60 years, Itsy Ota has worked at Johnny’s Sport Shop, the family business where
she keeps the books, pays the bills, and organizes the various finances. She says
she doesn’t miss a payment – and she doesn’t skip a beat.
In addition to maintaining the shop’s finances, Itsy drives to work every day, prepares her own meals, and gardens in the early morning. She enjoys her daily coffee and especially loves caring for her Jack Russell Terrier, Yuki. And she does all of this at age 92.
Itsy credits her active lifestyle to one simple rule: don’t be lazy.
“I was never
lazy and I worked all my life. I haven’t thought of a time where I stayed home
and did nothing,” Itsy explains. Even as a child working on her family’s farm
in Montebello, Itsy remembers helping her mother plant seeds and do housework.
In 1941, during
World War II, Itsy and her family were uprooted from their home and taken to
the Rohwer War Relocation Center. Still, she continued to work with her family
and graduated from high school. Shortly after the war ended, she moved to
Denver, Colorado, where she worked with her mother sewing cowboy shirts and
making Christmas wreaths.
“I must’ve sewn
hundreds of shirts,” she says, adding that even after being released from camp
she worked very hard. “It was paid by the piece, and I must’ve been the highest
paid girl there because I was so fast.”
time in Denver, Itsy moved back to California and settled in Pasadena, where
she met Johnny. They were soon married and worked at his family grocery store.
Johnny had an incredible work ethic. In their front yard, he built a garage to
sell fishing tackle. It wasn’t long until their garage expanded into a store.
“It was hard,”
Itsy says. “We spent all our money to make this store better. We didn’t have
much money and had to ask for loans, but he sold fishing tackle and did
whatever he could. I worked at the grocery store on top of that. So that’s how
the store was built.” Throughout this all, Itsy kept learning. She pointed to
the wall of books explaining, “[Johnny] went to college and taught me a lot of
Itsy grows a variety of vegetables including beans, cucumbers, bell peppers, and Japanese eggplants in her yard. She loves planting flowers whenever she has the chance, and spends at least two hours each day tending to her gardens.
an active social calendar too. Every month, she drives to the Pasadena Japanese
Cultural Institute to go to meetings, programs, and other activities. She
participates in a local craft group on occasion as well. She also attended a
number of Keiro’s classes at First Presbyterian Church Altadena.
“Keiro’s [programs] help keep me social,” Itsy says. “My friends and I are getting older. We don’t drive to each other’s homes anymore, and I enjoy going to the classes. I like to interact with different people.”
that she enjoys meeting new customers at the shop and reconnecting with old
While in the
shop, Itsy can sell you on the latest tackle and give you the best fishing
advice alongside her son, Bobby, who operates the business today. And while
Itsy may not look like a seasoned fisherman, she has caught her fair share of
tuna, salmon, and a variety of other fish.
But above all else she can tell you a little something about staying active and living a long, happy, fulfilling life.
*Initial version of this article mentioned she was 94 years old, but she is currently 92 years old.
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