December 10, 2010

Helen (Tsuyuko) Yamamoto

Helen (Tsuyuko) Yamamoto passed away peacefully on December 4, 2010 in Santa Paula, California. Helen had suffered a stroke shortly before Thanksgiving and had spent the intervening time in recovery at the local convalescent hospital.

Helen was preceded in death by her husband Michiaki (Mich) Yamamoto, sisters, Lillie Nakagawa and Lucy Kimura, as well as parents Sakuji and Tama Kimura. She is survived by sister Alice Morooka (daughters Margie and Ruthie), sister Irene Yoshiyama (husband Ets and daughter Lorie), brother Albert Kimura as well as son Paul Yamamoto (wife Claudia and son Matt), son Dick Yamamoto (wife Sue, son Seth and daughter Kimi), and son Dean Yamamoto.

Helen was born in Alviso, California, near Palo Alto, in 1916.The Kimura family, in those days, migrated to different locations in the Northern California area to work in the fields since they could not own property. Since there were no hospitals available when her mother Tama went into labor, Helenís birth was not registered for two years.

In 1924 a family member told Sakuji, Helenís father, of a place in Southern California where his family could relocate and there was land available for farming; this place turned out to be Santa Paula. The Kimura family labored to make the riverbed property productive. Based on Sakujiís familiarity with crops in Northern California, strawberries were the crop of choice, thus the Kimura berry farm was born. To supplement their meager income her mom, Tama, opened a roadside grocery store, a precursor to the stands of present day Highway 126.

Due to circumstances at the time, it was necessary to put the property in Helenís name because her father Sakuji was unable to own property. Helen attended the local schools, including Isbell School in 1928, the year of the St. Francis dam collapse, as well as graduated from Santa Paula High School in 1933.† Helen relished her time in school, learning the fundamentals of home economics and other classes that served her throughout her life, including catering for many prominent families in Santa Paula.

After graduation Helen was able to attend Reisenís Finishing School in Japan, where she learned several formal rituals befitting an eligible young Japanese woman of her age, including floral arranging painting and the tea ceremony. Shortly thereafter, hostilities erupted which led to the United States entering World War II.

As a result of Executive Order 9066, the Kimura family, along with another 100,000 persons of Japanese descent, was required to relocate to sites east of the 99 Highway or into relocation centers away from the West Coast. Along with several other families from the Ventura County area, the Kimuras gathered what they could carry on their backs and were transported, first, to a temporary assembly center at the Tulare Relocation Center and on to their eventual destination, the Gila (Arizona) Relocation Center, where Helen served as a social worker and medical aide.

In spite of this trying period in her life, fate fortunately intervened and Helen met Mich Yamamoto and their life together began in the sweltering heat and bitter cold of the Arizona Desert. Mich and Helen were married in camp and were eventually able to leave as the war came to an end.

They could not return to the west coast yet, so temporarily moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where family friends had space for them to stay. While in Milwaukee, in the cold winter of 1946, first son Paul was born. The family decided Wisconsin was too cold for two native Californians. Leaving the cold, they headed for Michís boyhood home Berkeley, California with a ďtemporaryĒ stopover in Santa Paula to visit Helenís family farm, which had been cared for by family friends. Fate along with the small town charm of Santa Paula intervened. The temporary stopover became an enduring relationship between Mich, Helen and Santa Paula. Mich took over Tamaís roadside stand and Garden Market was born. Their sons Dick and Dean were also born.

Eventually a grocery store in town became available, and after much soul searching Garden Market was moved to its present location. Through tough times and finger crossing, the market became much more then a grocery store. It was a place to see friends and renew acquaintances. With help of sister Lillie, long time associate, Jesse Lopez, innumerable box boys and other memorable individuals, Garden Market provided a niche of comfort and convenience to the people of Santa Paula. Countless children who passed the store on the way to and from school remember their kindness helpfulness and concern.

Mich and Helen retired in 1988. During the following years Helen and Lillie provided care for grandma Tama, who lived to be over a 100. After Tamaís passing, Mich and Helen enjoyed an overdue trip to Japan. Then in 2002, Helen was deeply honored to be recognized by the Santa Paula Alumni Association as Alumni of the Year. She and Mich were also honored in 1985 as Business of the Year by the Chamber of Commerce, and by the Boys and Girls Club in 2003 with the Toast of the Town.

Throughout her years Helen enjoyed time in her garden, and many an occasion was enhanced by her floral arrangements. Other special times were spent with friends tending the Rose Garden of the Santa Paula Hospital.

Helen loved life and loved people. Helen was a remarkably resourceful homemaker, working more than a full time job and successfully meeting the needs of her husband and three sons. She lived a great life, leaving her family and friends many wonderful memories.

She will be laid to rest in a private family graveside service. A memorial service will be held on Saturday December 18th at the First United Methodist Church (133 N. Mill St., Santa Paula) at 2 p.m. Any donations may be made to the Santa Paula Education Fund, Mich and Helen Yamamoto Scholarship, care of Chris Wilson, 999 Cliff Drive, Santa Paula, CA 93060.

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