JACL Mourns Passing Of John Yasumoto: A Visionary Leader in JA Community

February 21, 2018 Press Release
Contact: Jeffery Moy, Vice President for Public Affairs, jmoy@jacl.org
David Inoue, Executive Director, dinoue@jacl.org

John Yasumoto’s leadership in the JACL extends back over 60 years. In 1958 John was the membership vice president for the San Francisco chapter. As he struggled to recruit new members, he recalled that the most commonly asked question was, “What does JACL do for me?” One day when visiting a friend in the hospital, he could see many others suffering and in that moment, he recognized the importance of health care coverage and how difficult it could be to buy for Japanese Americans.

In 1960, as the San Francisco chapter president, he tried to start a health insurance program as a JACL member benefit but failed. In 1964, as District Governor for the Northern California Western Nevada Pacific District Council, he successfully proposed a health insurance program. On March 10, 1965 the JACL Blue Shield Health Plan was founded with the help of the late Mas Satow, then National Director of the JACL. Satow predicted, “Johnny, this program probably will not last more than three years.” Against the odds, the plan flourished with members in several states, from over 74 chapters in eight District Councils and eventually provided this important benefit to over 7,000 members and their families. Through the years, John continued to develop the Plan into a Trust, with staff, legal counsel and a board of directors from three district councils.

John’s commitment to the JACL extended beyond the Plan when he served as chairman of the 1980 National Convention, notable for the last-minute change in venue from San Francisco, due to a city-wide strike by hotel workers, to a hotel near the San Francisco airport. Except for the change in location, the convention went off without a hitch, largely thanks to John’s leadership.

Eventually, the Plan had to organize separately from JACL, but John and the Board continued to be elected by the participating chapters and required JACL membership to be covered by the plan. John also felt strongly that the Trust never stop supporting the good work of the JACL and that support continues to this day.

With the passage of the Affordable Care Act, the separate subscriber group that was maintained by Blue Shield for the JACL could not continue. As a tribute to the loyalty of the covered members, almost 100% of them agreed to become covered by individual plans offered by the Trust. Because of the change in the law, a premium stabilization fund, carefully built up over 45 years to help minimize insurance premium fluctuations, was refunded to the Trust. To maximize the good that could come from these funds, the Trust created a 501(c)3 nonprofit called the JA Community Foundation which in turn makes grants to support the JA community, focusing on the more senior members who were the heart of the previous plan.

Today, the Trust and Foundation continue to provide benefits and support the JA community, ever mindful of the vision and legacy of John Yasumoto.

For John’s obituary in the San Francisco Chronicle and information about his memorial service, please click here.

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