Kikuko Nakao Tanamachi passed away peacefully with family by her side on May 16 in Harlingen, Texas at 102½ years old.
Born on Sept. 30, 1920 in San Pedro to Teizo and Chika Nakao, she was the elder sister of three siblings, Taira, Sadao, and Ikuko. They lived on Albacore Street in Terminal Island with about 3,000 other Issei and Nisei. She began working at the Van Camp Company/Chicken of the Sea Cannery when she was 14 to help her family out. Her father passed away in 1940, so she became the head of her family.
After the signing of Executive Order 9066 in 1942, the residents of Terminal Island were one of the first groups on the West Coast to be given only 48 hours to evacuate with only what they could carry. They were initially sent to Santa Anita Racetrack, where the family of five lived in one horsestall for the next six months. Tanamachi worked in the mess hall to continue helping her family.
They were then placed on a train with the windows covered and traveled for three days until they reached their final destination — the Rohwer War Relocation Authority camp in Arkansas — where Tanamachi again worked in the mess hall.
Jiro Jerry Tanamachi traveled from Texas (which was not subject to the executive order) to Rohwer to visit his relatives who were incarcerated there. He was introduced to Kikuko and they were married in McGehee, Ark. on June 14, 1943. Kikuko moved with Jiro to live in Texas, where his parents had moved from California in 1921 and established themselves as farmers.
They raised five children — Diana, Sandra, Jerry James, Deborah and Laura — who all loved her delicious Japanese dishes and amazing flaky crusted lemon meringue pie, and want to pass them on. She shared her love of gardening by planting flowers and plants at her loved ones’ homes and was an avid sports fan who loved watching the Dallas Cowboys, Shohei Ohtani of the L.A. Angels, tennis, and golf.
Tanamachi was described by her family as “the kindest, friendliest, most helpful, and generous person” whose “strong faith and belief in God were evident by the way she lived her daily life.”
She was preceded in death by her parents, Teizo and Chika Nakao; two brothers, Taira and Sadao Nakao; husband, Jiro Jerry Tanamachi; and son, Jerry James Tanamachi. She is survived by her daughters, Diana Parr (Norvin), Sandra Tanamachi Nakata (Bruce), Deborah Galvan (Peter), and Laura Corkill (Raymond); nine grandchildren; 17 great grandchildren; four great-great-grandchildren; her younger sister, Ikuko Kitayama (Happy); sister-in-law, Hiroko Tanamachi Edwards (Dean); numerous nephews and nieces; and many family friends.
“Kikuko wanted everyone to stay closely connected to family and friends, practice cultivating with grace and hard work the beauty that surrounds you, constantly be educated by your mind, be kind and mindful of others, and pass on God’s love through gaman,” her family said.
Memorial service will be held on Saturday, June 17, in Harlingen.