Shimeji Kanazawa, or “Shim” as most of us know her, is Hawai‘i’s original pioneer of aging issues. She has advocated for programs and services that help our senior population for five decades. In doing so, she Shim has worked with every governor, from Gov. Quinn to Gov. Abercrombie. Shim is an honorary member of the Governor’s Policy Advisory Board of Elderly Affairs and the only member since its inception in the ‘60s.\
GM: Where did you grow up? What schools?
SK: I was born in Kamuela Hawai‘i, and I was the eldest of 11 children. I attended Waimea School, Hilo Intermediate School and Hilo High School, class of 1934. In 1948, I attended Chamberlain School of Retailing in Boston Massachusetts. In 1990, I was awarded the Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters degree from the University of Hawai‘i for my public service over six decades.
GM: What kind of influences were your mother and father?
SK: My parents immigrated from Shizuoka Prefecture (Japan) and taught us by example the value of diligent, hard work. Although there were 11 children, all of us felt loved as if we were the only child; and learned to value cultural traditions of respect, especially to elders within our family and the community at large.GM: You grew up on the Big Island and then became a vice principal at Kohala School. Tell us this story. Was this your first job?
SK: My first job after graduating high school was as the mimeograph operator for the Hilo teachers curriculum group, which was developing an instructor’s booklet. That same year I was hired at Kohala Elementary and High School in a secretarial position. On occasion, during James W. O’Neal’s absence, I was the acting vice principal for Kohala School. Mr. O’Neal authorized me to teach secretarial skills to students, which contributed toward their degree. From 1934 to August 1941, I resided at the Kohala School teacher’s cottage.
GM: Tell us the story about the Swedish ViceConsulate and your work with them.
SK: In February 1942, the Swedish Vice Consulate Department of Japanese Interest was established to protect matters concerning Japanese nationals residing in the territory. Mr. Gustaf W. Olson was the vice consul for Sweden and also the administrator for Queens Medical Center. I was the executive secretary and my responsibility, with the help of a few assistants, was to oversee Consulate operations. Our job was to assure that the POWs who were transported through Hawai‘i, and those held in internment camps such as Honouliuli, were treated in accordance with the civil, military and international laws.
GM: You are well known as the founder of Project Dana. How did this come about?
SK: In 1988, I attended a National Federation of Interfaith Volunteer Caregivers meeting in Florida, as a trustee and treasurer for Mō‘ili‘ili Hongwanji Mission. I was impressed with reports from 40 states describing their elder care programs. I enlisted the assistance of the executive director Virginia Schiaffino-Kasinki of The National Federation of Interfaith Volunteers Caregivers, Inc., now known as the Interfaith Caregivers Alliance, to establish a similar pilot program for Hawai‘i. Initially the program was focused on the Hongwanji community, however with the broad vision, diligent voluntary work and coordination of our administrator Ms. Rose Nakamura, Project Dana expanded to incorporate all denominations of churches and temples. Although I may have been given the title of “founder,” it was only through the guidance of Ms. Nakamura. She, along with her dedicated staff, developed Project Dana from a “good idea” to a valuable asset for our kūpuna. Project Dana is known for its Best Practice Program in care giving to the elderly and disabled persons so that they can continue to live in their choice of location for as long as possible. There are more than 850 interfaith volunteers servicing more than 1,000 kūpuna each year. Over the years, Ms. Nakamura has received numerous prestigious awards for her contributions, garnering national recognition for Project Dana. In 2011, Project Dana is celebrating its 22nd anniversary. For the project’s next phase, I’d like to propose a partnership between the youth and the elderly. Together, they could share their talents and resources, supporting each other in relationships that benefit both the individuals and the community.
GM: What people don’t know is that you have worked with every governor on aging issues—
from Gov. Quinn to Gov. Abercrombie. Tell us about your involvement.
SK: Gov. Quinn appointed me as chair of the Family Life and Law Committee. Along with judge Betty Vitousek who served as vice chair, we worked with the legislature to establish the Family Court System in Hawai‘i. With my 1972 appointment to the Commission on Aging established by Gov. John Burns, my focus shifted from the children and youth arena to issues challenging the elderly. I continued to serve on the Board of the Executive Office on Aging as commissioned by Gov. George Ariyoshi.
GM: The State of Hawai‘i’s Executive Office on Aging was pretty much your idea? Tell us more about those early years.
SK: With the wide impact of the state’s aging community, The City and County Parks and Recreation Department was the forerunner of the Commission on Aging. The city created an Elderly Affairs Office under the executive branch.
Through the newly formed Executive Office on Aging, we proposed and provided comprehensive health, education and social services to the older residents of the State of Hawai‘i.
GM: Every 10 years the White House Conference on Aging is held, and you have lead Hawai‘i’s
contingent for the last 50+ years. Can you tell us about these conferences?
SK: In 1961, 1971 and 1981, I led a delegation of approximately 12 community leaders to Washington, D.C. The conference convenes to discuss current issues facing the aging population. The goal was to have our concerns addressed in national legislation, which in turn would benefit the elderly throughout the nation. In 1981, I was fortunate to be selected under President Jimmy Carter’s administration to serve on the National White House Aging Committee
in Washington, D.C., which gave me an opportunity to share the plight and success of eldercare in Hawai‘i.
GM: Tell us about President Carter appointing you to advise him on aging issues.
SK: President Jimmy Carter’s administration selected approximately 15 people to serve on the Federal Council on the Aging in Washington, D.C. We met about twice a year during a two-year term, advising the president and the Senate Committee about current matters and trends of the older Americans.
GM: Tell us about your lifetime appointment as honorary board member of PABEA?
SK: Gov. Benjamin Cayetano appointed me to serve on the Policy Advisory Board of Elder Affairs, which I continue to honor today.
GM: How did you come to be the first woman President of the Board of Kuakini Medical Center?
SK: Through my involvement working with elderly affairs and legislative issues, I met Masaichi Tasaka, past CEO of Kuakini Medical Center, in 1976. He appointed me to the Board of Directors and eventually I served as the Board President in 1981. One of my proudest moments while serving on the board was enlisting the expertise of Mary Kawena Pukui to suggest an appropriate name for the newly constructed long-term care facility. “Hale Puˉlama Mau,” or House of Cherishing Care, was selected as the structures name and reminder of the facilities mission.
GM: Tell us about your involvement with Mō‘ili‘ili Community Center.
SK: My late husband, Kinji Kanazawa, was born and raised in Mō‘ili‘ili on Kaheka Lane. He was instrumental in retaining the property from government confiscation during the war years. Since 1986, I’ve been involved with MCC by serving on the Board of Directors, and participating in their various committees. For the past three years I have chaired the annual membership meeting committee. I appreciate the multi-generational and cultural component MCC provides to our community.
GM: What should people in retirement do with their lives?
SK: Keep up a healthy lifestyle, keep busy, pursue hobbies, do things for others, focus on volunteerism, and keep families together.