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Homer was born on December 28, 1924, in Hood River, Oregon, the eighth of nine children of Masuo and Shidzuyo Yasui, who were immigrants from Japan.
He attended the Hood River public schools and graduated in 1942 — by way of a mailed diploma — because by May 1942, he was imprisoned in the Pinedale Assembly Center near Fresno, California. Later, he and his family were incarcerated at Tule Lake prison camp in Northern California. Homer was one of the estimated 120,000 persons of Japanese ancestry in the U.S. to be imprisoned as a result of Executive Order 9066, issued by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on February 19, 1942.
In September 1942, Homer left Tule Lake by bus to attend the University of Denver. There were four Japanese American students, accompanied by an armed guard. The guard left them in Reno, Nevada, because that was outside of the Western Defense Command, from which all Japanese Americans had been excluded.
In September 1945, Homer enrolled at the Hahnemann Medical College in Philadelphia, from which he graduated in 1949. After an internship in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, he married the love of his life, Miyuki “Miki” Yabe, in 1950 in New York City.
In August 1954 — after completing three years of a general surgery residency — Selective Service informed Homer that it intended to draft him into the Army Medical Corps unless he selected another branch of the service. So, he chose to serve in the Navy.
After a couple of months of training, Homer was given a choice of overseas assignments and chose to serve at the U.S. Naval Air Station in Iwakuni, Japan. Homer, Miki, and their two little daughters spent 18 happy months stationed at Iwakuni, traveling to Kyoto, Hiroshima, and many other historic and beautiful places. After Homer’s release from active duty in October 1956, the family moved to Portland, Oregon, where he and Miki lived in the same house for the next 47 years.
Homer spent another year and a half in the surgical residency program at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Portland before beginning his solo general surgical practice in 1958 in Milwaukie, Oregon. He practiced surgery for 29 years and retired in 1987.
Homer joined the U.S. Naval Reserve in 1958. He spent 12 years with a Marine Corps Reserve engineer battalion and retired from the Naval Reserve with the rank of captain in 1984.
After Homer’s retirement, he and Miki became involved with the Japanese American community of Portland, including with the Portland Chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League. Homer was president of the Portland Chapter JACL in 1973; co-president with Miki in 1980 and ’81, and the district governor of the Pacific Northwest District Council JACL around 1982-83. Homer was an outspoken advocate for Japanese American redress, overturning the decision in his brother Minoru Yasui’s Supreme Court case, and for the Muslim community after 9/11.
In 2003, Miki and Homer moved to the Cherrywood Retirement Village in Portland. While there, Homer played poker and harmonica with other residents. In 2015, they moved to the Lakeshore in Seattle to be closer to their two daughters.
Miki died in 2018, but Homer continued to live in the same apartment, playing poker, shopping for groceries and learning to cook Japanese food for himself. (Miki was such a great cook that he never felt the need or the urge to do it before that.) He cooked lots of “hot, white rice,” shared homemade sunomono and nuta with his Lakeshore friends and neighbors, and brought his signature veggie dips to many family poker parties and holiday events. He also enjoyed hunting for and eating matsutake (Japanese pine mushrooms), a hobby he and Miki shared for many years.
A lifelong history buff and storyteller, Homer’s last mission in life was to sort, scan, and annotate the hundreds of documents and photographs in the Yasui family papers, some of which date back as far as 1903. As the last living member of his generation in the Yasui family, he felt a special responsibility to pass on everything he knew about the people, places and things mentioned in those old documents to his descendants.
Homer stayed busy with his many historical projects until the end of his life. He wrote down dozens of his personal recollections for his family members, gave numerous media interviews, cultivated long-lasting relationships with different historical organizations, and exchanged emails with several fellow history enthusiasts in other parts of the world. He also lived long enough to see the enormous collection of Yasui family papers — which he and Miki stewarded and gifted to the Oregon Historical Society in 1991 — begin to be translated and digitized for future generations, thanks to a grant that OHS was awarded in 2022.
After surviving three different types of cancer and celebrating his 98th birthday, Homer died of lung cancer on July 25, 2023. He was preceded in death by his wife, Miyuki Yabe Yasui, his parents Masuo and Shidzuyo Yasui, his eight siblings, and his son Allen Masuo Yasui. He leaves behind his three surviving children, Barbara, Meredith and John, plus eight grandchildren, five great-grandchildren, and dozens of nieces, nephews, and other extended family. Homer’s vitality and spirit touched countless people in his long, active, and wonderful life.
Donations in Homer's memory may be made to Portland JACL, the Japanese American Museum of Oregon, Densho, or the Oregon Historical Society.
A memorial service will be held at a later date.
To share your condolences and memories of Homer, please visit his Tribute Wall, located above.
- Care Entrusted to Emmick Family Funeral Services Lake View -
Please direct Memorial Donations to the facility/charity listed in the obituary above