Saburo (Sab) Akiyama of Hood River, Ore., passed away peacefully, surrounded by family, Thursday afternoon on Sept. 7, 2017, at Brookside Manor in Hood River. Sab was born at home on April 7, 1924, in Oak Grove, the fourth of five children of Tomeseichi and Itsu Ono Akiyama (In Japanese, Saburo is “third son”). He was preceded in death by his parents, beloved wife Betty (2016), brothers Henry (2010) and George (2010), and sister Kiyo (2016).
Sab spent his childhood working on the family’s orchard in Oak Grove. At 16, he and his family were forced to leave the family home as a result of Executive Order 9066, requiring all people of Japanese ancestry to be incarcerated at inland camps run by the War Relocation Authority, regardless of citizenship. While incarcerated, Sab graduated from Tri-State High School at the Tule Lake internment camp. Later, he and his family were relocated to Minidoka internment camp. He enlisted in the United States Army at age 20 with other young men from the camps to demonstrate that the Japanese were as loyal and patriotic as any other American citizen. Sab, like many Nisei (second-generation Japanese Americans), felt he had to prove himself. He taught Japanese language to the Counter Intelligence Services. He was honorably discharged in 1946, having received a Good Conduct Medal, American Theater Ribbon and a World War II Victory Ribbon.
Sab attended Pacific University in Forest Grove, Ore., on the GI bill, where he graduated in 1951 with a Doctorate of Optometry. He moved to the Oregon Coast, where he worked as an optometrist at the Reinhart Clinic in Wheeler. It was there that Sab met his future wife, Betty Dyksterhuis. They married on June 4, 1956, in Oregon City and purchased a home in Neahkahnie, where Sab continued working as an optometrist. In time, Sab and Betty welcomed four daughters: Kathryn, Diana, Patricia and Jennifer.
In 1960, Sab had an opportunity to buy Harold Keir’s optometry practice on Oak Street in his hometown of Hood River. Thereafter, Sab served multiple generations of families who relied on him for eye glasses, contact lenses, professional evaluations, and an informed, observant, caring and charming chair-side manner. Sab was active in the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL), where he served as an officer and in many other volunteer roles. He was a member of the Lions Club, the Hood River bowling league, and the Chamber of Commerce, among other civic activities. After nearly 40 years, Sab retired and sold his practice in 1995.
His extended family and others in the Hood River community will forever remember Sab’s proficiency at finding and digging razor clams in the surf of many Oregon and Washington beaches. Indeed, he taught his daughters, nephews and many friends how to spot and dig clams with a shovel (never a clam gun!). Sab and brothers George and Nobi were avid and expert matsutake mushroom hunters. Every year, they hoped for a wet August so they’d have favorable mushroom hunting in fall — at forever-secret locations.
Sab will be remembered for his smile and gentle sense of humor, his unfailing devotion to Betty over 60 years, his steadfast support for his daughters and their families, his open mind, eternal curiosity, inventive household repairs and his willingness to take on any challenge. He and friend Pete Watts remodeled the Neahkahnie house (over several years) and built grandfather clocks from kits together. He started many vegetable garden plants from seed under a grow light contraption in the basement of the family home; his tomatoes were phenomenal. Sab bowled, golfed, gardened, followed current events, read, learned to make pottery as well as stained glass, and astonished his daughters with precise, handmade and tasty date-pinwheel-cookies. He loved food — especially sweets — and delighted in cinnamon rolls and lemon meringue pie (“Now if a guy could have a piece of lemon pie…”).
Sab is survived by older brother Noboru (Florence) and sister-in-law Ruth Akiyama; daughters Kathy, Diana (Michael Jackson), Patricia (David Larsen) and Jennifer (Patrick Tahara); and three grandchildren, who brought him much joy: Jasmine, Kazuhiro, and Emiko. He is also survived by cherished nieces, nephews and extended family, along with many longtime friends who join together in mourning his passing.
The family expresses its deep and heartfelt thanks to the extraordinary caregivers and staff at Brookside Manor, who assisted Sab with compassionate and loving care over the past 18 months. The family also offers their profound gratitude to the amazing people at Heart of Hospice, who were an abiding and comforting source of support for Sab. There are truly angels who walk among us, and who inspire us.
A memorial celebration of life and reception/brunch is being planned for a later date. In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to the St. Mark’s Endowment Fund for Betty Akiyama, 541-386-2077, www.stmarks-hr.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org and/or to the Hood River Heart of Hospice in the Columbia Gorge, 541-386-1942, www.heartofhospice.org.
A memorial celebration of life will be held at 11 a.m. on Saturday, Nov. 18 at Riverside Community Church, 317 State St., Hood River. A reception/brunch will immediately follow. In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to the St. Mark’s Endowment Fund for Betty Akiyama, 541-386-2077, www.stmarks-hr.org or email email@example.com and/or to the Hood River Heart of Hospice in the Columbia Gorge, 541-386-1942, www.heartofhospice.org
To learn more about Sab’s life, please visit Densho’s Digital Archive at www.densho.org.
We will miss you, Dad and Grandpa.
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