Denny Yasuhara: Community Leader, Activist, and Mentor

"The greatest gift that one human being can give to another is not their wealth or position, but their honor and dignity for that is the essence of freedom." ~ Denny Yasuhara

Denny Yasuhara's involvement in the formation of the Hifumi En Apartments, his willingness to advocate for the civil rights of the Japanese American community, and his mentorship as a teacher were just a few ways he gave back to Spokane.

Denny Yasuhara was born in Seattle in 1928. His mother died when he was an infant, so he was adopted by friends of the family who lived in Bonners Ferry, Idaho, Thus he escaped the internment camps that most Seattle Japanese were sent to during the Second World War. Because of this, he has felt a kinship with other Japanese-Americans and sought to give back to the community that took him in and cared for him.

One of the most significant to the lives of the aging Spokane Japanese American community was the formation of the Hifumi En - a program that provided low-income housing to elderly Japanese Americans.

The Hifumi En opened in 1973 and is the first owned project-based Section 8 community for the Spokane Housing Authority. Rent was usually ¼ of one’s income and designed for those who are physically handicapped, were active in the military, or were displaced in some way by natural disaster or relocated by the government after World War II. The purpose of this project was to promote cultural awareness and social welfare for the Spokane Japanese American community.

As a civil rights advocate, Yasuhara challenged both Washington State University and the Washington Democratic Party for fair representation of Asian Americans. WSU founded an Asian-American Studies program due to his efforts. Yasuhara also had a hand in the creation of the federal Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which provided $20,000 to the survivors of those detained in the Japanese Internment Camps during WII and an apology from the government.

As a mentor and teacher, Yasuhara, believed in hard work, integrity, and accountability. Known to some as ‘Mr. Yas’, he challenged his students to become the best versions of themselves and gave them what they need most, his time. “You can tell them you love them all you want, but if you give them your time it tells them so many things without a word.”

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926 E 8th Ave., Spokane, WA 99202