Gladys (Tsutaye) Otsuka was born on February 5th, 1922 in Southern California, the third child of Dentaro and Tsuma Otsuka who farmed berry fields in Southern California. Even in her later years she always had fresh strawberries around the house during the season but rarely ate them, recalling all those years as a little kid having to pick them. According to Gladys, she had already seen enough strawberries for her lifetime, thank you very much. Growing up in Santa Ana, California, she attended Santa Ana Junior College in 1940.
When Americans of Japanese descent were forcibly evacuated from the Western states and interned under military law, the Otsuka family was assigned to Block 5 of the Poston War Relocation Center. The Otsukas were in the first room of the first barrack in the northeast corner of the camp. At Poston, her typing and writing skills were put to use as a secretary in the Administration Center, where she attracted the attention of a young fellow named Henry Fujiura, from Block 22. They continued their relationship after moving to Chicago, fell in love, and were married before Henry shipped out to Japan as a member of the Army’s Counter Intelligence Corps.
They settled into the Hyde Park neighborhood after Henry was discharged, and after working in car repair shops in the city, the two of them began their own business, Superior Auto Service, on Chicago’s south side in 1952. Gladys had a quiet, shy and gentle demeanor. But she was tough as nails. In 1978 Henry was hospitalized for a routine surgery, but a hospital borne infection made him gravely ill. He nearly died in the hospital. During this time of crisis, she kept the business running herself, in the rough and tumble world of the auto business on Chicago’s south side, managing jobs and supervising the body and fender men, all while going back and forth to the hospital. She never mentioned this to her kids or asked for help. She didn’t want to burden them. Gladys was a tough lady.
The happiest chapters of her life were as a grandmother of 4 grandkids. She became a knitting machine. Hats and booties and blankets and wraps. She was a woman possessed. She wasn’t loud or demonstrative but one could tell that she was truly at peace and happy when holding them. Her later years were eventful, filled with change and the inevitable decline associated with aging. In 2002 she was diagnosed with dementia. But in the last years of her life, even though she rarely spoke and her strength was fading, she would hold her grandchildren’s hands with the fierceness of a young mother.