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March 2021, Volume 71, Issue 3


Mary Matsuda Gruenewald, age 96, died peacefully from pneumonia while residing at Providence Mount St. Vincent in West Seattle. She was the daughter of Heisuke and Mitsuno Matsuda, and is survived by her children, Martha Matsuda, David Gruenewald, and Raymond Gruenewald, two grandchildren, Stephanie Koetje and Matthew Gruenewald, and one great-grandchild, Aurora Mary Gruenewald.

Mary's parents were berry farmers on Vashon Island, Washington, and she attended Vashon High School, along with her older brother Yoneichi. On December 7th, 1941, their lives changed forever. Mary came home from school and received the terrifying news that Pearl Harbor was bombed by the Japanese. On May 16, 1942, Mary and her family were sent to the first of several different Japanese American detention camps, where they were surrounded by barbed wire fences and watched by armed guards with searchlights and guns. In 1943, her older brother Yoneichi (who survived the war) left the camp to join the famous 100th /442nd RCT, an all-Japanese unit that performed heroically. Inspired by this, Mary decided to enroll in the Cadet Nurse corps. She could have been sent overseas to support the troops, but the war ended before she graduated.

In 1970, Mary became the overnight supervisor of Group Health Hospital in Seattle (now part of Kaiser Permanente). She frequently fielded phone calls from people at home who were worried about themselves or others. This led her to develop the Consulting Nurse program, a protocol for determining when a person could take steps themselves to treat the concern (saving money for the system), or whether they should go to the hospital or even call an ambulance (saving lives, and often saving money as well).

In 2002, Mary was part of a delegation that met with President George W. Bush and members of Congress to advocate for improvements to the national health care system.
In 2005, Mary published her first book, Looking Like the Enemy, describing her wartime experiences and the injustices that she and others faced. On her book tours, she advocated strongly for the fair treatment of Muslim people, many of whom faced discrimination due to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. She was invited to go on a book tour in Japan, attended by hundreds of people, which included a memorable visit to the Hiroshima Peace Park.

In 2017, a friend of Mary's learned that she had always regretted not graduating from Vashon high school, since she was forced to leave while still a junior. The friend proposed the idea to the current principal of the school, and Mary was invited to the ceremony. This joyful event was picked up by many news agencies, including the Christian Science Monitor, National Public Radio and two Seattle TV stations.

Donations may be made in Mary’s memory to Group Health Community Foundation (grouphealthfoundation.org), Japanese American Citizens League (jacl.org), Wesley Foundation (wesleychoice.org), the Vashon Heritage Museum (vashonheritagemuseum.org), and the Vashon Land Trust (vashonlandtrust.org).