Council honors public servant
For more than 50 years, Bunji Shimomura devoted his life to government service and sport programs to help youths in west and east Kaua‘i.
Lung cancer was his only obstacle.
With his family at his side, Shimomura, a retired county clerk, died at his Lihu‘e home on May 11. He was 74 years old.
A funeral service is scheduled for 4 p.m. on Wednesday, at the Garden Island Mortuary chapel in Lawai.
A first, the Kaua‘i County Council will work around its scheduled meeting as a tribute to Shimomura.
Many council members worked with Shimomura during his 17-year career with Kaua‘i, starting as a deputy county clerk in 1981 and retiring as county clerk in 1998.
Shimomura was remembered by some of the island’s most powerful and influential political leaders, family members and friends as an highly-efficient public servant, a tough and fair father and a neighbor who volunteered for the good of all.
“He was a very good professional at his job and was a very effective behind-the-scenes politician with networks of connections he made in his years of various levels of government service,” said Kaua‘i County Councilman Ron Kouchi.
Kouchi served many years as the head of the council between the early 1980s and 2002, leaving the council for an unsuccessful run for mayor that year, and then returning to the council in the 2006 election.
Jonathan Chun, a Kaua‘i attorney and Kaua‘i senator from 1998 to 2002, served as a deputy county attorney when Shimomura was deputy clerk.
In characterizing Shimomura as “wonderful guy,” Chun said the former clerk was an invaluable government asset because of his knowledge of government operations.
Jerome Hew, who served as a council member from 1973 to 1982, six months as a deputy finance director for former Mayor Eduardo Malapit and then as county clerk until retirement in 1996, said Shimomura could make things happen when they stalled.
“Because he was a good friend with George Toyofuku, a former Kaua‘i senator, the mayors and department heads, no matter what kind of problem you had, he could represent you,” Hew said. “He knew where to go. He was a good man, for everybody.”
County Clerk Peter Nakamura, who succeeded Shimomura in 1998, said Shimomura’s legacy is demonstrated in the county’s election center at the Kaua’i Community College to ensure election integrity, demonstrates the qualities that were “all truly parts of his legacy.”
Finding the home base for the elections came about after a lot of hard work by Shimomura, Dwayne Yoshina, a retired state chief election’s office, and the county, Nakamura said.
Kouchi recalled Shimomura, who ran the elections division in the county clerk’s office, as “proudest of the fact that there were no problems connected with any elections he was responsible for.”
Hew said Shimomura always looked for programs and methods to encourage more people to vote because Shimomura felt voters should decide on the government they wanted. During Shimomura’s tenure in the 1980s, Kaua‘i County’s voter turnouts of 80 percent and more.
Hew said some voters failed to register their new addresses after moving from part of the island to another, so he and Shimomura implemented a government-approved plan that enabled such people to re-register on election day.
“He was progressive enough to look at new ideas,” Hew said. “That was great, because a lot of old-timers didn’t want change.”
Shimomura never called attention to himself, but he held job responsibilities broad in scope, Hew said, as it was his job to ensure the integrity of the island’s voting system on election day.
When Shimomura left the workplace, he devoted equal time and energy to coaching youths from west Kaua’i how to play a better brand of baseball from the 1950s to the early 1990s, when he moved to Lihu‘e to be closer to work. And he coached youths in east Kaua‘i up until last year, when the full weight of the cancer took effect and forced him to stop.
“His outreach to the athletic community on Kaua’i was second to none,” said councilman and long-time hotel and resort executive Jay Furfaro. “He helped bring University of Hawai‘i sports to Kaua‘i. Football, baseball, through former University of Hawai‘i athletic director Hugh Yoshida.”
Beloved father, teacher and coach
Four years ago, when retired Kaua‘i County Clerk Bunji Shimomura was diagnosed with cancer and told he might have six months to a year of life left, the news didn’t surprise, confuse or anger him.
Instead, Shimomura quietly accepted the assessment of a doctor at a medical facility by Queen’s Medical Center on O‘ahu, but vowed to live life as full as he could, as long as he could, and always held hope he could beat the illness.
The man’s son, Dale Shimomura, a union agent with the Hawai‘i Government Employees Association office on Kaua‘i, said that moment of resolve revealed to him again the extent of his father’s grit.
Shimomura, a Hanapepe resident, said it also provided him food for thought on how to deal with life’s steep challenges.
“He was never the kind of guy to complain about aches and pains,” Shimomura said of his father, who passed away May 11 at the age of 74. “He took the pain and didn’t want to take drugs until the very end.”
As his condition worsened over the past six months, Shimomura told friends he dealt with pain and notions of death in an almost a matter-of-fact way because of bushido, a chivalric code of the samurai of feudal Japan, stressing loyalty, courage and a preference to death to dishonor.
His father first underwent radiation treatment at a medical facility by the O‘ahu hospital and then chemotherapy treatment at Wilcox Hospital until few months ago, Shimomura said.
“He seemed to be thinking he might be getting better,” he said. “He was looking good until the end of last year.”
He was feeling so good that he coached youth sports in Lihu‘e and only stopped when his condition began to worsen earlier this year, his son said.
And then his father tempted faith.
During visits to the historic County Building, where he worked before retiring, he smoked a bit, saying he “wanted to enjoy life.”
After treatment at Wilcox Hospital, Shimomura and his wife, Penny, took care of Shimomura at their home in Hanapepe.
The care seemed to bring a bounce back to his father’s step, Shimomura said.
“He got better, and he went back to his home in Lihu‘e,” he said. At that point, Christie Umamoto, his daughter from Granada Hills, Calif., decided to move to Kaua‘i to take care of his father at his home.
His family stood by him, hoping for the best.
It never came.
At the end, Dale Shimomura, his wife, and his sister, were at his beside when he passed on.
Father got to know son and son got to know father again for the last time. “I had a chance to talk with him one more time,” Shimomura said, solemnly.
He said his father was a tough man to live with at times, because he was a perfectionist.
Shimomura said he can remember how hard his father ran him during baseball practice when he was a youth.
“He believed in hard work,” Shimomura said. “But it all worked out. Looking back, if it had not been for him, I would not have had the chance to play college ball at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo if not for him.”
Shimomura, who played second baseman, said he “was competitive because my father taught me how.”
“He was always involved with sports in West Kaua‘i,” he said of his father. “He loved football and baseball.”
Between the 1950s and early 1990s, when he was not working, Bunji Shimomura, always an enthusiastic supporter of Waimea High School sports, and others created programs to help develop youthful legions of West Kaua‘i athletes.
“He coached Little League, he helped start booster clubs for Waimea High School, and he was involved in the Japanese Baseball Association,” Shimomura said.
Because his father had a social conscience, he also would jump at any almost chance to help others in the West Kaua‘i, Shimomura recalled.
“My grandmother used to say that whenever anybody needed help, they would call him,” Shimomura said.
While giving, his father was never one to take praise, though. “I think it was the way he was raised,” he said.
Dale Shimomura said his grandfather excelled as an appliance salesman, and with money he made, opened the Shimomura Store on the western edge of Hanapepe town.
“Hanapepe was a big town then. There were bars and sailors here in 1947, after World War II,” Shimomura said.
He said his father worked in the store as a boy and later managed it until it closed in the early 1960s.
The Shimomura store was one of many family stores that opened in Hanapepe at that time, as the town, with Port Allen and Burns Field nearby, was the economic hub of the island.
But as Nawiliwili Harbor and Lihu‘e Airport were developed, more and more family businesses in Hanapepe town closed.
Bunji Shimomura may have seen opportunity elsewhere, and opted for government work.
He was appointed the count clerk July 1,1981. He retired as county clerk in 1998.
Dale Shimomura said his father left him with lasting values.
“He was meticulous. Through his actions, he taught us the value of loyalty and honesty,” he said. ”And he told us that when you do things for people, you do them for the right reasons and not expect something in return.”