Mike Lempriere is a small family farmer on Bainbridge Island, his
business is Perennial Vintners, where he grows winegrapes and makes
and sells the wine. This article is by Mike, and is not guaranteed to
be historically accurate - I do my best to be faithful to the intent,
however - it is written with informal in-passing discussions with the
The Perennial Vintners property is next to the Suyematsu Farm on Day
Rd. This farm was established by a Japanese immigrant family in the
1920's, the Suyematsus. This is my story of their son Akio.
With the bombing of Pearl Harbor in WWII, America reached a pinnacle
of anti-immigrant hysteria, and chose to lock up those of Japanese
origin. On 19-Feb-1942, with Executive Order 9066, the wheels were
set in motion. On 24-Mar-1942, ExclusionOrder No. 1 was issued, which
designated Bainbridge Island as the first area of removal.
It must be made clear - the people concerned here, were American
Citizens. These were people who had immigrated to America,
legally, from Japan.
The American government made the choice to "intern" entire families.
When a family had been established, they could have chosen to only
intern the parents, recognizing that the children were born in America
and were citizens, however they chose to keep families together. From
my distant view 74 years later, I see both good intentions and poor
choices in this decision, you'll have to decide for yourself.
There are many plausible reasons Bainbridge was chosen as the first
place of removal. Most importantly was probably the fact that it was
an island with a small community, thus could be easily contained in
event of dissent or trouble. (Bear in mind there was no bridge at
that time, only ferry access.) The official justifications were the
proximity of military targets, e.g. Bremerton Naval Shipyard, Boeing,
On 30-Mar-1942 just six days later, the families were lead at gunpoint
to a ferry at the south end of the island. The current WSDOT ferry
dock is across the harbor from that original dock. The site had been
abandoned for many years, and has now had a memorial built there
(see BIJAC website) - it's well
worth the trip to visit. Please note that the families were
cooperative, there was no violence. In fact in subsequent removals in
other communities, the soldiers were directed to remove the bayonet
from their guns as the experience on Bainbridge had been peaceful.
They were ferried across Puget Sound, and put onto trains in Seattle.
They rode through the night, then were herded onto buses, and driven
to the Manzanar Relocation Center. This was a crude and incomplete
set of cabins in a desert with nothing else around. They were
involved in completing the camp, with such details as getting a sewer
These families were somewhat better off than others in the area. In
Apr-1942, almost 8,000 Nikkei (emigrants living outside of Japan),
were brought to the Puyallup Fair Fairgrounds where they were housed
in horse stables and some temporary buildings. They were held there
until Sep-1942. Most of these people were taken to Minidoka in
A brief aside - the renowned photographer Ansel Adams was commissioned
by the government to photograph Manzanar. He was instructed that he
would not be allowed to show the perimeter wire fence or the guard
towers in his images. (He did manage to sneak in some - in viewing
these images, if you're observant, you may occasionally see the shadow
of the fence.) To some extent this was a blessing, as through his
images we see the people and the daily life in the camp.
About 2 years into the war, the Suyematsu family was moved from
Manzanar to Minidoka. (I wish I'd thought to ask Akio why.) Another
year or so later, when the war was over, they were released. They
were each given $25 to get "home" with. Most had lost their homes,
their land, their livelyhood.
Akio's family returned to Bainbridge, and were amongst the lucky ones,
they got their property back. Akio recounted that his dad had bought
the property from a local man named Burns (I think he ran a local
electrical company) and that he asked only that they catch up on the
back taxes as they could.
Now the most amazing part of this story - after release, Akio joined
the service and fought for America. I believe he was an MP stationed
After his service, Akio returned to his family farm and took a job at
an island auto repair business to help his dad catch up on the
Akio's dad passed away (in the 1980's?), and Akio moved to another
house on a largish parcel just off Manzanita Rd. a mile or so away.
Akio started farming that property in addition to the Day
Rd. property. During the 1990's he sold portions of that farm to Mike
Paulson and Karen Selvar - both of these people worked with Akio on
both farms, and both are still farming his, and their, parcels
About this time, Gerard Bentryn of Bainbridge Island Vineyard and
Winery (BIVW) convinced Akio to grow winegrapes for BIVW (Akio was in
his 60's at this point). He worked with BIVW and expanded grape
plantings over several years. After a few years, he sold the vineyard
areas to Gerard. These areas are all still in grapes at this
In (2001?), the people of Bainbridge Island voted on an Open Space
bond to "preserve the rural character of the island". They taxed
themselves $8M. The city has since used up that money by buying farms
as the farmers retired. The land was then stripped of development
rights and in the future can only by used for farming. Most of Akio's
property, both on Day Rd. and off Manzanita are now in this program
and being actively farmed by Karen Selvar.
Karen is in her early fifties at this writing. Her first job as a
little girl, age 9, was picking strawberries for Akio. The only job
she's had in her life is working side-by-side with Akio on the farm.
With his passing, Akio's surviving brother and sister (Akio never
married), made sure that Karen could afford to buy all the equipment
she needed from the estate so as to continue farming as she had with
Akio all those years.
Akio passed away 31-Jul-2012, his entire life working the farm. He
was out in the weather working away, until the last few months of
life. He was the model American citizen, and is sorely missed by
those of us who had the privilege of knowing him.
Mike Lempriere, 18-Dec-2015