By Lee Cataluna
The Rev. Takie Okumura came to Honolulu more than 100 years ago, but his contributions to the community are still vital today.
He founded Makiki Christian Church with 24 members. He started the first Japanese-language school. He was instrumental in founding Mid Pacific Institute. He started the first AJA baseball league. He published newspapers and wrote 11 books.
For the Hawai'i Housing Development Corp., he was an early role model in providing affordable rentals in urban Honolulu.
He came to Hawai'i from Japan in 1894 and served as pastor of Nu'uanu Church. Two years later, he and his wife, Katsu, took in a friend's son who had come to Honolulu to attend school. That child was the first of many who would find a loving home with the Okumuras, who established the Okumura Boys and Girls Home.
In 1986, descendants gave the property to the Hawai'i Community Foundation. The Hawai'i Housing Development Corp., a private nonprofit group whose mission is to develop affordable rental housing in urban Honolulu, bought the property and built the eight-story Birch Street Apartments, an affordable family rental, in 1999.
This week, a plaque designed by renowned graphic artist Momi Cazimero was dedicated at the Birch Street Apartments. It reads:
"Dedicated to the Reverend Takie Okumura (1865-1951) and Mrs. Katsu Okumura (1868-1942).
"Reverend Takie Okumura was a Christian minister from Kochi Prefecture, Japan, who came to Hawai'i in 1894. His mission was to give Japanese immigrants an opportunity to worship and to become contributing members of their new community. Like many immigrants of his day, he stayed and made Hawai'i his home.
"In August 1896, Reverend Okumura was asked to care for a friend's young son while the son attended school. Others soon followed, and before long, the Rev. and Mrs.
Okumura found themselves caring for dozens of children. Recognizing a need in the community, they established the Okumura Boys and Girls Home. The home provided affordable housing to the children of immigrant families, especially those from neighbor islands who could not otherwise afford to come to Honolulu to attend school....
"After 90 years of caring for more than 1,400 young men and women, the Okumura family closed the home and used the property as a gift to the Hawai'i Community Foundation. It is fitting that the property now provides affordable rental housing for O'ahu families.
" 'I am grateful to my community. Without questioning my ability and my strength, it welcomed me. Directly or indirectly, it gave me assistance. It gave me encouragement and sympathy.'
Reverend Okumura, 1934."
Lee Cataluna's column runs Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Reach her at 535-8172 or firstname.lastname@example.org