By KYOKO NANCY ODA
Editor’s note: Mary Adams Urashima, leader of the Historic Wintersburg Preservation Task Force in Huntington Beach, died on the night of Nov. 20, surrounded by family.
Mary Adams Urashima, who was an author, government consultant and freelance writer, passed away after a two-year battle with cancer.
Mary chaired a community effort to preserve the century-old Furuta farm and Wintersburg Japanese Presbyterian Mission complex, named one of “America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places” in 2014 and designated a “National Treasure” in 2015 by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
She authored “Historic Wintersburg in Huntington Beach” (2014). Her work includes the film “Our Journey to America: The Furutas of Historic Wintersberg” (2015), which was shown on PBS. During Women’s Month at the Japanese American National Museum in 2017, she was part of a Tuna Canyon panel where she talked about the women left behind like Yukiko Furuta during the early days following Pearl Harbor.
Among Mary’s favorite activities was the archeological digs at Manzanar Historic site.
Tuna Canyon Detention Station Coalition President Kyoko Oda said, “Mary was the most knowledgeable and respected leader for the preservation of Historic Wintersburg. We must continue to advance the work that she has begun for history’s sake.”
According to Jaime Hiber, executive director of the Heritage Museun of Orange County, Mary envisioned that Wintersburg could be “a safe space for a community that happens to have very little green space to enjoy and get fresh, clean air.”
World War II Camp Wall President Nancy Hayata said, “Mary has always been a strong leader, fighting for preservation of culture and history. I was fortunate to also share in her softer side. The person that found peace in nature, that loved creative cookery, that could get lost in an antique store, and that couldn’t get enough of being a loving mother. Mary’s beauty and her fight for Historic Wintersburg will live on.”
Earlier this year, Mary wrote this in connection with the exhibition “Sutra and Bible: Faith and Japanese American World War II Incarceration” at the Japanese American National Museum: “A very special artifact connected to the history of endangered National Treasure Historic Wintersburg in Huntington Beach will be on exhibit at the Japanese American National Museum: the Bible of Charles Mitsuji Furuta.
“He was the first Issei baptized Christian in Orange County and he was an elder with the Wintersburg Japanese Mission. The Bible has his notations of the dates and times he arrived at prison camps, as well as a small photograph tucked inside of his wife, Yukiko.
“I’m honored to have provided historical background for this precious artifact of faith. The JANM exhibit … includes the unique articles of faith, Buddhist and Christian, that helped people endure.”
Tragedy struck the Historic Wintersburg site last February when a fire led to the loss of two buildings. According to the task force, the owner of the property, Republic Services, immediately bulldozed the 112-year-old Manse (parsonage), which was damaged by fire, destroying evidence before an investigation could be conducted, and needlessly destroyed the Wintersburg Japanese Mission, which was not damaged by the fire.
Mary was unable to attend a rally held in March outside Historic Wintersburg, but she provided the following statement, which was read by Nancy Hayata: “As a leader for the preservation of Historic Wintersburg for the past decade. I want to let you know how moved and grateful I am for your presence and support. I wish I could be there in person with you. All of you have some idea how challenging and at times heartbreaking this work has been. I know that so many of you have worked so hard to honor, save and celebrate Asian American cultural heritage. I understand that so many of you have faced opposition or hate and kept going … Your strength, your voices to never give up is what inspires me every day.
“Historic Wintersberg speaks to so many of us. We are mourning. We have suffered a devastating and irreplaceable loss with the fire on Feb. 25, a loss by fire that awakens the memory and trauma of painful points in history where fire has been a tool to remove people, to cause fear, to erase their presence.
“We call on Republic Services to allow historians, preservationists, archeologists, and representatives from the Japanese American community to enter Historic Wintersburg to document and collect the ash and remains of the 1910 Wintersburg Japanese Mission and the 1910 Manse. These remains hold history …
“One day we hope to reconstruct the land, where the Wintersburg Japanese Mission and Manse should be honored with a ceremony. It is a place of worship founded by Buddhists and Christians, a spiritual place, consecrated ground. The ongoing neglect of this historic and sacred place must not be compounded …
“We call on Republic Services to do the right thing … This history reaches back centuries to the Tongva and it continues today with the Oakview neighborhood. Future generations can learn from the multitude of stories held in Historic Wintersburg. The preservation effort is truly for the sake of the children.
“We hope today is the first step in a better direction for the future preservation of Historic Wintersburg as a heritage park.”
Gina Clayton-Tarvin, president of the Oak View School District, said on Nov. 22, “Sad news to report. We have lost a true community leader and advocate, Mary Urashima. We love and thank her for all of her years of dedicated service to Huntington Beach, Orange County, and saving history. She was with the Ocean View School District from Day One on protecting our Oak View students from being polluted and to save the Wintersburg site, which shares a border with the Oak View Preschool.
“Her legacy will live on in Winsterburg and its future preservation, and we vow to make sure it is saved for generations to come. Her work will never be forgotten and she lives on in our hearts. She fought a long, hard battle with cancer with grace and elegance, and we will miss her.”
Additional reporting by The Rafu Shimpo.