Happy 105th, Mrs. Moritsugu!
"Life has been so good," says the Kaneohe matriarch
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At age 94, Yoshiko Moritsugu studied hard to pass the U.S. citizenship test.
That was more than a decade ago.
Today, Moritsugu, of Kaneohe, marks another milestone, turning 105 years of age, with the same positive attitude that led her to overcome that test and a long life of challenges and tragedies.
Born in Japan, Moritsugu raised eight children, mostly as a widow and single mother. With only a sixth-grade education, she worked hard selling flowers to lei vendors and at other jobs to support her family.
Now a grandmother to 13 and a great-grandmother to eight children, Moritsugu will celebrate her birthday later this month surrounded by family and friends at the Aloha Nursing & Rehabilitation Centre in Kaneohe. "Today everybody's (her family) doing well, so I'm very contented," she says.
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Despite a lifetime's worth of struggles, you hear little about the sorrows of life from Yoshiko Moritsugu of Kaneohe, who turns 105 today.
"Life has been so good," said Moritsugu in Japanese translated by her daughter, Alice Arakaki. "Today everybody (her family) is doing well, so I'm very contented."
But there was a time when her life was a ceaseless struggle to raise eight children on her own, growing and selling lei flowers for a pittance.
In her 20s she sailed from Japan to marry Yasuichi Moritsugu, also an immigrant. But at the onset of World War II, her husband was put in an Japanese internment camp, leaving her alone to support the children. He died five years after his release, when Moritsugu was 47, Arakaki said.
But "hard work," Moritsugu said as she made a scrubbing motion, is the secret to her longevity.
"We had no money so we had to work hard. I had to send eight kids to school. ... I used to feel sorry for the children, but it had to be done," she said.
The children, carrying kerosene lamps, had to get up before sunrise to pick several hundred maunaloa flowers before the buds opened, then rush off to school, often with no breakfast, Arakaki, 69, said.
Every day, her mother would take a taxi from Kaneohe into town with a heavy load of flowers to lei vendors on Maunakea Street. On a good day, like May Day, she would make $70, but on most days it was only $12 or $18, Arakaki recalled. They did that for 15 to 20 years, with Moritsugu often staying up past midnight to tend to the flowers, she added.
CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Yoshiko Moritsugu turns 105 years of age today. At the Aloha Nursing & Rehabilitation Centre yesterday, she reminisced about her life, aided in translation by daughter Alice Arakaki.
In spite of having "a pretty hard life," Jodi Shimabukuro said her grandmother is "very spunky and just full of life, a very happy person. ... She has a face that kind of lights up when she smiles," Shimabukuro, 40, said.
Two of Moritsugu's sons died. "Although she was very heartbroken, she was able to go on. She has a very strong spirit. In the past year her left leg had to be amputated, but her attitude was, You do what you gotta do and just move on with it. That's the main thing I've learned from her," she said.
Shimabukuro and her sister, Kristi Arakaki, are close to their grandmother, who raised them while their mother worked. Shimabukuro and the hula halau she belongs to will dance in celebration of her grandmother's birthday Sept. 15 at the Aloha Nursing & Rehabilitation Centre in Kaneohe, where Moritsugu has been living since last year.
Bingo has become one of the highlights of her life. "She's very competitive," Arakaki said, noting that she wants to win the little prizes for her great-grandchildren.
Her mother loves it at the center, where the staff is extremely warm, and every day a visitor brings her a hibiscus picked from the nearby garden, Arakaki, 30, said.
"These are the things that make life worth living," Moritsugu said, sniffing the flower.