‘blessed by the most fantastic luck’

Why were these two kids getting their picture taken by a professional photographer in October 1934. The reason is actually pretty cool.
This is Ruby Kumasaka who is seven years old and her brother Hisasha who is five. They lived in an apartment in the Massasoit Hotel Building at 1706 Broadway with their parents in the heart of Japantown and just down the hill from the Buddhist Temple. An unusual thing about their family was that for all of their young lives their household had included a “grandfather” named Sweny Smith who was born in mid-1800’s Norway, some 80 years before this picture was taken. Sweny was an old deep woods logger and practicing Buddhist who became friends with the kid’s young parents. When age and years of hard work made it difficult for him to get along by himself, the Kumasaka’s invited him into their home to live. He lived with the young couple during the birth of both their children, celebrated Japanese and Buddhist holidays with them and settled easily into their daily customs of food and language. In his 80th year Sweny Smith passed away in bed after living almost a decade with the Kumasakas in a modest apartment in Tacoma. Before he did he told the children, like a grandfather Buddha, that like a pearl of great price, life would be good for them. He then directed them to a deposit box in a big downtown bank where his will left each of them $10,000, small fortunes during the depth of the Depression.
Photo Credit, TPL Richards Collection Series 866-2 Unique 11204


Glen Hisasha Kumasaka, 85, of Ann Arbor, Michigan, passed away at home on February 1, 2014.  He is survived by his wife, Ruri, and sons Thomas, David and Peter, his eight grandchildren, his sister in-law Toyoko Yamashina, as well as his siblings Ruby Noji, Reiko Hayashi, and Hiroshi Kumasaka and his nieces and nephews.

Glen was born in Tacoma, Washington on January 15, 1929.  After spending the war in the Tule Lake internment camp, his family relocated to Rochester, New York where he attended Eastman High School.  He received a BA from Harvard University and his MD from the University of Rochester in Rochester, New York.

He met and married Ruri Yamashina in Los Angeles, California. After a short courtship, they enjoyed a marriage which lasted over 53 years.

Glen had retired from a 28 year career as a radiologist at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital in Ann Arbor.   During his retirement he enjoyed watching his grandchildren flourish, and worked for years on his soon-to-be published memoirs.  Glen loved his family, friends, and classical music.  He would usually complete the New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle without difficulty.  Glen will be remembered as a kind and humble man who never felt comfortable being called “doctor.”  Like his father, Glen was ever-grateful and wrote in the anniversary book for his 50th college reunion that he hoped to be remembered as “someone whose whole life was ‘blessed by the most fantastic luck’.”

Japantown kids

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This site is about the way history, in this case of a city and it's surrounds, is remembered or recorded in stories and small bits of memory. It's also about the way images and stories go together, how they inform and enrich each other and how we as thinking people fill in the content between a narrative and a visual document. So here is my city in time past, the way it looked and the people and events that create its character. For more than 20 years I have taught a 5 credit course on the History of Tacoma at the University of Washington Tacoma. With an average of 30 or 40 students a year, each doing a research paper as their primary focus for the course, I have benefited from many paths of inquiry and many researched and assembled stories. Here are some of them in the retelling along with the treasures of photographs and images in the collections of the Washington State Historical Society, Tacoma Public Library, University of Washington Digital Archives, Washington State Archives at the Office of the Secretary of State, Library of Congress, Washington State University, Alaska State Library, and many other archives, libraries and private collections.


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