Celebrating the Life of Mitsu Kimura, Beloved Founding Staff Member
Soka University of America held a memorial service for founding SUA staff member Mitsu Kimura this month to celebrate his extraordinary life and contribution to the development of Soka for more than three decades, with over 100 people attending in person and 400 joining virtually around the world.
“Mitsu positively impacted every life he came into touch with,” said President Edward Feasel. “His thoughts were always directed at others, how to support them and make them happy and at peace.”
Those who spoke after President Feasel remembered Kimura’s iconic smile, energy, positivity, humor, and loving nature. He led a long, varied career serving students and developing the foundation of SUA dating back to the opening of the graduate school in Calabasas in 1987. He began as assistant secretary and assistant financial officer and was appointed assistant administrative officer in 1990. In 1992, he became the assistant vice president for administration and dean of students. In 2004, three years after the Aliso Viejo campus opened, Kimura was appointed director of international development, and in 2007, he became university archivist and photographer and senior adviser to development.
While Kimura’s skill and passion for photography were evident, his abilities sprang from a deeper, less visible well of purpose. As a member of the third graduating class of Soka University of Japan, university founder Daisaku Ikeda impressed upon him and other students the importance of recording and preserving history. Kimura never lost this sense of purpose when documenting SUA (and SULA) events. As he documented the university’s history, Kimura was always envisioning the future. He once shared with his student workers that he was determined to take photos that would move the hearts of people who see them 100 years from now.
One such former student, Aiki Matsukura ’13, spoke on behalf of the many alumni who cherished their relationship with Kimura. She said that while Kimura often gave students serious advice and encouragement, he would also never forget to make them laugh. For students who hadn’t been able to eat much, he would secretly warm his delicious handmade red bean buns.
Underlying each of Kimura’s commitments, Matsukura said, was his extraordinary love for and dedication to SUA students. Matsukura recalled how Kimura once shared with her that remembering names is one of the most important things you can do to make other people feel comfortable and get the best smile from them during a photo shoot. As she observed Kimura call people’s names during commemorative photo sessions if their face was not visible, Matsukura initially thought Kimura could just naturally remember everyone’s name. One day, she saw Kimura’s student directory lying on his desk. It was covered in handwritten notes about each student.
“Then I realized how much effort he was putting into this, and how much he cares about each and every student,” Matsukura said.
Executive Vice President of University Community Katherine King, who worked with Kimura since their time together at SUA, Calabasas, recalled how Kimura even took time to take photos at her father’s memorial to preserve her family’s memories. When his own mother’s health began to fail, Kimura was there to take care of her. “I would often see him and his mother,” King said. “It touched my heart how deeply he cared for her.”
The importance of family was central to Kimura’s dedication to others. “His daughter Stephanie was the light of his life,” King said. “He was so proud of her and all her accomplishments, even after he got sick. Every time I spoke with him, the first thing he shared was how Stephanie was doing.”
Kimura’s daughter, Stephanie Mitsuko Kukita ’08, shared a touching tribute during the memorial service via Zoom from Japan. Although she was worried about her father during his battle with cancer, she said he was so optimistic and joyful that she couldn’t believe he was ill. He would often tell her that this was the most joyful time in his life and that there was so much more he wanted to do.
Addressing her father directly near the end of her words, Kukita said, “I will definitely miss you, but please know that you will live through our memory. I will take on your spirit and make sure to do all the things you wanted to do and continue protecting SUA, which you helped create.”