OBITUARY: Cathy Tanaka, member of the Fukui family business, dedicated volunteers in the community


Cathy Naomi Tanaka, a member of the Fukui family business who was actively involved in charitable causes, died peacefully in her sleep on March 1 at her home in Hacienda Heights. She was 73 years old.

Cathy TanakaToyo Miyatake Studio

Tanaka was born on July 30, 1949 in Tokyo to Soichi and Ruth Fukui during the US occupation of Japan. As a toddler, she moved to the United States with her family and settled in Los Angeles. In July 1951 her sister Chris was born and a year and a half later her brother Jerry.

Around the age of 10, Tanaka moved with her family to Windsor Hills, where she and her siblings spent the rest of her childhood. She graduated from Dorsey High School in 1968 and majored in French at UCLA. After graduating, she spent an extended period of time in Japan studying Japanese language and culture.

In 1979, Tanaka continued her father’s legacy by joining him and her brother as secretary and treasurer at the Fukui Mortuary. A fourth-generation member of the family business, she also became a licensed undertaker and emergency preparedness consultant. She worked in the morgue until her death.

In 1978 she married the love of her life, Masaru Tanaka. They moved to Hacienda Heights and their family grew by two when they welcomed their sons Eric in 1980 and Ryan in 1986. She loved supporting her children in their hobbies and activities, especially basketball. Her family continued to grow in 2012 when Eric married her daughter-in-law, Traci, and when Ryan became a father to their first grandchild, Shay, in 2015. In 2018, she was blessed with two more grandchildren, twins Connor and Mason.

She adored her grandchildren and loved spending time playing games, reading books, and frolicking with them. One of her finest achievements was being a grandmother.

Dedicated to the community, Tanaka has been involved with several organizations including the Military Intelligence Service Association of Southern California, the National Japanese American Veterans Council, the Go For Broke National Education Center, the Nisei Veterans Coordinating Council, and the Grateful Crane Ensemble.

GFBNEC staff, directors and supporters mourned the passing of Tanaka. “Cathy was so much more than just a board member,” said GFBNEC President Mitchell Maki. “She was a friend to so many of us; and an inspiration to all. She showed what it means to be kind and warm while working hard for what you believe in. We will miss them very much.”

The Grateful Crane Ensemble said in a statement: “We were saddened by the sudden death of Cathy Tanaka, our longtime friend, Grateful Crane board member and number one dishwasher at our Far East Feasts and Obento sales.

“She really was one of those behind-the-scenes players who are the MVPs of every organization they’re committed to. They don’t seek the limelight or fame, but they do all the work. That was Cathy to us and all the organizations she was involved with. We will miss her kindness, warm and welcoming smile and generous spirit.

“We are grateful to have known her and thank her for everything she has done for us and our community.”

Cathy Tanaka and Archie Miyatake assisted in the production of the documentary The Manzanar Fishing Club. (Photo courtesy of Cory Shiozaki)

Filmmaker Cory Shiozaki released a photo of Tanaka with the late photographer Archie Miyatake, noting that they both supported his documentary The Manzanar Fishing Club. “Cathy will be greatly missed for her dedication to the Go For Broke National Education Center. We will miss her energy, spirit and smile,” Shiozaki said.

Tommy Dyo, Tanaka’s cousin, wrote, “Cathy was deeply involved in the community to preserve Japanese-American stories from our past and tell them to new generations. She served our community with joy, compassion and generosity. She loved her community, friends, family but especially her sons Eric and Ryan and her husband Masaru.

“Although in her later years she expressed her spirituality with her loving husband in the Buddhist church, her roots were in the Christian faith. We hold fast to the promises of Scripture: “I will give them everlasting life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them from my hands.’ – John 10:28.

“Her kindness is reflected in everything she has done.”

Tanaka was also passionate about art and loved playing the piano and organ, “paint and sip” wine evenings, floral design, drawing, jewelry making, musicals and dancing. She loved animals and has cared for countless pets over the years including her beloved golden retrievers, a parrot and fish. When she was not with her family or pursuing one of her many hobbies, she met and spent time with her many groups of friends.

She had been looking forward to visiting relatives this month and meeting her new daughter-in-law in Hiroshima; Unfortunately, her long-awaited journey with Masaru did not come about.

She is survived by her husband Masaru Tanaka; children, Eric (Traci) and Ryan (Aya) Tanaka; grandchildren, Connor and Mason Tanaka and Shay Tanaka; siblings, Chris (Kenny) Kohler and Jerry Fukui; niece, Sarah Fukui; nephews, Cary Fukui and Kevin and Sean Kohler; she is also survived by other relatives here and in Japan.

The visit took place on March 12 at the Fukui morgue. A private memorial service will be held at Nishi Hongwanji at a later date.

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