Henry Shozo “Hank” Umemoto
October 12, 1928 to December 22, 2019
Hank Umemoto passed away suddenly in his Gardena home on Sunday, December 22, 2019. He was ninety-one years old.
Born outside of Sacramento, California, he was the youngest of five children of Ryosuke and Kusu Umemoto, Japanese immigrants from Wakayama prefecture. After his father died when Hank was two-and-a-half, he grew up on the family farm in Florin.
As part of the roundup and incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II, Hank and his family were sent to Manzanar, where he spent over three years. While acknowledging the injustice of the incarceration, he remembered the friendships and high jinks of those years fondly and kept in touch with many of his friends from Manzanar.
After the war, he settled in Los Angeles with his mother and worked as a gardener and at other other jobs while pursuing an education. He married Keiko “Kay” Niiyama in 1955, and the couple had four children. The family eventually moved to Gardena, where he later started a printing business, Presto Prints, which he ran for twenty-nine years. He was also active in the local community, helping to raise money for the construction of Gardena’s Japanese Cultural Institute, serving as President of the Konko Church of Los Angeles, and coaching for the Recreation Park Giants and the YMCA Cheetahs.
In the last twenty-five years of his life, he became active in community efforts to preserve the story of Manzanar and the wartime incarceration. He volunteered at the Manzanar National Historic Site where his lively talks were popular with young people. In 2013, Heyday Books published his memoir, From Manzanar to Mount Whitney: The Life and Times of a Lost Hiker, which merges episodes from his early life with stories of his late life hiking exploits, including eleven summits of Mt. Whitney, all after the age of seventy. He also did two interviews for the Densho.org website that vividly highlight his camp and immediate postwar experiences.
In addition, Hank had a talent for building and fixing things and collected rocks, coins, knives, old radios, and who knows what else.
He is survived by his second wife, Chiyoko, and his children Karen Umemoto (Brian Niiya), of Los Angeles; Bruce Umemoto (Rahmah Mahmood) of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; Jasmine Grace of Eugene, Oregon; and Skye Michelle Nakamura of Gardena; along with five grandchildren.
A Celebration of Life will be held on January 18, 2020 at 11:30 am at Green Hills Memorial Park,
27501 S. Western Ave., Rancho Palos Verdes, CA 90275.