Richmond Rotary honors legacy of onetime president David Ninomiya

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Richmond Rotary honors legacy of onetime president David Ninomiya
Richmond Rotary members and supporters gathered Fri., April 22, 2022 at the city’s Shimada Friendship Park to honor the memory of late club president and ardent community volunteer David Ninomiya for his “service above self.” (Photos by Kathy Chouteau)

By Kathy Chouteau

Richmond Rotary members and supporters gathered Fri., April 22 at the city’s Shimada Friendship Park to honor the memory of late club president and ardent community volunteer David Ninomiya for his “service above self.”

As rain clouds parted and the rays shined through Friday morning, it set the perfect stage for the legacy of Ninomiya—who operated a greenhouse in Richmond and other places with his family—to have its day in the sun. Before a crowd of approximately 30 people that included his sisters, Flora and Alice Ninomiya, his widow Janet Ninomiya, his nephew Dwight Koda, Richmond Mayor Tom Butt, Rotary members and club supporters, David Ninomiya was honored with a granite plaque at the waterfront park. It will eventually be moved to another, more permanent location at the park.

Rotarian Jan Brown—who formerly served as president of the Richmond Rotary in April 2020 when its 100th anniversary occurred—offered attendees some background on Ninomiya’s family. She shared how, as a four-year-old North Richmond boy, his parents were forced to leave due to internment and the family “had to leave behind their parents and their family’s livelihood and their only way of making a living.” Years later, as a local business leader and Rotarian, Ninomiya prevailed over his family’s upheaval and he became “a leader in our club, in our community, in the Bay Area and across borders,” said Brown.

Flora Ninomiya, David’s sister, spoke about the family’s deep roots in Richmond, having lived in the city for “over a hundred years” since her immigrant grandfather arrived in 1913. She said her brother, a graduate of Richmond High School, went on to earn a degree in Horticulture from Ohio State, and returned to Richmond in 1960. Upon his return, he became involved in the family’s Richmond nursery and expanded their business with loans from Mechanics Bank. With “many mentors along the way,” Flora said her brother rose to serve as president of the California State Florist Association and also president of the California Flower Market for more than 20 years until he passed away.

“So I would say that he contributed to the industry, he contributed to our local Richmond interest and so… our family is very, very proud,” said Flora.

The granite plaque honoring David Ninomiya’s legacy in Shimada Friendship Park reads: Miraflores Centennial Project, Rotary Club of Richmond, California, April 2020, 100th Anniversary of Service Above Self,” Dedicated to the Memory of David Ninomiya, 1938-2008, Richmond Rotarian, 1978-79 President.”

Ninomiya’s honor was a fitting springboard toward the Richmond Rotary finally beginning to mark its 100th year—again, which officially occurred in 2020—after a two-year delay due to the pandemic. As part of celebrating its Centennial milestone, the club has adopted the Miraflores Greenbelt historical educational exhibit, which was initially set for installation in spring 2020, per the club.

Bolstered by support from community donors, the Rotary Foundation and participating Rotary club partners, the club will fund the eventual completion of the expanded “Making a Living/Building Community”—permanent displays honoring the Japanese American immigrant stories of Richmond and the Bay Area—when the timing is right. The effort will see volunteers help install the outdoor exhibits and plantings that will include flower cuttings from the Richmond sites of onetime Japanese greenhouses.

Brown remarked during the Ninomiya event that while the club is “sad that [the displays] couldn’t already be installed” yet, the group is going to “live through that delay and…make sure that the stories of the Japanese American families and the immigrant families will stay alive and be remembered.” She added, “That’s really what today is about. We’re here to honor David Ninomiya and his family and to keep those stories alive.”

The club’s work on the “Making a Living/Building Community” display—which they are dedicating to David Ninomiya—is one facet of a greater Miraflores project that’s been underway in Richmond for many years. The project is a 14-acre City of Richmond residential development on the site of the historic Sakai and Oishi nurseries, founded by Japanese immigrants around 1906, per the club, and encompasses senior housing, market-rate condos, creek/greenway improvements and other efforts.

Following the Ninomiya event Friday, a second Rotary event at the Richmond Country Club recognized community donors and Rotarian partnerships of the Miraflores Centennial Project as everyone involved awaits “the eventual installation of the Historic Interpretive Displays honoring the Japanese American immigrant stories of Richmond and the Bay Area,” according to Don Lau, who is on the club’s fundraising committee for the project.

Community donors being recognized included: The Ninomiya Koda Family; Chevron Corporation; Mechanics Bank; Hide and James Oshima; EM Downer Foundation; Overaa Construction; Republic Services; and Power Plant. Also recognized were Rotary Club Partners: District 5160 Foundation Grant, Rotary Club of Berkeley, Rotary Club of San Ramon Valley and Rotary Club of El Cerrito, as well as the Richmond Rotary Club’s own members, who made personal contributions through the “Club 100.”

Learn more about the Richmond Rotary’s Miraflores Centennial Project here.