Fifteen centenarians will gather together in Elk Grove on Saturday, Sept. 14, to celebrate their lives and share their stories with the public.
The event, which will be the area’s largest gathering of people who are 100 years old or older, will be held at the Sacramento Asian Sports Foundation, 9040 High Tech Court, from 5-8 p.m.
A highlight of the event will be a presentation of Keys to the City to each recipient by a representative of the office of Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg.
Elk Grove resident Ted Fong, director of development for ACC Senior Services, the organization presenting the event, told the Citizen that all of the people in this year’s group are from south Sacramento. However, he noted that plans are for the event to be held annually and expand to other areas, including Elk Grove.
Fong mentioned that through the honored guests, the public will have the opportunity to hear a variety of old-time stories, dating back to as early as the Roaring Twenties.
All of these centenarians remember World War II, and about one-third of them have firsthand recollections of the Japanese American internment by executive order two months following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
“Probably a third of them were shipped off to Japanese incarceration internment camps, so they will tell those stories,” Fong said. “Half (of the centenarians) are Japanese, half are Chinese, one is Caucasian, and they all (live) in this area.”
Fong noted that the group includes a set of twins: Fannie and Annie Wong. They were both born in Red Bluff in 1916 and have been living in Sacramento since the 1930s.
Fannie Wong joined the Wong family of Bel Air Market fame through her marriage to Gene Wong, whom she met while working as a waitress at Frank Fat’s restaurant in Sacramento.
Bel Air, which is now owned by Raley’s, dates back to 1955 in Sacramento. The first store opened on Fruitridge Road, between 62nd and 63rd streets.
Annie was also married to a man by the name of Wong, but not of the Wongs of Bel Air Market. Her husband, Lai Wong, ran Sincere Market in North Sacramento.
Longevity runs in Fannie and Annie’s family. One of their sisters is 104, and the oldest sister lived to be 99 years old.
The group also includes a husband and wife: Sacramento area natives Aaron Okamoto, 103, and Haruye Okamoto, 102.
Aaron was hired to work at the Campbell Soup plant at 47th Avenue and Franklin Boulevard in 1948, and he retired from the company 32 years later. Aaron and Haruye have been married for more than 75 years.
Another centenarian, Mae Chan, was born in San Francisco on April 8, 1917, and spent her first six years of life growing up in that city’s Chinatown. She then went with her mother to her mother’s village in China.
After returning to America, Chan, despite being a U.S. citizen, was held at Angel Island for nearly six months.
Toshio Fukuda, who was born in 1917, said that his longevity is perhaps associated with a daily activity: having a root beer float. His love for the treat dates back to his childhood when he would visit a soda fountain in his Oakland neighborhood.
One of his favorite memories is meeting the famous accordion-playing bandleader Lawrence Welk.
“We once met Lawrence Welk in our hotel elevator,” he said. “My wife was a great fan and we told him we had tickets to his dinner show that night. Mr. Welk wanted to bring my wife up on stage to dance with him, but she said, ‘No thank you.’ She was too shy to dance in public.”
Fran Jaksich, another centenarian, celebrated her 100th birthday earlier this year with a gathering of about 90 of her friends and family.
Jaksich grew up on her family’s Sutter County ranch, between Yuba City, Live Oak and Sutter City.
After attending business school in Oakland, she was hired to work on the statement department of Capital National Bank in downtown Sacramento.
Although Jaksich does not claim to have a secret to longevity, she said that she believes in being kind to others.
“I believe in building friendships and being kind to others,” she said.
Fong said that the upcoming event is a fundraiser for ACC Senior Services that he expects to continue to grow each year.
“There are 75,000 centenarians in the U.S.,” he said. “That number will grow to 600,000 by mid-century. At this rate, 40% of the residents at ACC Care Center will be centenarians. One can only imagine how big the celebration will be at the 66th annual care center fundraiser in 2050.”