Memorial Biographies

This section is devoted to those individuals whose names currently or have graced our scholarships.

Kimi (Taguchi) Hara, 1916 – 2007

Kimi (Taguchi) Hara, was born in Green Lake, WA (now incorporated into Seattle) in 1916. She was the oldest of five children born to Seiki and Matsuye Taguchi, Japanese immigrant truck farmers in Seattle. Her father died when she was 14, and her family lost the farm when Japanese citizens were interned at the start of World War II.

At age 14, Kimi worked at home and as a housekeeper in private residences until all of her siblings were in school. She attended Swedish Hospital (Seattle) School of Nursing (1940) and started her BA at the University of Washington until the start of WWII. She was rejected by the Army Nurse Corps but, as an alternative to internment, was allowed to move to St. Mary’s Hospital (Rochester, MN) to fill a need for nurses.

Over career, she held supervisory positions at St. Mary’s Hospital, at Fort Snelling, Maternity and Fairview hospitals, taught nursing at St. Olaf College and was a maternal-child health consultant to the Minnesota Health Department.

Kimi was a member of the State Board of Nursing and, beginning in 1963, its associate executive director for 17 years. She administered scholarships, licensing exams and disciplinary investigations, many for chemical abuse. “Nurses all over the state kind of looked upon her as the influence over their careers,” and called her for advice, said Terry O’Brien, who was the board’s lawyer for a decade. In disciplinary proceedings, Hara was firm but wanted good nurses returned to work after they reached sobriety, and she was so compassionate that nurses would come up after hearings to thank her, O’Brien said. “I can’t tell you the influence she had on quality and standards … and compassion. She left an imprint.”

Kimi was married to Sam Hara and had 1 son, Thomas. Sam Hara, a U.S. Army combat veteran of World War II, died in 1983. Much of her volunteering was informal. She and her late husband, Sam, hosted many Japanese health professionals and once held a wedding on their lawn at Lake Independence in Medina for a young Japanese woman whose parents couldn’t make the trip.

She drove all over the state, and her son, Thomas, said her volunteer work teaching emergency childbirth skills to the State Patrol probably saved her from some speeding tickets.

She also was a longtime volunteer for the Japanese American Citizens League and a founding member of the Normandale Japanese Garden in Bloomington. Former Vice President Walter Mondale presented Hara with a Japan America Society service award, calling her “a wonderful example of the best of the human spirit.” Kimi was a Sunday school teacher at Gethsemane Episcopal Church in Minneapolis, and worked on a national uniform nurse licensing examination and inspected nursing practices in Okinawa for the World Health Organization.

Kimi was a friend to everyone. She had a strength of character showing perseverance and hard work. When she originally applied to a nursing school in Seattle, Kimi was advised to go into pharmacy, where a Japanese face would “not be seen” by the patients. She ignored that “advice”, went on to Swedish and had a long and successful career in nursing.

Phyllis Miyeko (Ono) Kimitch, 1949 – 2000

Phyllis Miyeko (Ono) Kimitch, was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota in 1949 to George and Masaye Ono. Phyllis moved with her family to St. Louis Park when she was 5 years old. She graduated from St. Louis Park High School and was a member of the “Parkettes” synchronized swimming team. She would recall always shaking hands with her father before he left for work. Another favorite childhood memory was going to the hardware store with him.

She attended University of Minnesota to study child psychology and subsequently worked as a receptionist at St. Louis Park Medical Center (SLPMC).

Phyllis married Michael Kimitch and moved to California for a year while Michael was in the Navy. She then returned to work at SLPMC. They moved to Rochester, MN for 2 years working at the Mayo Clinic while Michael taught school there. After that period, Phyllis moved back to SLPMC, where she worked on a computer system used to monitor heart patients, eventually working her way up to a medical office assistant position, where she assisted in out-patient dermatology surgeries.

During this time Phyllis and Michael had 3 children, Miyeko, Benjamin, and Bailey.

Phyllis was a fantastic bread baker. She volunteered in the Eden Prairie school system as her children attended – everyone knew her there. She also was a long-time member of a local Japanese dance group, a founding member of the Kogen Taiko drum group, and a Twin Cities Buddhist Association dharma school teacher.

Phyllis loved life, Phyllis loved people, and people loved Phyllis.

Susan Emi (Tsuchiya) Matsumoto, 1954 – 1980

Susan Emi (Tsuchiya) Matsumoto was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota in 1954 to Frank and Helen Tsuchiya. At age 4 in 1958, Susan and Family moved from Minneapolis to St. Louis Park, Minnesota and lived there until she married David Matsumoto in 1978. Susan had two brothers, Frank and Todd Tsuchiya.

Susan graduated from St. Louis Park High School in 1972 as one of the students in the top academic honors group. She graduated from the University of Minnesota College of Education in 1976 with very high distinction.

After graduation, there were very few teaching jobs anywhere in the State of Minnesota. There was one opening in the Bloomington, MN school district and with hundreds of applications submitted, Susan got the job. She had written her whole application in beautiful calligraphy attracting the judges’ attention. The judges saw this, checked her grades, and she got the job. The position was at Park Elementary School in Bloomington. At the time of her death, she was a second grade teacher at Parkview School in Rosemount, Minnesota.

In many scrapbooks and countless papers show how she printed every program in beautiful calligraphy for all gatherings such as JACL, Buddhist Church programs and many other organizations who wanted her expertise. She never refused. She was always willing to help.

Susie was an accomplished musician; she played the piano, clarinet, and saxophone. At her high school graduation, after her lung surgery, her solo performance included five different instruments. Everyone could not believe she “blew” into these five instruments. She was always in first chair playing her clarinet for the Concert Band. She gave piano lessons to the children in the neighborhood throughout her college career to help pay for her tuition. She appeared many times on TV or at different parties to play her koto, the same koto that her Grandmother Tsuchiya played when she was a young girl.

Susan was a true Buddhist. She belonged to the Twin Cities Buddhist Association and taught Sunday School. All the children loved her as she made it fun to study the teachings of the Buddha, by performing plays, craft work, and songs. When she married, her husband David was a Christian. He marveled at the way Susan believed and started to believe it also. After her death, David studied further and became a Buddhist minister to pass the teachings onto others. He is currently with the Berkeley Buddhist Church.

This is truly Susan; Who suffered through many recurrences of her illness but never complained about it. Her illness began at age 10 but she never gave up and believed she was going to live each day and carry on the work she believed in.The Susan Matsumoto Scholarship Fund was started by Sally Sudo who taught her piano lessons when she was a very young girl. She could see Susie’s potential in learning not only piano but other things as she went to her house each week. This scholarship has been in existence since her death in 1980. Most of the recipients have been high school graduates and it seems most were girls who resemble Susan’s capabilities in academics, music, art, and community service. Many recipients have followed Susan’s footsteps and have succeeded in their future endeavors.

Tom Tomeo Ohno, 1927 – 2002

Tom Tomeo Ohno was a teacher, coach, sports enthusiast, and an advocate for Asian-American rights.

Tom was born December 20, 1927, in Seattle, Washington. He was the 6th of 11 children in the family of Yosaji Ohno and Saki Hazemoto of Japan. In May of 1942, the family was relocated, as a part of the wartime internment of Japanese-Americans, to the Minedoka Relocation Center in Idaho.

Tom moved to Minneapolis in 1944. He worked as a houseboy while attending Minneapolis West High School. After graduation, he enlisted in the Army. He served in the military after World War II in Japan in 1946 and 1947 and during the Korean War in 1950 and 1951. In 1953, he received a teaching degree in mathematics and physical education from Augsburg College. He received a master’s degree in school administration from the University of St. Thomas in 1971.

Tom was married Reiko Honda in 1959. They have a daughter, Pam Ohno Dagoberg, who lives in Plymouth; and a son, Rob, who lives in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida.

Tom taught math at Lincoln Jr. High School for 4 years and at Roosevelt High School for 26 years. At Roosevelt, he mentored Laotian students, coached boys baseball, girls’ softball, soccer, and a variety of other sports. Tom coached Edina Youth Baseball, Bloomington Athletic Association baseball and soccer, Beltline hockey, Babe Ruth baseball and umpired BASA girls’ softball. He was an assistant baseball coach at Jefferson High School in Bloomington in the early 1980’s. After retiring from the Minneapolis public school system, he taught math part time for five years at Cretin Derham Hall High School in St. Paul.

Tom was involved extensively in the Japanese community. He helped found the bi-lingual Twin Cities Independent Church, served on the church board and sponsored fund raising activities. He served as chapter president of the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) in the 1950s; he founded the Twin Cities JACL golf tournament, and co-chaired the Scholarship Committee for over 30 years. As a member of the JACL Education Committee, he spoke frequently at area schools and community functions on the internment experience and wanted to make sure it was not a forgotten moment in American history. In 1996, he received the Asian Pacific Leadership Award.

Tom was passionate about numerous hobbies including golf, photography, gardening, bridge, ballroom dancing, fitness, travel, computers, music, cooking, and loved and enjoyed his 4 grandsons. He was a consummate teacher, a deeply genuine and giving person.

Tom was a teacher, coach, sports enthusiast and an advocate for Asian American rights. He was also a loving husband, father and grandfather. He loved people and he loved working with kids. He wanted to help the community. He never pursued anything without giving 100%. He was very generous and believed in giving back. He was witty and had a great sense of humor. He was enthusiastic and optimistic.

He positively impacted the lives of many people that he will never know about. Kids he taught. Kids he coached. There were many that were impacted in a positive way. Tom had an uncanny knack of remembering people’s names. He seemed to know everyone and everyone seemed to know him. If there was someone he didn’t know, he always made an effort to meet him or her.

Tom took a crash course one summer to learn the Japanese language at the University of Minnesota and mastered the language enough to be able to communicate with his sister and other relatives in Japan.

He represented the word “love” incredibly well … love is defined as a sacrificial act for the benefit of another. He continuously did sacrificial acts that benefited others … helping students get better, helping athletes to improve, doing things that aren’t noticed (e.g., taking care of the ball fields without anyone knowing), helping others that were in financial need, providing his kids with opportunities to play sports and get involved in various activities.

He always had a soft spot for kids who were in danger of losing their way. He reached out to them and tried to make a difference. He influenced many lives and inspired kids to do amazing things.

It was his message to others that it is important to always strive for excellence in whatever you do. Always do your best. Always give your best effort; approach things with enthusiasm and sense of commitment. And, always give back. He measured success by dedication and work ethic. He was inspired by examples of people that work hard.

He always provided people with a sense of hope. Hope to get better. Hope to improve. Hope that life can be better.

Tom Oye, 1918-2003, and Martha Oye, 1919-1994

Tom Oye was born in Hillsdale, Oregon in 1918 to Inokichi and Tao Oye. Tom died in 2003 at age 85. Martha was born in 1919 in Portland, Oregon. Her father’s name was Mitsuye. Martha died in 1994 at age 75. They had 2 children, Asa and Audrey.

Tom Oye grew up on a celery farm in Salem, Oregon. Martha’s family ran a dry goods store in Seattle, Oregon.

Tom Oye attended Willamette University in Salem, Oregon. He was a member of the U.S. Army’s 100th Battalion and 442nd Combat Infantry group (442nd/100th), the first all-Japanese American Nisei military unit. He later attended law school and worked for General Mills from which he retired. In addition, Tom was in the Army Reserve for 20 years, retiring at the rank of Lt. Col.

Martha worked as a secretary for 20 years. She was an active member of her church. Martha loved to sew, cook, and garden.

Tom was a volunteer for the city of Edina, MN. The city gives an award in his name for the “Volunteer of the Year”. He was a driver for “Meals on Wheels” for many years. He did this until he became too ill to continue.

One of Tom’s favorite activities was playing 5 card draw poker. He enjoyed investing in the stock market. The proceeds of his investments are the source of funding for the Oye scholarship.

Tom worked hard to achieve his life goals. He always maintained a positive outlook on life and on people. Martha was always cheerful and very upbeat on life.

Earl Kazumi Tanbara, 1906 – 1974

Earl Kazumi Tanbara, was born in Pleasenton, California in 1907 to Miyota and Takeno Tanbara who had immigrated to the United States from Okayama Ken, Japan, in the late 1890’s. His younger sister, Grace Tomiko Kurihara of San Francisco, CA, died in 1992. Son, Thomas M. Kurihara, of Arlington, VA, and two grandchildren survive Grace Kurihara. Earl died in 1974 and his cremains are interred in the Nomura family crypt at Lakewood Memorial Cemetery, Minneapolis. There are no surviving children.

Earl Tanbara graduated from Los Gatos High School, CA, in 1923 and received a BA degree from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1927. He worked for the Dollar Steamship Company from 1928 until 1939 when it was transferred to the U.S. Government and was the predecessor company of the American President Lines. He eventually served as the Director of Marketing for Dollar Steamship Co. He and Ruth traveled extensively around the world for Dollar Steamship Company.

Earl was united in marriage to Ruth Nomura Tanbara of Portland, OR, at the Centenary Wilber Methodist Church, Portland, on September 16, 1935. Ruth was one of the first Japanese Americans born in the Oregon, and attained a graduate degree in Economics from the University of Minnesota in 1955. She was one of the first second generation women to earn a graduate degree and retired from the YWCA as Director of Adult Education.

Earl played basketball, baseball, and tennis while attending the University of California. The Japanese American press portrayed him as the “heavy hitter” for the Nikkei San Jose Asahi baseball team that toured Japan in the 1930’s. In March of 1930 he was selected to play a preseason exhibition game against the major league Pittsburgh Pirates. He was an accomplished contract bridge player, winning a San Francisco Examiner contract bridge tournament in 1933 while working for Dollar Steamship Co. As an avid low handicap golfer, he was well prepared, carrying a left-handed wood and iron along with a full set of right-handed clubs.

In 1942, he relocated from Berkeley to a farm in Reedley, CA, with Ruth and his parents in an attempt to avoid wartime internment. The bad news was that the boundaries for relocating individuals of Japanese ancestry were moved further inland and they were facing relocation. The good news was that the U.S. Army officer who visited the farm to inform them of the need to move to an assembly center was a former high school classmate of Ruth from Portland. The officer offered them an opportunity to move anywhere East if they had friends who would accept them. They contacted friends in Minneapolis and they were placed on a military train headed for the Twin Cities. His parents chose not to go with them and were interned in Camp III, Poston, AZ and together with his sister Grace and son Tom. Earl and Ruth assisted over a 100 evacuees to leave camp and find a place in the Twin Cities. They also were active in placing a number of Japanese Americans in work situations in the Twin Cities during and after WWII.Earl and Ruth moved several times after arriving in the Twin Cities but eventually settled at 218 S. Avon St., St. Paul. When they moved into the neighborhood, a military officer from Fort Snelling made the rounds of the neighbors to inform them about Japanese Americans and their citizenship record and to avoid any misunderstandings when Nikkei soldiers, including Ruth’s brother, were invited for dinner while on weekend passes from the Japanese language schools at Fort Savage, University of Minnesota, and Fort Snelling. Earl worked selling automotive parts and glass and started the Pyramid Form Rubber Products (now Pyramid Trim Products) still in operation at Prior and University Avenue. He was active in many different civic activities including the Twin Cities JACL and Unity Church-Unitarian.

Ruth Tanbara, 1908 – 2008

Ruth Tanbara played a prominent role in the resettlement of Japanese Americans in Minnesota following World War II and in the foundation of several organizations serving Japanese Americans.

Ruth was born in 1908 in Portland, Ore. In 1926, as a winner of an essay contest for Nisei students, she traveled by steamship to Japan. She wrote that this trip “enriched my life and gave me a deep appreciation of Japan, its people, arts and civilization. It encouraged me to study the language, flower arrangement, holiday festivals, the tea ceremony, daily customs, Japanese cooking and serving, music, arts and crafts, particularly pottery, painting and calligraphy.”

She was the first Nisei woman from Portland to enroll in what is now Oregon Statped by opening our small home to families and students, but the numbers increased beyond our expectations. It became necessary to form a resettlement committee, and the Council of Human Relations was organized. Serving on the committee were social workers, board members of the YWCA, the YMCA, the International Institute and Family Service Agency, church leaders, college faulty members, and interested community people.” Warren Burger, a St. Paul attorney who would become Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, was the first Council chairman. The Tanbaras also helped establish the St. Paul Resettlement Committee, which managed a hotel for evacuees from camp, and provided temporary housing, meals and assistance adjusting to Minnesota winters.

They also helped evacuees obtain employment, continue their college education, and find retailers and services who would accept Japanese American customers.

At the end of the war, Earl and Ruth decided to stay in Minnesota. In 1953, Ruth received her master’s degree in home economics from the University of Minnesota.

She worked from 1942 to 1972 as adult education director and international YWCA program director for the St. Paul YWCA. The Japanese Garden at the YWCA on Kellogg Blvd. is named in her honor.

Ruth directed the participation of Japanese Americans in the first Festival of Nations in 1947, working with many volunteers. She was a charter member in 1972 when Japan America Society was formed and served on its board of directors. She was one of the founding members of the St. Paul-Nagasaki Sister City Committee, which began in 1955, and served as president of the board 1966-1972.Ruth was a longtime member of Unity Unitarian Church in St. Paul, where she arranged flowers for Sunday morning services for more than 35 years. Her other pastimes included travel, teaching flower arrangement and gourmet cooking, and various arts and crafts. Ruth Tanbara passed away Jan. 4, 2008, at age 100.

Ethel Yaeko Umeda, 1916 – 1998

Ethel Umeda, was born in Isleton, California in 1916 to Mr. and Mrs. Kumahichi Imagawa. She had 4 siblings, Richard, Sharkey, Dora, and David. She died on her 82nd birthday January 10, 1998.

Ethel graduated from State College, Sacramento, CA and attended the Hazemore Design and Dressmaking School, San Francisco, CA.

Ethel was married to Harry Umeda in Virginia City, Nevada, on July 26, 1941. They had 1 son. It was her pride and joy to see him graduate from St. Olaf College and the University of Minnesota.

She was interned at Tule Lake Camp with her family in August 1941. Later she was granted permission to join her husband at MIS School in Savage, MN. She stayed with a family in Edina, MN while her husband was overseas.

One of her favorite hobbies was trout fishing. Her favorite locations were in Northern and Southern Minnesota as well as Wisconsin.

In the late 90’s, Ethel was a co-founder of the “Two Table Bridge Club” lasting until 2006. In addition, she was an active member of the Minnesota Nikkei Project.

She spent many hours at her church where her husband was an Elder. She lectured periodically on the Bible and was a member of the Prayer Corner.

George Mitsuyoshi Yamane, 1924 – 1999

George Mitsuyoshi Yamane was born in Honolulu and came to the mainland in the 1940s for college. He received his bachelor’s degree from Haverford College in Pennsylvania and his dentistry degree from the University of Minnesota in 1950. He received his doctorate in experimental pathology in the early 1960’s.

During the next 20 years, he taught at the University and then the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey.

George Yamane was married to Alice M. Nieto in 1951. They had 3 children; Wende M. O’Brien, Linda K. Merrell, and David K. Yamane.

When he retired from teaching in 1997, the ion donated many, many hours to the International Special Olympics, Minnihon Japanese Cultural Center, JACL, Japan American Society, Japanese American Veterans of Minnesota, Lenox Senior Center, Como Park Japanese Garden, Normandale Japanese Garden, St. Paul/Nagasaki Sister City Committee.As a minister, Frank served the Buddhist Churches of America as a lay speaker. He conducted services, was a Sunday school teacher, carpenter, youth advisor, coach of girl’s basketball teams, Boy Scout master, and many positions as officer of church organizations.