For nearly 25 years, Mable Tsugawa has shown up for work, put on her gardening apron and shared her love of plants with anyone who stops by. Her family's business, Tsugawa Nursery, is immaculate, so well organized you can almost spot what you want while driving 65 miles per hour down the freeway passing Woodland, Wash.
Mable, 76, her husband, George, 82, and all their grown children work in the family business. They either work at the nursery, grow plants for the nursery or cultivate 200 acres of berries.
The Tsugawa family has worked diligently to get this far. Sixty years ago, George Tsugawa did his part for the war effort. A graduate of Hillsboro High School, he had his orders (Executive Order 9066) to recycle metal tins while interned behind barbed-wire fences, in Idaho's Minadoka Concentration Camp.
George, like many other second-generation Japanese-Americans, lost everything as a result of his internment, yet there is no sign of bitterness in this pragmatic man. Today, he says: 'That's what World War II was like. Everybody suffered. Everybody, not just us.' To this day, he is intensely proud that so many of his friends with mothers and fathers in the camp volunteered for the 442nd Regimental Combat Team of Japanese-Americans reported to be the most highly decorated unit in American history.
George was 24 years old when he was released from camp. Within five years, he had married Mable, and they eked out a living growing strawberries. With profits saved from one berry crop at a time, they built the garden center you see today off Interstate 5, a half-hour north of Portland.
The family garden center was in the right place at the right time. As the population of Clark County mushroomed, new residents wanted plants to turn their houses into homes.
'I've always made a point of stopping here,'says Brian Cotterell, formerly of Vancouver and now of Whidbey Island, Wash. 'I always find what I'm looking for, and they have good ideas.'
The second generation kick-started the business, now run by Brian Tsugawa, the general manager. For instance, how many garden centers have maps to guide you to the roses, maples, bamboo or water garden? You can pick one up at the nursery or get it ahead of time on its Web site (www.tsugawanursery.com).
The nursery is renowned for its Japanese maples. The rare 'fullmoon maple' (Acer shirasawanum 'Aureum'), with its red branches bearing chartreuse leaves that turn to brilliant goldish-red, is a must-see.
The family is driven, to say the least. Mable says she'll keep working until she's 78, keeping one goal in mind: 'to make sure my grandchildren get to college.' She has 16 of them. Son Brian's goals also involve family: 'Keep Mom and Dad happy and work for a 2 to 4 percent increase (in profits).'
That's not easy in today's economic climate, but the Tsugawas have always weathered challenges with pluck, hard work and determination.