Herb Tsuchiya is ‘Renaissance Man’ of service — 2013 Visionary Award Recipient

This October, the Northwest Asian Weekly presents the Visionary Awards Gala, an event honoring visionaries in the APA community.

By Charles Lam
Northwest Asian Weekly

Herb Tsuchiya

Some would call Herb Tsuchiya a “community volunteer.” The 80-year-old retired Nisei Japanese American spent much of his life as a Seattle pharmacist. But while providing medicine had been his day job for decades, much of his time has been spent serving and helping the community, whether through organizations such as the Asian Counseling and Referral Service (ACRS) and Kin On Health Care, or through his church and his own business.

“My dream for this world is to foster healthy, joyful, authentic relationships of understanding and compassion one person at a time,” Tsuchiya said. “If we get to know each other and become true friends, we no longer have a motive to fight and kill each other. My dream is for peace to prevail, one individual at a time.”

Tsuchiya’s quest for peace took him to Hiroshima, Japan, home of the World Friendship Center, earlier this year. As a member of the cast and crew for the stage production “Breaking the Silence,” Tsuchiya traveled to Japan in late July and early August to perform the play in celebration of its 28th anniversary.

Originally performed in 1985 to benefit the Gordon Hirabayashi civil disobedience case fund, the play is a look at the Japanese American experience during three distinct points in history: Immigration at the turn of the 20th century, internment and incarceration during World War II, and the years of activism following the war. The play eventually contributed over $10,000 to Hirabayashi’s defense fund.

For decades, Herb Tsuchiya has supported in the community in many different roles, including business owner, an organizer, a fund raiser, a churchgoer, and, recently, actor in a traveling play.

The cast and crew were invited to perform in Hiroshima after Tsuchiya traveled to Japan to attend the dedication of the Floyd Schmoe Museum, a museum named for a Seattle-area minister who traveled to Hiroshima to rebuild houses after the atomic bomb. While in Japan, Tsuchiya made contact with the World Friendship Center, who eventually helped translate the script and invited the cast to perform.

In addition to making connections in the global community through theater, Tsuchiya has also helped to build community through his church and through his business. His activities with his church stretch back decades. Tsuchiya helped establish a scholarship fund for pastor candidates to attend seminary school so that Asian churches could have more pastors to choose from. Since the scholarship was established 36 years ago, more than 150 seminarians have received scholarships and attended seminary school.

“[Herb] is always expressing his God-given gift of generosity, with people, with groups, with the world. To have Herb as a partner in ministry is to know that God is with you,” said the Rev. Marcia Patton, executive minister of the Evergreen Association of American Baptist Churches.

During his time as a pharmacist, and a manager and owner of a pharmacy, Tsuchiya would often hire young employees who had no prior experience. He invested time in his employees and let them prove themselves through hard work. Tsuchiya ensured that their work experiences were enjoyable.

One of his former assistants, Courtney Chinn, currently a pediatric dentist in New York, once said to her father, “Dad, I feel guilty receiving a pay check from ‘Uncle Herb’ because he makes it so much fun to work in the pharmacy.”

But while he finds ways to give back in small ways, his most visible contributions may be through his activities in health care. For more than 15 years, Tsuchiya volunteered with the Rainier Vista Clinic Pharmacy, helping with pharmaceutical-inventory management and finding lower-cost medicines.

In 1991, after years of receiving invitations to ACRS’s annual open house and seeing low attendance, Tsuchiya started the organization’s Walk for Rice, a walk-a-thon to raise money for the ACRS Food Bank. The inaugural walk produced 45 walkers and $1,800 in donations. The latest Walk for Rice, the 23rd Walk, featured over 1,000 participants and raised $225,000. Since it started, the walk has contributed a total of $1.5 million to the food bank.

“Herb is one of the most amazing and humane people I have ever had the good fortune to meet,” said Diane Narasaki, executive director of ACRS. “He has the deep wisdom of his years, but the curiosity, imagination, and capacity for joy of a child. He is a talented ‘Renaissance Man’ who can do anything he puts his mind to, and since he is very creative, his inquiring mind takes him to many places. His three pieces of advice “to be kind, to be kind, to be kind” reflect who he is, and how he approaches everyone lucky enough to cross paths with him. He is the definition of kindness and generosity, and his loving heart touches everyone he meets. He has helped to build our community and its major institutions, and he has built bridges between communities and countries. He is one of my heroes.” (end)

The Visionary Awards Gala is Oct. 18 at China Harbor Restaurant from 6–9 p.m. Tickets are available for $70 before Oct. 15 and $80 afterwards. For more information, email rsvp@nwasianweekly.com.

Charles Lam can be reached at info@nwasianweekly.com.

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