On April 18, 2018, Hood River, Ore., lost one of its long time treasures. “Shige” Shigenobu Imai passed away at Providence Hood River Memorial Hospital at the age of 98. Shige was born on Jan. 16, 1920, on Dee Flat, just a half mile from where he farmed for 60 plus years. Shige lived an honorable life and was a devoted husband and father.
Shige was the eldest of seven children. He was 7 years old when he was sent to live with his paternal grandparents in Okayama Prefecture in Japan. After three years, he was anxious to come home. So when the opportunity arose, he hopped on a boat with his uncle and sailed home to the U.S., having taken time away from school to help on the family farm, in addition to his absence while in Japan, he graduated two years behind his age group from Hood River High School in 1940. After graduation, he continued to work on the family farm until the bombing of Pearl Harbor. In an effort to prove his loyalty to the US, he volunteered to serve his country by enlisting in the Army.
He was proud to serve during such an extraordinary time while his family was interned in concentration camps. Shige is featured in Linda Tamura’s book, “Nisei Soldiers Break Their Silence: Coming Home to Hood River,” which is a compelling story of courage, community, endurance, and reparation which shares the experiences of second generation Japanese Americans (Nisei) who served in the Army during World War II.
After serving in the 162nd Processing Company, guarding and processing PW’s in Honouliuli, Hawaii, Shige returned to Hawaii for a brief period of time. Shortly thereafter, he decided to become a college student at the University of Oregon. Farming was calling and Shige returned to the Hood River Valley to grow apples and pears as an orchardist on Dee Flat. He married Mary Toda of The Dalles in March of 1949 and they have one daughter.
Throughout his lifetime, Shige enjoyed volunteering for many activities. Serving as a volunteer fire chief and fire- fighter for the Dee Fire Department was one of the highlights of his life. He gave 110 percent of himself as he took his responsibilities to the community seriously. Many folks in Hood River may remember the infamous and successful Chow Mein Dinner which was held at Wy’East High School as a fundraiser for the fire department. Other volunteer positions and lifetime memberships were with the American Legion, VFW and the Upper Valley Lion’s Club. He was also a member of the Japanese American Citizens League and the Oregon Nikkei Legacy Center. Shige was interested in preserving the Japanese American history and culture. He enjoyed two trips to Japan with the Hood River Tsuruta Sister City program and was delighted to include a visit with family in Okayama Prefecture where he spent time as a child.
Shige worked for Diamond Fruit Growers for 28 years and “retired” to his apple and pear orchard. He took especially great pride in his highly sought after Asian Pears.
Enjoying meeting neighbors and return customers was an aspect of being a part of the annual Arts and Crafts Fair during Harvest Fest that he looked forward to for over 20 years.
As an orchardist, Shige worked hard over the years and was always delighted to share his knowledge of raising fruit with several generations of Japanese Agricultural Trainees.
At the age of 90, Shige finally stepped away from farming and realized how much he could enjoy full retirement. He sold the farm and moved into Providence Down Manor and involved himself in his new retirement community. He made many new friends and was highly thought of over the years that he lived there. He was always finding ways to stay fit through physical exercise, nutritious eating, and using Sudoku to exercise his mind. The social interactions through bingo, card games and field trips and growing a small garden kept him busy.
Shige first learned to use a computer at the youthful age of 82 and he enjoyed learning to formulate Microsoft Excel spreadsheets. He was always striving to keep his brain active and young. He was a strong advocate for staying active in order to live a long and happy life.
He loved to cook and, in his younger years, he enjoyed fishing with his father, brothers and friends. He learned how to prepare traditional Japanese foods and fish that he had caught. His daughter remembers many fishing trips with her father, both on the Columbia River and deep sea fishing at the Oregon coast. He always enjoyed hobbies, gardening and new technology. You just never knew what kind of project you would find him involved in. One of Shige’s favorite things was to share the fruits of his labor.
In 2012, Shige was honored to receive the Congressional Gold Medal for his service in the Military Intelligence Service during WWII. He was a proud yet humble and gentle man. He was especially proud of his Japanese heritage and being able to overcome the difficulties that family and Japanese friends endured during and just after the war. He was interviewed for OPB’s, Oregon Experience on PBS which will air sometime toward the end of this year.
In 2015, with his daughter at his side, Shige traveled to Washington, D.C. on the Honor Flight to see the WWII Memorial. He was extremely honored to have the opportunity and to meet and enjoy camaraderie with other veterans.
Shige is survived and will be deeply missed by his daughter, Sheri Imai-Swiggart and her husband Brad Swiggart of Lynden, Wash. He is also survived by his brothers, George Imai of Hood River, Ore., and Tetsuo Imai of Plancentia, Calif.; several cousins; many remarkable nieces and nephews; as well as great and great great nieces and nephews, all of whom he was very proud of.
He was preceded in death by his wife, Mary Toda Imai; parents, Tomoyoshi Imai and Kotono Moriyasu Imai; brothers, Hitoshi and Shiro Imai; and sisters, Molly Lessner and Akiko Nakamura; nieces, Christie Nakamura, Arlene Schlosser and Julianne Beliel; and nephew, Dale Imai.
Memorials in Shige’s name are encouraged and should be directed to the Oregon Nikkei Endowment; 121 NW 2nd Ave. Portland, OR 97209, call (503) 224-1458.
A memorial and celebration of Shige’s life is planned for Saturday, June 2, 2018, at 10:30 a.m. at Anderson’s Tribute Center (1401 Belmont Ave, Hood River, Oregon). Graveside rites with military honors will be held at Idlewilde Cemetery following the reception.
Visit www.AndersonsTributeCenter.com to leave a note of condolence for the family.
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