Beloved Santa and community icon Kerry Taniguchi has passed away

Kerry Taniguchi, center. Photo courtesy of IDEC.

Beloved Santa Claus and Chinatown-ID (CID) icon Seattle native Kerry Taniguchi died in his sleep at his Renton home earlier this month at the age of 67.

Taniguchi was a familiar presence on the streets of Chinatown. He was a small figure with a long, wispy gray beard, a wide-brimmed beanie, sunglasses, and a vest with pockets. He would walk around, stopping to chat with friends old and new. He enjoyed sharing fondly remembered details of the region’s past with young activists.

His favorite places – his adopted second homes – were the Wing Luke Museum and the Tai Tung Restaurant.

Taniguchi, born May 11, 1954, attended Bailey Gatzert Elementary School, Washington Junior High, and Franklin High School. His parents, Hitoshi and Taeko Taniguchi, operated the Publix Hotel in CID, which sparked a passion for the neighborhood.

After attending Bellevue Community College, Kerry enlisted in the military, leaving with a medical discharge. He then worked at the Chevron gas station on Rainier Ave. S. and McClellan. At the Chevron Corporation, he taught first aid to gas station employees in Washington and Oregon. In the mid-1970s, a Chevron station attendant used this training to help a victim of a head-on crash near his station in Oregon.

Taniguchi had an unlimited giving spirit. His younger brother Harold recalled, “For four years I drove my car to and from Southern California to school, not to mention trips off campus. Kerry gave me a Chevron credit card and paid my bills no questions asked the entire time!”

Kerry worked for several years in King County for the Road Services Division as a road use investigator. He was a King County volunteer firefighter and reserve officer. He has given numerous first aid training sessions and addressed installation and safety issues at Nisei Veterans Memorial Hall and the White River Buddhist Church.

Kerry Taniguchi on the cover of the International Examiner for the April 20, 2022 issue. Cover by Drag and Drop Creative.

In 1976, Taniguchi began volunteering at the International District Emergency Center (IDEC). After retiring as King County Sheriff, he became IDEC’s primary trainer for first aid and emergency preparedness. He was a close friend of founder and director Donnie Chin, tragically killed in the summer of 2015 in crossfire between rival gangs.

“Kerry single-handedly trained CID residents, businesses and regular visitors in first aid skills after Donnie’s death when the council realized it could no longer sustain round-the-clock patrols and the emergency response with the departure of Donnie,” said Richard Mar, former Chairman of the Board of IDEC. . Last year, Taniguchi joined IDEC’s board of directors.

During the holiday season, Taniguchi happily dressed up as Santa at the Wing Luke Museum and Tai Tung, sitting down for photos and handing out fortune cookies and candy to children.

“He was definitely loved by us and the staff,” recalls Vivian Chan, community programs manager for the Wing Luke Museum. “We didn’t really see it as much in the museum as we did after Donnie died. After this period, he was often found chatting with our reception staff, often and at length. He had a list of chosen great-nieces and great-nephews. It was almost near 20 the last time I checked.

“My child was a great-grandniece. He lovingly bought her a large number of cookies. He always wanted to redeem his grandmother. He always told me he didn’t eat them all, but mailed them to his friend’s kids in the army.

Auriza Ugalino, Community Relations Manager at International Examiner, said “Grandpa Kerry” has made the community a “much safer and happier place.” He came to Ugalino’s aid after he suffered a chemical burn while trying to clean graffiti off a newspaper box.

“He taught me how to heal my wound by soaking it in a bowl of water for 15 minutes,” they say. “While my hand was soaked he did a security inspection of our office and found that our first aid kits and fire extinguisher were outdated. Now we have safer protocols in the office.

Jaime Stroble, former Wilderness Inner-City Leadership Development (WILD) program manager at InterIm CDA, a wilderness and youth empowerment program, said she first met ‘Uncle Kerry’ there. was seven years old when he moved to his office in the International District.

“He called me to tease me”Obaasan’ and bow to me with respect once he found out I was Japanese,” she said. “I laughed at how I should be the one to bow to him as an elder, but he liked to joke around and subvert the expectation of respecting your elders to show appreciation for the younger generation of people working in the neighborhood. It was not absurd and full of absurdities at the same time. He was a beloved character and will be missed.

A tribute to Kerry at Tai Tung. Photo by Dean Wong

Taniguchi’s tours of Chinatown were never complete without a meal at Tai Tung. He always sat at the same table, choosing one of three basic foods; pork noodles, crab rangoon or Tai Tung Special Chow Mein. He insisted on “no vegetables” and a box of Sprite. Brother Harold confirmed Kerry’s lifelong aversion to vegetables.

“The restaurant is like another home for him,” owner Harry Chan recalls, a deep sadness in his voice. Kerry’s table is adorned with photos, flowers and cards from daily grieving visitors. “Everyone here knows him. Sometimes he comes twice a day. He was a very generous person. The kitchen staff, they don’t know his name, but they call him ‘the corn man’ because he brought boxes of corn and gave it to them.

Chan said he looked forward to traveling with Taniguchi in September to visit three Japanese-American concentration camp sites, two in California and one in Arizona. He said Kerry had accompanied him on previous trips to Minidoka, Topaz and Camp Amache, opening his eyes to this story.

On March 11, despite his fragile health, Taniguchi led IDEC’s volunteer efforts at the Wing Luke Museum’s annual arts action at the Sheraton Hotel in downtown Seattle.

Two years earlier, in March 2020, at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Kerry joined several other IDEC volunteers – Richard Mar, Sue Taoka and Melvin Inouye – to establish an outdoor testing site. in front of the International Community Health Services clinic. .

Mar added, “Last December, fresh out of hospital, he put on his red suit and fulfilled his pledge to Harry Chan at Tai Tung to perform his infamous Santa Claus for children.”

Chan noted that the afternoon before Taniguchi died, he stopped at the restaurant to take a food order: “He looked good to me, but I asked him, ‘Hey Kerry, you Better get back to the car and get your walking stick.’ He said no, he didn’t need it. The next morning Melvin called me and told me that Kerry was dead.

Coincidentally, Chan said, that same morning, all of the runway lights on the lower level of the restaurant failed. “We were joking that maybe Kerry is still here with us,” Chan said.

Taniguchi made annual trips to Disneyland with his family. Without fail, he visited his father’s grave weekly and saw his 97-year-old mother every Tuesday, bringing treats from Uwajimaya.

Taniguchi’s sister Diane died in 2016. Kerry is survived by older brother Donald, younger brother Harold; ex-wife Carol Taniguchi, two daughters, Allisyn (Drew Duryee) with grandchildren, Jackson and Emma; and Kristyn (Michael Goddard).

IDEC is working with other CID partners to organize an event in memory of Taniguchi on May 7.

This article was originally published on April 11 and has been updated.

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