Reiko Taguchi Sumada arrived in Minnesota through unusual and unfortunate circumstances.
Born in Seattle in 1926, Sumada was just a teenager when the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor thrust the United States into World War II and led to the forcible relocation in 1942 of her family to an internment camp in Idaho.
In 1943, she was able to leave the camp and move to Minnesota. It was where she lived until March 10, when she died from a heart attack at 92.
Family and friends remembered Sumada for her compassion and upbeat personality. Up until the end, it was difficult to catch her sitting still, said her son, William “Billy” Sumada.
He attributed that energy to the vibrant family she grew up with. The youngest of five, Sumada was surrounded by athletic siblings while her mother sold vegetables at Pike Place Market.
Her family and 120,000 other Japanese-Americans were forced into internment in 1942. After a stop at a temporary camp in Puyallup, Wash., they were then taken to the Minidoka War Relocation Center in Idaho, where more than 9,000 people were confined.
They shared one room with five cots and a potbelly stove. Her mother made “the barren room livable,” Sumada later wrote, stitching quilts and pillows for comfort.
Sumada’s older sister, Kimi Hara, a nurse in Rochester, Minn., soon sent for her to move to Minnesota. She finished high school in Rochester and moved to Minneapolis to study medical technology at the University of Minnesota.
There she met her future husband, Tsuguo. The two married in 1951 and settled in St. Louis Park. “Not all suburbs were really welcoming Japanese-Americans living there, and St. Louis Park was,” Billy Sumada said.
She ran the science labs at a junior high school. Billy Sumada and his brother, Robert, would play outside with other neighborhood kids, often coming inside to enjoy food and drinks. “We tend to think that our mother was everyone’s favorite mother,” he said.
She made plenty of friends her own age too, taking part in several clubs and activities throughout her life.
With her husband, Sumada played golf in a league called “Spuds and Rice,” where white couples would play against Japanese-American couples, her son said. She also was part of an origami card-making club, where she folded paper in shapes of plants and animals.
And she was always dressed to impress, Billy said.
Sumada’s friend, Lucy Kirihara, now 88, was also interned in Minidoka as a child but did not meet her until they were both attending the University of Minnesota. They became lifelong friends who ate family dinners together and took trips to Colorado, Mexico and Florida.
“She’s such a giving person and … always fun to be with,” Kirihara said.
Throughout her life, Sumada treasured her identity as a nisei, a second-generation Japanese-American. She participated in the local chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League and the Minnesota Nikkei Project, which supported first-generation Japanese immigrants.
“We tried to educate people about the concentration camp, because so many young people don’t even know that it even happened, and we just don’t want that to happen again,” Kirihara said.
In addition to her two sons, she is survived by many other relatives. A memorial service will be held at the Lakewood Cemetery Garden Mausoleum in Minneapolis from 1 to 3 p.m. Monday.