Talk Story with Yoshiko ‘Dimples’ Kano

  • Bill Buley / The Garden Island

    Yoshiko “Dimples” Kano reflects on The Garden Island/Zonta Club Christmas Fund, which she has led for nearly 20 years.

Some nicknames last a lifetime.

Like “Dimples.”

“My older sisters, they thought I was the cutest little thing. They would look at me and I would turn beet red. And that’s when they used to bug me. They would tease me. ‘Oh, Dimples, you’re so cute.’”

“I used to hate it,” she said, laughing. “I guess I was the different one in the family. My oldest sister couldn’t stand the fact she couldn’t get under my skin. This little kid shrugging her shoulders, it infuriated them.”

Yoshiko “Dimples” Kano, at the time, was 6 or 7 years old. The name stuck. That’s how many know the 93-year-old today. They don’t even know her real first name.

In case you’re wondering, it’s Yoshiko (her last name was Imizo), and while it can have many meanings, common words used for Yoshiko are “joy,” “virtuous,” “beautiful.”

“Not meaning looks,” Kano said with a smile.

But she is beautiful, inside and out.

This second-generation Japanese-American woman born and raised on Kauai has long been one to look out for the best interests of others. She’s been doing that for nearly 50 years as a member of Zonta International, a service organization dedicated to the advancing the status of women.

She’s also volunteered with The Salvation Army and the United Way.

“Becoming a Zonta member, to me, was the best thing that could happen. It opened the doors for me. If you wanted something, you go after it,” she said. “I got my taste for traveling. I became a Zonta member in March of 1972. In 1974, I went to the international convention in Boston and I thoroughly loved it.

“I felt the doors were opening for me. Even if you were a girl, even a Japanese girl in Hawaii, you could get somewhere. When you are willing to help somebody, doors kind of open for you.”

But Dimples Kano, married nearly 50 years to Jarrett Shoichi Kano, who served in World War II with the U.S. Army before he passed away in 1993, and the mother of two boys and two girls, is more about opening doors for others.

That’s why, for nearly two decades, she has led The Garden Island/Zonta Christmas Fund that been around since the 1980s. It’s grown steadily from the early years when contributions totaled a few hundred dollars to more than $50,000 raised in just the past two years.

And every dollar goes to families in need. We’re talking keiki and kupuna. Hard-working but poor. Dedicated but on hard times. Facing physical, mental and emotional challenges. Bad luck. Lost jobs. Poor health.

This year, 400 families, via social service agencies, applied for help. And the goal is that everyone will receive gift cards that will brighten their holidays.

How are things going this year?

A lot of good, good publicity. People are more and more beginning to be aware of the Christmas Fund. So, it’s good. All these years, this has been going on, there were so many people that didn’t know about it.

What keeps you going at this?

I have had others who wanted to take on. Joy and I started the step-by-step procedure back in 2000s. Things were kind of being done not too organized and I thought we better clear up the system. So we set up a system, it’s a little tedious, but we know how to account for the money coming in.

Has it always been well supported by the community?

Before, some years it wasn’t very much. And then $3,000 or $4,000. Now, it’s more because I think more people know about it and they like it.

What do you like about it?

Just being able to give to people. We don’t get a lot of response, just a few. There was one guy, he got the $50 gift card and it really started things for him. He went to the store, all he asked for was a new shirt and belt buckle. And the $50 covered more than that. He bought a shirt, a belt buckle, a new pair of pants, and a new pair of shoes. And best of all, he said, “I got me a job.”

That really hit me. So I said, “OK, there’s really a lot of people like that out there.” That’s really what got me started.

I stepped in because it was kind of a natural transition for me. Somebody had to take care of things, somebody had to volunteered, so I thought I better do it.

Every year, you talk about retiring. But every year, you come back. Why?

I find there are a lot of good Zonta members who would take over. I think I just with all the effort the community makes to respond, I thought I better be responsible and account for it. It got to a point where I thought, “I can’t just leave it.” Now, I would have to train somebody to do this.

How are you feeling physically?

I’m frustrated because I can’t hop around like I used to. I didn’t realize it, but I do have a little bit of a heart condition. I didn’t know that until I went to North Carolina to visit. My granddaughter was a nurse there for a retirement home at that time I got up about 4 o’clock in the morning, unable to sleep, and she was getting ready to go to work. She said, “Grandma, what are you doing up at this time of the morning?” I said, “I don’t know, I can’t sleep. I’m OK. I think it’s the plane ride.”

She looked at me and said, “Grandma, get dressed, I’m taking you to emergency.” They took all kinds of tests and found I did have a bit of a heart condition.

Are you supposed to be taking it easy?

Take it easy a little bit, but not completely.

So, are you doing that?

Oh yeah, I’m not running around the way I used to. Plus, I don’t drive, which really made my kids sigh with relief.

Do you miss driving?

I miss it. I used to go out and go “Oops, I don’t have a car,” and I’d come back in. Now, I have to wait when I know there will be someone else to drive me.

You will eventually have to hand off the Christmas Fund organization to someone else, right?

Yes, I will. I need to teach a couple of people who have been long-time members so they will be able to teach the next generation and keep it going.

Now, you don’t actually meet the people who get the gift certificates, but you near their stories, right?

It’s confidentiality. Some of the local service providers say, “Dimples, if you saw their faces, or heard their expressions when they open the gift cards, you would keep doing it.”

It’s an encouragement to keep going. They tell me I can be sure the certificates are so well received. I think, “How can $50 buy that much?” It’s not so much of what it buys, but what it means to the people who get them.

What does Christmas mean to you?

It’s a favorite family gathering time. Christmas, New Year’s, it’s family time, so it’s good. I like it. I was the family’s chief cook until last year. This year, with all that’s happened, they really don’t want to see me cooking.

What would you like for Christmas?

I don’t now. I never think of anything material. Those days are gone.

Anything at all?

Nothing, really. Just the kind of response I’ve been getting and there will be donations to help people. That’s a thing I look to.

Where did you get your generous spirit?

It’s something I grew up with. I took care of my youngest sister, the seventh one. She was my favorite, she was my kid sister below me, three years younger. I would carry her on my back. I remember carrying her and slipping in the puddle and my mother stopping whatever work she was doing to bathe us.

She died when she was 3, maybe 10 days before she was 4.

What happened?

There was a flu epidemic going on, from China. My kid sister got that, we don’t know how because she wasn’t going anywhere. Then I caught it from her.

The doctors couldn’t save her, it was too late. So the doctor, he paid more attention to me. I was on the verge of becoming ill.

I was about 6 or 7 at the time. Life somehow worked out this way.

I was one of the shyest kids. I remember one of our neighbors, his family was German. He thought I was a cute little kid. He would reach out some candy, I was so shy I would put my head down. In the end, he would take a few and put them in my pocket. “You gotta take some,” he said.

What kind of work did you do?

In real estate, and I worked for Lihue Plantation for 25 years?

What did you do there?

All kinds of clerical stuff. “Here, type this. Here, do this.” Special projects, lining up different things, developments.

I hate to say this, but they never gave local people the jobs with titles. You had to be some haole to get some title.

I was the very first person at Lihue Plantation office who got married, had a baby, and from that they started having to make rules about matrimony leave. They never thought about that before.

How did you want to raise your kids?

Grow up responsible. They have to use their heads to get ahead. Life was more than do this, do this. I tried to get them to see they were better positioned.

Looking back, how do you feel about your life?

I think I experienced more than I thought I would. I never thought there were certain things available to us. Slowly, I learned you have to have confidence in yourself and go after what you want.


Bill Buley, editor-in-chief, can be reached at 245-0457 or


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