WEST COVINA — “Okaeshi” (giving back) was the theme of the East San Gabriel Valley Japanese Community Center installation banquet held on Jan. 24 in West Covina.
The first recipients of the center’s annual Distinguished Member Award were honored as the best examples of okaeshi — George and Ruri Sugimoto, Chef Ryo Sato, and Barbara Shirota.
George and Ruri Sugimoto’s significant donation to the Social Hall Capital Campaign allowed the center to retire the construction loan and relieve the tremendous financial burden on the organization. Their continued dedication and leadership, especially with the annual golf tournament, has helped to support many classes and programs that are at the heart of the ESGVJCC.
Sato’s tireless work in bridging his hometown of Kurobane (now Ohtawara) and West Covina and sharing that magnificent experience with so many students has made the Student Exchange Program one of the most meaningful programs offered at the ESGVJCC. He has continuously shared his culinary talents by doing desserts every year at festivals and preparing meals at special events. He has also taken on many fundraising efforts such the Variety Show, which raised over $20,000 for the Social Hall Capital Campaign, and the recent Sato’s African Safari Dinner, which raised funds for a new outdoor refrigerator.
Shirota has been making history at the ESGVJCC for many years, including serving as the first female president. She has been on the ESGVJCC Board of Directors for over 35 years and has been at the forefront of many of the programs at the center, such as founding the San Gabriel Valley Nikkei Singles. She also serves on many other boards, such as the San Gabriel Valley JACL and West Covina Buddhist Temple.
“Their unwavering support and generosity has propelled the success of the East San Gabriel Valley Japanese Community Center into new heights while allowing us to continue to bridge culture, family, and community,” said Pearl Omiya, ESGVJCC executive director.
“Without members like George and Ruri, Chef Sato, and Barbara, we would not be celebrating 65 years of service to the community.”
Omiya was herself honored for 10 years of service as executive director.
Photos by JUN NAGATA/Rafu Shimpo