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Betty Toshiko Eki, 98, former long-time resident of Silvies Valley and Burns, passed away peacefully, surrounded by her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, at her daughter’s home in Tigard Oct. 25
Betty, the youngest of four children, was born in Portland Sept. 11, 1915, to Mutsu and Matsutaro Nakashima, both Japanese immigrants. She graduated from Girls’ Polytechnic School in January 1931 and, despite excelling in school, immediately began to work in order to assist her family.
In March 1937, Betty married Frank Eki, who would be her husband for the next 73 years, until his death at age 98 in 2010. Their first son, Douglas, was born in 1939. Together, Frank and Betty worked to save money to pay for a home, a car, and, ultimately, their own grocery store. Shortly after, however, following the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, the U.S. government issued an Executive Order requiring all persons of Japanese descent in the Portland area to bring only what they could carry to the Assembly Center at the Portland Stockyards, which had been converted into temporary living quarters. Frank and Betty were forced to sell their property for a fraction of its true value. The family was housed at the Assembly Center for a few months, but as the poor living conditions caused people to fall ill, Frank volunteered to help build the Tule Lake internment camp in order to get the family transferred out of the Assembly Center.
Once at Tule Lake, Betty worked in the laundry to earn $17 a month for her family. When Frank received word that the Oregon & NW Railroad was hiring Japanese-Americans to maintain the railroad in Eastern Oregon, he signed up, leaving Betty (now pregnant with their second child) and Doug behind. Betty and Doug were moved to the internment camp in Minidoka, Idaho, in 1943. Daughter, Donna Mae, was born in the camp in December 1943.
The family was reunited when Betty and the children joined Frank in Trout Creek railroad camp in the spring of 1944. By this time, Frank had built a small house for the family. Betty and Frank were blessed with two more sons, Elliott (in 1945) and Norman (in 1952), and proceeded to raise all their children in Trout Creek. Frank was promoted from section hand to foreman and, eventually, to roadmaster.
Betty became the lead cook on the railroad in 1955, a position she held for the next 20 years. Despite her long hours as a cook, and the camp’s distance from Burns where the children attended school, Betty managed to be an active, involved mother, ensuring that her children all excelled academically, and were able to participate in extracurricular activities.
Betty’s top priority throughout her life was to work hard and sacrifice, so her family could have a better life. Education was extremely important to Frank and Betty. Although they were not able to pursue it for themselves, and despite their limited salaries, they made it possible for their children to achieve the highest levels of education. Frank always credited the family’s success in the face of considerable hardship to Betty’s prodigious ability to budget and save.
After Frank retired from the railroad, they moved into Burns in 1975. They loved their time in Burns, and had many friends and admirers. They moved to Gresham in 1993 to be closer to their children and grandchildren. Betty loved spending time with her family and tending to her beautiful garden, which was the envy of her neighborhood.
Betty is survived by her four children and their spouses, Doug and Gloria of Troutdale, Donna Mae and Phil of Tigard, Elliott and Linda of Walla Walla, Wash., and Norman and Sue of Gresham; her 11 grandchildren (who live in Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Illinois and Florida); and her 20 great-grandchildren (and the 21st on the way). Her strength and determination, even to her last breath, never ceased to amaze her family and friends. Her warmth, quick wit and joyful laugh will continue to be emulated and are greatly missed.
A memorial service will be held Saturday, Nov. 16, at 1 p.m. at the Gresham Memorial Chapel, 257 SE Roberts Ave., Gresham. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to Providence Hospice Care, 6410 NE Halsey St., Portland, OR 97213.