Hawaii expat chamber honors pioneering isle athlete
HAWAII sporting pioneer Wallace "Wally" Yonamine is going to be honored tomorrow night by Hawaii expats in San Francisco.
The Hawaii Chamber of Commerce of Northern California stages its annual Kulia I Ka Nu'u Awards and Five Star Gala to recognize people who have dedicated their lives to promoting the spirit of aloha beyond Hawaii's shores.
"The main mission of our organization is building bridges between the Bay Area and Hawaii," said Kyle Tatsumoto, chamber treasurer. Tatsumoto, a Castle High School graduate, is the manager of the California Bank & Trust
financial planning department.
"We're really pleased that we can honor Wally Yonamine ... because here's a man who, his whole life, has built bridges, between Hawaii and the Bay Area, the Bay Area and Japan, and Hawaii and Japan."
There are more than a dozen online pages of archived Honolulu Star-Bulletin stories bearing Yonamine's name -- and they leave little doubt about why he is being honored.
Olowalu-born Yonamine became the first Asian American to play professional football as a halfback with the San Francisco 49ers. He was released after breaking his arm before the 1948 season, so he turned to baseball.
Again he broke barriers as the first American to play pro baseball in Japan, signing with the Yomiuri Giants. He played for 12 years, then coached and managed for 26 years. In 1994 he became the first American in the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame.
Baseball historian and author Kerry Yo Nakagawa will introduce Yonamine at the festivities, at which San Francisco 49ers owner John York will keynote. York introduced Yonamine at his induction to the Japanese-American Sports Hall of Fame in 2002.
The chamber will present scholarships at the gala, to Hawaii students continuing their education in the Bay Area. Beyond the $1,000 checks, "we hook 'em up" with a chamber member in a student's field of interest, as a mentor.
"We're hoping to develop leadership skills, so this kid now realizes that people out here from Hawaii lent (them) a hand and we hope they'll turn around and do the same thing," Tatsumoto said.
is a reporter with the Star-Bulletin. Call 529-4747, fax 529-4750 or write to Erika Engle, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 500 Ala Moana Blvd., No. 7-210, Honolulu, HI 96813. She can also be reached at: email@example.com