SAN JOSE — Kenneth Iwagaki of Monte Sereno, one of the founding members of the Japanese American Museum of San Jose, passed away on July 4. He was 95 years old.
His involvement with JAMsj spanned over 50 years.
The museum posted the following tribute:
“Ken made a huge contribution to the museum during its formative Japanese American Resource Center (JARC) years. After the organization was started as a one-room resource center in the Issei Memorial Building, Ken became the full-time leader and built it into an increasingly active and vibrant organization.
“In the JARC newsletter published in July 2002, Ken, who was then the chief financial officer of the organization, was called the ‘official workhorse’ of the board. He was ‘busily working on museum business a minimum of five days a week.’
“His goal at that time was for the organization to ‘get a new building’ that would ‘also be used to support various other community art and culture organizations.’ Later he made it possible for the museum to obtain the Kawakami house next door to JAMsj, which is now being planned to be a key pillar of future expansion.
“No job was too small or too big for Ken. For example, his contribution to the Winter Boutique, one of the most important fundraisers for the museum was invaluable. During his active years, he would lead the effort to set up the venue the day before, be the first to open the facility on the day of the event, and the last to clean up and haul away what was left over in his truck at the end of the long day.
“Ken was born in Cupertino, incarcerated in Heart Mountain (Wyo.) for six months, and relocated to Grand Junction, Colo., where he graduated high school. He then became a civil engineer and started a company in 1959 called Allied Engineering, which worked on civil engineering, surveying, and architectural and structural design. He later became president of the company. He was awarded the 5th annual Asian American Heroes Award by Santa Clara County in 2006.
“Outside of the museum, Ken also contributed to the community serving as coach/commissioner for Community Youth Service (CYS) baseball and basketball, YMCA youth board member, and board member of Yu-Ai Kai Senior Service Center. When he was able to break away from all these commitments, he would enjoy trout fishing and traveling.
“He is survived by his wife, Marty, of 69 years, his children Sue, Mark, and Jon and grandchildren Alexandra and Gordon.
“In an article titled ‘Ken Iwagaki Responds to Visionary Accolade’ in the JAMsj spring 2009 newsletter, after he was awarded the award, he wrote the following. ‘The accolades that were given to me at the Gala Dinner actually should have been given to the many volunteers who have supported the museum over the years.’
“He further wrote that ‘the success of an organization is measured by the success of its volunteer program’ and asked the newsletter editor to print the names of all the past and present volunteers in the next newsletter.
“Thank you, Ken. Your spirit will live on forever as JAMsj continues on our mission.”
Iwagaki requested no funeral service. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to Wesley United Methodist Church, 566 N. Fifth St., San Jose, CA 95112.