from Dateline (May 8, 2003)
Legacy to Support Building of OC Agricultural and Nikkei Heritage
by Gail Matsunaga
Within the ashes of adversity are sometimes
sown and harvested the seeds of prosperity through hard work, integrity
and sense of community. The late Koichi and Toyo Nerio
adhered to these tenets and built successful farming and real estate
businesses following internment during World War II – when
they were forced to leave their farm in Downey behind.
Their enduring legacy of community support continues
with a recent $100,000 gift from the Koichi and Toyo Charitable
Remainder Unitrust to the Orange County Agricultural and Nikkei
Heritage Museum to be built on the grounds of the Fullerton Arboretum.
The donation is part of a $750,000 fund-raising effort
led by business and community leaders from the Japanese-American
community. The museum is the focal point of the $2.7 million visitor,
education and museum center; the schematic plans for which were
recently approved by the President’s Administrative Board.
Groundbreaking is planned for December.
Honoring the rich agricultural legacy of Orange County
and the Japanese-American community’s contributions to that
chronicle, approximately half of the 2,500-square-foot museum will
focus on local history and Orange County’s development from
its agricultural beginnings. The other half will be devoted to the
Japanese-American, or Nikkei, community’s heritage and history
– which closely paralleled the county’s agricultural
and urban development.
Koichi Nerio emigrated from Japan in 1918 and married
his wife, Toyo, in 1923. Although he wasn’t able to complete
as much schooling as he would have liked, Nerio was a strong advocate
of education. All four of his children earned college degrees, and
daughter Sumi Nerio Leonard became the first Japanese-American secondary
school teacher in Orange County.
The family eventually sold the farm in Downey and
continued farming in Westminster. Son Art helped with the farm business,
while son Dick handled the family’s real estate interests.
Around the same time, the Nerios purchased the Meadowlark Airport
in Huntington Beach – which has, since its sale, been transformed
into a shopping center and homes.
They were among the first supporters of the Japanese
American National Museum in Los Angeles, and recently, the Nerio
siblings – through the trust – gave an additional gift
to the museum to name an education center in their parents’
For businesswoman Hisako Betty Nerio Imamura, Koichi
and Toyo’s youngest daughter and trustee of the trust, the
donation to the Orange County Agricultural and Nikkei Heritage Museum
represents an opportunity to highlight the contributions of Japanese-Americans
in the county.
“We thought it was important for people to know
that Japanese farmers were prevalent in Orange County – that
they were hard-working people,” says Imamura. “My parents
would have liked to have Japanese people remembered, to know that
they were part of history.”
“We are delighted with this recent gift from
the Nerio family,” says Greg Dyment, director of the Fullerton
Arboretum. “They played an important role in the success of
Orange County’s agricultural and Nikkei community, and their
story is one of the many we hope to tell with the new museum.”