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Where EAST meets the Northwest

INFLUENTIAL PORTLANDER. William Sumio Naito (1925-1996), the Portland-born son of Japanese immigrants who became one of Portlandís most significant business and civic leaders, was a remarkable and visionary individual. "Because of Bill: William Sumio Naitoís Legacy in Portland," a new exhibit that opened over the weekend at the Japanese American Museum of Oregon in northwest Portland, is on view through September 1. Pictured is Bill Naito at his familyís business office, the Norcrest China Company. (Photo courtesy of Erica Naito-Campbell)

NAITOíS LEGACY. The "Because of Bill" exhibit at the Japanese American Museum of Oregon follows Bill Naitoís life from the Great Depression and World War II through Portlandís rebirth in the 1970s and its profound growth. Pictured is Bill Naito sitting at his notoriously cluttered office desk. (Photo courtesy of Erica Naito-Campbell)

Bill Naito had a hand in many projects, including the Japanese American Historical Plaza. (Photo courtesy of Erica Naito-Campbell)

"Because of Bill: William Sumio Naitoís Legacy in Portland," a new exhibit at the Japanese American Museum of Oregon in northwest Portland, is on view through September 1. (AR Photo)

"Because of Bill: William Sumio Naitoís Legacy in Portland," a new exhibit at the Japanese American Museum of Oregon in northwest Portland, is on view through September 1. (AR Photo)

From The Asian Reporter, V34, #5 (May 6, 2024), pages 9 & 15.

JAMO exhibit explores the legacy of influential civic leader Bill Naito

By Kathleen Liermann

The Asian Reporter

Members of the community are invited to learn more about Bill Naito, one of Portlandís greatest champions, at a new exhibit at the Japanese American Museum of Oregon in northwest Portland. "Because of Bill: William Sumio Naitoís Legacy in Portland" peeks into the life of the visionary leader.

The larger-than-life display, which literally features a wall-size portrait of Bill and his infectious smile, is on view through September 1. Naito was the catalyst behind many major events in Portland, and his name became synonymous with civic leadership, whether growing Portlandís urban tree canopy, revitalizing its downtown, or preserving historic buildings.

Jaime Lim, publisher of The Asian Reporter, was aware of Naitoís many contributions in the 1970s and í80s. "Bill was a very good businessman and a true visionary," said Lim. "I remember visiting him at his office. He had a positive influence on Portland and its people."

Bill Naito was born in 1925 to father Hide (pronounced hee-day) and mother Fukiye (pronounced foo-kee-yeh). Hide (1893-1989) immigrated to the U.S. in 1912 and later settled in Portland. In 1920, Hide started the Naito family business, a Japanese curio shop downtown, just outside Nihonmachi (Japantown). Hide and Fukiye (1899-1969) were married that same year.

Their first son, Samuel Teruhide, was born in 1921, and their third son, Albert Teruo, was born in 1928. "The family maintained a traditional household, conversing only in Japanese [at home], but still encouraged their sons to become American," according to one of the exhibitís panels. "Ö Despite the rise of anti-Asian sentiment across the United States, the Naito family felt welcome in their neighborhood. Growing up in southeast Portland cemented in Bill a deep love of his city."

On December 7, 1941, after the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service attacked the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor in HawaiĎi, life changed overnight. And when U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942, the family was forced to leave.

Billís father said incarceration was not an option for his family and they instead moved inland.

Fukiye had family who lived in Salt Lake City, so the Naitos "packed up their car, checked in with federal authorities at the Portland Assembly Center, and drove to Utah," reads another panel. "Bill [then a sophomore in high school] was too humiliated and ashamed of being labelled Ďun-Americaní to say goodbye to his friends. Later in life he would work to prove himself to the broader American society that had rejected him during the war."

After his high school graduation in 1944, Bill enlisted in the army and served with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team (RCT), a segregated unit comprised of mostly Japanese Americans.

After the war, Bill returned to Portland to attend Reed College on the G.I. Bill. In 1949, he enrolled at the University of Chicago, where he earned his masterís degree. While in Chicago, a good friend introduced him to his younger sister, Millicent, also known as "Micki." After a year of dating, they married in 1951. Later, in 1953, Bill and Micki returned to Portland to join the family business and raise a family.

In 1956, Hide, Sam, and Bill moved their business into the Fleischner-Mayer Building and started the Norcrest China Company. Four years later, they bought the building, obtaining the first property in their eventual real estate empire. It was then that Billís interest in downtown ó particularly in transforming it into a livable city center with green spaces and places to live, work, shop, and play ó began. Among the many projects he had a hand in were the Japanese American Historical Plaza, the downtown transit mall, the preservation of Old Town, and the transformation of the Harbor Drive freeway into Governor Tom McCall Waterfront Park.

In addition to Bill and his familyís history, the exhibit also highlights Billís revitalization and quality-of-life projects in Portland, such as the Fleischner-Mayer Building parking lot serving as Portlandís first Saturday Market, the Shanghai Tunnel tours, and more.

A replica of Billís notoriously cluttered desk is also featured in the display. "That sure is what his work area looked like," AR publisher Lim commented.

Much of the information in the exhibit is based on history and research contained within a biography, Portlandís Audacious Champion: How Bill Naito Overcame Anti-Japanese Hate and Became an Intrepid Civic Leader, written by Erica Naito-Campbell, Billís granddaughter. Both the exhibit and the book bring to light the life of one of Portlandís most significant business and civic leaders, who was a remarkable and visionary individual.

"Because of Bill" is on view through September 1. The Japanese American Museum of Oregon is located at the Naito Center, 411 N.W. Flanders Street in Portland. Open hours are 11:00am to 4:00pm on Sunday and 10:00am to 4:00pm Wednesday through Saturday. To learn more, or to purchase tickets, call (503) 224-1458 or visit <>.

After viewing "Because of Bill," visitors are invited to also see the other display featured at JAMO ó "Oregonís Nikkei: An American Story of Resilience," which highlights the discrimination, resilience, and identity of the Japanese-American community in Oregon.

Visitors to JAMO may also pick up a free copy of the third edition of a new coloring book, Make Us Visible, which features 25 Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander (AANHPI) figures and communities significant to National Park sites. The book was created in partnership with the National Park Service, Admerasia, Pacific Historic Parks, Make Us Visible, and JAMO. To learn more, visit <>.

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