Chizu Helen Iwanaga
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Chizu Helen Iwanaga

Chizu Helen Iwanaga, widow of the late Buddhist minister, Rev. Yoshio Iwanaga, passed away on April 10, 2007, at the age of 92. She was born on August 30, 1914 in Stockton, CA. One of the first Asian American graduates of The College of Pacific (now UOP) Music program, Iwanaga was a pioneer in Buddhist music. She composed music to Buddhist verses and wrote new gathas, which are still in use at Buddhist temples throughout the country today; organized and conducted temple choirs at Watsonville, Palo Alto, Oakland and Mountain View; and organized and conducted Young Buddhist Association bands and orchestras.Her husband is credited with introducing Bon Odori (Buddhist Obon Festival dances) to the United States. She played piano and sang while he choreographed and taught dances to his many students. Continuing their artistic collaboration, they were named the first heads of the Music Department of the Buddhist Churches of America.During WWII, the Iwanagas and their two young sons were placed in an internment camp along with all other Japanese Americans living on the west coast. After the war, they returned to Watsonville and set up the Temple as a hostel with the WRA and helped to organize the resettlement of families.After Rev. Iwanaga's death in 1950, Iwanaga continued to serve as a leader in the Temple, along with teaching piano. She moved to Berkeley in 1956 and saw her two sons graduate from the University of California. For years until her retirement, she worked at the DMV.Later, she moved to Palo Alto, then to Danville. Along with her many accomplishments in the Buddhist temples, she was also a world traveler, a gourmet chef, opera lover, singer, songwriter, expert knitter, and an avid reader. Most importantly, she was a loving mother, grandmother and great-grandmother – bestowing advice and her famous cheesecake at all family gatherings. She is survived by her son, Rio and his wife Kimie; daughter-in-law, Reiko (wife of late son, Dr. Gordon Mutsumi Iwanaga); grandchildren Maya (Jeff) Pinkner, Ryan (Meena), Mari (Sean) Chen, Kevin (Heidi), Courtney and Ashley Iwanaga, as well as 8 great grandchildren. She also leaves a sister, Meri (Al) Umino and sister-in-law, Frances (late brother Tom) Okamoto and numerous nieces and nephews.A Memorial Service celebrating her life will be held on Tuesday, April 17, at 2:00 pm at the Palo Alto Buddhist Temple, 2751 Louis Road, Palo Alto.
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Published by San Jose Mercury News on Apr. 16, 2007.
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TO ALL THE IWANAGA'S,
MY DEEPEST SYMPATHY TO ALL OF YOU. IT'S BEEN MANY YEARS SINCE SEEING ANY AND ALL OF YOU, ESPECIALLY RIO. I HOPE ALL STAYS HEALTHY IN THE MEANTIME.
Senmaro (aka: Maro) Sasaki
April 16, 2007
My deepest Sympathy to the Family of Mrs. Chizu Helen Iwanaga. I have many fond memories of her brilliant smile and friendliness and her many talents. She will be greatly missed. I regretfully will not be able to attend her services. Again my deepest Sympathy. In Gassho, Lillian
Lillian Kanzaki
April 16, 2007
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