George Shiro Koyama
Tule Lake

Brick #518   Wall Location  Column: 83   Row: 17

In many ways, George Shiro Koyama’s long life was reflected by his hands. With auto primer staining his palms or salmon scales under his fingernails, whether holding a hammer, a paintbrush, or his trademark corncob pipe, his strong, hardy hands were the tools of his life.

Born in Wakayama, Japan, in 1912, George immigrated to the Pacific Northwest in 1924. In his youth, he worked in sawmills in Onalaska and Snoqualmie, Washington. In Auburn, Washington, George began learning the trade that would eventually lead to his own business – auto repair and mechanics.

By the time he married Miyoko Hara in 1938, he had earned an auto mechanics certificate and had worked in various auto repair shops. World War II interrupted George’s career, and the Koyama family – now including a young son, Richard – was interned at Tule Lake relocation center and Minidoka. At camp, the Koyamas had a second son, Francis.

After the war, George worked for a year in another auto repair shop. Daughter Linda was born in 1946, the same year George and two partners, Ted Imanaka and Charles Toshi, opened 7th Avenue Service. Their auto repair and service business in Seattle’s International District served the community for 32 years.

George earned his U.S. citizenship in 1953. George and Miyoko’s last child, Tina, was born in 1958.

Working six days a week for more than three decades, George saved Sundays for his life-long passion: deep-sea salmon fishing. He would wake at 2 a.m., load his car with gear and a bento packed by Miyoko, make the 3-hour drive to West Port, and join other members of the Kishu Kenjin-kai organization on a chartered fishing boat. His smile was never so wide as when he came home with a prized 30-pound Chinook. His sons have fond memories of joining him on the waters of Elliott Bay and West Port.

George’s sons also remember their dad as an active scoutmaster of Boy Scout Troop 252. An Eagle Scout himself, George saw both Richard and Francis become Eagle Scouts and, years later, grandson Jason.

George, the world’s busiest handyman, would never pay someone to do what he could do himself. His entire life, he spent spare moments on home repairs or improvements.

Although he officially retired in 1977, George continued to work part time for his son-in-law, Tony Okuma, who purchased the auto rebuild portion of the business. A mild stroke in 1986 finally kept George out of the rebuild shop, but by then he had begun to enjoy new interests such as cultivating bonsai trees and painting landscapes – both self-taught arts. He also enjoyed hunting for matsutake, playing blackjack in Vegas and Reno, shooting billiards in his basement, and challenging others to an occasional game of shogi.

A second stroke in 1994 ended George’s active life, but his ongoing feistiness kept the Seattle Keiro care-giving staff busy for nine more years. He passed away there on September 20, 2003.

  • Minidoka
  • Tule Lake