By ELLEN ENDO, Rafu Shimpo
Friends might describe Klete Kei Ikemoto’s as a man of few words, yet his quiet strength and profound devotion to his family spoke loudly on behalf of this father of three who passed away April 2, a victim of COVID-19 coronavirus.
Born in Harbor City, Ikemoto, 52, grew up in the Cerritos area although his family has roots in Kauai, Hawaii. He attended the University of Southern California, graduating from the Marshall School of Business with a Bachelor of Science degree. He played basketball for the Nisei Athletic Union.
Before joining the Yamaha Corporation of America as director of forecasting and inventory management in Buena Park last year, he worked for nearly 30 years for the Gardena/Cypress-based electrical and electronics manufacturer Clarion, most recently as director of retail sales administration.
He volunteered as a member of the Yonsei Basketball Association and, from 2015-2018, served as a board member for Norwalk Youth Sports (NYS) at the Southeast Japanese School and Community Center. Ikemoto was also active at Orange County Buddhist Church.
Klete and the former Teiko Nishi started dating in 1989 and married in 1995. They would have celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary this August. In their 31 years together, they enjoyed mutual interests in basketball, snowboarding, biking and, especially, spending time with their three daughters, Katie, 17, Kristi, 15, and Kelsey, 12.
For the girls, basketball became a source of friendship, sportsmanship, and extended family, but they also have a special fondness for Disneyland, a source of shared memories derived from trips to Anaheim and Orlando, and even on a Disney-themed cruise. “Klete loved being there. (It was) a huge part of our family time,” says Teiko.
Despite his professional accomplishments and volunteer work, Klete shunned the spotlight. “He did a lot (for others) but he didn’t want people to make a big deal about it,” recalls Kelley Ikeda, one of the parents who accompanied the Yonsei 24 basketball players during their trip to Japan.
The Norwalk community center had been preparing to honor Klete this year at the annual awards dinner, but the husband, the father, the corporate executive, “the man of few words” left too soon. There were words of praise, respect, and appreciation awaiting him. Those words are now being expressed to remember him.
Learning of Ikemoto’s passing, friends launched a Go Fund Me campaign with a goal of raising $10,000 to benefit his family. To date, the campaign has generated 887 individual donations totaling more than $84,000, over eight times the original goal.
“The Japanese American community is incredible,” Teiko, an educator and head coach for the Yorba Linda High School women’s basketball team, states as she reflects on the outpouring of support the family continues to receive.
She hopes that people will learn from the terrible tragedy and never have to experience what she and her girls have had to endure.
“Pay attention if you have a fever, and if the doctor asks you if you’re short of breath, even slightly, say ‘yes.’”
Teiko said Klete was the original “girl dad.”
“It all he started when he had to be the expert with all the princess trivia, movies, songs, becoming the ‘prince’ playing with the dolls, calico critters, and everything cute.
“As a family, we did everything together. We were lucky to have had that time. Enjoy the time you have with those you care about,” she urges.