While vacationing in Hawaii last week, I got a text message from a relative informing me that Huell Howser had passed away. I was shocked and saddened to hear this news because Huell was such a favored icon of the community and I was fortunate to have had an acquaintance with him.

I got to know Huell when he featured an hour-long episode on one of the early Tofu Festivals put on by the Little Tokyo Service Center (LTSC) while I was the executive director there. I was his host as we toured the festival for a whole day and got to watch him work, and also see the reaction of people who recognized him.

Huell came back to visit the Tofu Festival a few years later just to enjoy the event without a camera or microphone and to chat with fans. I also hosted Huell when he did a program about LTSC’s reopening of the Far East Café and he featured the many fond memories people had of this famous eatery.

With his passing and the fact that there would be no more Huell Howser stories to be told, I thought about the things he taught me through our past encounters.

Huell was very spontaneous and he tried always to be “in the moment” while he was on camera. Nothing was scripted or rehearsed, so he was always real in his reaction, which was very often surprise or excitement that might cause him to say “Oh my gosh!” or “That is amazing!”  This is also why people were usually very open and warm towards him and his interviewing because he was being natural and they could respond in kind. His folksy twang just made him seem friendly and down to earth and literally made people smile.

Huell delighted in the big things (like Yosemite and Death Valley) and he loved learning about the little things (like making mochi or eating tofu) — he had an appreciation for the value and beauty that existed in all the corners of our community and our state.

Huell made us aware of the distinctiveness of our ethnically diverse communities as he explored various cultural festivals, traditions, stores, foods, music and art. He showed fascination and appreciation for so many different community beliefs and traits.

But Huell was also very professional, and knew how to craft an entertaining and quality product for the media. I watched him directing the cameraman for shots and looking for interesting angles as we shot footage of the Tofu Festival — and the beautiful final product was a testament to his professional skill and knowledge.

I did not know Huell was ill until after he died. If I had known, I would have liked to have been able to convey my thanks to him for all that he showed me and taught me about appreciating the diverse world around me, and living in the moment, and believing that every person, place, and community is interesting and worth knowing.

Like the hundreds who went to Griffith Park last week to honor his memory, I would just add: “Thanks, Huell, for being a part of California’s Gold.”

The opinions expressed in Vox Populi are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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