Cathy Tanaka (center) was a volunteer with many organizations and was in charge of the annual Memorial Day service at Evergreen Cemetery. From left: Carl Miyagishima, Judge Vincent Okamoto, Jerry Yamamoto and Keith Kawamoto. (Photo courtesy Fukui Mortuary)

Cathy Naomi Tanaka, a member of the Fukui family business who was actively involved in community causes,  will be honored by Nisei Week with its President’s Award. She passed away peacefully in her sleep at her home in Hacienda Heights on March 1. She was 73.

Tanaka was born in Tokyo on July 30, 1949, during the U.S. occupation of Japan, to Soichi and Ruth Fukui. As an infant, she moved with her family to the U.S. and settled in Los Angeles. In July 1951, her sister, Chris, was born and 1½ years later, her brother, Jerry. 

Around age 10, Tanaka moved with her family to Windsor Hills, where she and her siblings spent the remainder of their childhood. She graduated from Dorsey High School in 1968 and studied at UCLA, majoring in French. After graduation, she spent an extended period of time in Japan to study Japanese language and culture. 

In 1979, Tanaka continued her father’s legacy by joining him and her brother at Fukui Mortuary as secretary and treasurer. A fourth-generation member at the family business, she also became a licensed funeral director and preneed counselor. She continued working at the mortuary until her death.

In 1978, she married the love of her life, Masaru Tanaka. They moved to Hacienda Heights and their family grew by two when they welcomed their sons, Eric in 1980 and Ryan in 1986. She loved supporting her kids in their hobbies and activities, particularly basketball. Her family continued to expand in 2012 when Eric married her daughter-in-law Traci, and when Ryan became a father to her first grandchild, Shay, in 2015. In 2018, she was blessed with two more grandsons, twins Connor and Mason.

Cathy Tanaka and Archie Miyatake at a screening of “The Manzanar Fishing Club.” (Courtesy Cory Shiozaki)

She absolutely adored her grandchildren and loved spending time playing, reading books, and being silly with them. One of her most cherished achievements was being a grandmother.

Tanaka was dedicated to the community and was involved with several organizations, including the Military Intelligence Service Association of Southern California, National Japanese American Veterans Council, Go For Broke National Education Center, Nisei Veterans Coordinating Council, and Grateful Crane Ensemble.

The staff, directors, and supporters of GFBNEC mourned Tanaka’s passing. “Cathy was so much more than a member of the board,” said GFBNEC President Mitchell Maki. “She was a friend to so many of us; and an inspiration to all. She demonstrated what it meant to be kind and warm, while at the same time working hard for what you believe in. We will miss her dearly.”

Cathy Tanaka dancing at Nisei Week. (Courtesy Fukui Mortuary)

The Grateful Crane Ensemble said in a statement, “We were saddened to hear about the sudden passing of Cathy Tanaka, our longtime friend, Grateful Crane board member and number one dish washer at our Far East Feasts and obento sales.

“She was truly one of those ‘behind the scenes’ players who are the MVPs of every organization they’re dedicated to. They don’t seek the limelight or the glory, but they do all the work. That was Cathy for us, and all the organizations she was involved with. We will miss her kindness, her warm and welcoming smile and her generous spirit.

“We are grateful to have known her, and thank her for everything she has done for us and our community.”

Filmmaker Cory Shiozaki posted a photo of Tanaka with the late photographer Archie Miyatake, noting that both supported his documentary “The Manzanar Fishing Club.” “Cathy will be greatly missed for her committment to the Go For Broke National Education Center. We will miss her energy, spirit and smile,” Shiozaki said.

Tommy Dyo, Tanaka’s cousin, posted, “Cathy was deeply involved in the community to preserve Japanese American stories from our past and retell them to new generations. She served our community with joy, compassion, and generosity. She loved her community, friends, family, but especially her sons Eric and Ryan, and husband Masaru.

“Although she expressed her spirituality in her later years with her loving husband at the Buddhist church, her roots were in the Christian faith. We hold on to the promises in Scripture: ‘I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.’ — John 10:28.

“Her kindness is reflected in all she did.”

Tanaka was also passionate about art and loved playing the piano and organ, “paint and sip” wine nights, floral design, drawing, jewelry-making, musicals, and dancing. She loved animals and over the years, cared for a myriad of pets, including her beloved golden retrievers, a parrot, and fish. When she wasn’t with family or participating in one of her many hobbies, she was catching up and spending time with her many groups of friends.

She had been greatly looking forward to visiting relatives and meeting her new daughter-in-law in Hiroshima this month; sadly, her long-awaited trip with Masaru did not come to fruition.

She is survived by her husband, Masaru Tanaka; children, Eric (Traci) and Ryan (Aya) Tanaka; grandchildren, Connor and Mason Tanaka, and Shay Tanaka; siblings, Chris (Kenny) Kohler and Jerry Fukui; niece, Sarah Fukui; nephews, Cary Fukui, and Kevin and Sean Kohler; she is also survived by other relatives here and in Japan.

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