A century of birthdays and Valentine’s Days

Betty Yoshizawa celebrates her 100th today on the day of love

Betty Yoshizawa poses for a photo Tuesday morning at Roselani Place in Kahului. Yoshizawa turns 100 today on Valentine’s Day. The Maui News / CHRIS SUGIDONO photo

KAHULUI — Betty Yoshizawa of Kahului doesn’t mind living the single life even after 100 years of birthdays on the world’s universally recognized day of romance.

“I do whatever I want,” Yoshizawa said Tuesday afternoon from her room at Roselani Place. “I don’t have nothing to worry about. That’s the good thing about it, you mind your own business.”

Born Feb. 14, 1918, Yoshizawa always has had a reason to celebrate Valentine’s Day even if she never married. In recent years, though, her age is not something she likes to remember.

“Why I got to be in The Maui News for?” she asked. “I hate to hear about my age. You know how old I’m going to be?”

Yoshizawa — the oldest of 11 siblings — graduated from Maui High School in 1936 and moved to Japan to learn Japanese and how to make kimonos. She returned to Maui in 1941 once World War II broke out and taught Japanese school in Kula.

Betty Yoshizawa poses in a photo taken while in New York City. The Maui High graduate worked as a seamstress specializing in pattern-making in the fashion industry from 1947 to 1986. Photo courtesy of Betty Yoshizawa

She left for Oahu later that year for schooling and worked as a seamstress in the fashion industry for six years. In 1947, she moved to New York, where she attended the Fashion Institute of Technology and continued working in the industry.

“I loved to travel,” she said. “You meet all different kind of people. You mingle with them, you talk with them. We all have different lives.”

Yoshizawa spent the next 40 years working for big name women’s clothing companies, including Calvin Klein, and specialized in pattern-making. Her job involved making clothing samples for companies to see how they would look before producing them.

“It’s never dull to live in New York,” she said. “There’s always something to do.”

Family members said Yoshizawa has always been fiercely independent with a strong personality and penchant for traveling.

Yoshizawa’s niece, Shari Hotta, could only describe her aunt as “feisty” and “definitely no pushover.”

“We always tease her that she has a New York type of personality,” Hotta said. “She loves to argue, but never gets mad. She’s got this smile that is so sweet that you can’t stay mad at her.”

Hotta was a child when Yoshizawa was on the East Coast and said all the nieces and nephews looked at her in awe.

“She was always dressed to the nines and had every hair in place and wearing makeup,” Hotta said. “I don’t think she would ever be caught getting the mail and not looking perfect.

“She seemed like she led such a colorful life, compared to us on Maui going to the beach.”

Yoshizawa’s brother, Tommy, remembered staying with his sister sometimes in New York while he was studying and working part time. The two lived in Manhattan and Queens and the younger brother recalled his sister being “very particular” about everything.

“I told her I’m moving out because I had to clean the house every day,” he said. “I had to wipe the floors and the bathroom. She’s very particular about things; I’m not that type.”

Her brother only could recall one boyfriend a long time ago but said his sister liked living independently and did not mind her Feb. 14 Valentine’s birthday.

“It’s easy to remember,” he said. “She didn’t mind it. She liked it.”

Hotta said her aunt never learned to drive and walked everywhere, even after moving back home to Maui over 30 years ago.

“Nobody really walked on Maui,” she said. “She walked to market in her heels and makeup and dressed like she was going to work in the office at 70 years old. Always in black. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her in jeans. I don’t think she owns a pair of jeans.”

To make it to her centennial birthday today, Yoshizawa has had to overcome health issues, including being in hospice twice and undergoing hip surgery in September.

“The surgeon told Betty, ‘Wow you look great for someone 99 years old, what’s your secret?’ ” Hotta said. “She said, ‘Oh well, I guess it’s because I never got married and never had children.’ ”

Darlene Fuke, another one of Yoshizawa’s nieces, said Valentine’s Day has become a family holiday to celebrate their aunt’s birthday. She said her aunt has always been very generous and routinely took her family out to dinner.

“Valentine’s Day is something people want to celebrate, but not everybody celebrates it as a family,” Hotta said. “Because it is her birthday, it gives us a reason to come together and keeps all the spouses off the hook so they don’t have to plan.”

The family planned to hold a small gathering today at the senior independent and assisted living community, with a larger event on Sunday.

* Chris Sugidono can be reached at csugidono@mauinews.com.