A remarkable effort leads to a new chapter for Mukai | Editorial

The Mukai farmhouse sits just west of town at the end of a short street that butts up against Island Center Forest. It’s a serene and lovely place — at once both modest and gracious.

But despite the efforts of its caretaker, next-door neighbor Ken DeFrang, this historic site — listed on the National Register of Historic Places and purchased entirely with public funds — is in a state of disrepair. The lawn is mowed and the edging trimmed. But the house shows serious signs of neglect: peeling paint, a front-door awning that’s beginning to rot, leaks in the roof.

Now, after years of persistence by a small group of Islanders who cherish this place, the Mukai farmhouse stands to get the protection and attention it deserves.

Why does the house hold a spot in so many Islanders’ hearts? Yvonne Kuperberg, one of the members of the newly installed board overseeing the property, put it well. Many of us feel heartsick about that stain in U.S. history, when tens of thousands of Americans were banished to camps, their only crime an ancestry they shared with the United States’ enemy nation at the time.

To care for this house, built by a Japanese-American who nearly lost it when he and his family moved to Idaho in the midst of World War II, Kuperberg said the other night as she stood before it, is a way to give back.

The house is only part of its story. A traditional Japanese garden built by Mukai’s wife Kuni dominates the front half of the property. Next door is the false-fronted barreling plant, so full of Western character it looks like something Hollywood might have constructed.

Close your eyes, and you can picture the strawberry fields that once stretched for acres around it — property B.D. Mukai, a hard-working Japanese-American, tended and transformed into a thriving farm and business.

Enter this small group of Islanders, many of whom have worked for years to try to see the property both safeguarded and opened to the community. They’re on the threshold of success after a carefully orchestrated takeover of the dormant board, a coup accomplished by way of a strategic adherence to the organization’s bylaws. It’s a remarkable turn of events.

But the saga’s not over. It’s possible former board president Mary Matthews and her husband J. Nelson Happy will fight to maintain control of Island Landmarks, the organization Matthews founded and that initially secured the site.

Next Monday evening, the new board is holding an open house to give Island residents a chance to see this community treasure in our midst. Now, it’s our turn.

We hope Islanders attend in droves, join Island Landmarks, support this brave, new board and, like them, pledge to give back.


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