By Claire Booth
Today is another entry in my occasional feature PEOPLE I WISH I’D KNOWN. Fumiko Yabe Saito was born in 1923. She and her family were forced into the Tule Lake internment camp in Northern California during World War II. Afterward, she attended a highly selective music school in Philadelpia and became an opera singer. She and her husband then moved throughout the Midwest; she would join the adult church choir wherever they went, and start a children's one if that particular church didn't have one. Here is her story, or read more about her here.
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Fumiko Yabe Saito passed away surrounded by family on January 29, 2019. She was born in Sacramento, CA, December 21, 1923, to Tomoko and Kazuto Yabe, first born of four girls.
From an early age, Fumi had a gifted voice. She learned how to cook and sew and was busy with voice lessons and rehearsals throughout her childhood and teen years. Fumi performed and won awards and recognition throughout Sacramento and northern CA. In high school and at the Junior College, she took voice lessons as a coloratura soprano at Pease Music Conservatory, at 14 placed first in the "Sing Queen" award, in 1938 won the CA State Fair Talent Show and performed to a crowd of two thousand, sang in front of Gov. Olson, and took second place (against 350+ entries) at the 1939 Golden Gate Exposition.
As an American of Japanese ancestry, Fumi and her family were interned and it was in Tule Lake where she met and fell in love with her future husband, Perry Hitoshi Saito, of Aberdeen, WA. In 1944, she got out of Camp to attend the highly selective Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia for summer school. After she and Perry married, they attended Illinois Wesleyan University. They lived in IL and in 1951 moved to Beloit, WI. In 1954, Fumi and Perry moved to Stevens Point and stayed there until 1965.
Fumi fulfilled her dream to sing opera, taking the lead in Stevens Point's Central State College (now UWSP) production of Madame Butterfly in 1961. A year later she played lead yet again in "Taming of the Shrew". In 1965 they moved to Eau Claire and then returned to Stevens Point from 1971-1975 for Perry's stint as district superintendent for the North Central District of the United Methodist Church (UMC). He was later assigned to Wauwatosa UMC then to Neenah UMC. Fumi's husband Perry, passed away in 1985 and she returned to her beloved Stevens Point in 1986.
Fumi was a member of St. Paul's United Methodist Church and volunteered at St. Michaels Hospital for over twenty years. She was always affiliated with choirs throughout WI. If there wasn't a children's or youth choir at the church where they served, she would start one and she actively participated in their church adult choirs and many community choral groups. Fumi enjoyed the company of her P.E.O. sisters, having joined the sisterhood in 1953.
Her passions were singing, sewing, cooking, playing bridge, travel, and her family. In addition to her singing and performing, Fumi was always stylishly dressed, sewing her own stunning dresses and outfits, coats and jackets, blazers and slacks. Fumi would knit sweaters and caps, sew placemats and table runners, usually brightly colored with unique cuts and trims. She enjoyed traveling in Japan, Europe, Canada and Mexico. In the 1950s-1960s, she and the family camped all across the U.S.
Survivors include her children Patricia Saito-Stewart (Max Stewart), Lincoln Saito (Linda), Christine Laird (Otis), Deborah Saito (Mark Kretovics), Rebecca Saito (Delroy Calhoun), along with 13 grandchildren, 22 great grandchildren, numerous nieces and nephews, and her sisters Connie Washino (Davis, CA) and Lily Shimazu (Sacramento, CA). Her Husband, her Mother and Father, a Sister, two Great-grandchildren precede Fumi in death.
A Celebration of Life service will be held at St. Paul's United Methodist Church, Stevens Point, WI, on April 27, 2019, at 11:00am with refreshments to follow the service. A time of visitation will be at the church beginning at 10:00am. Rev. Tim O'Brien will preside. In lieu of flowers, please consider making a donation in Fumi's name to St. Paul's UMC music ministry at 600 Wilshire Blvd. Stevens Point WI 54481 or to P.E.O. Chapter CB at 549 Ivan Dr. Kent OH 44240.