Setsuko Ishiyama, a community fixture in Palo Alto and Stanford, dies at 95

She volunteered in schools, at Stanford Medical Center and cheered on Stanford women's basketball teams

Setsuko Takahashi Ishiyama, who volunteered in Palo Alto schools and a Stanford supporter over the past 62 years, died in her home on March 15, surrounded by her family. Known as "Setsu," she was 95.

The daughter of Torao and Natsu Takahashi, she was born in Los Angeles on March 30, 1918. She grew up on Terminal Island, where her father was captain of a tuna fishing boat. After graduating from San Pedro High School, she attended Keisen Women's College near Tokyo. She developed friendships with Keisen faculty and students during her two years in Japan and maintained those relationships throughout her life.

In April 1942, shortly after the United States entered World War II, Setsu and her family were forced to leave their homes for internment camps. Setsu and four of her younger siblings were sent to the assembly center at Santa Anita Racetrack and then to the Manzanar internment camp in the Owens Valley in California. Setsu was allowed to transfer to the Heart Mountain internment camp near Cody, Wyo., to be with her fiancé George Ishiyama, to whom she had become engaged while in Los Angeles. George and Setsu were married in January 1943 in nearby Powell, Wyo., and began living together in the internment camp.

After being released from Heart Mountain in 1944, the couple moved to Tuckahoe, N.Y., where the first of their four children was born. In 1946, the family returned to Los Angeles, where they reunited with their siblings and parents. They had three daughters one of whom, Dorthea, died shortly after birth.

When the family moved to Palo Alto in 1952, she became involved at her children's schools: first at Walter Hays Elementary School, then Jordan Middle School and Palo Alto High School. She shared with the students the Japanese traditions of celebrating Girls Day and Boys Day with dolls and kites. At the same time, she began 35 years of service with the Stanford University Medical Center Auxiliary, offering special attention to new mothers as they prepared to take their infants home. Though busy with her children, their classmates, hospital patients and other cultural activities, she also cared for her aging in-laws.

When responsibilities at home lessened in the 1970s, she increased the traveling she did with George, enjoying trips to Europe, Africa, and Asia -- especially Japan. In later years, she spent time at her home in Island Park, Idaho, on the banks of the Henry's Fork of the Snake River.

As someone who enjoyed playing sports, she was also a dedicated fan of Stanford University athletics. For many years, she attended Stanford football games as a season ticket holder and also went to track meets and tennis matches. However, her passion was for women's basketball. Starting with the arrival of Tara VanDerveer as head coach at Stanford in 1985, she cheered on the team at many homes game until she was physically unable to do so. To honor her commitment to Stanford and particularly its women's basketball program, the team's head coach is now officially known as the "Setsuko Ishiyama Director of Women's Basketball."

In her later years, she was cared for by a team of doctors, nurses and caregivers, in addition to her family. She responded to these people with gratitude and ensured that all knew they were appreciated.

Setsu is survived by her children Nelson Ishiyama, and his wife Terrie McDonald, of Palo Alto; Margaret Ishiyama Raffin of Palo Alto; and Patricia Ishiyama of San Francisco. She is also survived by her grandchildren Elizabeth Raffin of San Francisco and Julia Ishiyama of Bozeman, Mont. -- as well as her brother Kenichi Takahashi of Colorado, and numerous nieces and nephews. She is predeceased by her husband George, daughter Dorthea, brother Fumio Takahashi and sisters Hiroko Nonoshita, Kimiko Takahashi and Mary Hirashima.

Services have been held. Memorial donations may be made to the Elizabeth F. Gamble Garden, 1431 Waverley St., in Palo Alto.


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