SAN FRANCISCO —Five seniors will be honored at the 28th annual Senior Appreciation Brunch on Sunday, April 12.
The event, to be held in the ballroom of the Hotel Kabuki, is part of the annual Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival in San Francisco’s Japantown.
The five honorees have been nominated by senior centers from throughout Northern California. Each honoree will receive certificates of commendation from elected officials and the Cherry Blossom Festival and be recognized on stage for their volunteer efforts and commitment to the Japanese American community.
Serving as the mistress of ceremonies will be Gail Tanaka, a former Cherry Blossom Queen and the founder and president of Cherry Blossom Alumnae. This year’s brunch will also feature a special guest speaker, Fresno State baseball star and two-time Nippon Professional Baseball All-Star “Fibber” Hirayama.
Entertainment will be provided by Patty Hao, the founder of Wushu West, a tai chi studio based in Oakland, and Yoko Fitzpatrick and the Sunshine Girls, a senior dance group from Sakura Kai Senior Center.
Following are profiles of the 2015 Senior Appreciation Brunch honorees:
• Sumiko Ishida is the honoree from Eden Senior Center, where she has been a dedicated volunteer for more than 40 years. The second of four daughters, her father was prominent in the San Diego community, where she grew up.
At Eden, Ishida’s specialty is arts and crafts. She has been leading the craft group at Eden for ten years. She is able to take a sample craft and not only take it apart and figure out how to make it but also adapt it so it is easy for seniors to do. She enjoys teaching new things to the seniors and especially likes the fact that they are eager to take the crafts home to complete.
An accomplished seamstress, she led the project to make 200 seat cushions for the folding chairs at the center. She also sewed the first happi coat for Eden’s Aoba Taiko and costumes for Eden’s senior line dance group. Ishida also helps with singing activities and by playing the piano.
Ishida is a great cook and baker as well. She has volunteered at the Eden JACL Bazaar, preparing the barbecue box lunches, helping with mochitsuki and washing rice and packaging food in the kitchen.
Born in San Diego, Ishida graduated from high school in Crystal City and after business college, worked for an insurance company and a graphic arts business. She was interned at Poston 3 in Arizona and in Crystal City, Texas. Ishida and her late husband, Yasuo, moved to San Lorenzo from San Diego in 1948. She has a son, Chris, who lives in Southern California.
• Ruth Ichinaga is one of two honorees from Sakura Kai Center in El Cerrito. Born in Berkeley, she was interned at Topaz, Utah, and now lives in El Cerrito. A retired Oakland public school nurse practitioner, she attended UC San Francisco’s School of Nursing and Arizona College in Denver. She started taiko drumming 19 years ago with Emeryville Taiko and at Sakura Kai has been teaching taiko for the past 14 years.
At first, she and her students used drums made of cardboard and packing tape, but after three years the center purchased drums made of small wooden barrels and PVC. She currently has 14 students, ranging in age from 60 to 86, who meet twice a month for an hour and a half at 8 a.m. Ichinaga and her students have been asked to perform at many local events and are always willing to put in extra practice times to get ready.
In addition to her volunteer work at Sakura Kai, Ichinaga was one of the founders of the first school clinic at Oakland Unified School District, a board member and current co- chair of the Japanese American Women Almunae of UC Berkeley, and a volunteer and choir member at Berkeley United Methodist Church.
She is also a member of the Purple Moon Dance Project, performing in various cities in California since 2009, and has also danced with Oneness Butoh since 2014.
• Mary Ann Furuichi is the second of two honorees selected by Sakura Kai Center in El Cerrito. Born in San Francisco, she now resides in Berkeley. She is a graduate of San Francisco State University and is a retired fifth-grade teacher. She was interned at Topaz and has spoken about her internment experience in Berkeley, Benicia and for the Oakland Public Schools. At some public readings at local libraries, she has read stories she wrote about the war from a child’s perspective.
At Sakura Kai, Furuichi has taught taiko for 14 years. What she enjoys the most is seeing her students develop self-confidence and a sense of accomplishment from learning a new taiko song and then performing it. She has been with the Emeryville Dojo for 12 years, performing at many functions, including the Crop Walk in Berkeley; Solano Stroll in Albany; J-Sei Family Festival in El Cerrito; and many more.
Furuichi believes that volunteers need to be healthy and have a positive attitude. She said, “It’s a challenge to work with youth as well as with the elderly, who have different abilities and capabilities. Commitment, flexibility, cooperation and being supportive are key components to volunteering, whether it’s teaching taiko or serving lunch to the seniors. A large part of being a successful volunteer though is to be open to the challenges that arise.”
In addition to her volunteer efforts at Sakura Kai, she has taught fifth-graders at Daruma no Gakko Japanese School in Berkeley, volunteered at Alta Bates Hospital and at J-Sei’s lunch program, and on the Berkeley Retired Teachers Association’s Scholarship Selection Committee.
• Akio Kudo was selected as Kimochi Inc.’s honoree. He was born in Akita Prefecture and is a former cook. He first came to San Francisco in 1979 while on vacation and fell in love with the city and wanted to make it his home. In 1982, he began working at Kimochi, becoming one of the first staff members to help establish the center’s hot lunch program, which used to serve meals 365 days of the year.
A dedicated and hard worker, he would often be at the site seven days a week, including his days off, to ensure that lunches were prepared and that the meals for homebound seniors too were ready. According to his nomination form, Kimochi estimates that with his help, approximately one million lunches have been made for seniors during his 32 years of service.
Kudo-san is described as a modest, quiet and caring person, who enjoys working “behind the scenes.” He never seeks acknowledgement and has been instrumental in building Kimochi’s nutrition program. Now that his health is better, he volunteers at Kimochi five days a week, coming in bright and early at 7:30 each morning to help the staff and train new volunteers in the lunch program.
• Koko Orio is the honoree from the San Mateo Japanese American Community Center. She was born in Kagoshima, and she and her husband, Toru Orio, live in Foster City. She retired from her job as an accounting clerk for the U.S. Postal Service in 2009 and has volunteered for the center ever since.
In 2011, she became the center’s volunteer coordinator. Described as friendly and professional, she has a very important role, working with the reception desk volunteers to ensure there is always someone knowledgeable on duty to answer the telephone and to greet visitors. In addition, she recruits new volunteers and is responsible for reporting volunteer hours each month.
According to her nomination form, Orio speaks Japanese and English fluently, so she is able to work well with all of the volunteers and anyone who comes to the center, regardless if they are Nisei, Shin-Issei or Japanese nationals.
In addition to her dedication to center, she has also volunteered at Sturge Presbyterian Church, serving as the liaison between the English- and Japanese-speaking groups, on the nominating committee, as an elder and a leader for the Japanese ministry.
The Cherry Blossom Festival will be held on the weekends of April 11-12 and 18-19. For more information, visit www.sfcherryblossom.org.