Avenues SLS is pleased to honor Tomoko Inouye, (“Tee” to us), for Women’s History Month. The bond between Tomoko and her son Keenan (who Avenues SLS supported until his death), was incredibly strong; and you can see why when you read about the advocacy, perseverance and love that she put into finding and securing community services for him during times when services were not guaranteed or an entitlement. Her late husband Eiji was one of Avenues SLS’s founding Board Members in 1997. We thank Tomoko and her daughter Dianne for sharing her story below:
Tomoko Inouye was born on December 17, 1931 in the small town of Hakalau, Hawaii on the island of Hawaii (the “Big Island”). She was the sixth child of 7 children and first daughter of Ichizo and Hatsuyo Arita. Her family grew sugar cane on 15 acres of land her father received after serving in the U.S. Army during WW I. They raised chickens and used a horse to plow the fields until motorized tractors became popular. They lived a simple life, walking 6 miles barefooted round trip to school, swimming at the local swimming hole and at the ocean. She remembers the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 and the deadly tsunami that occurred on April 1, 1946, killing 159 people, some of whom she knew.
After she graduated from Hilo High School in 1949 and attended the Hilo Business School where she learned Gregg shorthand, business math and typing. For a brief time, she worked at American Factors, Ltd in Hilo and in 1953, she decided to move to Los Angeles, where 2 brothers and her sister had moved. She worked at the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors as the stenographer secretary for supervisor Burton W. Chase, 4th district, for 41/2 years. She met Eiji Inouye, also from the Big Island, and married in 1957. Their daughter Dianne arrived followed by sons Neal, Craig and Keenan.
Tomoko was the typical housewife from that era, cooking, cleaning and taking care of the children while Eiji went to work as a Civil Engineer at Los Angeles County Flood Control. She didn’t know how to drive a car and walked wherever she needed to go. From the moment Keenan was born, she knew he was “different”. He was developmentally delayed for all milestones that children go through. She knew she had to seek help for him. Tomoko wrote countless letters and made numerous phone calls looking for available services to help him.
She took driving lessons so she could take Keenan to swimming lessons, physical therapy, evaluations at UCLA and USC, and private school. Services were not free and on a single-family income, she stretched the dollar as far as it would go. Although Keenan could not speak, his body language in her presence said it all. You could tell the way he looked at her and put his arm around her, sat next to her, and sought her out for comfort and affection, he loved her. No words were needed.
Thanks to hers and Eiji’s persistence, Keenan eventually attended public school for the developmentally handicapped until the age of 21. In order to be available to help Keenan during the day, Tomoko took a job working at night at Allied Signal Aerospace Company in Torrance, CA. where she was employed for 15 years.
Eventually, Keenan became a client of Avenues. Although Keenan was living in Santa Clarita and his family lived in Torrance, Tomoko and Eiji were determined to have Keenan come home every other weekend. They drove to Santa Clarita every other Friday to pick Keenan up for the weekend, driving him back on Sunday evening. They did this for many years until later, when Eiji was advanced in age, Avenues was able to take over driving.
Tomoko would look forward to Keenan’s bi-weekly visits, preparing his favorite meals, stocking up on his favorite snacks and treating him to a hamburger, French fries and milkshake for lunch. He loved spending time with Tomoko, following her around the house, never letting her get far out of sight. By the end of his weekend visit, Keenan was spoiled rotten and he loved every minute.