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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

800 school pride sweatshirts donated in honor of Yasuhara Middle School’s namesake

Yasuhara Middle School students pose for a photo while wearing their new school sweatshirts given out Friday at the school in Spokane. The Hifumi En Society, a nonprofit focused on the Japanese American community in Spokane, purchased the sweatshirts for every student at the new middle school. Denny Yasuhara, the school’s namesake and a former teacher, helped found the Hifumi En Society.  (Jesse Tinsley/The Spokesman-Review)
By Jase Picanso For The Spokesman-Review

Hundreds of students flooded excitedly into the new Yasuhara Middle School’s gymnasium at the end of sixth period Friday. They could be seen with wide smiles as they formed lines to receive sweatshirts reading their school motto, “Together We Rise.”

Staff at the school worked alongside the Hifumi En Society and passed out the sweatshirts both in honor of the school’s namesake, Denny Yasuhara, and to give the kids warm outerwear for the upcoming cold months. Leadership Spokane partnered with the school and Hifumi En Society to give the school these 800 sweatshirts.

Last year, when the middle school first opened its doors, the Hifumi En Society donated the funds for sweatshirts and plans to continue to support the school in this way as long as it can.

“They’re so excited; they’ve been asking since the beginning of the year, ‘Do we get sweatshirts again?’ ” Yasuhara Middle School Principal Stephanie Lundberg said.

Lundberg said it was a natural partnership with the society and called the matching garments a great way to be unified in school pride.

“When we’re here to give out goodies, we’re excited to be here to do it,” said Patty Marinos, an advocate and supporter of Hifumi En Society.

Yasuhara and his wife, Thelma, were both educators in Spokane, dedicating their lives to education and treating their students as if they were their children. It was important to Yasuhara as an educator and civil rights advocate to teach against discrimination and to treat his students equally.

“I think it’s really important for the students in our community to see educators who are of different color, and Denny, he devoted his whole life to education,” Marinos said .

Yasuhara, who died in 2002, built the nonprofit Hifumi En Society after selling the Hifumi En Apartments. He wanted to create a nonprofit to support Japanese Americans and their allies. The organization hosts scholarships every year, including one to honor Denny and Thelma Yasuhara.

Many of the people involved in Hifumi En Society, including board member Marsha Beck, looked up to Denny Yasuhara for being a champion of Japanese people and continue to follow in his footsteps of advocating for Japanese rights and supporting education.

When word came out that Spokane was looking for local heroes to name schools after, the Hifumi En Society put together the campaign to nominate Denny Yasuhara. Not only was he known as a great educator in Spokane, but also as an advocate for Japanese American rights.

“He was president of the Japanese American Society, and he did a lot to get reparations for the Japanese people that had been interned during World War II. He was very instrumental in that, so he was quite the influence in many places other than just education,” Hifumi En Board member Jonas Parshall said.

Many of the nonprofit members are a part of Asian American families greatly impacted by discrimination during World War II. They have continued to pay forward the advocacy of Denny Yasuhara. That includes Beck, who reflected on her family being treated unfairly due to looking different and how important diversity and representation are for kids today.

Beck hopes this school holding the name “Yasuhara” will be impactful to students who want to make a difference. She hopes it gives them the idea that they can be any race or gender and become educators who could have schools named after them.

“This school is well worthy of the name Yasuhara; believe me, he was a fantastic person. He did a lot for the Japanese community not only locally, but nationally,” Parshall said.

The free sweatshirts tie into that legacy of community and education.

“It’s very important to keep these children engaged about Denny’s legacy and what he stood for, to keep discrimination out of the world,” Beck said .