Herb Tsuchiya (left), Sam Mitsui (right), and Bertha Tsuchiya started ACRS’ Walk for Rice in 1990 • Courtesy

For many years, Herbert Minoru Tsuchiya worked as a pharmacist on the corner of Rainier Avenue South and South Genesee Street, where everyone from swarms of Franklin High School students to other South End residents would wait to transfer from the Route 7 bus to the Seward Park one. Instead of standing outside, they would often walk into Genesee Street Pharmacy to see Uncle Herb, to eat sweets from the always-full candy jar, or to peruse his “library” of comic books. A self-proclaimed “legal drug dealer” for 50 years, Tsuchiya’s generous spirit reached every corner of the community, from small acts of kindness to several major ongoing legacies.

“It was very important to him to serve people, and I think that’s one gift he had as a community pharmacist,” said Tsuchiya’s second eldest daughter Kerry Lung Chew, who assisted her father at the pharmacy from junior high through college. “There was an apartment building for people who had disabilities, and my dad would make sure he was their pharmacist so that he could make those deliveries for people who could not go out of their house to get medication.”

Herb Tsuchiya, the “legal drug dealer” • Courtesy

Husband to Bertha Chinn Lung Tsuchiya, who died in 2004, and father to five children, 12 grandchildren, and three great grandchildren, Tsuchiya passed away on Aug. 21, 2023, after a short but courageous battle with brain cancer at age 90. A man of devout Christian faith and community service, Tsuchiya lived according to three rules: “Be kind, be kind, be kind.” 

Born in Seattle in 1932, he was the seventh child of immigrant parents Nobuyoshi Tsuchiya and Momoyo Miiya from Hiroshima Prefecture. In 1942, at the age of 10, Tsuchiya and his family were forcibly removed from their homes and incarcerated at Minidoka camp in Hunt, Idaho, until their release in 1945. After the war, he went on to graduate from Franklin High School, working odd jobs as a gardener and janitor to raise tuition money so he could attend the University of Washington School of Pharmacy. He created the Herbert & Bertha Tsuchiya Endowed Student Support Fund for Global Research at his alma mater to honor his wife Bertha, who was a fellow UW School of Pharmacy graduate and a “dynamo force to be reckoned with in her own right.” 

“Our parents’ partnership was just really strong,” said the couple’s eldest daughter Gloria Lung Wakayama. “There was always a commitment to community. They knew it was important for people to step up and that people would follow. It was passion, they didn’t do it for recognition.”

Groundbreaking at Kin On • Courtesy

Tsuchiya’s community legacy notably includes co-founding the Walk for Rice to fund the Asian Counseling and Referral Services’ (ACRS) culturally sustaining food banks and co-founding Kin On, the nation’s first nursing home to serve non-English speaking Asian people. He also served as president of the Asian American Baptist Caucus, as an active member of the Chinese Baptist Church for many years, and as a charter member of the Wing Luke Museum. Long before the Walk for Rice event started, Tsuchiya would go on Costco runs once or twice a month to buy ramen and other Asian foods for the local food bank, said Lung Wakayama.

“He was always about community, wanting the church body to get involved with various charities,” remembered Heidi Wong, who grew up attending services at the Chinese Baptist Church, now the Beacon Hill Church. She currently works as the Healthy Aging and Wellness Program Director at International Community Health Services. Tsuchiya would later mentor her along with other development professionals at her previous fundraising gig at Kin On. 

Throughout his life, Tsuchiya was also very instrumental in supporting Asian Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander American (ANHPIA) pastors across the nation, from California to New York, shared Lung Chew. Her father understood how difficult life as a pastor could be and dedicated a significant amount of his time and resources to ensuring they were taken care of, fundraising for them to attend seminars and creating scholarships and opportunities for everyone to gather. 

Tsuchiya on a panel for the Alliance of Asian American Baptist Churches • Courtesy

“Herb would often show up unannounced and unplanned, but always welcome,” Wong said. “He always came with a smile — a huge smile —  usually with something in his hand to show me. Relationships were huge for him. He was so generous, connecting me with various people.”

Mary Ann Goto echoed this sentiment. Goto worked closely with Tsuchiya while she was the Development and Communications Director at the Wing Luke Museum from 2002 until 2008. Many of the individuals working in fundraising at local ANHPIA organizations formed close relationships with Tsuchiya as a major donor, but more significantly, as a mentor. He would regularly assemble this group for lunch at his favorite restaurant Cheeky Cafe, demonstrating an obvious desire to cultivate deep relationships with folks beyond simple transactions, said Goto.

“It was my second day on the job after I left the Wing, and Herb showed up at my office with a bag full of gifts,” recalled Goto. “Usually a development person is not on the receiving end of sweet presents like that because we’re always the ones trying to steward relationships with our donors. This was a moment of it being turned around. That was who he was.”

Tsuchiya’s lifetime of community work has been honored with the Jitsuo Morikawa Evangelism American Baptist Churches National Award, the National Philanthropy Day Outstanding Philanthropic Family Award, the Organization of Chinese Americans Golden Circle Award, Seattle Mayor’s End Hunger Award, the Northwest Asian Weekly Visionary Award, the Rainier Valley Historical Society History Maker Award, and the Asian Bar Association of Washington Community Service Award, as well as an induction into the Franklin High School Hall of Fame. 

“He was never camera shy,” laughed Wong. “If the marketing team ever needed a photo or a video, he would always volunteer. He’s so photogenic… maybe ‘cause he’s an actor. I remember seeing him on a billboard for his assisted living facility, and I thought, ‘That is so Uncle Herb!”

Herb Tsuchiya acting in NWAAT’s production of ‘Uncle Hideki and the Empty Nest’ • Courtesy

In addition to appearing in several commercials and films, Tsuchiya acted in local playwright Nikki Nojima Louis’ Breaking the Silence, an oral history play about the realities of Japanese American incarceration. The production traveled across the country to many schools and universities, which, as Lung Wakayama recalled, was significant because many Nissei didn’t speak of their time in the camps. The play would eventually tour in Japan, produced by Tsuchiya. He would also go on to star as the title character in local community theater productions like Uncle Hideki and its sequel Uncle Hideki and the Empty Nest, presented by Northwest Asian American Theater. Goto said that the role he played was the total opposite of who he was in life.

“This character never smiled. He was a bigot who yelled and screamed and lost his temper,” she said. “To see him do that on stage was just amazing because I thought he was going to pass out. He turned so red in one scene, stomping his foot and yelling — totally out of character for Herb.”

Though Tsuchiya leaves behind a long list of well-recognized community contributions, his proudest and most significant legacy is his family. When one family member gets involved, everybody gets involved, joked Lung Wakayama. The whole family traveled to Minidoka camp together for the annual pilgrimage several years ago, and Tsuchiya also took his grandchildren to Hiroshima to learn about what was happening across the ocean during the war, too. 

Herb Tsuchiya and the volunteers for the Minidoka Pilgrimage in Hunt, Idaho • Courtesy

“Considering all the hardships and challenges he faced, one could be bitter and angry about everything,” said Lung Chew. “My dad chose instead to be forgiving and loving toward people.”

Tsuchiya was preceded in death by his wife Bertha Chinn Lung Tsuchiya, his sister and brothers Joe, Harold, Carl, Ray, and Jack. He is survived by his children Gloria Lung Wakayama (Dean), Kerry Lung Chew (Ben), Lori Pang (Doug), Leslie Lung (Linda), and Teri Yoshimura (Ross). His grandchildren: Kimberly (Hendra), Michael (Abbie), Julie (Justin), Lindsay, Gary, Patti, Brady, Kaci, Alyssa, Cory, Makena, Kyra, and three great grandchildren, along with his godson Kevin Chinn (Eileen), in-laws Wally and Deanna Chinn, and numerous nieces and nephews.

“Seeing his grandchildren become productive members of society was probably his proudest accomplishment,” said Lung Wakayama. “He would always have words of advice to share — we have these long letters from him — and now they’re each becoming their own people.”

Lung Chew added: “It brought him such joy to see them following in the family tradition of serving the community, particularly at ACRS’ Walk for Rice. To see his children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren be part of that event? That is his true legacy.”

Grandpa Herb with his 12 grandchildren and 3 great grandchildren • Courtesy
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