Gila River Indian Community Honors Kenso Zenimura

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Kenso Zenimura during a visit to the Gila River Indian Community, March 2013. (Photo by Teresa Zenimura)

Nisei baseball pioneer Howard Kenso Zenimura passed away on Dec. 13 at the age of 91.

Zenimura, along with his brother Harvey Kenshi and their father Kenichi, were prominent in the prewar and wartime Japanese American leagues. At the Gila River camp in Arizona, a baseball diamond called Zenimura Field was created to keep up morale among the incarcerees.

The camp was located on an Indian reservation, and the Zenimuras are part of a joint history that is still commemorated today.

Services were held on Dec. 22 at Fresno Buddhist Temple.

Reunion at Gila River in 1997. From right: Gov. Mary Thomas, spiritual leader of the Pima Indians; actor Pat Morita and wife Eve; Kenso Zenimura. Morita and Zenimura were incarcerated there during WWII when they were 11 and 14, respectively. (Courtesy Nisei Baseball Research Project)

Councilmember Monica Antone of the Gila River Indian Community said in a statement:

“The Gila River Indian Community sends its condolences to family of Howard Kenso Zenimura, a great friend of the Akimel Ohdham Pee Posh River people in Arizona. Our community appreciates this great mentor. We embraced the stories of how he made history with his father to build a baseball field in our community during the tense time of World War II.

“The community welcomes our American Japanese internees to their homeland, where he spent three years of his life. Howard did what he did best as the Pimas watched the baseball games sometimes through a fence. Howard’s love for the sport ignited the members of the tribal community, as this was the start and passion for him to teach what he loved best.

“The Pimas embrace our Japanese culture as we healed together and continue efforts to keep two cultures that survived. To this day Howard is a great part of this healing and legacy to our people.

“We will miss our brother Howard. In Pima language there is no word for goodbye. We say ‘thom nei’ … until we meet again. Prayers to the family and friends of Howard Zenimura.”

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