The seven Pioneer Spirit Award recipients make up some of the most active and dedicated leaders of the greater Los Angeles Japanese American community. They will be honored at the Pioneers Luncheon to be held at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel, 120 S. Los Angeles St., at 12 noon on Wednesday, Aug. 23. Tickets are $65 per person or $650 per table of 10 and can be obtained by calling the Nisei Week Foundation office at (213) 687-7193 or by emailing email@example.com.
• Jeff Folick moved from New York City to Los Angeles in 1951 with his parents Henry and Evelyn Folick when he was four years old. His grandparents on his father’s side had emigrated to the U.S. at the end of the 18th century from a small village called a shtetel near Kiev, in the Ukraine, because Jewish people were not allowed to live in the city. His maternal grandmother was also from the Ukraine but his grandfather on his mother’s side was believed to be of Italian ancestry. Folick’s parents, although Jewish by heritage, were not religious and he was raised without religious teaching.
He began his career at Blue Cross of California in the mid-1970s and worked for nearly 40 years in the health insurance and managed care industry. His career culminated in positions as president and chief operating officer of PacifiCare Health Systems, executive vice president of Health Net, and CEO and chairman of Bravo Health. He retired from full-time employment in 2010, but remains involved in his industry as a senior advisor to SCAN Health Plan and a board member of Bright Health and Health Sun.
He married Namy Iijima in 1978 and they raised three children, Andrew, Emily and Miya, and a daughter from a prior marriage, Corinna. Namy’s father, Kanjitsu Iijima, was a Buddhist minister and was Folick’s first exposure to Buddhism. He was attracted to its philosophy and way of life and became involved in the Japanese American community through joining Orange County Buddhist Church (OCBC) in 1991, when his family moved from the San Fernando Valley to the Tustin area.
His children all played on SEYO basketball teams and he helped coach his son Andrew’s team. He and Namy were advisors for Young Buddhist Association. He has been on the board of OCBC since the late 1990s and served as president in 2008 and 2009. Folick helped create and chaired OCBC’s endowment fund and has chaired its golf tournament since its inception. He was the first chairman of OCBCs 50th anniversary development committee, which helped raise funds for a new social hall and to expand and remodel the temple building. Folick also served as president of OCBC’s Adult Buddhist Association and is an ardent supporter of its Buddhist Education Center.
Folick has served on the board of Buddhist Churches of America Endowment Foundation for more than 15 years and is currently vice chair. After his daughter Emily served as Nisei Week queen in 2012, he has been involved with the Nisei Week Foundation.
He also joined the board of Keiro Services in 2011 and the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center (JACCC) in 2012. He chaired the CEO search committee for JACCC and its strategic planning committee. He thoroughly enjoys his volunteer work within the Japanese American community because of the quality of the people involved, and the work they have accomplished. He is inspired by their dedication not only for the betterment of the JA community but for all people.
He and Namy live in the City of Orange and live a busy life spending time with their four children and four grandchildren, traveling with friends, and contributing to their church and community.
• Ed Kamiyama was born in Los Angeles to Keiji and Masako Kamiyama and graduated from 92nd Street Elementary, Gage Middle School, Huntington Park High School, and finally CSU Long Beach with a major in physical education. He was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1967 and served in Vietnam with distinction, earning a Purple Heart, Silver Star and a Bronze Star before being medically discharged.
He earned a teaching credential in physical education and worked for the Los Angeles Unified School District, first as a playground director at 186th Elementary School from 1969-1979. He then worked at Henry Clay Middle School for six years, Curtiss Middle School for one year, and finally settled down at Bell High School. During his 12 years at Bell, he held many coaching positions: junior varsity and varsity softball, and freshman/sophomore, JV, and varsity boys basketball.
In 1992, Kamiyama moved to Jordan High School in Los Angeles, where he was the athletic director, boys’ varsity basketball coach, varsity softball coach, and girls’ varsity volleyball coach for four years. In fall 1996, he went to Gardena High School, where he was athletic director for 16 years, girls’ varsity basketball coach for one year, and boys’ and girls’ tennis coach for 21 years. He retired from GHS in spring 2015, but still coaches the boys’ and girls’ tennis teams.
He received the PTA Service Award at 186th Street Elementary School for outstanding service to the children of the community. In 2005, he received the Distinguished Service Award from the California Interscholastic Federation, and in 2006, the LAUSD Athletic Director of the Year Award.
For the past 40 years, he coached numerous teams in the Nikkei basketball leagues, including Paceretts (JAO, WAU), Pacers (GEO, NAU), and OCO Gametime and Primetime (SEYO, OCSA). He coached eight NAU teams and won two state championships with the Cavaliers and Pacers.
In the summer of 1974 he and Ed Takahashi formed the Kamiyama/Takahashi Referee service organization, servicing most of the Nikkei basketball leagues, tournaments and championship games, as well as on the campuses of UCLA, UC Irvine, CSULB, and CSU Fullerton. He has been the chief assigner for the KT officials association for 40 years, and for the Southeast Basketball Officials Unit for four years, assigning for Los Angeles Unified School District.
Kamiyama married Susan Wada on Aug. 21, 1977, and raised three children, Darin, Stephen (Lori), and Lauren. They also have a grandson, Aiden. In raising their children, they were involved in forming the Yonsei Basketball Organization, and Kamiyama coached five of the teams that traveled to Japan.
In October 2004, Kamiyama lost his wife to cancer. She spent 31 years at Bell High School as a PE teacher, leadership sponsor, cheerleader sponsor, girls’ basketball coach, and volleyball coach. She was selected Athletic Director of the Year by LAUSD and the state. She won the National Athletic Director of the Year for the West Coast award in 2005. In 2007, the Bell High School gymnasium was named the Sue Kamiyama Sport Complex in her memory.
Probably the two greatest honors Kamiyama believes he has received and will always cherish are the Aki Komai Award and the Nikkei Community Award, which he and his wife received for outstanding contributions to the Japanese American community. To this day, the entire Kamiyama family is active in community athletic programs.
• Carol Kawanami was born in San Jose. After the start of World War II, at the age of four, she and her family relocated to Denver. After the war, she returned to California, earned her associate of arts degree at UC Berkeley, and continued at the UC San Francisco Medical Center to earn her bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Kawanami became a registered nurse and began her professional career in public health and school nursing.
She married Sam Hideo Kawanami, MD, and the couple moved to Villa Park. She became active in civic affairs while lobbying the City of Villa Park to install sidewalks on local streets so that children could walk to school safely. She was then appointed to the Planning Commission. After serving on the Vila Park City Council for many years, Kawanami was elected as mayor, becoming the first female Japanese American mayor of a mainland city.
As a founding member of the Southeast Los Angeles North Orange County (SELANOCO) chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League, Kawanami was instrumental in helping to successfully persuade Rep. Bill Dannemeyer to support the redress bill. In addition to her contributions to the community, she has served as national president of the American Lung Association, president of the Bowers Museum Foundation, president of the Consolidated Transportation Service Agency (CTSA), and president of the Medical, Dental Legal Ladies Society (MEDELLAS), and participated in other organizations such as the Villa Park Women’s League and the Orange County Medical Association Auxiliary.
Kawanami received many awards, including Central Orange County Panhellenic Athena Award, JACL Recognition Award, and American Lung Association of California Pottenger Award. One of her proudest accomplishments was helping to preserve Santiago Oaks Regional Park in Orange.
She has devoted herself to countless civic efforts and holds family most dear to her heart. Her family includes three grandsons, Ryan, Cole and Sean; son Mark and daughter-in-law Ginger; and daughter Karen.
• Kitty Sankey, a Sansei, was born in Tokyo to George and Anita Sankey. Shortly after their return to the United States, her father returned to active service with the U.S. Army. She graduated from Kubasaki High School, a U.S. Department of Defense dependents school in Okinawa. She received her bachelor’s degree from UCLA and her teaching credential from CSU Long Beach. Her brothers, Dr. Mikio Sankey (Dr. Kathy Sankey) and EdWing Sankey, reside in Southern California.
Sankey served in different capacities with Los Angeles Unified School District: teacher at five schools, mentor teacher, district advisor with the Student-Student-Student Integration Program, and master training teacher for Pacific Oaks College, CSU Northridge, and UCLA. She was a co-founder of the nonprofit Zero to Five Foundation (later absorbed by LAUSD), which provided training for parents of infants and toddlers.
As vice president of the Japanese Women’s Society of Southern California, she served as chair of both the scholarship/awards committee and the annual Kei-Ai (Keiro) Nursing Home visitation committee, has been mistress of ceremonies for Shinnenkai and anniversary celebration lunches, and worked on the annual Nisei Week Bazaar.
An advisor for the Japanese Chamber of Commerce of Southern California, Sankey was its first female president (2016) and has served as senior vice president, vice president, and secretary. Sankey, who is the current president of JCCSC’s JA Treaty Centennial Scholarship Fund, was a past secretary and vice president. She was the 2016 president of the JCC Foundation and past secretary.
Sankey is the vice president and past president and secretary of the Downtown Los Angeles JACL and the Japanese American Optimist Club. She a board member of the Little Tokyo Business Association, an advisor for Beikoku Shodo Kenkyukai, a long-time member of the Okinawa Association of America’s Scholarship Committee, and a volunteer for Love to Nippon. Additionally, she is on the Board of Deacons at Westwood Presbyterian Church and has been a member of its mission and outreach committees.
She has also served in different capacities in many other organizations, including: secretary and board member, Little Tokyo Towers; secretary and board member, East West Players; vice president, Pacific American Ballet Theater; board member, Japanese American Historical Society of Southern California; and poster/essay contest co-chair, Asian Pacific Heritage Month. She was on the 2016 Board of Governors for the Japan America Society and assisted with its Hitachi Japanese Kite Workshop for over a decade.
She chaired the Shogun Santa Parade in Little Tokyo for five years in the 1980s, and a segment of the parade was shown as a holiday special on CBS-TV. She is the liaison to Los Angeles Elementary School, which has participated in the Nebuta portion of the Nisei Week Parade.
Sankey has been instrumental in including the members of the greater Los Angeles community in her endeavors with the Japanese American community, inspiring others to build understanding and a larger sense of community. Her recognitions include: Japanese American Historical Society Southern California Service Award; William Boyd Black Award, Fifth Annual Title I Conference, from LAUSD; Okinawa Association of America Woman of the Year; JAO Teacher of the Year; JAO Optimist of the Year; President’s Citation for Outstanding Optimist of the Year; Downtown Los Angeles JACL/JWSSC Woman of the Year; and JACL chapter honoree.
• Noriko Shibata (nee Kudo) was born on May 8, 1942 in Kita Akita City, Akita Prefecture. The 10th of 12 children of Kiyonori and Itsu Kudo, she graduated from Yonaizawa High School in Akita, and worked at Nihon Shintaku Bank (presently Mitsubishi Tokyo Bank) before marrying Renzo Shibata in 1967. Her husband was an 8th degree black belt judoka and won the All American National Judo Championship in 1964.
The couple emigrated to the U.S. to further advance Renzo’s judo career, which flourished in Los Angeles. Mrs. Shibata supported his judo instruction at the Orange Judo Dojo, Norwalk Dojo, Marine Corps Judo Dojo in Oceanside, and internationally in Peru from 1990 to 1992. He was able to continue his judo career because of his wife’s support for many years. Two of his judo students represented the U.S. and participated in the 1972 Munich Olympics in Germany and in the 1976 Montreal Olympics in Canada.
In 1973, with Shibata and her older sister Kumiko’s knowledge of Akita/Japanese cuisine, they bought Towada Restaurant in Little Tokyo. Also, her knitting/crocheting talents led her to employment at Jessica Knits in Hollywood, where she crocheted dresses for celebrities, including Carol Burnett. For a short period of time, she opened her own yarn/crocheting store on First Street in Little Tokyo.
The Shibatas raised three children and ran the restaurant while supporting Renzo’s judo career. They decided to enroll their children in the Maryknoll School in Little Tokyo and also in the Kyodo System Japanese Language Schools on Saturdays to further their children’s Japanese education. When her older sister became ill, Shibata took care of her for more than 10 years until her death in 2016.
Shibata organized the Akita Kenjinkai in 1982 and has served as president since 2010. Her leadership role has paved the way for the organization in supporting the annual Tanabata Festival at the Nisei Week Japanese Festival while also becoming involved in raising awareness and fundraising for Tohoku’s earthquake/tsunami and Kumamoto’s earthquake relief programs.
Shibata has been a board member of Nanka Kenjinkai Kyogikai since 2010 and supports many events, including the Annual Charity Golf Tournament. In addition, since 2015 she has served as chairperson of the Shinboku Engeikai Charity Show, which funds scholarships for young students who are studying Japanese culture.
Since her husband’s sudden death in 2015, Shibata continues to be active in the Japanese American community in Los Angeles. She currently lives with her three children in Lake View Terrace.
Edward Katsuaki Takahashi, FAIA, FACIA, has been officiating basketball for 50 years. He assigned officials for Japanese American Optimist girls’ basketball in 1969, after changing to 5-on-5 boys’ rules, with a 30-second clock. When Ed Kamiyama’s officials began receiving conflicting assignments, they formed Kamiyama/Takahashi Basketball Assignment Services in 1974.
In 1984, California Basketball Officials Association/Southeastern Unit (CBOA), an officiating instructional group, was formed with John Amis, Richard Banton, Charles Hill, Kamiyama and Takahashi, with instructional chairs Booker Turner and Lorinzer Clark. In 1989, Takahashi served as president of the CBOA Executive Council. Previously, he was lead fees negotiator, and in 1987 he led the basketball officials’ strike against CIF Southern Section and CIF Los Angeles City for fee increases.
He received the Aki Komai Award in 2003 for contributions to Japanese American sports for more than 30 years. Takahashi also served as commissioner for Southern California Women’s Athletic Union for 24 years, and for Japanese American Optimists (JAO) for 10 years.
At O’Leary Terasawa & Takahashi Architects, he conceptualized the Los Angeles Flower Market; was design/construction architect for Toyota Motors’ regional offices and auto processing centers; Toyota Motor Ltd.’s Technical Center and Calty Design Studio; and projects for Northrop Corp. and Hughes Helicopters. In 1983, Takahashi headed the firm’s forensic section.
He is former Ethics Committee co-chair for American Institute of Architects\LA, was a neutral for the American Arbitration Association Large Complex Case Panel. Takahashi discussed ethics and arbitrations procedures with Japanese architects and educators in preparation of their “Construction Dispute Handbook” during their 1994 U.S. research tour. After the 1995 Kobe earthquake, he presented his construction defect summaries to the Japan Diet’s construction attorneys, for updating Japan’s residential building code, which was adopted in 2001.
Takahashi was elevated to fellow of AIA in 2001 for his critical 1992 article “What My Mother Didn’t Tell Me … About Nails.” It dramatically revised wood frame shear wall nailing in Los Angeles; developed a nail gauge after investigating the 1994 Northridge earthquake collapse of Northridge Meadows Apartments, where 16 lives were lost; fire-tested underlayment for tile roofs; and had structural strengths of plywood versus oriented strand board determined, after exposure to water intrusions.
He was appointed to Advisory Board of Consortium of Universities for Research in Earthquake Engineering, funded by FEMA and administered by Cal Tech. His recommendations for separate testing of common and box nails highlighted 20 percent more damage in buildings with smaller-diameter box nails during earthquakes.
In 2015, he was selected to the first group of 20 fellows of the 60-year-old American Construction Inspectors Association for his body of forensic work. He is member of the Registered Construction Inspector Board.
The eldest son of Abbot Seytsu and Suzue Takahashi of Koyasan Buddhist Temple, he received his bachelor’s degree in architecture from USC in 1960. He served in the U.S. Air Force Reserve’s Air Police Squadron at March AFB.
He earned his Eagle rank with Koyasan Troop 379 and received the Silver Beaver Award from the Boy Scouts of America in 1989.
He and his wife of 56 years, Minnie Miyatake, reside in Monterey Park. They have three children, Scott, Katherine and Mark.
• Haruo “Haru” Takehana was born in Ueda-shi, Nagano Prefecture. He graduated from Waseda University in Tokyo, and majored in Japanese law. After coming to America, he also studied international business at a Los Angeles university.
He worked at an American shipping company, Seatrain-OOCL, as a general sales manager, covering the sales department for the United States region. He was then recruited by a Japanese logistics company, Suzuyo, as a top executive, overseeing all U.S. operations. After he retired, he opened his own company specializing in commercial-industrial real estate, assisting mainly Japanese clients.
For the 2017 Pioneer Spirit Award, he was recommended by two major Nikkei nonprofit organizations, the Japanese Community Pioneer Center, which provides social and welfare services to senior people, and the Japanese Chamber of Commerce of Southern California, which promotes business and culture in the Japanese community.
Takehana joined the JCCSC in 2004 and the Japanese Community Pioneer Center in 2002, and has devoted his time in various positions in both organizations as a volunteer. He is a past president and current advisor of the JCCSC and current president of the Pioneer Center. Both offices are situated in the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center.
He also volunteers for many other organizations, including: riji-cho or executive director of Beikoku Shodo Kenkyu-kai; president of Nagano Kenjin-kai; president of the Japanese American Hotel and Apartment Association; vice president of the Little Tokyo Business Association; vice chairman of the Japanese American Treaty Centennial Scholarship Fund, aka Japanese American Scholarship Fund; director of Kenjin Kyogi-kai; trustee of the Rotary Club of Little Tokyo; director of Taisho Club; and former director of the San Diego Japanese Business Association.
He is also president of the Los Angeles Mokkei Study Club, president of Ikkikai Study Club, and member of the Los Angeles Tomon-kai, Urasenke Konnichi-kai and Showa-kai.
At Beikoku Shodo Kenkyukai or Japanese Calligraphy Institute of America, he is a Degree 5, as well as a kaiyu. For the last four years, he has received five Nyusen or selected awards, one Shusaku or excellent award, one Ginsho or silver award, two Kinsho or gold awards, and three Tokusen or special awards. He has participated in numerous calligraphy exhibits and demonstrations in Southern California throughout the years.
Takehana is also a member of the Nature Conservancy of Palos Verdes Peninsula and has volunteered his time preserving the natural environment. He is very active and plays golf, although not as much as he used to play. For the last 16 years, Takehana has been swimming at the YMCA once a week while walking a half-hour every morning.
He and his wife, Yuriko, currently live in Rancho Palos Verdes. His wife is a good tennis player and cooks excellent Japanese dishes. They have three children, Kenneth, Lisa and Lena, who have all graduated from USC and Asahi Gakuen Koto-bu (high school level).
For more information on the festival, visit www.niseiweek.org.