George Isamu Arakaki

by Dr. Lawrence Mamiya

_______Surf's up! Hang Ten! Shaka Bruddah! Jump in the ocean or pool and swim, swim, swim! For those of us like George Isamu Arakaki who grew up in the Hawaiian Islands, water is the constant environmental theme that courses through our lives--whether it is the rain or sun/rain that constantly falls in Hawaii or the ocean and beaches or swimming pools or drinking water from the deep artesian wells, our daily lives are inundated by it. For George water was a constant part of his life because he was an excellent swimmer and he taught swimming to young children and older adults. He also coached swim teams through most of his life.
_______In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, thousands of immigrant laborers from the Japanese Islands came to the sugar and pineapple plantations of Hawaii to work and make a living. They had dreams that they would make enough money to go back home and retire there in comfort. Little did they realize that their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren would remain to make a new life in Hawaii and the mainland.
_______"Isamu," as he was first named (the English name George came later), was born on August 9, 1918 at a sugar plantation in Kekaha, Kauai. He was one of five children born to Yeisho and Misao Arakaki, who emigrated from the island of Okinawa. His father worked on the plantation as the operator of the water mill and his mother was a homemaker. The family moved from the plantation to the big city of Honolulu when Isamu was three years old. After working for the president of the Bishop Bank as a chauffeur and domestic, his parents established a restaurant in Kalihi where all of the children helped out. Isamu attended the Royal Elementary School and Central Intermediate. Then he went to the famous academy of the elite, McKinley High School where he participated in all kinds of sports--swimming, football, tennis, etc. George, as he was then called, excelled in athletics. He was also an active member of the YMCA and worked for the Y when he was growing up.
_______As the first and only member of his family to attend college, George moved to the mainland and enrolled at the Southwest University in Los Angeles. In 1941 he finished his college education by matriculating at the Grand Rapids University in Michigan, majoring in accounting. During his college years, he continued his athletic life. George earned a varsity letter in football as a half-back and also swam for and helped to train and coach the swimming team. In 1946 he added to his laurels by winning a Golden Gloves championship. Two years later he helped in coaching an Olympic swimmer, George Hoogerhyde who won the 800 meter freestyle gold medal in the 1948 London Olympics.
_______After graduation he returned to Hawaii and established his own accounting firm in Honolulu. George married Michiko Yonohara and they subsequently raised four children--Robin, Keith, Jeanette, and Georgiana. As I recall, they lived in a very nice house in Alewa Heights and we kids always went there to play with the new toys that uncle George bought for the children. He was also very active in clubs and associations for Okinawan migrants and won many awards and accolades for his service to them. However, a series of financial setbacks forced him to leave Hawaii and return to Los Angeles in 1960 where he coached the Crenshaw Athletic Club swim team. He was also a mainstay during the heyday of the Nisei Week swim meets then hosted by the Japanese American Optimist Club. His first wife Michiko died in 1968. In 1970 George became the owner, manager, and coach of the Gardena Swim School, finally returning to what he knew he wanted to do: Help shape the physical and moral character of youngsters through swimming competition and learning.
_______After 13 enjoyable and productive years, Arakaki called it quits, selling the school in 1983, determined to enjoy a life of active but leisurely retirement. But it was short-lived when he heard that the Japanese Cultural Institute was seeking a manager for their newly opened JCI Gardens senior apartments, a 100 unit complex. Although he was the least experienced candidate for the job, he won it because he said, "I've spent the most productive days of my life taking care of children. Now I want an opportunity to take care of their grandparents." George had excellent people skills and was always sociable.
_______The Barker Management Company which oversaw the JCI Gardens also had 22 other operations. George Arakaki won three Manager of the Year awards from them. Before he retired from the JCI Gardens job, he married a second time to Takako from Hiroshima, Japan. During his retirement and leisure time, George baby sat for his grandchildren, played bingo, did yoga exercises, swam, played tennis and fooled around on the piano and guitar. Like many Hawaiians, George's most favorite activity was going to that desert city of Las Vegas to exercise his arms and fingers.

_______His philosophy of life was, "To exercise always, eat healthy, and you live a long, long life."
_______On this day before Father's day, we honor, remember, and give thanks for the life and accomplishments of George Isamu Arakaki--son and brother, husband, father, grandfather, uncle, friend, manager, and coach to all who came his way.

 June 16, 2001