Ben Ishisaki, businessman and philanthropist, dies

Ben Ishisaki

Tsutomu Ben Ishisaki, a businessman and philanthropist also known as “Ben Ishi,” passed away on Aug. 5 after a bout with kidney disease. He was 87.

He was a so-called “No-No Boy” during World War II, and would later serve in the U.S. Army after the war before launching a successful limousine business.

Tsutomu Ishisaki was born June 28, 1924 to Kumezo and Kimiye Ishisaki in Fresno, the eldest of four children raised in Madera, Calif. Ishisaki, who attended Madera High School, would not receive his diploma until 2006 — some 60 years later — due to his forced relocation during the war.

The Ishisaki family was forcibly relocated to the Jerome concentration camp in Arkansas in 1942. A year later, he was allowed to leave the camp to attend a trade school in Milwaukee, Wis., and upon completion he returned to Jerome to accompany his family to the Tule Lake Segregation Center in California.

He answered “no” on the so-called “loyalty questionnaire,” and during his loyalty interview with the Department of Justice officials, “he argued so strongly for his rights and the rights of his family that his interview lasted most of the day,” said a biography from his family.

Even though his entire family returned to Japan after the war, Ishisaki decided to stay in the United States. His parents urged him to return to Madera to assist the families whose sons were still away at war.

After one year, he moved to San Francisco where he held several jobs before some of his family returned from Japan. He worked with his brother George for a time and then branched out on his own with Ishi’s Mobil Service at California and Divisadero and then at Post and Webster.

In 1969 he purchased his first limousine permit. The Mobil Station closed as a result of redevelopment, throwing him full time into Ishi Limousine.

A few years later he met Mary Erikson, who noticed while dating Ben that he needed help with his business. “The teamwork was perfection,” said a biography. “Ben, a master mechanic, and Mary, an experienced businesswoman, made the business thrive.”

Ishisaki sold the company in 1991. He retired to a life of fishing, looking for classic cars and traveling to all 50 states and all but one Canadian Province. The couple also traveled to many destinations in Europe, Asia, Australia and Africa.

On Nov. 30, 2009 he became ill due to his kidney disease, and his body declined over the next 20 months.

He passed on Aug. 5 holding hands with his wife, Mary.

Ishisaki was a strong supporter of Kimochi Inc., a San Francisco Japantown-based senior service agency where his wife serves on the board of directors.

“Ben understood the importance of Kimochi’s programs and services,” said Kimochi Inc. Executive Director Steve Nakajo. “He was a generous supporter of Kimochi with a huge heart who wanted to improve the quality of life as we JAs grow older.”

“His sensitivity and support for seniors have been an inspiration in our Japanese American community,” said retired Kimochi Development Director Sandy Mori.

Services were held Aug. 10 at Valente Marini Perata & Co in San Francisco. In lieu of flowers, charitable donations may be made to Kimochi Inc. or San Francisco Buddhist Church.

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