Frank Akira Kageyama, a horticulturist who worked on the Manzanar Guayule Project and a fisherman featured in the “Manzanar Fishing Club” documentary, passed away on Dec. 7 due to complications of aspiration pneumonia. A native of Los Angeles, he was 96.
Kageyama “did a lot for and at Manzanar, both during the war and in recent years,” the National Park Service’s Manzanar National Historic Site said in a statement.
According to his son Glenn, Kageyama lost his father to pneumonia at age 14, and at age 18 lost his mother due to complications of childbirth. He became the head of his household and dropped out of University High School in West L.A., where he was in the 10th grade, to support and raise his four younger sisters, Fumi, Mae, Mary and Lilly (Tilly), and a brother, Bill.
“Many people have heard of Frank’s younger sister, Mary Kageyama Nomura (aka the Songbird of Manzanar), but actually Frank and his sisters Mae and Tilly were also singers,” said Alisa Lynch, chief of interpretation at Manzanar National Historic Site. “Frank, Mary, and Mary performed before the war as The Kageyama Trio.”
During World War II, the family was sent to Manzanar, where Kageyama worked on the Manzanar Guayule Project to help develop a new source of American rubber for the war effort. He worked with Dr. Robert Emerson of the California Institute of Technology along with Morganlander Shimpe Nishimura and Tomoichi Hata, and published an important research paper in the American Journal of Botany on how to grow guayule from cuttings, an accomplishment that was not thought to be feasible by most guayule experts at the time.
Dr. Kenji Nozaki supervised the camp project. Walter T. Watanabe supervised scientific work, nursery propagation and field work. Masuo Kodani directed breeding and flower biology efforts. Scientists from Cal Tech, UCLA and Stanford visited Manzanar to monitor the project’s progress.
Joyce Okazaki of the Manzanar Committee noted in a 2009 article that the Manzanar project was more successful than the government’s Emergency Rubber Project in Salinas, but did not get any public recognition. “Rather, they were totally ignored when the success of the ERP was celebrated.”
Rubber stoppers and spatulas from the project are part of the collection at Manzanar National Historic Site. Natural latex from the desert-dwelling plant is still used today.
While at Manzanar, Kageyama met and later married Keiko Kawahara. After the war, he raised his second family with his wife, and together they had five children: twins David and Glenn, followed by Sandra, Maria and Roy.
“Dad enjoyed growing just about anything that had leaves, but took greatest pride in growing orchids and chrysanthemums,” said Glenn Kageyama, a professor of neuroscience and cell biology at Cal Poly Pomona, who has given demonstrations on making rubber from guayule. “Working in his garden helped to keep him in good health for most of his 96 years. His favorite pastime was fishing for trout.
“He will be missed by us all. We are grateful that he was able to have such a long, full and productive life.”
An avid fisherman during his time at Manzanar, Frank Kageyama was one of the first former internees interviewed for “The Manzanar Fishing Club” and attended the film’s opening at the Santa Monica Laemmle last April.
“Thank you for your participation and support, Frank. I hope we lived up to your expectations,” filmmakers Cory Shiozaki and Richard Imamura said in a statement.
“Frank will be remembered for many things,” said Manzanar Committee Co-Chair Bruce Embrey. “His long and fascinating life, however, is inextricably linked to his days at Manzanar, where he participated in efforts to extract rubber from the Guayule plant. This project captures how so many Nikkei, while incarcerated, brought their knowledge, skills and talents to the war effort.”
“Despite being forcibly removed from their homes and placed behind barbed wire, Frank, and so many others, ironically, worked to further the effort to defend our democracy. Frank will always be remembered as a important figure in Manzanar’s story, and on behalf of the Manzanar Committee, I’d like to extend our deepest condolences to his family. He will be missed.”
In addition to his wife, children and brother, survivors include seven grandchildren, one great-grandchild, and sisters Mae Kakehashi and Mary Nomura.
Funeral services will be held on Friday, Dec. 28, at 11 a.m. at Gardena Buddhist Church, 1517 W. 166th St., Gardena. Arrangements by Kubota Nikkei Mortuary.