Nellie Aramaki Saito
April 19, 1922 - June 2, 2020
Long-time Ontario resident, Nellie A. Saito, 98, passed away peacefully on Tuesday, June 2, 2020 at Brookdale Senior Living in Ontario, Oregon.
Nellie was born April 19, 1922 in Bellevue, WA to parents Hikotaro and Towa Tasaki Aramaki.
The sixth of seven children, she grew up on a farm where her family cultivated fruits and vegetables. Nellie attended school in Bellevue, WA where she loved playing basketball and tennis. Along with brother, Chuck, and sister, Mary, the siblings frequently performed onstage in Japanese plays, singing and dancing, in the Bellevue Community. She graduated from Bellevue High School in 1940.
Nellie and her family experienced firsthand the devastating and cultural impact World War II had on first- generation Japanese Americans. After the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, the US entered World War II and by 1942, it resulted in the internment of approximately 120,000 Americans of Japanese descent in the western half of the nation. Nellie was still a teenager at the time the family had to evacuate. Her family, with the exception of her oldest brother, Akira, who stayed behind to finish work on the farm, left their home, along with only what they could carry, to go to what was explained as a “safer location” in Quincy, WA. However, they were not there long before they joined Akira at the concentration camp at Tule Lake, CA, where her brother had, by then, been relocated. In 1943, the family left Tulelake by train for the internment camp in Minidoka, Idaho. After a release and then a return back to Minidoka Camp in October 1944, Nellie’s family was finally able to relocate to Ontario. Nellie joined her sister, Mary, in Boise, ID, and worked in a department store.
It was at a dance in Boise that Nellie met her future husband, Joe Y. Saito, upon his return from military service in the all Japanese American 442nd regimental combat unit. After waiting for Joe’s brother, Paul, to return from service duties so that he could be the best man, they were married on January 26, 1947 at the Japanese Baptist Church in Seattle, WA. They settled in Ontario, OR, where Joe farmed with his brothers, Paul and Abe. In their 71 years of marriage, they raised three children, Carrie Lynn Turner (Dave) of Hood River, OR, Vickie Saito (Kelly Pulley) of Nashville, TN, and Richard (Deborah) Saito of Birmingham, AL.
Nellie is also survived by 5 grandchildren: Heidi (Pat) Tolentino, Kyle (Beth) Turner, Tyson (Sabrina) Turner, Tiffany (Joe) Aguiar, and Lyanna Saito
10 great grandchildren: Kalani, Alina, and Kenji Turner, Jocelyn, Katherine, Trinity and Elliana Turner, Malia Tolentino, Elijah and Naiya Aguiar
Sisters-in-law, Sumi Saito, Weiser, ID and Taka Aramaki, Seattle, WA and many beloved nieces and nephews.
Nellie had an extraordinary life and was an inspiration not only to her own family but many in the greater Treasure Valley area and around the country. Engaging and gracious, she was also fiercely independent and determined, and made the most of every day. Nell was an avid sports enthusiast, having spent many years in league bowling, golfing (achieving 2 holes-in-one!), and fishing, all the while supporting her kids’ athletic pursuits and following her favorite pro teams, the Seattle Mariners and Seahawks! She was well known for her sushi-making, apple pies, and highly coveted dill pickles and she loved sharing her recipes and teaching others. A lifelong student of the Japanese language, Nellie continually honed her conversational skills by practicing with her Issei friends (1st generation Japanese that emigrated from Japan). She was an active civic and community volunteer, and, with husband Joe, was honored by the Ontario Chamber of Commerce as Ambassador of the Year in 1996 and received the Chamber’s Distinguished Couple of the Year award in 2000. She and Joe traveled throughout the nation, helping to promote and market the onion industry of Eastern Oregon. Along the way, Nellie became known, and won numerous awards, for her creatively decorated onions!
Compassionate and loyal and blessed with a heart of service, Nellie lived her faith and will be fondly remembered by her family and friends as generous, thoughtful, and hardworking. In moments of both joy and adversity, her quiet grace and humility will continue to leave a lasting imprint on all who knew her.
In honor of Nellie, a Celebration of Life service will be held at a later date with a burial at Evergreen Cemetery, Ontario.
The family extends special acknowledgement to Nellie’s dear friends: Janice Gordon, Bill and Barb Hardin, Sharon Wada, Larry Matsumura, Dan and Patsy (Rule) Thomas, East Side Florist and all those in the community who have so lovingly cared for her. We also extend our heartfelt thanks to the Brookdale staff and Heart and Home Hospice for their kind services.
In appreciation of Nellie’s love and deep respect for her community, contributions can be made in memory of Nellie A. Saito, to either:
Four Rivers Cultural Center, 676 SW 5th Avenue, Ontario, Oregon 97914 541.889.8191
Snake River Valley JACL, PO Box 637, Ontario, Oregon 97914