The Nisei Week Foundation is pleased to honor two special individuals with the 2017 Nisei Week Inspiration Award, which recognizes those who exemplify the spirit of Nisei Week by going above and beyond to volunteer their time and/or service or whose contributions have promoted the Japanese and Japanese American community and/or culture.
This year two individuals will receive the award, “Auntie” Marian Chun, a longtime Nisei Week volunteer, and Brandon Ito, founder of My Wish List Foundation.
They will be honored at the annual Awards Dinner to be held on Monday, Aug. 21, starting at 6 p.m. at the DoubleTree by Hilton, 120 S. Los Angeles St. Individual tickets are $95 and tables of 10 are $950. Also recognized at the Awards Dinner will be this year’s grand marshal, Rose Matsui Ochi, attorney and community activist, and parade marshal, Corey Nakatani, horse racing jockey; and two Frances K. Hashimoto Community Service honorees: Nishiyamato Academy of California and Day-Lee Foods, Inc.
Auntie Marian Chun
Ohana is the Hawaiian word for family. According to the cartoon characters Lilo and Stitch, ohana means that family members never get forgotten or left behind. Marian Chun, better known as Auntie Marian, always makes sure her ohana is taken care of well.
Born and raised in Honolulu, she is one of 11 children, somewhere in the middle of them all. While growing up with so many brothers and sisters, she learned to take care of those who were younger and older than herself.
At the age of 20, she moved to Los Angeles and worked briefly with the federal government and then with a paper recycling company. Later, she worked for the Hospital of the Good Samaritan. During her 34 years here, Auntie Marian was payroll supervisor. Since computers hadn’t been invented yet, she and her staff used adding machines to determine the correct withholding and deductions for hundreds of employee paychecks.
Besides overseeing her co-workers at the hospital, her home became a weekly gathering place for her family and friends. People would drop by to “talk story,” dance the hula to the strumming of the ukulele, and eat her delicious home-cooked Hawaiian comfort food. Some of those Hawaiian visitors were on military leave in Los Angeles for only a few days, so Auntie Marian was happy to see them relax and enjoy themselves.
In 1973, her husband, Uncle Bobby, became the official Nisei Week hospitality host. Visitors and court members from Honolulu, San Francisco and Seattle were entertained during the festival. As the number of guests increased, so did the number of members for the Hospitality Committee. Without hesitation, her home was open to everyone. It was common for Auntie Marian to have more than 50 people in her home.
At the break of dawn, Auntie Marian prepared the annual breakfasts for early arriving guests and two days later opened her home again for the traditional aloha dinners. Since the Hospitality Committee’s two dozen boxes of supplies are stored in her garage, she still maintains a careful inventory several times each year. This is her way of taking care of her ohana.
Her home in North Hollywood continues to have a revolving door that welcomes everyone, including strangers. That is because any friend of the family always becomes her friend too. She believes “all people are nice” and deserve to be taken care of.
One of her greatest joys is watching the members of the Hospitality Committee learn the meaning of ohana. Auntie Marian’s example of ohana is an inspiration because she has shown that family members are NEVER forgotten or left behind.
Brandon Ito was born and raised in Los Angeles. His parents, Jon and Donna Ito, and brothers Randy and Jared, say that he has always been extremely hard-working, passionate, and a generous individual.
He was involved in a variety of sports growing up, including golf, baseball, and CYC basketball, where he played for the Hollywood Dodgers and Tigers organizations. Ito was also chosen to participate as a member of the Yonsei 7 basketball team, traveling to Fukuoka.
In May 1999, Ito was diagnosed with myelogenous leukemia. In October 1999, he was blessed to receive a bone marrow transplant from his mother, who had a .005% chance of matching. During this time, he was doing media interviews to advocate for other cancer patients and encourage individuals in Japan to register to become bone marrow donors. In 2000, the Make-A-Wish Foundation flew him and his family to Denver to live out his childhood dream of having private golf lessons with Tiger Woods.
As a 13-year-old boy in middle school, this diagnosis changed his life, but never changed his spirit. Ito took this as an opportunity to give back to the community he truly respected. Thus began his mission to give back by volunteering with Asians for Miracle Marrow Matches (A3M) and the Jonathan Jacques Torch Run in Long Beach. In 2013, he started a nonprofit organization called the Brandon Ito Project, through which he donated toys to children in hospitals.
He wasn’t seeing the impact he wanted, as Ito wanted to do more to give back to the cancer community. This led him to change the mission of the organization. Ito looked back at his experience when he met Woods and wanted patients to have that same feeling he had.
In 2014, Ito changed the name of the project to My Wish List Foundation (MWLF). His organization started granting small, personal wishes for pediatric cancer patients to use in the hospital room during treatment. MWLF has granted wishes for 100 patients being treated at Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, Children’s Hospital of Orange County, and UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital.
In addition to granting wishes, MWLF had begun redecorating patient rooms and hospital facilities to create a more environmentally friendly experience for the kids and their families. This idea was brought about to make the patients feel at home surrounded by their favorite characters, toys, etc. In addition, MWLF has begun making care packages for parents and caregivers to help alleviate some of the stress they are going through during their child’s treatment process.
Along with his nonprofit organization, Ito works full-time as an adapted physical education teacher for the Los Angeles Unified School District, working with children with special needs. He is grateful for his overall experience and continues to contribute to the cancer and Japanese American communities.