Enriched by their presence
Can you imagine a lady over the age of 90 who goes dancing every week, sings and dances in theatrical performances, sews, and drives a car she gave herself as a 90th birthday present? There is one who lives in Sharon named Masae Morisue.
Her story starts in Reno, Nevada, where a man named Mojuro Shijo had a laundry business. Like other Japanese men who emigrated to this country during the late 19th or early 20th century, he could not find a wife here. He selected a “picture bride” – one of the thousands of Japanese women whose marriages were arranged based on the exchange of photographs.
They gave birth to their first child, Masae, on November 12, 1912. Before Masae was two years old, her mother took her and her baby brother to Japan to meet their grandparents.
“The ships were slow in those days,” Masae said. “My grandparents died before we got there. My mother had to stay and take care of their farm. We were there until I was ten years old.”
While they were away, Masae’s father moved to San Francisco. She never felt she got to know him well, because he died when she was fourteen years old. To this day, she has no idea how, when, or why he came to the United States.
“My mother was a widow for a long time,” she said. “We needed money, so I had an after-school job cooking for a family. They had two children, a boy who was eight and a girl who was about two. I said I’m not fond of children. She said I wouldn’t have to take care of the children, only cook. I got to be a pretty good cook, and I grew fond the children, too.”
After graduating from high school, a friend introduced her to Jo Morisue, a young man who was born and raised in San Francisco’s Japanese community. They were married in 1938 in a Buddhist ceremony. Their only son Glenn was born in 1940.
On December 7, 1941, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. Residents of California, Oregon, and Washington feared that Japan would attack the United States, and everyone of Japanese origin was unjustly suspected as a potential conspirator. More than 120,000 people, many of them loyal long-term American citizens, were sent to internment camps.
“We had to sell everything except our clothes,” Masae said. “Everybody was selling everything, so people took advantage of us. We sold our furniture, mahogany table, even wedding presents for a lot less than they were worth. My mother and my three brothers were sent to Topaz camp in Utah. But my husband worked for the FBI at the time. His brother, ‘Mori’ Morisue, was an engineer with Westinghouse in Sharon. The FBI got special permission for us to come to Sharon and live with Mori and his family.”
They were extremely fortunate. Housing in the camp was nothing more than tarpaper-covered barracks with no plumbing or cooking facilities. There was little heat and not much food. Two of Masae’s brothers were among about 1,200 who got out of the internment camps by joining the American army. Her mother and other brother remained there until the camp was closed at the end of the war.
Jo, Masae, and Glen lived with Mori’s family for about a year and a half, then moved into their own home.
“My husband had a hard time finding a job,” Masae said. “He finally got a job at Shenango Penn Mold in Sharpsville. But he had asthma, so he had to leave there after five years.”
He found another job at Republic Steel in Ohio.
“They were only hiring young men,” Masae said. “They didn’t realize he was much older than he looked, so they hired him. We didn’t have a car. He had to ride the bus and change a couple of times. It took him an hour to get there.”
Even though his brother was a well-known engineer at Westinghouse, Jo had difficulty getting a job there. He got mad because they were hiring every Tom, Dick, and Harry, but they wouldn’t hire him. He wrote a letter to a big shot at Westinghouse, and finally they hired him.”
He worked there about 13 years. Then he got a job as custodian at Temple Beth Israel, where he worked for another 13 years until he retired.
Retirement didn’t slow him down. He drove school bus until he was 80, when his driving insurance was canceled because of his age. But that still didn’t stop him. He started working as a school crossing guard a couple of blocks from his house.
For a number of years Jo served as a special agent for the Humane Society.
“When they received a complaint about people mistreating animals he had to go and check it out,” Masae said. “He got a plaque from the Humane Society for his good work.”
Jo also served the community in other ways. He was an auxiliary Sharon police officer for twenty years. In 1991, he taught conversational Japanese at the library and the high school as part of the continuing education program.
“He taught about twelve weeks,” Masae said, “and he refused to accept any pay for it. He said he wanted to give something back to the community.”
Jo was well-known for his artistic skill in calligraphy.
“He did a lot of calligraphy for Temple Beth Israel,” Masae said, “and he kept the memorial book at the First United Methodist Church for 20 years. We have been members there since 1946. The Rotary Club asked him to do the certificates they gave to exchange students. He got a plaque from them in appreciation of his work.”
Jo Morisue passed away in 1995 at the age of 85.
Like her husband, Masae had a number of jobs since moving here. Her first job here was dietary assistant at the Sharon Hospital.
“We had a special kitchen to take care of special diets such as diabetics,” Masae said. “It was hard work. We had to prepare the food and carry hot trays and water to the different floors. I did that for six years. I quit when Stouffer’s took over, because they fired the dietician and everybody else in the kitchen.”
After that she worked in the fabric department of the Sharon Store until the May Company took it over. Her last job was with JoAnn Fabrics.
Masae had her hobbies, too – and she still enjoys them. She loves not only cooking, but also sewing, knitting, crocheting, and needlework. McCall’s Needlework and Crafts magazine published her picture in 1959 wearing a coat she had knitted using a McCall’s pattern.
“I still have that coat,” she said, “and it’s still wearable.”
She always took her job as wife and mother seriously. She is particularly proud that she was a Cub Scout den mother for two years when her son Glen was in cub scouts.
Glen is now a nationally-known artist living in Ashtabula, Ohio. He is a member of Who’s Who in American Art.
Although she will celebrate her 93rd birthday on November 12, Masae is still amazingly active. She is part of a quilting group that makes quilts and donates them to charitable organization such as the Salvation Army and Prince of Peace. The group started at the Sharon Hospital, and now meets at Christ Lutheran Church. They have made and given away more than 100 quilts.
Masae also plays the organ, and she goes line dancing every week at the Senior Center in Hermitage. For the past two years she has performed in the Mercer County Senior Follies.
Masae Morisue passed away on July 3, 2013, at age of 100.
Story excerpted from Lives of Quiet Inspiration, Volume 1, by Joe Zentis. Hermitage, PA: Green Street Press, 2007