BY BOB SANTOS AND ELAINE KO
As Inter*Im’s executive directors (both former and current), we cannot allow Tomio Moriguchi to quietly step down from Inter*Im’s board without public acknowledgment of a phenomenal 37-year commitment to our organization and the community.
Tomio doesn’t call attention to all his contributions. There are many stories to tell and not enough space.
Tomio is that rare person who works well with those who have very divergent views from his own — an unusual quality that has served the International District (ID) community well. He is an understated powerhouse — when he speaks, people listen.
As Bob relates “… In the late 1960s, Tomio was part of an early group of property owners and business owners who were concerned about the very survival of the ID.
“While only a one-year-old organization, Inter*Im received the Seattle Municipal League Annual Award for community service in 1970. At that time, the ID was included in the boundaries of the Seattle Model Cities Program (SMCP). SMCP provided federal dollars into neighborhoods within its boundaries to assist in the planning and development of programs that would encourage and expand small businesses for minority owners.
“Inter*Im applied for funding from the SMCP to hire staff to coordinate the preservation and development of the ID. As the executive director of CARITAS, a service agency in the SMCP, I was a voting member of the board. The SMCP board met to vote on funding programs that applied for grants and Tomio gave the ‘pitch’ for Inter*Im and included the certificate and plaque from the Municipal League in his compelling presentation.
“All those in the audience seemed impressed with Inter*Im’s proposal, but when it came time for the board to vote for the inclusion of Inter*Im for the next round of funding, the board came up with a 14-14 tie. Tomio and the Inter*Im board decided that it would be advantageous to work closely with the other minority groups in the community, got to work, and as a result, Inter*Im was funded by SMCP funds the very next year.”
It was this same period of time (early ‘70s) that the proposed construction of the Kingdome became a hot community issue. While activists who opposed the Kingdome became more active on the Inter*Im board, some of the more traditional, conservative members departed from the board, perhaps because they didn’t agree with the organization’s direction at the time.
Tomio did not seem to be intimidated by the vocal Asian American activists (likely because Tomio grew up in the Central Area “hood”). He was intrigued by the passion and smarts of the activists, and he knew that if these divergent groups could work together, great things could happen. And great things did happen, as the rest is history. Inter*Im became a leading voice and influential player in the political and social dynamics of the ID as well as in the entire city.
Tomio has been recruited to represent the community and his family business on countless boards and commissions, including prestigious positions on civic and corporate boards. Tomio never wavered from his support of Inter*Im even when there were many times when conflicts cropped up that would test his allegiances. Tomio didn’t always win his positions – but he was always gracious both in victory and in defeat.
Over the decades, Tomio and his family has expanded Uwajimaya from a small store to an international shopping destination; built housing for the community, publishes a community paper, takes active interest in every neighborhood issue; and supports many charitable causes. His list of community involvement spans pages and pages.
While Tomio is one of the most admired leaders of our region and state, we salute him most for his passion and dedication to the best interests of our community.
Oh, and as CEO of Uwajimaya, Tomio doesn’t hesitate to help wherever needed — he was seen restocking shelves this past holiday season. Wow.
Thank you, Tomio.
(Note: Tomio Moriguchi is retiring from the Inter*Im Community Development Association board as a founding member since 1969.)
The purpose of Inter*Im Community Development Association (ICDA) is to facilitate community development in Seattle’s International District and the larger Asian/Pacific community. Contact:[email protected] or (206) 624-1802. www.interimicda.org..