Remembering Dr. Sanbo S. Sakaguchi

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Dr. Sanbo Sakaguchi and his wife, Kay.

By NANCY ODA

Naming a newborn is a big responsibility. The Sakaguchis named their third boy Sukenobu, meaning “miracle worker,” “generous,” and “trustworthy.” He grew up to be that and more.

A mother’s dream to have her children become doctors was realized when five of her children became medical doctors or dentists, including Dr. Mary Oda. Even today, that is an amazing accomplishment. But in those days, it was a handful as described in the book called “Silent Scars of Healing Hands” by Naomi Hirahara and Gwen Jensen. 

The event honoring Dr. Sanbo Sakaguchi on Aug. 25 at the San Fernando Valley Japanese American Community Center was an opportunity to remember a giant in our community whose integrity set the bar high for those of us who follow.

He even worked past midnight on New Year’s Eve, recounted Aiko Ishimaru, RN.

Ralph Ahn said that Dr. Sakaguchi loved his wife. He loved his community and he loved his country. Dr. Sakaguchi’s uncomplicated mantra was  “to like and love everything you do.”

Dr. Sakaguchi awards a scholarship to a musician with the Asia America Youth Orchestra.

The Asia America Youth Orchestra woodwinds set the tone for the day with “Auld Lang Syne.” It was really touching to listen to young Molly Srour, who had recently received a Kay Sakaguchi Scholarship.

Distinguished guests all spoke of his indefatigable loyalty. Val Noguchi also brought condolences from the Japanese American Medical Association.

Dr. Hafeez Parray said that Dr. Sakaguchi would give him a bag of avocados in appreciation.

Min Tonai recounted Doctor’s contributions to the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center. He also talked about Doctor’s military service after he had already returned to serve Japanese, Latino and black patients in the Valley.

Herb Kawahara explained Doctor’s devotion to UCLA sports for 50 years.

Priscilla Mui read letters from scholarship winners who were finishing medical school without worrying about finances as the Sakaguchis endowed the Theta Kappa Phi sorority scholarship program.

Kenji Watanabe told a few “fish stories” and how much the doctor’s strong legs helped him catch the biggest fish on record in Australia for one day. 

Black belt Timbo Whitesell recounted Doctor’s dedication to SFV Judo Club during the Kohaku tournaments, Olympics, and overseas assignments. He was grateful that the doctor saved his life by performing a five-way bypass surgery.

Phil Shigekuni, family friend and SFV JACLer, spoke about the Sakaguchi family in Manzanar, where three members passed way within eight months including the doctor’s beloved father.

Finally, Dr. Bo expressed appreciation from the family members, including Dr. Mary Oda, sister-in-law Martha Furuta, Etsuko Fukushima, Grace (Yutaka) Shiraishi and many nieces and nephews and other relatives.

Rev. Dr. Greg Kimura, JANM CEO and president, read a letter from Marquette University, where Doctor received training, and ended the program with a beautiful prayer.

Thank you to everyone who made this day an elegant yet simple way to show our gratitude.

Leslie Ito, CEO and president of JACCC, was in charge of the reception desk. Troop 719 scouts posted and retired the flags. Ritsuko Shinbashi designed a gorgeous ikebana arrangement that was even more meaningful since the doctor’s mother used to be a student of Ikenobo ikebana.

The lovely dessert table held homemade cookies made by members of Theta Kappa Phi, banana dango made by Ruth Nakamura, and mochi by Hitomi Hashimoto. The SFV JACL made huge bowls of cut fruit for the very hot summer day. SFV judoka helped serve water while Geoff and Sachi Arai prepared tea to accompany the delicious sushi, nigiri, gomoku, cucumber salad, shrimp, and teriyaki chicken prepared by Musashi Restaurant.

Dr. Sakaguchi’s siblings, Dr. Bo and Dr. Mary Oda, made sure that no one went home hungry.

Nancy Oda is president of the San Fernando Valley Japanese American Community Center in Pacoima.

An avid fisherman, Dr. Sakaguchi hoists a prized catch.

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