Itsuye “Peggy” Hirst (1921-2023)

Itsuye “Peggy” Hirst (1921-2023)

Itsuye (Tsubochi) Hirst went by the name, “Peggy,” because she and her siblings, as Nisei (2nd generation) children, served as a bridge between their non-English speaking Issei (1st generation) parents and the American social order of the early 20th century. Peggy lived a full, eventful, and long 101-years. 

Peggy passed peacefully and comfortably on 14th February 2023 at her home in Seal Beach, California.

She was born on 31st August 1921 from humble beginnings in San Pedro, California as the first-born child to her mother, Ito (Kitagaki) Tsubochi, and father, Chozo Tsubochi.

She was blessed with four siblings Tsuneo “James” Tsubochi, Mihoye “Betty” (Tsubochi) Higgins, Tayeko “Tye” (Tsubochi) Ray, and Yoshino “Alyce” (Tsubochi) Toyama. Peggy and her siblings grew up on the Palos Verdes Peninsula of Southern California, where their  close-knit family was one of forty families who were sharecropper-farmers and grew crops on 2,000 acres of fertile land. During their childhoods they worked hard on the farm and enjoyed family time at the nearby scenic beaches for fishing, abalone-diving, octopus hunting, periwinkle foraging, and picnics.

Peggy outlived her two husbands, Yasutoshi “Yas” Okuji, the father of her sons and whom she wed in November 1941, and Louis “Lou” Hirst, wedded in February 1972. As well, she was predeceased by her above-named four siblings; an infant son “Baby Okuji;” brother-in-law Tadashi Okuji; sister-in-law Tomoe Okuji; and step-son Robert Hirst. She is survived by sons Dennis Okuji, Michael Okuji, David Okuji; daughters-in-law Lilit Mazmanyan, Cindy (Sakata) Okuji; step-daughters Janet (Hirst) Henderson, Kathy (Hirst) Roberts; step-daughter-in law Linda Hirst; grand-daughter Kelli (Okuji) Wilson; grand-son-in-law Landis Wilson; great-grand-daughter Olivia Wilson; and numerous Tsubochi nieces and nephews.

Peggy graduated from San Pedro High School, after which she soon married Yas to start their young lives together in Los Angeles, California.

Peggy always had a ready smile and carried an underlying toughness, which prepared her for life’s uncertainties. “Strength through Smiles” can best describe Peggy’s steely grit and resilience for the hardships she endured in her 101-years.

In 1942, during World War II, Peggy, Yas, and their parents and siblings were forcibly moved from Los Angeles and interned in Heart Mountain, Wyoming for two years under Presidential Order No. 9066. During these difficult years Peggy started her family with the births of two sons and a third who did not survive childbirth. Family photos show Peggy smiling from the joy of her new sons, while enduring the monotony of confinement.

Upon release from Wyoming, Peggy and her family returned to Southern California and rooted in Long Beach, California where she bore and raised two more sons.

Tragedy struck again in 1965 when Peggy unexpectedly lost both her husband, Yas, and her second son, Victor, within seven months of each other. Surmounting grief in mid-life, Peggy was thrust into the role as a single, working mother as a grocery clerk for Atlantic Farms and Cole’s markets in the Long Beach area. Although tired after a full day of work, Peggy always returned home with her smile.

A few years later, Peggy joined a bowling team, with Lou Hirst as one of her team-mates. One thing led to another and soon they became married life-mates. Approaching retirement age, Peggy and Lou purchased property in Oregon where they could establish a life of travel as snowbirds.

In 1972 they fulfilled their plan, moved to Beavercreek, Oregon, and also established a winter residence in Vincete Guerrero, Baja California, Mexico. Thanks to the early days of satellite TV technology, Peggy was able to regularly watch her beloved Portland Trail Blazers. During these care-free years Peggy and Lou enjoyed plenty of travel adventures in their recreational vehicle with sightseeing, fishing, and communing with friends and family. However, this period of bliss was disrupted when a gas-leak in their recreational vehicle ignited and exploded causing Peggy and Lou to suffer serious burns. They were air-lifted from Mexico to a burn center in Los Angeles, where Peggy underwent three months of care, rehabilitation, and full recovery. Despite the seriousness of her experience, Peggy never shared the pain and suffering she endured. Instead, she remained steadfast with her gracious smile.

In 2000, and again unexpectedly, Peggy lost her beloved husband, Lou; after which she moved back to Southern California to be closer to her family. Upon her return, Peggy kept busy with watching NBA basketball, joining a competitive table tennis team, and junkets to the local tribal casinos.

Peggy will always be remembered for her fastidious memory (she remembered everyone’s birth, graduation, and anniversary dates) and her love of nature’s beauty (the colors of flowers, foliage, and sunsets), the Portland Trail Blazers, singing, dancing, cooking, cake-baking, knitting and crocheting, Hershey Kisses and butterscotch candies, and ICE CREAM (although she did not partake in any other dairy products). Of course, Peggy will be remembered for her “strength through smiles.”

In her final years as the sole remaining sister, Peggy would often ask, “Why am I still here?” On 13th November 2022 her question was finally answered when she was presented with her one and only 3-month old great-grand-daughter, Oliva, who shares Peggy’s August birth week and more importantly shares her joyful smile. Through Oliva, Peggy’s “strength through smiles” will continue onward.

Peggy’s celebration of life remembrance will be held privately with family members at sea in Los Alamitos Bay on Saturday, 25th March 2023. To honor Peggy’s love of nature’s beauty, donations may be made to the Nature Conservancy.

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