About a month before Etsuko passed, she described a beautiful life as one lived with “purpose.” She defied her advanced dementia to offer her wisdom – that also described the life she had led – a life guided by a sense of purpose to help others.
Etsuko Igarashi died peacefully on September 10, 2022, surrounded by family. She was just shy of her 97th birthday. She was under the compassionate care of Sunrise Care Home and Lumina Hospice.
Etsuko was born in 1925 in Los Angeles, California to Sumi and Sadayoshi Hashima, immigrants from Kagoshima, Japan. She was the eldest daughter of six surviving children. She often told stories of their challenging life. As children, they could afford to see a movie once a year, she had only two hand-me-down dresses for school, and swimming in the public pool across the street replaced a bath. When their mother was hospitalized, Ets missed part of her school day to watch her toddler brother, Ryoji, so her father could work.
There were lighthearted memories too. Her sister, Miye, vividly remembers watching her siblings cook spaghetti and throwing the noodles on the ceiling to check if the pasta was done. Ets loved to share how while in junior high school, Norma Jeane Baker (Marilyn Monroe) sought her out to copy her math homework that she and her father had completed the night before.
In 1942, Executive Order 9066 forcibly removed Ets and her family from their Sawtelle (Los Angeles) home. They were incarcerated at the Manzanar War Relocation Center and later at Tule Lake Relocation Center because their father wanted the family to return to Japan. She recalled that he said, “If this is how they treat you as an American citizen, we should go back.” Her father later regretted his decision and asked her to help their family find a way back to the U.S. She worked as a translator for the U.S. occupational forces in post-war Japan. When Ets returned to the States, she worked as a live-in maid in Beverly Hills, and shared her limited wages with her family still living in Japan.
Etsuko married George Katsumi Igarashi in 1953. Before they married, Katsumi first had to promise Ets that he would help her family return to the U.S and get established. To this end, they purchased a neighborhood market in City Terrace, California (Kay’s Market and later known as Ryo’s Market) to provide a livelihood for her parents and brothers. Ets worked side-by-side with her husband at Kay’s Market and with his rental properties.
Throughout her life, Ets was a champion of her entire family. Sometimes this meant that she served as the PTA president of the elementary school, or found piano and clarinet teachers to come to their home. Her Los Angeles nieces and nephews were always included in any enrichment opportunity she discovered. She was frank, principled, tough and also full of love and generosity. Her most delightful activity might have been riding Big Wheel trikes around the driveway with her grandchildren.
Etsuko is survived by her sister, Miyeko Kawata (Seattle); brother, Ryoji Hashima (Los Angeles); son, Keith Igarashi and wife Elaine (Renton, Wash.); daughter, Heidi Igarashi and husband Rick Colwell (Corvallis, Ore.); five grandchildren; two great-grandchildren; and many nieces and nephews. She was preceded in death by her husband, George Katsumi; parents, Sumi and Sadayoshi; and three siblings, Ryo, Ruiko, and Ray.
A family graveside service will be conducted on December 3, 2022, at 3:00 p.m. at Rose Hills Cemetery in Whittier, California.
In lieu of flowers, a memorial donation can be made to Grace Center for Adult Day Services (https://www.mygiving.net/donate/Grace-Center-for-Adult-Day-Services). Your gift would contribute to Grace Center’s capital campaign to purchase their building and would allow the naming rights of a seating area where Ets often sat with friends to be called “Ets’ Corner.” Her nearly ten-year participation at the center enhanced her quality of life during the time she lived with her daughter and son-in-law in Corvallis, Oregon.