Keiro mourns the passing of its co-founder Frank Omatsu at the age of 95 on Dec. 9.
Omatsu was the last living member of Keiro’s eight original founders.
Omatsu was born on March 31, 1924 in Los Angeles. During World War II, he and his family were relocated to the Jerome camp Arkansas. He served in the Military Intellegence Service in the Philippines and Japan. After the war, he returned to Los Angeles, where he began his long successful career with Sumitomo Bank.
In 1961, Omatsu, along with George Aratani, Edwin Hiroto, Kiyo Maruyama, James Mitsumori, Gongoro Nakamura, Joseph Shinoda, and Fred Wada, founded Keiro with the focus on serving the aging Japanese American and Japanese community.
The inspiration to serve Keiro came from his father, an Issei who became ill when there were no culturally sensitive services available.
In 2004, Omatsu said, “The previous generations supported us, and now it’s our turn to support the Isseis and other Nikkei seniors. We were brought up with the belief that we should give back to the community.”
“Frank and the other founders were true innovative visionaries and leaders of our community,” said Gene S. Kanamori, president and CEO of Keiro. “I am honored that I had the opportunity to get to know Frank over the last few years. All of us at Keiro appreciate his leadership and will miss him dearly.”
Omatsu did not shy away from controversy. When Keiro decided to sell its four facilities — nursing homes in Lincoln Heights and Gardena, and an intermediate care facility and retirement home, both in Boyle Heights — to Pacifica, a for-profit company, he spoke out in support of the “Save Keiro” campaign.
At a 2015 meeting of the Ad Hoc Committee to Save Keiro, Omatsu voiced his disagreement with Keiro’s decision. “I didn’t okay it,” he said, recalling his mother’s hope of what Keiro would represent: a place where Japanese seniors “don’t feel like they are being thrown away” (suterareta kimochi ga nai).
In an opinion piece published in The Rafu in 2016, Takeshi Matsumoto and Keiko Ikeda of Koreisha Senior Care & Advocacy stated, “The only surviving member of the original seven founders of Keiro, Mr. Frank Omatsu, has been very vocal about his opposition to the sale.
“Recently, Mr. Omatsu’s contributions to the Japanese American community, particularly his foresight in starting and developing the facilities to care for the Japanese American elderly, were presented to the U.S. Congress by Congresswoman Judy Chu (D-Pasadena) and approved for preservation in the Congressional Record. Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-Gardena) also took an active role in acknowledging Mr. Omatsu’s profound contributions to our society.”
That same year, Omatsu received a Certificate of Recognition from Assemblymember David Hadley (R-Torrance).