Had reason to permit myself to revive memories of the past — occurring quite often lately — last Saturday after the occasion of the 50th anniversary luncheon of all things Keiro at the Pasadena Convention Center. And, not surprisingly, I will somehow manage to turn all attention to myself rather than the legacy and future of the healthcare campus that is, without doubt, the greatest single accomplishment in the long history of the Southern California Japanese community.*
The 6th grade in small-town USA is a first taste of upper-class superiority. But there was no joy in Mudville as elder brother Edwin C. and friends were enrolled as junior high school freshmen three miles to the elite south side. When it was my turn to reign as 9th grader at Central Junior High School, “everyone” had moved across the street to Riverside Polytechnic High School, where there was a football field, gymnasium, library and cafeteria.
Pearl Harbor made sure I was never to trod that hallowed ground. But The War introduced a whole new world to an awed youngster of 13.
Shazam. There were scads of others who were not “Nii-san,” equal-opportunity siblings without the mantle of eldest child. Joy, joy. If you wanted to drape your pants and wear your shirt tail out, go for it, Dude, er, Jackson! Ed ran for student body office while I tried to steer clear of the principal’s office. Brother Ed wrote editorials for the Kampus Krier while I entered sorry tales of unrequited love in a diary. But the burden of “kid brother” was not as suffocating as prewar. Or so it appeared for a while.
He went to Chicago from Poston. I followed and got kicked out of school and returned to Poston. He went to Ft. Snelling and MIS for a year; I went overseas to Japan for three; he attended Riverside Junior College and then matriculated to USC; I went from RJC to SC two years later. (Not much of a rebellious difference, is there?)
Armed with a business degree only six years removed from Poston Relocation Center, Edwin Chikashi Hiroto joined (Luis) Aihara Insurance on South San Pedro Street in Li’l Tokio. On the verge of establishing agency status, he was approached by San Lorenzo Nursery major domo Joseph Shinoda to give it all up for a chance “to do something for the community,” that is, the revival of the prewar Japanese Memorial Hospital of Los Angeles. Against all odds and public apathy, JMHLA was resuscitated (1961) and became City View Hospital (‘62) with Keiro Nursing Home making its bow in Lincoln Park in 1969.
For some strange and eerie reason, CR2S found its way to Nihonjin-machi in the summer of 1953. And wound up writing stories about an older brother who cast an awfully long shadow.
I can remember attending meetings at the City View conference room where 12 grown men would endlessly discuss what to call the fledgling project; where a lawyer conducted classes on public speaking to better articulate the dream; the countless community meetings held to sell the idea of a lasting tribute to the Issei when the Sansei were making their first appearance.
The need soon arose for a second licensed administrator and Edwin wisely dipped into the nepotism bag and came up with another Hiroto winner in the form of Margaret F. (Murakami.) I remember later accompanying him on a trip to visit the Jewish Home for the Aged, an imposing red brick edifice that seemed so out of place near ELA’s Hollenbeck Park. While he pondered the million-dollar asking price, I was enthralled by the existence of a kosher kitchen alongside a regular one. It would become Keiro Retirement Home in 1975.
* When retracing time lines, noting memorable happenings and how important decisions were made, history is truly amazing. (I’m not doing a very competent job of historical musing right now because it’s hit or miss if I’ll be able to finish this effort. Pray for me.) My humble apologies if trying to tie in a brotherly homage reflects badly on the greater importance of Keiro and its huge imprint on our Japanese community for generations to come.
(What timing! All hell is breaking loose! Blacked out. Called 911: LAFD and EMT. Off to hospital with sirens shrieking. Hope to see you sometime soon.)
W.T. Wimpy Hiroto can be reached by email. Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.