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Islander, teacher and artist Sadayoshi Omoto passes away

Sadayoshi Omoto playing baseball on Bainbridge Island as a teen. He formed a love for the sport on the island and carried it with him the rest of his life. - Photo courtesy of Loren Omoto
Sadayoshi Omoto playing baseball on Bainbridge Island as a teen. He formed a love for the sport on the island and carried it with him the rest of his life.
— image credit: Photo courtesy of Loren Omoto

Many have traveled away from the island’s shores, carrying with them a hometown sense uniquely Bainbridge.

One such islander was Sadayoshi Omoto, who passed away on March 4 at age 90. He grew up on Bainbridge, and it influenced the rest of his life.

“He grew up there and it was a big part of who he was,” said Omoto’s son, Loren. “That Japanese-American community was everything to him, both for the good and bad things in his life.”

Omoto was born on Wing Point on Oct. 5, 1922 and grew up picking strawberries at the island’s many farms.

Active at Bainbridge High School, Omoto eventually became class president. It was an era of his life that he would value for the rest of his years.

“He would still always connect with people from the island later on, and there were people there that still called him Mr. President from high school,” Loren Omoto said.

Omoto was also editor of Hi-Lights, the school paper.

When Omoto graduated in 1941 an era of his life closed and a new era began, but not as he planned.

“The internment coming along when it did, it was a big turning point,” Loren Omoto said. “It was right after he graduated from high school. He was enrolled at the University of Washington, and all of a sudden it was full-stop. That really changed his life.”

Instead of heading off to college, Omoto was rounded up with his fellow Japanese-American islanders and sent to the Manzanar internment camp in California.

Omoto carried with him as much as he could from his island home, as well as his interest in journalism. He reported on life at Manzanar for the Bainbridge Island Review before leaving the camp to join the Army as a linguist for military intelligence.

After the war, Omoto earned his doctorate’s in art history from Ohio State University — the University of Washington had awarded him an honorary bachelor’s degree in 2008 — and spent the next 40 years teaching at colleges in Illinois and Michigan.

While he retired in Michigan, he was known for boasting a love for his hometown of Bainbridge Island and often returned for high school reunions.

Today, Bainbridge Island High students have a scholarship available to them in Omoto’s name. Ever since 1999, one senior with aims for college has been awarded the scholarship.

His youth on Bainbridge Island continued to stay with Omoto throughout his life.

“When he got back to painting, one of the things he focused on was landscapes, and I think that was pretty influenced by growing up on the island,” Loren Omoto said.

“The beauty of the place, the people there,” he added. “Obviously the kind of life those people had no longer exists, because it was a long time ago, but that’s the way he grew up.”

Before he passed away, Omoto wrote a history of Bainbridge’s baseball past for the island’s historical society.

“It was about town baseball in the 1930s,” Loren Omoto said. “I worked with him on it, his memories were incredibly sharp. To be 6, 7 or 8 years old, and he was able to recall players by name.”

Omoto’s love of baseball began on the island, but he remained engaged in the sport all his life. His favorite team was the Atlanta Braves.

Journalism was another life-long passion, and a passion that continues today in his family.

“It was what he really wanted to do. It was like a dream, but he did it like a hobby,” Loren Omoto said.

“When I was a kid he bought a printing press, a full-on printing press with cases of lead type,” his son recalled. “He made fliers and raffle tickets and programs.”

The old press also inspired a new generation to the news business.

“I did an underground newspaper in high school with it,” Loren Omoto said.

It wasn’t enough for him, however. He moved on from his underground high school newspaper and entered into a career in journalism, with reporter jobs in Michigan and Florida.

Loren Omoto left the news business two years ago. And like his father before him, he now teaches.

No local services will be held. A memorial service is planned for May 24 in Leland, Mich.

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