Dennis Okuji (1943-2023)

Dennis Okuji (1943-2023)

Dennis Okuji, a consummate visual artist, died on March 2, 2023 at his long-time home in Long Beach, CA after a short illness. He was 80.

Dennis worked as a research analyst at the Long Beach Public Library for 25-years. He preferred the public library over a university research library because the quiet surroundings gave him the independence and solitude to delve into his passion for painting, drawing and wood-block printing. He seemed to change mediums every five-years.

Prior to his library stint, Dennis used his design talent in the fast paced world of commercial art at Hallmark Cards in Kansas City, MO and the Los Angeles Times (newspaper) art department. Upon retirement, he soon expanded his interests to photography, calligraphy, coin and firearm collecting. He could often be found driving fast down Pacific Coast Highway with the windows down in his candy-apple red Pontiac Firebird. Dennis was an enthusiastic traveler who brought whimsy to his trips to Las Vegas, Santa Cruz and San Francisco to visit family. He was so thrilled to visit Napa Valley for his niece Kelli’s wedding at Meadowood that he bought a swanky new suit, shirt, tie, shoes and a pocket square for a bit of panache . . . a special flair for such a frugal kind of guy.

Dennis Masao Okuji was born January 21, 1943 in the Heart Mountain, Wyoming relocation camp during World War II to Itsuye (Tsubochi) and Yasutoshi Okuji. He showed so much artistic talent at Long Beach Polytechnic High School that his teachers arranged for him to receive a scholarship to the Parsons School of Design in New York City. In an early show of his independent bent, Dennis eschewed the scholarship and remained close to home to earn his Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) degree from Long Beach State College (now California State University, Long Beach). He later earned his Master of Library Science (MLS) degree from the University of Southern California.

Dennis served in the Army as an infantryman deployed to Viet Nam where he saw combat action and volunteered to jump out of airplanes as a paratrooper. He regularly traded stories on Army life with his uncles Raymond Toyama and Tadashi Okuji. On his return flight from Tokyo, he remembered being bumped-up to a first-class seat where he shared a row, wine and stories with the film actor E.G. Marshall. In retirement, Dennis continued to live a fiercely independent life where he even drove himself to the hospital for surgery. He lived his entire life on his own terms, created beautiful art, was content in solitude and passed peacefully. A life well lived.

Dennis is survived by his younger brothers Michael and David, sisters-in-law Lilit Mazmanyan and Cindy (Sakata) Okuji, niece Kelli (Okuji) Wilson, grand-niece Olivia Wilson, and many Tsubochi cousins.

Private services will be held at sea in Los Alamitos on March 25, 2023. Memorial donations in Dennis’ honor may be made to the Room to Read literacy program for underserved children.

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