Bill Watanabe, the founder of the Little Tokyo Service Center (LTSC) and executive director for the past 31 years, announced his plan to retire, effective June 30, 2012.
“When Bill informed the LTSC Board of Directors of his plan to retire, we knew that LTSC would be facing a major transition. Bill is the face of the organization and personifies LTSC’s motto of ‘Helping People, Building Communities,’ ” stated LTSC Board President Alan Nishio.
“We are proud of the growth of the organization and the many accomplishments under Bill’s leadership, including the thousands of people who have been assisted by LTSC services. While choosing to retire, Bill has left LTSC with a strong and dedicated staff, including senior leadership overseeing community development, social services, and operations.”
When Watanabe founded LTSC in January 1980, the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center (JACCC) had just been completed and LTSC occupied a space on the fourth floor. Yasuko Sakamoto and Evelyn Yoshimura joined him on the LTSC staff later that year, and gradually the program began to grow. Today, LTSC employs 150 staff persons and also benefits from dozens of dedicated volunteers.
Nishio will be chairing a board committee that will identify a new executive director. “It is certainly a daunting task to find a qualified candidate to replace Bill, but the LTSC board is confident that that we will find the right person to continue his legacy,” stated Nishio. It is expected that the new director will be named in early 2012 to provide adequate time for a smooth leadership transition.
In making his announcement to the board, Watanabe stated, “I feel very blessed in having had a job that I loved, and I will miss it, but at the same time, I am looking forward to a new phase of life, and to new opportunities!”
Watanabe is the third Little Tokyo executive director to announce plans to retire, following Akemi Kikumura Yano’s retirement from the Japanese American National Museum in August, and Chris Aihara’s announcement that she will depart from the JACCC at the end of the year.
Kathy Masaoka, an LTSC board member, made note that “Little Tokyo is undergoing a major leadership change, with the recent retirement announcements of the executive directors of the Japanese American National Museum and the JACCC. Many of our community’s institutions will be led into the future by a new generation of leaders, signaling a time of change and new ways of doing things for three major Little Tokyo institutions.”