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Kendo Yasuda dies at 95; helped record history of Roche Harbor and its Japanese residents in early 20th century

Top photo: Kendo Yasuda was a guest of honor at a July 2009 luncheon and book-signing event celebrating the release of
Top photo: Kendo Yasuda was a guest of honor at a July 2009 luncheon and book-signing event celebrating the release of 'Images of America: Roche Harbor.' Mr. Yasuda contributed to the book. Bottom photo: Kendo Yasuda and his sister, Haru, as young children in Roche Harbor.
— image credit: Top photo: Molly Neely-Walker. Bottom photo: Yasuda family collection

Kendo Yasuda, a Roche Harbor native who helped record the history of Roche Harbor’s Japanese residents as well as community life in the village during the first quarter of the 20th century, has died.

Mr. Yasuda died June 6 in Payette, Idaho. He was 95.

His daughter, Sharonne Shimizu, said her father held on until family members were able to gather in Payette to say “our last good-byes”; he passed away the next morning.

“We had a memorial service on June 10 to celebrate his long life and life ‘well lived,’” she wrote. “It was a wonderful celebration. He would have loved it. He will be missed but is now at peace and reunited with mother and other loved ones.

Mr. Yasuda’s son, Gary, said his father was “at peace and comfort and died of natural causes.” Half of his father’s ashes are inurned in Payette; the family plans to spread half of his ashes in Roche Harbor in the future.

The family suggests memorial contributions to Roche Harbor and the San Juan Historical Museum.

Mr. Yasuda was a long-time member of the San Juan Historical Society and participated in the society’s oral history project in the 1990s. In 2009, he was a source for the book, “Roche Harbor,” and participated in a luncheon and book signing at Roche Harbor after the book’s release in July 2009.

“Dad so loved his birthplace and he showed it in the amazing unfound energy which came out of him at (the) book-signing celebration,” his son said.

Mr. Yasuda had vivid memories of Roche Harbor community life in the 1920s. His father tended the formal gardens and his mother was a cook. Young Mr. Yasuda received Bible lessons from Louella McMillin, wife of lime company president John S. McMillin, and attended school at what is now Our Lady of Good Voyage Chapel. The Yasudas and the McMillins were friends -- the Yasuda family still uses Mrs. McMillin’s recipe for turkey stuffing each Thanksgiving, and McMillin granddaughter Mary McMillin Cooper, who is now 90, remembers the Yasudas sent produce to the McMillins after the Yasudas moved to Wapato.

The Yasuda family published the following obituary in the Idaho Statesman:

Kendo (Nellie/Chief), age 95, passed away peacefully on June 6, 2010 in Payette, Idaho. He was the oldest son of 12 children born to Heisaku and Ichi Yasuda in Roche Harbor, Wash., where they emigrated from Japan to work in the lime kilns and formal gardens at Hotel de Haro.

Kendo spent his childhood school years in Roche and Friday Harbor before the family moved to Wapato, Wash. in 1931. He graduated from high school in 1935 and met and married his wife, Hirono (Ronnie) May 10, 1942. After World War II began, they were evacuated with other Japanese Americans living in the Yakima Valley to the Portland Assembly Center.

Kendo answered the call for volunteers to work in the sugar beet fields in Jamieson, Ore. during the war. In 1946, they moved to Payette where Kendo engaged in row crop farming for several years. In 1965, they purchased a fruit orchard north of town, which became known as the Yasuda Fruit Farm, raising apples, cherries, peaches, plums, watermelon and cantaloupes. Many families enjoyed the fruits of their labor for several years. In 1973, Kendo received the Conservation Farmer of the Year award, given by the Payette Soil and Conservation District. They retired from farming in 1990.

Kendo enjoyed fishing, playing baseball with the Wapato Nippon baseball team, matsutake (mushroom) hunting, bowling, but most of all visiting with his many friends. He especially enjoyed his visits back to his birth place at Roche Harbor. It was a place he dearly loved and had many long-lasting friends.

In July 2009, he was an honored guest and part of a book, “Images of America: Roche Harbor,” authored by Richard Walker, giving the history on where Kendo was born. Kendo also celebrated his 95th birthday party last year. He was greeted by many dear friends and relatives he had not seen for many years. It was a very special day which brought him many smiles.

Nellie, his nickname from his Wapato baseball teammates, and Chief, his nickname from his buddy Cal Harmon, was a kind and gentle man of few words. He will always leave behind his trademark of saying “So long” whenever he ended a visit or conversation. He reasoned that his “good bye” was to be saved for when he leaves this earth. Dad, all of us now say “good bye” instead of “so long,” until we meet again.

Kendo is survived by daughter, Sharonne (Cho) Shimizu; son, Gary (Shawna) Yasuda; granddaughters, Michele (Gar) Nishioka and Shelley Allen; grandson, Ryan (Jen) Wilkerson; great-grandchildren, Jayna and Cameron Nishioka, and Morgan and Carter Wilkerson. Also surviving are sisters, Matsuko (Joe) Inaba, Shiz (George) Hironaka, Maye Umemoto, Sue (Sonny) Mar; brothers, Heizi Yasuda, George (Margie) Yasuda, Junior (Sharon) Yasuda; sister-in-law, Ilene Takehara; and brother-in-law, Robert Miller. Kendo was blessed with many nieces, nephews, great-nieces and great-nephews.

Kendo was preceded in death by his wife Ronnie, of 65 years; his parents; three brothers, Kay, Paul, and Noboru; and sister, Haru Matsumura.

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