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(From left) Downtown L.A. Chapter’s George Kita, Women of the Year honorees Kimiko Goya, Martha Nishinaka, Yoshie Hirata, Pearl Omiya and Nancy Takayama and Japanese Women’s Society of Southern California’s Kay Inose. Photo: George Johnston

Five outstanding community leaders are recognized by the Downtown JACL and the Japanese Women’s Society of Southern California

By George Toshio Johnston

The audience response part of Rev. KarenFay Ramos-Young’s invocation went: “We gather to celebrate life.” But with a few changes, it could have been, “We gather to celebrate the 2015 Women of the Year” — and it would have worked just fine.

The May 3 luncheon, held at the Quiet Cannon in Montebello, Calif., and produced by the Downtown Los Angeles Chapter of JACL and the Japanese

Women’s Society of Southern California, recognized five women and their individual accumulated years of efforts, leadership and service within Southern California’s Japanese American community. This year marked the award’s 52nd anniversary.

As Downtown L.A. Chapter President George Kita announced the event’s honorees — Kimiko Goya (Okinawa Association of America), Yoshie Hirata (Keiro Retirement Home, Japanese Community Pioneer Center), Martha Nishinaka (Centenary United Methodist Church), Pearl Omiya (East San Gabriel Valley Japanese Community Center) and Nancy Takayama (San Fernando Valley JACL, San Fernando Valley Japanese Community Center, PSWD JACL) — their partisans in the audience of more than 350 broke out in raucous cheers and applause that almost rivaled the 3.8 magnitude earthquake that shook the area a few hours earlier that morning.

Regarding the day’s honorees, Kay Inose, president of the 111-year-old Japanese Women’s Society of Southern California, said, “I want to thank them for their selfless dedication and service to our Japanese American community.”

Introducing the Ginowan, Okinawa Prefecture-born Goya was her daughter, Diane Konishi. Goya worked as a Japanese school teacher for 25 years before retiring in 2011. She has volunteered in the community in many capacities, among them president of the Okinawa Association of America, in addition to overseeing the collection of material and monetary donations for victims of the 2011 tsunami disaster in Japan.

Yoshiko Yamaguchi, speaking in Japanese, introduced the next award winner, the Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture-born Hirata. Hirata retired from JFC Los Angeles in 2000 after working for the company for 17 years. She also has volunteered at Keiro Retirement Home and is currently a member of the board, treasurer and office worker for the Japanese Community Pioneer Center.

The next awardee, Quito, Ecuador, native Martha Nishinaka, was introduced by her niece, 2014 Nisei Week Queen Tori Nishinaka. For more than 10 years, Nishinaka has served as president of the United Methodist Women at Centenary United Methodist Church in Los Angeles, in addition to working as an office manager and director of operations for Pagiel Shecter, M.D. At Centenary she plays a key role in leading the service and fellowship group’s fundraising activities and efforts to improve the lives of all those in the community.

West Covina, Calif.-born Omiya was introduced before receiving her award by Glenn Nakatani, president of the ESGVJCC. Omiya serves as executive director of the East San Gabriel Valley Japanese Community Center, where she oversees its operations, finances, programs and services. Under her guidance, she provides leadership to more than 25 different programs and classes that are offered at the center, in addition to overseeing a dozen annual events that serve the community. Prior to joining the ESGVJCC, she taught English in Japan through the JET Programme.

Nancy Takayama, the afternoon’s final awardee, was introduced by fellow San Fernando JACLer Jean-Paul “JP” deGuzman. Takayama has served as president of the San Fernando Valley JACL as well as a board member of the JACL Pacific Southwest District before working full time for PSWD JACL in 2012. She also is a member of the Little Tokyo Business Assn. and is involved in the Little Tokyo Community Council. Her passion for cultivating awareness of Japanese American history through preservation advocacy efforts is a driving force behind her volunteer efforts.

In addition to the award — an individualized plaque with a built-in clock — each honoree also received commendations from the California State Assembly, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and the Los Angeles County Supervisors.

The benediction was performed by Rev. Mark M. Nakagawa of Centenary United Methodist Church.Serving on the luncheon committee were Kay Inose, Toshie Kawaguchi, George Kita, Atsuko Lee, Machiko Matsunaga, Rodney Nakada, Nancy Nix, Tomoko  Sakurai, Kitty Sankey, Patricia Sookdet, Amy Tambara, Yoshiko Yamaguchi and Kiyoko Yoshiyama.