Thomas Nobuyuki Shigekuni
August 4, 1929 – December 10, 2019
Thomas Nobuyuki Shigekuni, born in Los Angeles on August 4, 1929, passed away on December 10, 2019,
at the age of 90. His parents, Yonetaro (Frank) and Shizuyo (Mary) Shigekuni, were immigrants from Hiroshima, Japan.
In 1942, when Tom was 12, the family was incarcerated in Colorado’s Amache relocation camp. Openly questioning their imprisonment, he always cautioned that “This type of hysteria and injustice can happen again.” In 1945, the family was released, and he graduated from L.A.’s Polytechnic High in 1947.
During the Korean War, Tom volunteered for the 6004th Air Intelligence Service Squadron, stationed in Tokyo, and edited intelligent reports for Brigadier General Banfield, the Far East intelligence chief of the
A graduate of Pepperdine, Tom earned his degree thanks to a scholarship from George Pepperdine who attended the same Westside Church of Christ and supported Japanese Americans during WW2. In later years, Tom served on the Pepperdine Alumni Board of Directors.
Following in his father’s horticultural footsteps, Tom opened Centrose Nursery. In his “Guide For New Employees” he wrote, “Not to thank a customer loud and clear is a sin around here.”
In 1966, graduating from USC School of Law, he opened his Torrance law practice. When expanding Japanese companies first entered the U.S., he represented several of them, including Sega for whom he handled their Warner Brothers and Turner Entertainment contracts.
Throughout his 45-year career, Tom focused on estate planning and volunteered with community organizations to educate the public on elder law issues. He served on the Board of Directors of the Keiro Retirement Home.
Appointed by Governor Jerry Brown, Tom was the first Japanese American on the State Board of Food and Agriculture. The legislature accepted his definitive report that the then-novel farmer’s market concept should become permanent law, paving the way for today’s certified markets.
When Japanese had difficulty getting credit, Tom helped organize the predecessor to the Los Angeles Southwest Japanese Credit Union. During the energy crisis in 2000 Tom served on the L.A. County Energy Commission.
Active in civic organizations, he was president of the ACLU’s South Bay chapter, president of the Gardena chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League, director of the Torrance Rotary Club, president of the Centinela Chapter of the California Association of Nurserymen, and a trustee on the board of the South Coast Botanic Garden in Palos Verdes.
As an internee at Amache, he was adamant that the site be preserved to educate future generations about the frailty of our constitutional rights, serving as the incorporating attorney for the Amache Historical Society and a board member for 17 years.
A serial entrepreneur, Tom opened Oriental Traders, a Laguna Beach gift shop in the early 1950’s, invented a trademarked tool coupling assembly and supplied matsutake mushrooms to local markets.
On August 4th, 2019, in celebration of Tom’s 90th birthday, a documentary “To Tell The Truth,” was screened in Beverly Hills. The film is a personal journey of how injustice shaped his life, making him determined to always fight for the underdog. Tom was honored by family and friends
as “a simple man,” as he called himself, who made a difference.
Tom’s favorite phrase was “Let’s go!” Fulfilling his dream to explore the world, in 2016 he spent a month touring Asia and the Great Wall of China, followed by an extended 2017 European trip. He visited his favorite city, Tokyo, in 2018, and to the end, he was planning more adventures.
A long-time resident of Palos Verdes Estates and a member of the Redondo Beach Church of Christ, Tom is survived by his wife Ruth, daughters Vicki, Cindy and Leslie, and five grandchildren. He is pre-deceased by older brothers Tsuneo (Tunney), Masaaki (Henry) and sister Fumiko. A private family memorial will be held.
Per Tom’s wishes, so that future generations “do not forget”, donations can be made to the Amache Preservation Society, P.O. Box 259 Granada, Colorado 81041-0259.