By Lamar Scott
On April 13, 2020, Elberton and Mure-cho, Japan lost a tenaciously dedicated friend to the long-time Elberton/Mure-cho Sister City Program.
Etsuko Himeno joined other "pioneers" like Helen Kimura, Tom Evans Sr., Joe Fendley, and Shozaburo Tokioka in championing our program of friendship, love and world peace. She along with many others in Mure-cho and Elberton worked diligently over almost four decades now to see that a strong, active Sister City Program would come to fruition and continue between Elberton and Mure-cho.
With size, farming and granite in common, the two cities entered a venture in 1983 that no one ever expected to grow to what it has become today. Except for sadly during this unprecedented time in history, not only have the two cities continued the exchange of high schools students each summer for a two week homestay visit, but adult exchanges have taken place, city employees have made visit exchanges, and the school systems have shared a teacher. Almost without exception, during each and every exchange, Etsuko was always present with her smile, enthusiasm and camera. The students and chaperones during the summer exchanges almost never left Japan without pictures of their Mure-cho experience compliments of the smiling, vivacious Etsuko.
Heaven is no doubt a brighter place with Etsuko’s big smile and loving demeanor.
I had the privilege, almost 32 years ago now, to head to Mure-cho to be the teacher exchangee from Elberton. That decision changed my life both personally and professionally, and fostered many life-long friendships like the one I was privileged to have with Etsuko Himeno and her family.
Etsuko befriended me and she became my “sister” and my “chauffer” during my year of teaching in Mure-cho. Etsuko would arrive in her car at Mure-cho Junior High School every Wednesday and Friday mornings to drive myself and Helen Kimura (translator) to either the North or South Elementary School where I would teach English lessons in the 6th grade classrooms. She would return later in the day to take me back to the Junior High School and Helen to the train station. Etsuko faithfully did this for the entire school year.
Etsuko and her family were avid participants in the Sister City Program from the very beginning. She was faithful to the program always taking pictures, driving people around, making sure exchangees and chaperones were safe and cared for, traveling with the exchange groups while they were in Mure-cho and making trips to Elberton with the adult exchanges through the years. The entire time she was smiling brightly!
Etsuko’s children were a part of the program as well. Ryo, her oldest son, and Kei, her youngest son, were both exchangees to Elberton thru the years. I had the privilege of teaching Kei during the time that I lived in Mure-cho.
I have been privileged on many occasions over the years when I have returned to Mure-cho to be hosted by Etsuko and her husband in their beautiful home. Etsuko affectionately referred to her loving husband as “Boss.”
I shared many laughs around the kitchen table with the two of them, but especially with Etsuko. The laughs and times together are more precious to me now. I fondly remember during my last trip to Mure-cho for the 35th anniversary of the Sister City Program how Etsuko affectionately talked about her wall of Elberton people there in her kitchen. She has photos of many of us, myself, David Johnson and others proudly displayed, along with pictures of her grandchildren. Etsuko said the pictures were good memories for her.
My life became richer for knowing and being around Etsuko and my many friends in Mure-cho. One of the things Etusko wanted for me was to visit the 88 temples on Shikoku Island where Mure-cho is located. I remember many fun times with she, Helen and Hiroko Mure as we traveled by car to several of the temples. While I did not get to visit all 88 temples, Etsuko and friends made a point of doing so and getting a special “temple book” stamped and dated at each temple.
This became a treasured gift.
That is just one of many, many loving memories I have of Etsuko Himeno.
I was a part of the Himeno family. While staying with them in February 2018, Etsuko and her husband held a big family dinner at a restaurant near Mure-cho in my honor. It was great to be surrounded by the entire loving family.
On Wednesday April 8, 2020, I received an email from Michi, Etsuko’s daughter. Michi emailed to tell me that time was short for her vivacious mother and asked if I would send a picture of myself, along with a short video message, that she could share with Etsuko. That was a difficult request to fulfill, but I pushed forward for my dear friend. Michi reported back to me that the video brought a big smile to Etsuko’s face. I’m so happy that I could do that for Etsuko and can see that big smile in my mind’s eye. It was my privilege.
In this time of uncertainty, the moral here is this – live everyday to the fullest making the most of every moment and put away those cherished memories that can't be taken away from you, despite the miles or circumstances that may come between you and any loved one. Thank you Etsuko for being you!