LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD:
Board member of Mile High Japanese American Citizens League and Japanese American Association of Colorado
Sakamoto (left) with author Bill Hosokawa and Eric Hiraga
Sakamoto speaks about Japanese internment experience
Sakamoto with Japanese American community leaders
Toshiko and Frank Sakamoto, who have two sons and three grandchildren
May 2014 | Cover Story
A conversation with Frank Sakamoto promises contagious enthusiasm, one-of-kind personality and inspiring wisdom cultivated from more than 60 years of service to the Asian American community on a local and national level. “With great humility and humbleness, I accept this award,” says Sakamoto, who has been active in the Japanese Americans Citizen League (JACL) for more than 65 years. “There are millions of people that have done more than I, but they just didn’t have someone to submit their letter [nomination].” Sakamoto retired in 1996 from a successful career as an optometrist and moved to Colorado from Chicago. Sakamoto, who served as board member of JACL’s Mile High Chapter for many years, has supported several of the organization’s chapters over the course of his life. He now serves as the high advisor to Mile High JACL board. Sakamoto’s many contributions to the JACL include Chicago Chapter Membership Chairman (1948), Chicago Chapter Vice President (1956-1958), Midwest District Governor (1959-1964), Vice President of Membership for the National JACL (1968-1970), Thousand Club National Chairman (1966-1970), Thousand Club Chairman (1978) and Membership Chairman for the Thousand Club. “Having served numerous roles in the many decades that he has been involved in JACL, Frank has a lot of wisdom to offer our board and chapter,” says Suzuho Shimasaki, immediate past president of the Mile High JACL. “Frank’s techniques in mobilizing our community are particularly noteworthy because he engages individuals in a way that truly promotes the goals of the JACL. He promotes JACL’s vision of a world that honors diversity by being inclusive of individuals beyond the Japanese American community.” In 2012, Sakamoto received the Minoru Yasui Community Volunteer Award, and in 2013, he received the 2013 Japanese American of the Biennium Award from the National JACL in recognition of his contributions and positive impact on society. Frank says he was motivated to join the JACL to bring awareness to communities about the discrimination faced by Japanese Americans during and after World War II. “He also truly strives for fairness, equality, and social justice for all individuals by helping build collaborations with other organizations within the Japanese American community, as well as across racial/ethnic communities,” Suzuho says. Highlights of many awards and recognitions Frank has received include the JACL Recognition Award (1980), Kiwanis Man of Vision Award (1989), Mayoral Citation, Meritorious Service, Chicago, Kiwanis Public Relations Award (1989), American Legion Youth Program Award (1986) and the University of Illinois Presidential Medal of Honor (2000). Additionally, the American Optometric Association has recognized Frank with Public Relations, Communications and National Consumer Awards, and he was appointed as the Chairman of the Examining Board of Optometry. Sakamoto’s father emigrated from Japan to Alaska in 1898, following the Klondike gold rush, and then migrated south to Washington’s Yakima Valley where he was born in 1924. After attending the University of Illinois, he acquired a doctorate from the Monroe College of Optometry in Chicago. Also a successful inventor, Sakamoto holds patents for the bi-focal and tri-focal contact lens. “The course of his life represents a sort of American ideal,” says Harry Budisidharta, who served with Sakamoto on the board of the Mile High JACL. “It is filled with stories of sacrifice, courage, hard work, commitment to service and triumphs. Today at age 90, his work continues, but there is much he can point to with pride.” For the past 16 years, Sakamoto has helped coordinate the local JACL’s participation in the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Parade, and has marched each year until recently, due to his health. Frank also volunteers for the Japanese American Association of Colorado, Japanese American Community Graduation Program and The Salvation Army. “Dr. Sakamoto is a great role model for young people,” Budisidharta says. “He always advocates on behalf of youth involvement in leadership and decision making. He also actively educates youth about the excesses of wartime hysteria, with the goal of stopping it from happening again.” Frank believes it’s important to give back to the community to help his fellow man. He advises younger generations to value education and karma. “When you do a person a favor, it will come back ten-fold,” Sakamoto says. As for the future, Sakamoto is happy to continue his contributions to organizations like the JACL to help “Americans build a better America” and hopes he will live long enough to see a female take office, for he was excited for President Obama’s election. “I would campaign for Mrs. Clinton any time,” he laughs. Sakamoto and his wife Toshiko have two sons, three grandchildren, along with countless friends in Colorado, across the country and around the world.