Takako Kimura’s Ohana

By: 
Roberto Vazquez
MIKE BAKER (center) with his ohana at Mother’s Beach.

Mike Baker Arrives

It’s 72 degrees, a balmy Wednesday morning when Mike Baker arrives at the far end of Mothers Beach and stops at the beach volleyball court. He’s riding an e-bike, wearing a helmet, and a smile is spread across his face. It’s another beautiful day near the water and Baker is grateful to be out and about, especially here at the spot where he’s had so many wonderful memories and friends.

The former CHP officer is a pillar of the community, known for his upbeat personality and community involvement, but mostly as one half of a dynamic duo, along with his wife, Takako Kimura, simply known as “T.K.”

He’s warmly greeted by a small group of former Beach volleyball players, men he’s known for decades, men who know Baker’s wife passed away recently.

Takako Kimura Departs

Takako Kimura, 74, died on Dec. 29 at 12:50 a.m. Kimura, which means “tree village” in Japanese, is better known as “T.K.” She was diagnosed with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, in October 2018. ALS attacks motor neurons, leading to progressive muscle weakness. This progressive weakness affects hands, arms, legs and feet, as well as speech and swallowing, eventually resulting in complete paralysis.

Their dog alerted Baker.

“Mochi knew first,” he said.

“Mochi” means candy in Japanese, one made of a soft, sweetened, sticky rice cake.

“She’s a good little girl. She’s 10 years and a month… she stayed with T.K., by her side, until they came for her.”

He shares that Mochi was rescued from the center divider of the 99 freeway, in Fresno.

He pauses and the moment turns quiet.

Baker grows emotional when he says, “April 24th would’ve been our 40th anniversary. She wanted to make it to our 40th but at least she made it to Christmas.”

Then, like rays of sun bursting through a gloomy sky, he smiles and his eyes brighten.

Baker is excited as he looks over at the beach volleyball court.

The United Nations

Looking at the game under way, Baker remarks, “They get along really well. Look at them! You’ve got the United Nations down here. The volleyball players are such a great group of people and T.K. loved them. We have Vietnamese, Cambodian, Chinese, Filipino, we got Samoan, we got Caucasian, Hispanics… you name it, we got it down here”.

He adds, “There was a time when we all kind of didn’t get along. But we sat down, aired our complaints and realized there were some things going on, and all this could easily go away,” adding, “We set up boundaries as a courtesy and to give each other space… I look at that plaque and really it’s for all of us.

All these different sports working together and getting along for the betterment of everybody and the betterment of the city.”

Baker said, “You gave a beautiful park, a marine park, that’s being used by a number of people that really enjoy it and take pride in it.

The award both T.K. and I received was directed at us, but really, we all worked together.”

Honored

Baker is referring to a bronze plaque dedicated to him and T.K. several months ago.

The couple have had a huge impact on the dragon boat, paddler and outrigger communities over the years.

Beneath the plaque, a small pile of neatly arranged flower bouquets have steadily arrived throughout the day.

“I look at that plaque and really, it’s for all of us. That says you have a community of people that have worked together. These groups down here have taken the initiative to keep the area as clean as possible”.

About a dozen years ago, things were much different and there were many complaints until things came to a head.

“It was a group effort to have a nice-looking building that meets everyone’s needs and keeps everything safe”.

The pursuit of water sports and water safety is a big part of Baker’s life. He says, “Living in Long Beach we fail to realize how lucky we are. I think we are, tremendously”.

He thinks about the weather conditions and the past. “I would’ve been surfing and she would’ve been paddling anytime she could get on the water”.

Ohana

Baker shares, “T.K. came from a very strict Japanese family. They were nisei but more traditionally Japanese than the Japanese in Japan”.

He tells of asking her father for permission to marry Baker. Her father said, “Better be a good hakujin (white person) than a bad Japanese. I said, ‘Does that mean, yes?’”

Baker, who grew up in Hawaii says, “Ohana means family in Hawaiian.”

It’s a term that is extended to include those relationships through blood ties, adoption, or simply by choice.

As he gathers a group of volleyball players for a photo, Baker nods his head and agrees.

Ohana, or family, describes these people and the life and love of
Takako Kimura.

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