Remember when Willard Scott on the “Today” show would honor those who turned 100? Well, this column is my Willard Scott moment and honors the life of a Nisei woman who reached the century mark on June 6 of this year. Reaching 100 means that you have had many life experiences, both good and bad.

Barbara (Bobbi) Mimaki Kono of Carpinteria is living an interesting life. It is important to share the memories of these JA pioneers so that we can honor them for their sacrifices and contributions to the community.

Boobi was born in Gardena on June 6, 1922 to Issei parents Hidehiko and Maki Mimaki from Kumamoto. Bobbi was the fourth of five children, three girls and two boys. She grew up in the San Gabriel Valley. She remembers living in Arcadia and Monrovia when it was still farmland.

During the Depression, the family farmed ten acres of vegetables and berries in Monrovia, selling their produce in Los Angeles.

Bobbi Kono’s offspring gathered to celebrate 100 years.

Her earliest memories are of her father driving a horse-drawn wagon from the strawberry fields and falling asleep at the reins. The horse knew the route so well that it would drive her dad back home.

She went to Monrovia High School and graduated in 1940. As with many Nisei, World War II interrupted her life. First interned at the Pomona Fairgrounds and later incarcerated at Heart Mountain.

At Heart Mountain she remembers how the dust would blow into the cracks in the  barracks, proof of their poor construction. One of her tasks was collecting coal to heat the potbelly stoves. Learning how to ice skate in a man-made pond at the camp was a fond memory.

While in camp she trained and worked as a dental assistant for Dr. Katsumi Uba.

A few years ago, she attended one of the Heart Mountain reunions organized by Bacon Sakatani and scaled the mountain at the age of 89.

Like other JAs, she would leave camp before the end of the war. She had hopes to join a cousin in Chicago but he unfortunately contracted an illness and passed away prematurely.

100 years of an interesting life.

Instead she made her way to Colorado, where she joined her brother, who was working as a mechanic. She found employment as a housekeeper in Littleton, Colorado.

After the war she meet her future husband Yoshio Kono at a Methodist church dance. Yoshio, I learned, was an Alhambra High School graduate, Class of 1939, where I taught for many years.

She had five children within a five-year period! Patricia, born Oct. 27, 1948, Barbara (1950), Christopher (1951), Craig (1952), and John, Oct. 28, 1953. So she had five children in five years and one day! I wonder what if was like raising five kids so close to age. That’s a lot of diapers to change without a break!

Barbara (Bobbi) Mimaki Kono and Yoshio Kono’s 50th wedding anniversary.

The Konos co-owned a nursery in La Mirada with her brother Georg. It was a thriving flower business that would eventually specialize in growing chrysanthemums.

Her husband moved the business to Carpinteria in 1978. The Konos were a fixture at the Los Angeles Flower Mart for many years. Her younger two sons, Craig and Jon, would end up running the family business. After transitioning to avocados, both retired at the end of 2018.

Like many of the Nisei and The Greatest Generation who came of age during a traumatic period, she endured both the Great Depression and World War II. She lost her middle son in 1975 and her husband in 1998 at the age of 77. She lived the idea of **gaman** and endured despite the hardships in life.

She reflects on being thankful for being in the flower business, which brought great pleasure to people.

She continued driving into her early 90s and even became somewhat of a techie, using her computer skills to keep up with friends. She is one of the pillars of Bethany Congregational Church in Santa Barbara, having been a member for over 34 years.

She is also surrounded by a large extended family, which includes 10 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren. She fondly remembers them all!

Asked what has given her such a long life, she cites her faith and that God has been good to her and her family. Her faith in the Lord has given her peace and an acceptance of whatever trials and blessings God gives her.

So I would like to wish Bobbi Kono a happy 100th year — a life well lived!


Bill Yee is a retired Alhambra High School history teacher. He can be reached at Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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