Remembering Hannah Tomita

ARCHIVE PHOTO: Hannah, left, and Lisa Tomita of Eiji's Florist have provided flower arrangements for thousands of events throughout southern California. Community members attended a memorial service for Hannah Tomita on Saturday, Feb. 23. (Megan O'Neil / February 27, 2013)

Last Saturday, several hundred of us attended a memorial service for Hannah Tomita.

Hannah and her husband, Eiji, opened Eiji's Flowers in 1959. It's one of the oldest businesses in La Cañada.

Others have written about Hannah's talents as a designer, innovator and entrepreneur. (See “From seed to full bloom,” by Megan O'Neil, Valley Sun, Nov. 12, 2009.)

Hannah was also a gracious lady who gave strength and joy to those around her. At her memorial, many spoke of her generosity, “spunk” and sense of adventure.

Her approach to life was unique because she lived through two great tragedies, but had the strength of character to love others and live fully.

Many of you know Hannah's daughter, Lisa, who now runs the shop, but Hannah also had another daughter, Stacy, who died in infancy. I was not aware of this until Hannah made a point of talking with me when our own son died. All I can say is this: She gave me strength.

Hannah also lived through that sordid blot on our nation's history, the internment of 110,000 Japanese Americans from the West Coast.

Hannah was only 12 years old in August 1941, when Rep. John Dingell Sr. (D. Mich.), demanded that President Franklin D. Roosevelt incarcerate at least 10,000 Japanese Americans as hostages to ensure “good behavior” on the part of Japan.

Dingell's parents were immigrants from Poland.

On Feb. 19, 1942, shortly before Hannah's 13th birthday, Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, mandating the detentions. Hannah and her family were incarcerated at Gila, Ariz. She was the youngest of eight children.

It's hard to imagine someone as wonderful as Hannah going through all that, but Hannah told me that the camp was much harder on the older people. She said she and the other teenagers were resilient and liked to socialize, even at the camp.

However, according to a federal report, “At Gila, there were 7,700 people crowded into a space designed for 5,000. They were housed in mess halls, recreation halls and even latrines. As many as 25 persons lived in a space intended for four.” (“Personal Justice Denied: Report of the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians.”) As time went on, the inmates were allowed to run the camp and the conditions began to improve.

To get out of the camp, one of Hannah's brothers joined the U.S. Army. He was sent to Europe. Toward the end, sponsors stepped up to fund the release of young people. Sounds wonderful, right? Hannah was released to go to Minnesota, where she worked in a sponsor's house as a maid.

It makes me angry to think about what Hannah and others went through, but Hannah was not an angry person. She was part of the greatest generation, the generation of Nisei that began to rebuild. Plus, she was a sensitive and fundamentally giving person. She was a woman of faith.

She embraced life. She embraced others. She lived a full life.

Hannah's memorial service was packed with friends, relatives, customers and former employees. Her three surviving sisters, Miyo, Yoshiko and Jane, sat in the front row. Behind them were generations of nieces, nephews and their children.

In her interview with the Valley Sun in 2009, O'Neil asked Hannah: “You are celebrating 50 years of business this month. What is your secret for such longevity and success?”

Hannah replied, “We liked what we were doing and we liked our customers. I love my customers. My customers, to this day.”

Lisa added, “They are always coming in and asking about her...”

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ANITA SUSAN BRENNER is a longtime La Cañada Flintridge resident and an attorney with Law Offices of Torres and Brenner in Pasadena. Email her at anitasusan.brenner@yahoo.com and follow her on Twitter @anitabrenner.