Community love in bloom for Helen and Mich Yamamoto at Toast

April 08, 2003
Santa Paula News
By Peggy Kelly Santa Paula TimesThere was no doubt by the end of the evening that Helen and Mich Yamamoto are among the most beloved Santa Paulan couples when they were “Toasted” to benefit the Boys & Girls Club of Santa Paula with a tribute that ranged from the emotional to the entertaining.“Welcome to our Garden of Eden,” said B&GCSP Board Chairman Gary Nasalroad, referring to the flower decorated room courtesy of Otto & Sons Nursery. “This is the largest crowd ever for our toast. . .”The Yamamotos were also in full-flower with the Community Center packed with their family and friends, the latter many also former customers of the Garden Market, owned for 40 years by the Yamamotos with Helen’s sister Lilli Nakagawa.Master of Ceremonies Rob Sawyer noted that even with the nation at war, the “best in the human heart prevails. . .about 60 years ago when we were at war,” Japanese Americans were sent to relocation camps, including one in Arizona where Helen and Mich met.“When someone mentions Mich and Helen I think of everything from Sugar Daddies to wax lips,” just some of the goodies carried in the Garden Market, noted Sawyer who became a customer as a boy.Mayor John Procter and Councilwoman Mary Ann Krause presented the Yamamotos with proclamations from Senator Barbara Boxer, Supervisor Kathy Long and the Ventura County Board of Supervisors, Gov. Gray Davis and the City of Santa Paula, among others.“I’ve been blessed to know the Yamamotos my entire life and their exemplary qualities are the best the human spirit has to offer,” said Procter. “They are unfaltering ambassadors of goodwill and made us all members of their family.” “We’ve been friends forever, shared raising our families, shared sports, gardening, love of Santa Paula, they’re like family to us and we treasure them,” said Cathy and Carl Barringer.“There was a real bond, our sons all played sports for Santa Paula High School,” noted Carl.The Yamamoto sons, Paul, Dick and Dean, not only delivered the groceries but “put the food in the refrigerator and freezer and even fixed a flat tire for me,” said Cathy. “Helen was a mother confessor. . .she cared for everyone and you’d always see Mich holding the hands of the little ones,” as they crossed the street after visiting the market.Justice Ed Beach said Helen, grew up in Santa Paula, and Mich, originally of Berkeley, were married in January 1945. Due to their efforts on behalf of the community they have been honored as Citizens of the Year, Helen was the SPHS Alumnus of the Year, both are active in the Santa Paula and Ventura County historical societies. “Mich was such a help to the Rotary Club that although not a member he was honored as a Paul Harris Fellow.” Garden Market was a “community touchstone where families grew up before our very eyes. . .it was a place of so much love.”Cynthia Dunbar said that the couple’s “love, caring, dedication and commitment is an example to all of us, family, friends and community. . .if the world looked dark, at the Garden Market you’d find joy in the heart and everyone always knew it was a safe haven.”Helen, “whether great or sad times, had a way of lifting peoples’ spirits,” with her calm presence, kind words and gifts of flowers. Dunbar presented the Yamamotos with roses “for always being there. . .”
Peggy Kelly said that when she first moved to Santa Paula “all I heard from people was ‘Have you met Helen and Mich?’” so ingrained the couple was in the community.Helen’s family was able to regain their property after World War II, the result of the love and respect for the family.The words most often used to describe the couple are “gentle, sweet caring people,” who have so benefited the community.When it came to the numerous proclamations honoring the Yamamotos, “You’d better examine the one from Gov. Davis. . .it has a check request in it,” cautioned Kelly.“I want to talk to Mom and Dad from the heart,” said Paul Yamamoto.Paul said their parents lived in Minnesota just long enough for one blizzard and returned to Santa Paula where Paul Leavens Sr. - who Paul is named after - ensured the return of Helen’s family property.The business then was on Highway 126 where produce and flowers could be bought on the honor system: “The money was put in a box and the box was never checked. . .”His parents “dreamed of opening a grocery store” both Helen and Mich, “the most avid Dodger fan in the world,” stressed education driven by wanting us to have an opportunity,” for better lives.But it was the example set at home that shaped the boys’ lives: “One day Garden Market got a huge case of abalone. . .I asked Dad and he said it was for one customer who wanted one can. The customer was always right was the credo of Garden Market.”A crate of oranges was also supplied for the SPHS football team, and once the coach walked out, saying to Mich “You give them the pep talk!”The Yamamotos were wonderful parents, expected much from and for their sons. “You caused us to dedicate our lives to attributes and things you taught us to do. . .it was our honor to be your sons.”Dick Yamamoto spoke on behalf of his parents: “They feel they haven’t done anything extraordinary. . .they raised their boys and ran their store even when life seemed a daunting uncertainty. Our lives intertwined,” with many people whom “all played a crucial role in who we are, our extended family the wonderful community of Santa Paula.”

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