Shimeji (Shim) Ryusaki Kanazawa, recipient of numerous awards and acknowledgements for her efforts to help young and old citizens, is still serving the community at age 98 and due for yet another honor.
The Policy Advisory Board for Elderly Affairs (PABEA) is expected to nominate the beloved advocate for the needy as an honorary kupuna with lifetime membership on the board. Michael Sumja of Kapaau, Hawaii, former board president, pushed a bill in the recent legislative session to establish the title for Kanazawa. The governor is expected to make the designation after the board nominates and submits her name.
“I’m certain that’s not going to be a problem because she is one of the most wonderful human beings you’d ever want to meet,” said Sumja. “Nobody is brighter and no one has done more for seniors than Shim Kanazawa.”
Kanazawa has cared for others since growing up in Kamuela with 10 younger siblings. She was known as the “Florence Nightingale of Hawaii” during World War II for her activities serving as liaison between the Japanese civilians and the U.S. military.
“She actually is a doer,” said Rose Nakamura, volunteer executive director of Project Dana since Kanazawa founded it in 1989. Kanazawa returned home from a meeting of the National Federation of Interfaith Volunteer Caregivers, Inc., and said, “I think we should start something,” Nakamura said. The result was Project Dana, an interfaith volunteer caregivers program based at the Moiliili Hongwanji Mission to provide support for frail elderly and disabled residents.
A longtime member of PABEA, Kanazawa never missed a meeting until last year, Nakamura said. “She is so exceptional, so exceptional, and she gets things done. She knows a lot of people in the community. They have tremendous respect for her.”
Members of the Policy Advisory Board can serve up to eight consecutive years. Sumja, serving his last year, explained that former Gov. Ben Cayetano appointed Kanazawa as a lifetime honorary kupuna of the board under legislation at that time but no privileges went with it. She couldn’t vote for the board, he said, adding that he worked with state Sen. Suzy Chun-Oakland “to right a wrong.”
Anyone who meets Kanazawa “comes away a better person,” Sumja said. “When people complain they don’t have time (for volunteer work) I refer them to Shim Kanazawa.” He said new board members “are amazed by all the knowledge this woman has. She is so gentle. You can’t believe a woman, as powerful as she is, is so humble.”
Kanazawa’s lifetime of contributions personifies the principle of “Dana,” which means “selfless giving” in Sanskrit.
She has served as member and chair of a host of boards, commissions and organizations addressing problems of young and aged people, such as the Commission on Children and Youth, the Commission on Aging and the Faith in Action National Advisory Committee. She was chairperson of the Planned Giving for Campaign in 2000 and chairperson of Hawaii’s White House Conference on Aging, among many other activities.