Min Mochizuki passed away on August 7, 2021 at the age of 95. His memory was mostly intact and he would spend hours reminiscing in amazingly great detail with dates, names and places. Many of you know how he could talk and share stories. He was one of those people who loved interacting with others.
He was born in 1925 and raised in San Francisco, CA. He was the second child, with an older brother and two younger sisters. His father owned a business that imported goods from Japan and at one point had a warehouse in the Embarcadero area of San Francisco. As part of the business, the family owned a car, which was unusual for the community, and Min had many fond memories of the family driving to Santa Cruz and the Russian River for vacations. He went to Lowell High School (a magnet school), which still exists today. Outside of school, almost all of his social interactions were within the Japanese American community. His mother felt it was very important for him to go to Japanese school after regular school. Although he wasn’t keen on the extra school, it made him fairly fluent in Japanese (this was a great source of enjoyment in his later years). While Min was in high school, his older brother went to Keio University in Japan. During this period WWII broke out, forever separating the family. Min spent most of his late teens and early twenties in the war’s incarceration camps. This forced removal justifiably caused great anger for him and others; and it was there that found the spirituality that would lead him to his life’s profession.
After the war in 1946, Min attended Wooster College in Ohio. He was on the basketball team, in a singing group and loved the picture of himself in the school’s Scottish kilt. One of his favorite stories from college was when he and his singing group serenaded June (June) when she visited. They sang “When a Boy Needs a Girl.” He met June Suzuki at a church camp in 1947 at Zephyr Point on the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe. June recalled the first time she noticed him because he was swimming with his glasses on (he had really bad eyesight). Then when she and her sister heard his last name was Mochizuki, they laughed because it was such an unfamiliar name. Two weeks later, Min daringly proposed to June at the top of Twin Peaks in San Francisco, CA. While he was in college in Ohio, he hitchhiked across the country several times to visit her. They were married in August 1949 in San Francisco. The happy couple went on to have six children together: Judy (1950), Nancy (1952), Janet (1954), Carol (1956), Ron (1959) and Kathleen (1961, who sadly passed at 6 months from a congenital heart defect).
In 1951, June and Min moved to Chicago where he went to McCormack Seminary. Then in 1954, the family moved to Dearborn, MI where he was the Assistant Minister at the First Presbyterian Church. We were the only non-whites in the city, but this exposure helped break down pre-war biases and build broader community ties. Four years later we moved to Kalamazoo, MI where he was Campus Pastor at Western Michigan University. Our home was always filled with students and faculty members. He eventually moved on to teaching classes at the University as the 1960’s experienced a cultural shift away from religion.
Min loved travelling internationally and promoting social justice. During this time in Kalamazoo, he took a group of college students with Crossroads Africa (a precursor to the Peace Corps) to Sierra Leone. In 1964 he took our entire family of 7 on a sabbatical leave to Japan for a year. Min was very active in the Civil Rights Movement, often involving the whole family. In 1966, Min spoke on the same platform as Martin Luther King, Jr in Atlanta, GA. Later that year in Birmingham, he hand delivered an invitation to MLK Jr to speak at the Western Michigan campus in Kalamazoo, which MLK did to an overflowing audience.
After June and Min retired, they moved to Denver in 1992. Three of the daughters (Judy, Nancy and Jan) were already living in Colorado. June also knew several people in Denver who stayed in Colorado after their incarceration in southeast Colorado at the Amache Camp during WWII. They made the move to Colorado rather than moving back to California.
In 2013, June and Min moved into the Clermont Park retirement community. It was one of the best places they could have chosen and they had many wonderful friends there. An important part for Min was the singing. He was part of a singing group, The Showstoppers, which put on concerts and did amazing musicals. Min was the teenager Friedrich in The Sound of Music – hilarious! He became a soloist, which delighted him, as well as all the praises he received. He was quite a good singer and singing gave him a lifelong joy.
The Covid lockdown took a toll on Min and after being in isolation for months he came to live with Judy and her family. He bounced back, not completely, but he bounced. His favorite hobby was napping. All his life, that man could sleep anywhere and in any situation. Don’t take it personally if he fell asleep on you – he did it to his most favorite people.
Recently Min reflected that he grew up in almost exclusively Japanese world, then struggled with where he fit into the mostly white communities where we lived. California, though familiar, felt perhaps a little too Japanese for him after the difficulties of incarceration in his adulthood. Kalamazoo gave him many professional opportunities, invigorating international exposure and memorable academic comradery; yet he missed his cultural roots. Denver was a wonderful combination community for Min.
Our parents made some incredible friendships in the places they lived over the years. These friends supported him, comforted him, laughed with him, played with him and cried with him. Even though you may not have heard from Min regularly, you were very important to him.
Min loved the old Japanese saying, ‘Washed by rain, polished by wind.’ To him, it illustrated how adversity and struggle increased one’s appreciation of life’s beauty. In his last months, he saw life as a meadow of wildflowers – each flower is a life that has survived storms, wind, flooding and draught. And true to form and life’s cycles, each of us is a beautiful flower that will eventually die.
Min is survived by five children, 10 grandchildren, four great-grandchildren and his younger sister, Ets, who lives in Berkley, CA. June died in October 2017. We know she has been waiting for him. It is hard not to rejoice at such a life as his, but we will miss him greatly.
Thank you all for your part in his wonderful life.