge between the Japanese American and African American communities in San Francisco’s Japantown/Western Addition neighborhood.
He was instrumental in the establishment of JANM and also served as a board member or fundraiser for 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. He was a member of Palms Westminster Presbyterian Church.
Among the honors Hoshiyama received: YMCA Hall of Fame, 1989; L.A. Dodgers/L.A. Times/AT&T Hometown Hero Award, 1996; Fifth Order of the Sacred Treasure with Gold and Silver Rays from the Japanese government, 1997; Kuenzli-Hall Award from Association of YMCA Professionals, 1998 (first recipient); honorary doctorate of humanics degree from Springfield College, 2002.
“A Towering Presence”
Kevin Washington, president and CEO of YMCA of the USA, said in a letter to YMCA members, “It’s practically impossible to list all of Fred’s contributions to the Y or recount the many ways in which he touched people’s lives. Suffice it to say that he was a towering presence in our movement for decades, both an innovator and a doer who never met a stranger and always carried the Y in his heart. ‘One person or a small group of committed and dedicated persons can change the world through the Y’ was one of Fred’s famed Pearls of Learning …
“As impressive as Fred’s biography is, it only tells part of the story. He was loved and revered as much for who he was as what he did. The Y has lost an accomplished leader, but more than that we have lost a great, great man. I hope you will join me in celebrating Fred’s life and keeping his family and many friends in your thoughts and prayers.
“Visit his Facebook page to learn more about him, and on Dec. 7 (his birthday) you are encouraged to post your favorite picture of Fred or share your favorite memory. Condolences and correspondence can be sent to Fred’s son, Matthew Hoshiyama, at 11822 Wagner St., Culver City, CA 90230.”
“Fred’s life was dedicated to the service of others, whether with his career shaping young peoples’ lives with the Y, or his work with the museum,” said Dr. Greg Kimura, president and CEO of JANM. “The community would not have a Japanese American National Museum if it weren’t for his enthusiasm for creating a place where our story could be remembered and shared.
“I also will always remember Fred’s relentless optimism. He had joy in helping others and that energy was infectious, even during his 100th birthday celebration last year at the museum. He is greatly loved and will be sorely missed by all who were fortunate to know him in his long and rich life.”
“Fred and I teamed together for a decade raising funds for the Japanese American National Museum’s capital campaign,” said Florence Ochi, a former JANM fundraiser. “His bigger-than-life personality magically energized all those we met as we traveled the country organizing fundraising efforts.
“Fred’s enthusiasm, vitality and ability to remember names of people he met touched all of us who knew him. Fred was an amazing man who always looked on the brighter side of everything and spent most of his life serving others.
“It was just a year ago on Dec. 7 at the Japanese American National Museum that we celebrated his 100th birthday with 150 of his relatives and closest friends. He said it was the happiest day of his life. I am feeling so sad now that he is gone.”
Nephew Gary Hoshiyama said in a Facebook post, “He was a special uncle who taught me how to swim at Buchanan YMCA Day Camp and to never be afraid of the water the year after I almost drowned. Thank you, Uncle Fred … He had the biggest of hearts in the tiniest of bodies. No one stood taller.”
A resident of Culver City, Hoshiyama is survived by his son Matthew and wife Letty; daughter Bella Sweet and husband Dennis of Santa Cruz; sister-in-law Misao Hoshiyama of Japan; and many nieces, nephews and other relatives.
Memorial service will be held on Friday, Dec. 18, at 11 a.m. at Centenary United Methodist Church, 300 S. Central Ave. in Little Tokyo.
A Fred Yaichio Hoshiyama Tribute Page has been established on Facebook to allow family, friends and colleagues to post messages, photos and videos.