March 12, 1925 – March 7, 2023
Kumpei peacefully passed in his sleep just short of his 98th birthday. He was predeceased by four older brothers and two younger sisters. He is survived by numerous nephews and nieces. He is most proud of his grandnieces Jazzy (M. Ed.), who is teaching in the Oakland School District, and Aiko (junior at San Jose State University) and grandnephew Dylan (a sophomore at San Jose State University). He was a gentle soul without a bad bone in his body…we never, ever heard him belittle or bad-mouth another individual.
He was born to Eijiro and Ishi in El Centro and spent his childhood in the Imperial Valley, a farming community. The family moved to Long Beach shortly before World War II. He worked for 42 years (1957-1999) for United States Postal Service before retiring. His posts included the old West L.A. and the Westwood Post Offices. At the Westwood Post Office, he established a casual relationship with Coach John Wooden, who was a prolific letter writer. During Kumpei’s tenure, he received the Superior Accomplishment Award, Special Achievement Award twice and Certificate of Appreciation Award twice. He would always boast that he made more than the Postmaster General with all the overtime that he worked.
When he retired, he traveled the world with all the overtime he earned. He visited all the countries in Southeast Asia, Central and South Americas, a few countries in Europe and Iceland and the North Pole.
Kumpei’s true calling was to teach geography, reflecting his love of travel, and coach baseball. Unfortunately, he never had the opportunity, being pulled out of high school to be interned and then moving to Japan. After moving back to the States, work and earning money became a priority and college was not in the cards.
Kumpei always envied his older brothers, who starred in athletics at Long Beach Poly, especially baseball, football and track. He became a huge Dodgers fan and followed the UCLA basketball team through its success and failures. We would gather around the transistor radio and listen to Vin Scully and Jerry Doggett do the Dodgers games. He mentioned that UCLA recruited a freshman by the name of Lew Alcindor and that the freshman team was going to play the varsity team, which was ranked number one in the nation. He let us stay up until midnight and we watched the game in black-and-white on tape delay as the freshmen defeated the varsity.
As mentioned, Kumpei’s true calling was to teach and coach baseball. He coached and managed in the North Venice Little League for 12 years, producing All Stars, and another 14 years in the Nisei Athletic Union and the Crescent Bay Optimist League. He was such a great coach that his teams were perennially at the top of the standings (he beat teams coached by future high school and even a soon-to-be Division I coach). He not only coached the skills necessary to excel in the game but more importantly, life lessons in responsibility to your teammates, punctuality and giving your best effort, regardless of the circumstances. He would always mention that a parent came up to him and told him that if his son misbehaved, let him know and he would kick his a__! This is the trust parents had entrusted in Kumpei to guide their boys. There are hundreds of kids, now grown, who appreciate the influence and mentoring provided by Kumpei.
He was a magician with the fungo bat. During drills, he could hit the short or long fly ball. If an infielder got too cocky, he would hit a grounder with an in-between hop to handcuff the player. The hardest ball is the pop-up to the catcher but Kumpei could pop the ball straight up for the catcher.
Kumpei wanted to learn how to teach the fundamentals necessary to become a skilled baseball and basketball player. He read available reading material, he went to practices at USC conducted by Ron Dedeaux when he was winning NCAA championships and especially John Wooden at UCLA. If you look at the correspondence from John Wooden to Kumpei, Coach Wooden expressed admiration for Kumpei…regardless of the endeavor or project, he emphasized Kumpei always gave it his best effort.
All of us kids thank you. Well, Kumpei is now doing baseball drills with his trusty fungo bat in Heaven, producing All Stars in the highest division of baseball.
A funeral service will be held at 11 a.m. on March 27 at Fukui Mortuary, 707 E. Temple Street, Los Angeles, CA 90012.