Molly Mariko Kageyama MAEDA
November 23, 1919 – June 15, 2020
Molly Mariko Kageyama was born in Dee, Oregon to Yasuta and Ichino Kageyama, immigrants who cleared the land and built a small fruit farm near the foot of Mt. Hood. She followed her older sister to Oregon State College and was a straight A student and a member of Phi Kappa Phi honorary. There, she also met her future husband, an electrical engineering student, Milton Maeda. After graduation, Molly stayed in Corvallis and worked at the admissions office.
Shortly after December 7, 1941, Molly was driven home to Hood River by her boss, citing fear for her safety. By the following February, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, ordering all West Coast people of Japanese ancestry to leave their homes and assemble for incarceration in concentration camps for the duration of the WWII. Being from Hood River, Molly was to go with her family to Tule Lake, California, while Milton was to go to Minidoka, Idaho with his Portland family. While waiting to be sent to Minidoka, they were married at Portland’s Pacific International Livestock Exposition Center to be able to stay together. Their love story was a 2020 Valentine’s Day feature in the South Seattle Emerald : https://southseattleemerald.com/?s=Molly+Maeda
Molly and Milton began married life in an 8 x 10 portion of a long barrack along with Milton’s parents and sister. She recounted those days for the Densho oral history project of those incarcerated during WWII: https://ddr.densho.org/narrators/778/
They were fortunate to leave Minidoka in 1943 when one of Milton’s OSC classmates helped him get a job inland in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Their first child, Sharon was born there. When WWII was over, and it was safe to return to the West Coast, they went back to Portland and lived with his parents, where their second child, Diane, was born. Milton worked at the Bonneville Power Administration and Molly was a homemaker and did direct mail work from their new home in Portland’s Albina District.
In 1955, the family moved to the Seattle area when Milton began working for Boeing as an electrical engineer. The family lived in a segregated building in Burien Gardens until they bought a house – despite racial discrimination – in Normandy Park. Technically, the house was on the unincorporated side of the street, while their mailbox was in incorporated Normandy Park with racially restrictive covenants. The realtor refused to sell the house “…because the neighbors would not approve.” Fortunately, the owner approached the family and not only sold to the Maedas, but paved the way with neighbors. Molly was active in the local garden club and made lifelong friends with the neighbors.
Molly was well known for her Japanese cooking and baking cookies and cakes. She taught Diane and Sharon’s college and community friends how to make sushi back in the 1960’s and 70’s. She sent cookies to Vietnam to young neighbors in the military. She baked cookies for birthdays and celebrations of all kinds for friends and neighbors. Her plates of assorted Christmas cookies were coveted by friends. When Sharon lived in California and the East Coast, her colleagues learned to recognize that the shoebox packages from Seattle were filled with Molly’s famous butter cookies.
Molly was also an informal welcome wagon/social worker for women from Japan who were married to Americans. She helped them navigate supermarkets, find Japanese food ingredients, learn English and acquire basic survival skills. When she learned that in urban Japan, most women didn’t know how to cook because of their tiny kitchens and readily available fresh prepared food, she taught them how to make sushi.
After Milton passed away in 1971, Molly sold their home and moved into town to be closer to the family. She lived in the Eastlake area and loved to walk all around the UW campus. She was considered the house mother at her apartment building where she took care of packages, made birthday goodies and generally looked out for the international and graduate students who lived there.
While she missed the love of her life, she built a new life volunteering at Blaine Memorial United Methodist Church and the Wing Luke Museum and supporting community organizations. For her 98th birthday, she decided that she wanted celebrate by giving to the homeless. She learned that warm socks were a much needed commodity, so the family joined The Lord’s Table volunteers under the I-5 freeway on a cold and rainy night, handing out hundreds of pairs of socks as they received their spaghetti dinners.
In 2005, she moved to University House, independent senior living in the Wallingford area where she became active with all kinds of new interests and friends. She walked to Green Lake and around the lake on a regular basis….as the years wore on, she took the bus to the lake, then walked around, gradually shortening her route. Until a few months before she passed away, she was still taking flights of stairs instead of the elevator and going to regular exercise classes. She loved taking the Metro to shop at the downtown Macy’s and attend summer lunchtime concerts, or to visit her friends in assisted living and nursing homes all around the county.
She was a perfect voter and even rallied at Westlake Park for the Affordable Care Act. She was “disgusted” with the current president and his vulgarity, not to mention his policies and programs.
Molly volunteered at the Wing Luke Museum where she worked the front desk, stuffed fundraising envelopes and prepared newsletters for mailing. When the museum created an EO9066 exhibit, she also became a docent, telling the American concentration camp story to school children. Museum staff often found her out on the sidewalk, sweeping the walkway to the museum.
She was a mainstay of Tuesday Ladies, the Blaine Memorial United Methodist Church service group for the nisei generation. Every Tuesday, they gathered at the church, where they socialized and ate lunch together while making blankets and holiday favors for nursing homes, crafts for the annual church bazaar, and hygiene kits for the unhoused.
Molly had a special relationship to her only grandchild, Lea. When Lea went off to Boston University, they talked on the phone every Saturday and had many conversations over time. Molly did not like to fly, but she flew to Boston for Lea’s graduation, and then took the train to explore New York City. The next time she flew was to New York for Lea and Joe Tiernan’s wedding in 2013. She was delighted when Lea, Joe and their toddler, Sean Jitsuto, decided to move to Seattle. She loved reading him stories and watching him grow into a creative and imaginative four year old. He too, had a special relationship with his hibachan (great grandmother). When his baby brother, James Hiroshi Anthony was born last December, she was over the moon.
Molly was delighted to have six 100th birthday parties that spanned eight months and included lunch for 100 family and close friends. And, she was very proud to have made it to 100.5 – and don’t forget the point five! She outlived her siblings (Mikie Yasui, Charlee Omori, Bob Kageyama) and their spouses as well as her in-laws (Frances Maeda, Roy & Joyce Maeda, Richard and Smitty Maeda). She enjoyed being the matriarch of the family, relished visits from the younger generations and saved their cards and letters.
At Blaine, people who are not able to get to church – especially seniors – receive hand-made cards on various holidays. At the social hour after services, congregants would sign the cards to be sent to these folks. This year, with COVID preventing church services, Molly worried that these members would not get cards. So, she got out her craft materials and made a number of Easter cards and sent them to everyone she could remember were on the homebound list. She sent the last cards out a couple of days before her heart attack.
On Easter eve, Molly was hospitalized with a “mild” heart attack. She came home in five days to a 14 day virus quarantine. She began planning her move to Nikkei Manor, assisted living, where she could have Japanese food options for both lunch and dinner, walk across the street to Uwajimaya as well as medical support. But, after three hospitalizations in two months, and three negative COVID-19 tests (she was very proud of that) her frail body just gave out. She had an opportunity to speak with each family member individually, had a visit with Rev. Karen Yokota-Love and Jeney Park-Hearn, and slept in peace.
Even in her last days, she endeared herself to the Swedish First Hill staff who called her Grandma Molly. Special thanks to all the nurses and other medical staff, especially Drs. Chu, Dhaliwah, Ong, Ng, Shaikh, Zavala and also her longtime doctor Jennifer Leahy.
Molly will be missed by daughters Sharon Maeda, Diane Sugimura (Rich) and Carolyn “Coco” Rees (“third sister”), granddaughter Lea Sugimura Tiernan (Joe), great grandchildren, Sean Jitsuto and James Hiroshi Anthony Tiernan and many extended family and friends. She will be interred with her beloved Milton at Riverview Abbey in Portland. At her request, a family service will be held there, post-coronavirus.
Molly asked that remembrances be made to Blaine Memorial United Methodist Church, Mary’s Place or the Wing Luke Museum.
Molly Mariko Kageyama MAEDA
June 25, 2020
My Mother Masa Hirano and I are saddened to hear of your Mother's passing. She has always been an incredible lady with a wide variety of interests from her family, to her Church and to her University Place community. I was sure she'd live forever and make history as a Lifetime Metro Bus Pass carrier! Sean had such a nice relationship with his hibachan and will have fond memories forever. She was a good friend whom we will always remember for her thoughtfulness and wonderful friendship. Thinking of all of you with love and prayers at this time.
Patty Eckloff (Meyers)
June 22, 2020
My family were neighbors with the Maeda family in
Normandy Park back in the early 1960's.
I went to school with Sharon and Diane in the Highline
My deepest sympathy to Sharon and Diane. I read your
Mother's life story. She was an incredible woman.
Patty (Meyers) Eckloff