Walk for Rice co-founder Sam Mitsui. Photo courtesy of ACRS.

Asian Counseling and Referral Service (ACRS) sadly said goodbye to beloved community champion and Walk for Rice co-founder Sam Mitsui, who passed away on March 24, 2019.

For decades, Mr. Mitsui’s passionate enthusiasm and tireless efforts helped shape and grow ACRS and Walk for Rice, which draws thousands to Seattle’s Seward Park in support of feeding people in need, particularly in the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities.

“How do you put into words when someone so special is no longer blessing us with his presence? Sam Mitsui is one such person. He embodied the essence of humility, graciousness and kindness,” said ACRS Deputy Director Elisa Del Rosario. “We at ACRS will forever be grateful for his commitment, generosity and passionate service as co-founder of our annual Walk for Rice fundraiser for the ACRS Food Bank.”

“I recall during my early days as development director for ACRS in the mid-1990s how I would diplomatically push the committee to increase our fundraising goal for Walk for Rice. It was never an issue for Sam. His motto of ‘Go for Broke’ motivated all of us to reach higher and higher each year. Not just for the sake of achieving a fundraising goal, but, more importantly, because of the greater cause of feeding the hungry in our community,” recalled Del Rosario.

Nearly 30 years ago, Mr. Mitsui co-organized the first Walk for Rice with his friends Herb and Bertha Tsuchiya in 1990 on Beacon Avenue with 45 participants. Their vision was to create a tradition that brought people together to end hunger, as individuals and as a community. With the support of members of Blaine Memorial United Methodist Church, Chinese Baptist Church and Japanese Presbyterian Church, the event drew 45 participants and raised $1,800.

“In the beginning, I would never dream we could raise almost a million dollars in 25 years to support the Walk for Rice. The memory I always have is the generosity of the community. Because without them, this could never have happened…that always amazes me,” Mr. Mitsui recalled in 2015. He continued to support and participate in Walk for Rice each year until he was 90.

“Through all the years, I’ve known Sam, he never sought recognition for his service and always gave credit to others,” said Del Rosario. “I feel privileged to have worked alongside Sam and Herb Tsuchiya during the early years of Walk for Rice. I echo the sentiments of my former colleague, Melody Yoshinaga, who was development coordinator back then. Melody said, ‘We were truly blessed. Sam inspired all of us to be better people.’”

Sam Mitsui at a past Walk for Rice. Photo courtesy of ACRS.

Mr. Mitsui was born on July 24, 1926, in Skykomish, Washington, where he grew up and attended Skykomish High School. He was an accomplished local runner and served in the highly decorated Nisei 100th Infantry/442nd Regimental Combat Team (RCT) during World War II.

In a speech to the Rotary Club of Seattle on November 9, 2006, Mr. Mitsui shared how experiencing extreme racism, incarceration at the Tule Lake Concentration Camp, and coming full circle as a World War II Nisei veteran led him to the beliefs and values that are shared by ACRS:

We are all Human Beings, who want to Love and be Loved and who have the same concerns, fears, and hopes as everyone else. What happened to us is now history and justice has been served, so, what I would like to ask each one of you, is to never disrespect a person, because of the color of his skin, or what religion he believes in or what race he belongs to or what his sexual orientation is, because, if we do, we disrespect God and our Country and what they stand for.

We must remain united so that what happened to us will not happen to any other group. Especially to the Muslim Americans after September 11.

“Rest in peace, Sam Mitsui. Your friends and family at ACRS deeply miss you. Know that we will honor your legacy by striving to be better people and always aiming higher for the Walk for Rice cause,” said Del Rosario.

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