By GWEN MURANAKA, Rafu Senior Editor
Jeff Folick, healthcare executive and an active leader in the Japanese American community, passed away on Aug. 19 following a lengthy illness. He was 73.
He began his professional career at Blue Cross of California in the mid-1970s and worked for nearly 40 years in the health insurance and managed care industry. His career culminated in positions as president and chief operating officer of PacifiCare Health Systems, executive vice president of Health Net, and CEO and chairman of Bravo Health.
Folick married Namy Iijima in 1978 and they raised three children, Andrew, Emily and Miya, and a daughter from a prior marriage, Corinna. Namy’s father, Kanjitsu Iijima, was a Buddhist minister and was Folick’s first exposure to Buddhism.
He was attracted to its philosophy and way of life and became involved in the Japanese American community through joining Orange County Buddhist Church (OCBC) in 1991, when his family moved from the San Fernando Valley to the Tustin area.
Bishop Marvin Harada, currently the leader of Buddhist Churches of America, was the longtime reverend at OCBC. He became friends with Folick as their children grew up together, playing basketball and getting involved in activities at OCBC.
Folick served as OCBC president from 2008 to 2009. Harada recalled that at the time, he was also executive vice president of the Baltimore-based Health Net.
“He commuted every week from Baltimore and never missed a meeting,” Harada said. “He would fly to Baltimore on Monday, work until Thursday or Friday and would fly back and be at all OCBC events, Sunday service and then fly back to Baltimore on Monday. He never made it seem like a burden. He handled both. He was a terrific president.”
Folick helped create and chaired OCBC’s endowment fund and chaired its golf tournament since its inception. He was the first chairman of OCBCs 50th anniversary development committee, which helped raise funds for a new social hall and to expand and remodel the temple building. Folick also served as president of OCBC’s Adult Buddhist Association and was an ardent supporter of its Buddhist Education Center.
“We’re all recipients of his generosity. Even more than financial donations, it was his leadership and willingness to be involved and to serve in whatever role or capacity that he could help,” Harada said. “He attended all the games of his kids, whether Andy, Emily or Miya … He supported his children in all of their activities.”
Folick served as a board member for the Nisei Week Foundation, Keiro and the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center (JACCC).
In 2012, Folick chaired the search for a new CEO of the JACCC. At that time, many in the community questioned the future of the JACCC, following the abrupt resignation of its former CEO Greg Willis. That search culminated in the 2013 hiring of Leslie Ito, who is credited with revitalizing the organization.
Bill Watanabe served as JACCC interim executive director during that turbulent time. Because of the controversy in the hiring of Willis, the committee chose to search within the local community and not do a national search for its next executive director.
“Jeff was very agreeable to doing that and that’s how we got Leslie Ito, which worked out very well, during a time when JACCC was struggling so hard to re-establish its reputation and name in the community,” Watanabe said.
During a packed community meeting in November 2012, Folick said, “I think we have a process that has elicited reasonably good applicants, hopefully among them a really strong applicant, and our job is to convince that applicant to work with us to help build the future of JACCC.”
In 2012, his daughter Emily was crowned Nisei Week queen. In 2017, Folick was recognized by Nisei Week with its Pioneer Spirit Award for his dedication to serving the community.
Watanabe recalled during the JACCC controversy, George “Horse” Yoshinaga wrote critically of Folick in his Rafu column.
“I remember Horse Yoshinaga in an article, saying, ‘Why is a white guy chairing a committee to find the executive director for JACCC?’ I wrote back, ‘Well, he is a white guy who is married to a JA and he happens to be chair of OCBC and is father of a Nisei Week queen. He’s probably more involved in the JA community than most JAs,’” Watanabe said.
When Nisei Week honored Folick, he explained that he enjoyed his volunteer work within the Japanese American community because of the quality of the people involved, and the work they have accomplished. He was inspired by their dedication to the betterment of the community.
In 2019, he supported the Zentoku Foundation on its documentary “Paper Chase,” which chronicles the history of Japanese Americans through its community newspapers.
Mark Nakakihara, Zentoku Foundation president, said, “He was really excited to hear about what Zentoku was doing to preserve JA history. In fact, when I told him about our documentary ‘Paper Chase,’ he said, ‘What do you need to finish this project?’ He then became our largest individual supporter and with his help we finished the film. We are extremely sad that he won’t be able to see its premiere in October as he would have been very proud of what he supported.”
Folick is survived by his wife, Namy; son, Andrew (Dana) Folick; daughters, Corinna (Michael) Mosher, Emily (Kia Koko) and Miya Folick; grandchildren, Allison and Justin Mosher, Kazuo and Alia Rei Folick and Soraya and Omotayo Koko.
Private family services will be held on Sept. 5 at OCBC. Those who would like to attend remotely can register at the following link: https://forms.gle/EvkqZxTEFB2kXdND9