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JACL Mourns Passing of Health Plan Founder John Yasumoto

The Japanese American Citizens League on Wednesday issued the following remembrance of John Teruo Yasumoto, 88, who passed away peacefully in San Francisco on Jan. 13:

John Yasumoto

“John Yasumoto’s leadership in the JACL extends back over 60 years. In 1958, John was the membership vice president for the San Francisco chapter. As he struggled to recruit new members, he recalled that the most commonly asked question was ‘What does JACL do for me?’ One day when visiting a friend in the hospital, he could see many others suffering and in that moment, he recognized the importance of health care coverage and how difficult it could be to buy for Japanese Americans.

“In 1960, as the San Francisco chapter president, he tried to start a health insurance program as a JACL member benefit but failed. In 1964, as district governor for the Northern California-Western Nevada-Pacific District Council, he successfully proposed a health insurance program.

“On March 10, 1965 the JACL Blue Shield Health Plan was founded with the help of the late Mas Satow, then national director of the JACL. Satow predicted, ‘Johnny, this program probably will not last more than three years.’ Against the odds, the plan flourished with members in several states, from over 74 chapters in eight district councils and eventually provided this important benefit to over 7,000 members and their families.

“Through the years, John continued to develop the plan into a trust, with staff, legal counsel and a board of directors from three district councils.

“John’s commitment to the JACL extended beyond the plan when he served as chairman of the 1980 National Convention, notable for the last-minute change in venue from San Francisco, due to a citywide strike by hotel workers, to a hotel near the San Francisco airport. Except for the change in location, the convention went off without a hitch, largely thanks to John’s leadership.

“Eventually, the plan had to organize separately from JACL, but John and the board continued to be elected by the participating chapters and required JACL membership to be covered by the plan. John also felt strongly that the trust never stop supporting the good work of the JACL and that support continues to this day.

“With the passage of the Affordable Care Act, the separate subscriber group that was maintained by Blue Shield for the JACL could not continue. As a tribute to the loyalty of the covered members, almost 100 percent of them agreed to become covered by individual plans offered by the trust. Because of the change in the law, a premium stabilization fund, carefully built up over 45 years to help minimize insurance premium fluctuations, was refunded to the trust.

“To maximize the good that could come from these funds, the trust created a 501(c)3 nonprofit called the JA Community Foundation which in turn makes grants to support the JA community, focusing on the more senior members who were the heart of the previous plan.

“Today, the trust and foundation continue to provide benefits and support the JA community, ever mindful of the vision and legacy of John Yasumoto.”

Born in Del Rey on May 13, 1929, Yasumoto earned a B.S. in engineering from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in 1952. He worked as a civilian engineer for the U.S. Navy for 34 years.

He was an active member of the Buddhist Church of San Francisco, serving as board president and other positions on the district and national levels of Buddhist Churches of America.

After serving the JACL on the chapter, district and national levels, chairing the JACL Health Benefits Trust for 44 years, and remaining on the board for seven years, Yasumoto retired in 2016.

An avid fan of the Warriors, Giants and 49ers, he loved playing sports as a youth and young adult. He also enjoyed traveling throughout the world, but his favorite place to visit was Hawaii.

“John lived life to the fullest and never took it for granted,” his family said. “We miss him, but his compassion, humility, sense of humor, and appreciation for life will enrich us forever.”

He is survived by his wife of 53 years, Chibi; son Jason; daughter Liane; brother Harry (Virginia); several nieces and nephews; and many other relatives.

A memorial service will be held on Saturday, March 10, at 2 p.m. at Halsted N. Gray-Carew & English Inc., 1123 Sutter St. in San Francisco.

In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to Buddhist Church of San Francisco, 1881 Pine St., San Francisco, CA 94109, or JACL, 1765 Sutter St., San Francisco, CA 94115.

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