When I meet Ron Kenmotsu, I begin my interview the way I always do, by asking where he was born.
“I was born in Amache, Colorado. That was a Japanese internment camp,” he reports frankly. “I was born right at the beginning of the war. My brother was born two years after me, right toward the end of the war when my family was returning to San Francisco.”
I ask about growing up and what he remembers most about his childhood.
“I don’t remember any of the camp because I was just a baby,” he tells me. “I grew up in the City. My parents were lucky because when they were sent to camp, their neighbor looked after their home for them, and they were able to return to it. Later, they managed hotels in the City, and we lived at the various hotels, moving frequently.”
Ron attended school in San Francisco and after graduating he joined the Army.
“I was in the Army for 3 years, then I came back and worked for the Federal Reserve in San Francisco and then Wells Fargo,” he says. During that time, he met his wife, Grace, through mutual friends. Grace was in college and determined to finish her degree and teaching credentials before marrying, so the pair dated for 5 years before tying the knot.
Once married, Ron and Grace moved to Foster City, where they raised two sons, Curtis and Derek. Despite his own amazing story, Ron really lights up when speaking about his sons.
“My oldest son is Curtis. He double-majored at UC Irvine and he and his wife, Emi, have my new grandson, Ethan. Ethan’s middle name is Zee, so I call him ‘EZ,’ ” he laughs. “Curtis lives in San Bruno, it’s nice. I just saw the baby last Sunday.”
Through his younger son, Ron’s military service came full circle.
“Derek decided he wanted to go to West Point. He had to have a congressional recommendation, and the whole family got interviewed. He went, and after he graduated he was stationed in Korea. It was kind of weird because we figured out that where he was in Korea was only about 5 miles down the road from where I had served myself all those years before! I visited him there, and he took me to exactly where I was stationed. It was totally different,” he chuckles. “I think the only thing that was the same there was the movie theater!”
Derek went on to serve in Afghanistan, Japan, and Hawaii. He later returned to school for an MBA and eventually took a position at Apple.
I comment that he must be proud of his sons. “Oh yes,” he responds enthusiastically, “they’ve done a lot. They tell me, ‘You took care of us all those years, now it’s our turn to take care of you.’ I would be proud of them no matter what they did. They are good boys,” he smiles.
Read this article and more in our May newsletter.
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