It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of our dear sister and aunt, Ayako Higashi (nee Atagi) at Victorian Community Health Centre in Kaslo, BC.
She was 96 years of age. She is survived by her younger brother Yutaka (Yute) Atagi and her nephews – Gene (Susanne) Atagi of Campbell River, BC and Dana (Valerie) Atagi of Smithers, BC. She was preceded in death by her husband of 58 years, Buck Higashi, her father (Kiyomatsu), her mother (Kane), her older sisters (Mariko and Kimiko), and her sister-in-law (Ruth Atagi).
Born in Campbell River on Vancouver Island, Aya grew up in Quathiaski Cove on Quadra Island. She had many fond memories of her childhood on Quadra. She was an excellent student who left her family to attend high school in Vancouver and she graduated from prestigious King Edward High School in 1938. Her future was promising as she considered attending the University of BC to study medicine however everything changed for her and her family in 1941 with the entry of Japan in to the Second World War. Like many the war changed her life.
In the fall of 1942, Aya and her family were moved, along with many other Canadians of Japanese descent, to an internment camp in the old mining town of Kaslo, BC. At 23 years of age, this event influenced her life from this point forward. She became a teacher of the many Japanese Canadian students in Kaslo (Kootenay Lake School) and Slocan (Popoff School). In 1949 when the travel restrictions on Japanese Canadians were rescinded, Aya and the Atagi family chose to stay in the Kootenays and make a life in the beautiful community of Kaslo. After the war she attended the Vancouver Normal School to complete her teacher training. She would go on to become an award winning teacher in the Kaslo high school system and in 1977 she was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee medal for education. She never had children of her own but considered her students to be her children. She was always interested in and proud of what became of her former students. In 1984 after more than 40 years of teaching in Slocan and Kaslo she retired from J.V. Humphries Elementary and High School.
In 1949 she married Gerald Tadayoshi (Buck) Higashi. She and Buck were active in the community and they shared a life of travel, golf, curling, square dancing, and many other social activities. They were very proud of their 8 ender! Being a teacher allowed them to travel. They enjoyed travelling to see history and to visit family at the coast, in Ontario, and especially her sister Kimiko and her family in Japan. She and Buck were life-long RV’ers long before it was a popular way to holiday. They enjoyed many trips to the Maritimes, all across North America and especially to Arizona where they enjoyed many winters in retirement. She loved Buck was devoted to him as she spent several years looking after him as he battled the cancer that would eventually take him in 2007.
Aya had a great sense of service to her community. She was an ambassador for Kaslo and was a champion for preserving and restoring the many heritage buildings that give Kaslo its unique character. She was an active member of the St. Andrew’s United Church and she spent much of her retirement years volunteering for her many worthy causes. At 91, she wrote that she kept herself busy by being involved in the Church, the Kaslo Hospital Auxiliary, the Kaslo City Hall Conservation Committee, and with the many other charities that she supported. When in her 80s, she quipped about going to visit the old people who were in residence up at the hospital.
She supported the redress of the Japanese Canadians in a positive way. She would continue to share her story of the internment camp years to the younger generation of Japanese Canadians and students alike. Like her father, she loved to keep a flower garden and she always had a home full of perennial flowers and plants. She was always well dressed and she loved her hats! For her tireless life of service she received and humbly accepted many awards but she was most proud of the Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee Medal (1977), BC Wisdom of Age Mentorship Award (2007), Kaslo & District Chamber of Commerce Lifetime Achievement Award (2008), Rick Hansen Community Difference Maker Award (2012), and Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Award (2012).
Because of her teaching career and community service she was arguably one of the more influential, recognizable and colourful personalities in the village. She was certainly one of the most colourful and celebrated personalities in the Atagi family! Many thanks go to her many friends in Kaslo who regularly visited her and to the staff at the Victorian Community Health Centre who cared for her and treated her with kindness in her last years.
We will celebrate her life on Saturday, September 19, 2015 at 2 pm at St. Andrew’s United Church, 500 Fourth Street, Kaslo, BC. In lieu of flowers, the family has requested that a donation in Aya’s memory may be made to the Victorian
Hospital of Kaslo Auxiliary Society (PO Box 607, Kaslo, BC V0G 1M0).