By GWEN MURANAKA, Rafu Senior Editor
Ken Kasamatsu, who used his financial acumen and volunteer spirit to uplift the Japanese and Asian American communities, passed away on July 31. He was 75.
Kasamatsu founded Pacific Commerce Bank to meet the needs of the JA community, serving as its first president and chief executive officer.
He attended Maryknoll School, Loyola High School and USC, where he was a president and founding member of what was known then as the USC Asian Pacific American Support Group, which later became the USC APA Alumni Association.
He recently established a named scholarship at USC, the Kasamatsu Family Scholarship.
“He was proud to be a Trojan,” said Grace Shiba, executive director of the USC APA Alumni Association. “The type of leader he was was very thorough in everything. Very open to discuss things with me and somebody who was very trustworthy who I could confide in.”
Kasamatsu worked at Sumitomo Bank (later California Bank and Trust) for 32 years before leading the initiative to create what became known as Pacific Commerce Bank. The bank opened in Little Tokyo on Oct. 10, 2002.
“I saw in my mind that the support in the community was beginning to be less. I felt because of Japanese banks leaving California that our community would be underserved. That’s why I took the chance to start a bank,” said Kasamatsu in a 2017 conversation with Leadership Education for Asian Pacifics, Inc. (LEAP).
He said that a tendency towards complacency is a problem for many Asian Americans, who avoid risk-taking because of the fear of losing face.
“Risk-taking is doing anything that takes you out of your comfort level,” Kasamatsu explained.
He retired from the bank in 2014, returning again in April 2015 to assist in strategic initiatives as it merged with a similarly-sized bank.
After retirement he continued to work as a consultant to Pacific Bridge Companies and E-Central Credit Union, where he focused on nonprofits.
Tom Iino, who served as chairman of the board and director of Pacific Commerce Bancorp, praised Kasamatsu, saying, “As the founding chairman he created a base and strategy that enabled the bank to be the first successful Nikkei-owned bank in history. Pacific Commerce Bank acquired two other community banks, merged with a bank of similar size and sold the entity to a large regional entity, Enterprise Financial. For the first time all Pacific Commerce Bank shareholders benefited. The community has lost a true leader.”
Kasamatsu devoted considerable time and energy to working with nonprofits, including the Asian American Drug Abuse Program, where he was board chair from 2003 to 2016, Keiro Nursing Home, Japanese American Cultural and Community Center, Little Tokyo Service Center CDC, Boy Scouts of America (San Diego), and Nisei Week Foundation.
At the Nisei Week Pioneer Spirit luncheon on Wednesday, a moment of silence was observed in tribute to Kasamatsu.
Nisei Week Foundation said in a statement: “The Nisei Week Foundation joins the community in mourning the passing of Ken Kasamatsu. For many years, he supported Nisei Week not only as the emcee for our annual Pioneer Spirit Awards Luncheon, but as a supporter both personally and through his work at Pacific Commerce Bank. Ken was truly a pillar of our community and he will be missed dearly.”
AADAP stated that Kasamatsu brought his financial expertise to the organization and also helped with strategic planning, board recruitment and development.
“Even after he retired, Ken generously gave of his time and knowledge to assist during the leadership transition from Mike Watanabe to Dean Nakanishi. He provided one-on-one tutelage to Dean, giving him insights on the strengths and weaknesses of the organization’s finances. Ken also always invited his wide-reaching network to support AADAP, many of whom are our leaders and supporters today. We, his AADAP ohana, are very thankful for Ken’s services to AADAP.”
J.D. Hokoyama, past president and CEO of LEAP, said he was friends with Kasamatsu for 70 years starting at Maryknoll.
“I think he picked up his sense of community spirit both from Maryknoll School and Loyola High School. Both places emphasized giving back to the community and service to others as an important principles to live by,” Hokoyama said. “Ken cared deeply about the community. Ever since Ken started working for Sumitomo Bank (1968-2000) at the main office in Little Tokyo (now California Bank and Trust), he has always been deeply involved in the JA and API community. He was happy to share his financial and business expertise with many nonprofit groups re their budgeting process and long-term financial planning that were located in Little Tokyo and in the Crenshaw Square area while working at the Sumitomo branch at Crenshaw Square, which at one time was a thriving Japanese American enclave.
“He not only convinced the bank to support local community organizations through checking and savings accounts but also through donations to support the mission of these groups.”
Kasamatsu was humble when he spoke of his accomplishments. He encouraged the younger generations and hoped that more Asian Americans would become leaders in government, corporate America and nonprofits.
“I believe I’m a loving son, husband and a father who is trying his best to provide for his family and at the same time try to give back to his community,” he said.
Kasamatsu is survived by his wife, Bonnie; daughters, Tami (Michael) Bailey and Tricia Kasamatsu; mother, Tamiye Kasamatsu; sister, Jayne (Gideon) Young; and other relatives.
Due to current COVID conditions, a Celebration of Life will be held in the fall.