OBITUARY: Naomi Tagawa, 100; Worked to Preserve JA History in Hanford

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HANFORD — Naomi Tagawa, 100, of Hanford passed away on May 19 with dear friends by her side. Her family posted the following biography.

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Naomi had joyous 100th birthday celebrations in February and she gave thanks to God for the special blessings He bestowed on her. She was born Feb. 20, 1920 to Sakutaro (George) Tagawa and Tazu (Nishiyama) Tagawa in Hanford, Calif., and was the youngest of three girls.

Naomi attended local schools and graduated from Hanford High School in 1938. She attended fashion design school in San Francisco and returned home after she graduated to help work in her parents’ laundry business.

Friends used artwork of some of her fashion designs, this past year, to make notecards that are now sold at the Taoist Temple Cultural History Museum or L.T. Sue Co. Tea Room & Emporium. She ran the Kings Hand Laundry until she was just shy of 95 years old!

Naomi and her family were interned in Arkansas during WWII for three years. The Tagawa family was fortunate to have friends who protected their property and business so they had something to come back to. Ever since then, she shared the history of the Japanese American internment with local schools and organizations as well as contributing to a Japanese American history library collection that was created at Fresno State.

Last year she was featured on Channel 18 PBS and interviewed by a variety of historical groups and rangers from Manzanar National Historic Site as well. She was happy to share her stories of her childhood and the history of Hanford to anyone she met.

Feb. 23, 2019, the Hanford City Council declared it Naomi Tagawa Day in recognition of her 99th birthday and recent donation of her family’s property to the China Alley Preservation Society. It was Naomi’s hope to restore the building to become a museum and learning center to honor Hanford’s Japanese American history.

A lifetime member of the Kings Art Center Guild, thanks to her generous donation of Henry Sugimoto’s art, the Art Center houses a meaningful collection of the local treasure.

While never having a family of her own, she considered all her friends in Hanford and the First Presbyterian Church to be her family. She was a most amazing servant of God, doing something to help others every chance she could. She sang in the church choir for years, played the piano at rest home services, served as the clerk of session for 30 years, was active in the church women’s groups, cleaned the pews every Monday until she was 95, created – with beauty – the fruit plates for memorial services, and folded the church bulletins weekly until the COVID-19 stay-at-home orders March 19.

Naomi started making pomegranate jelly years ago and it became a hot item to get at church auctions, boutiques, and annual events at the Kings Art Center. Some years ago, she started squeezing her juice with a group of friends who all had pomegranate trees. Her job was wielding the big knife to cut the pomegranates to be ready for the rest of the friends to squeeze. She loved giving her jelly as gifts! For other gifts, she always had her knitting bag with her. She loved knitting baby blankets, caps, and scarves to give to others!

Friends will miss seeing Naomi every day for lunch at Superior Dairy in her booth watching people go by. She loved seeing her friends there as well as meeting new people. She had a contagious smile, the sweetest giggle, and a sense of humor that would always make your day better. She never met a stranger, greeting everyone with a smile, whether she knew them or not. By the time she was done talking with someone new they became her friend forever.

Naomi was predeceased by her sister, Kiuye Tagawa; her sister, Suiko Sugimoto; her mother, Tazu (Nishiyama) Tagawa; her nephew, Phillip Sugimoto; her father, Sakutaro (George) Tagawa; and her brother-in-law, Henry Sugimoto.

Naomi leaves behind her beloved niece, Madeleine Sugimoto from New York, New York; her dear friends, Martin and Darlene Keast, who so lovingly took her into their home and cared for her these last five years; and her church family.

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