Businessman Junki Yoshida turns his attention to cancer cure on as a personal battle
A great many things have motivated Junki Yoshida, as the native of Japan has built his beautiful family and his business empire in the United States. These days the 62-year-old Yoshida has turned his focus to cancer, and defeating it. “I have so much anger in my heart,” says Yoshida, lounging in the living room of his family’s home on its massive estate on the Sandy River in Troutdale. “I’ve always had anger … anger turns to energy, then turns to revenge and then to positive revenge. It’s the strongest motivation. Watch me.” On June 3, Matthew Guthrie, president of the Yoshida Group, died from kidney cancer. He was 55. “He was truly my right-hand man, truly my success in the business,” Yoshida says. In early 2010, Yoshida’s “right-hand woman” died from ovarian cancer. Young Ja Kan was 47. All around him, Yoshida says, it seems like people are dying from cancer, or battling it. Linda Yoshida, his wife of 37 years, watched as her father fought cancer before succumbing at the age of 66. Here’s what makes Yoshida angry: Why is there not a cure? Why is there not enough progress? Why, oh why, do we all have to suffer? “I hate to say this, but this is a business,” he says of the cancer fight. “I sincerely believe that. We believe a cure is waiting there. You gotta believe that. … I’m gonna fight with every effort I have. You have to realize it’s our enemy, and the only way to fight it is to raise money.” The Yoshidas are stepping up in a huge way to do their part, putting on their second fundraising event, “Artful Giving Blanket Concert,” benefiting the Providence Cancer Research Center, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, July 16. It will be held on their 15 acres of paradise in Troutdale, site of the original Portland Automobile Clubhouse (predecessor of AAA Oregon), with performances by Portland bluesman Curtis Salgado (a liver cancer survivor), Soul Vaccination, Northwest Women Rhythm and Blues and Aaron Meyer, as well as scores of artists and much food and wine. Steve Dunn, news anchor for KATU, is a master of ceremonies. More information can be found at soulfulgiving.org. Last year’s event, the first for Yoshida, was held at the family’s Riverview Restaurant in Troutdale, featuring artists only. It raised $20,000. The Yoshidas, and the sponsoring nonprofit Soulful Giving Foundation, wanted to expand the endeavor — “Let’s go really big scale,” Junki says. A great many influential politicians and business types — Gov. John Kitzhaber, U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, state Treasurer Ted Wheeler and former University of Oregon President Dave Frohnmayer and his wife Linda — have been named the event’s honorary co-chairs. Room for more Linda Yoshida, who serves as foundation president, says she and her husband have devoted much of their lives to fighting cancer. For her husband, the loss of Guthrie “is very fresh. The loss of Matt was tremendous for Junki.” She adds: “We see it around us all the time — friends, relatives, business associates” passing away from cancer. “They are extremely committed and very passionate for the fight against cancer,” says Linda Read, foundation vice president of operations, and PGE’s business unit manager. “The Yoshidas were very gracious to open their estate and grow the event. Our first goal was 500 tickets; they said, ‘We have room for 1,000.’ ” In turn, the Yoshidas are hoping to help raise $100,000. The Yoshidas have both been active in their own lives, but they have been easing toward retirement. Junki still serves as chief executive officer for the Yoshida Group, which once included 18 companies but has been pared to about five. He’s most famous for his food products — including teriyaki sauce. His beaming face adorns the company’s labels. He also does many speaking engagements these days. Linda sits on the board of eight companies, Junki on five. The couple met in Seattle, upon Junki’s arrival from Japan, and have raised three children — Kristina and Erika, who live in Portland, and Amanda, who lives in Los Angeles. They have two grandchildren, 7-year-old Tristan, 5-year-old Kiernan, Kristina’s children. Then a karate instructor, Junki started his business on a $500 investment 26 years ago in the couple’s kitchen, cultivating what he had learned from family restaurateurs in Japan, and built it into a multimillion dollar empire. Even though they understand the beauty of life, and when it’s taken away, it doesn’t make them feel very good. These days, Junki says, too many lives are being taken by cancer. They also understand the importance of building and fostering relationships. So, they’re using their influence for the fight against cancer, rallying the likes of Gov. Kitzhaber and Oregon’s U.S. senators. “By bringing a community together, you get a strength,” Linda says. “(Our companies) have put us in touch with people from all walks of life. Rather than putting something in a letter and hoping for a response, we get personal phone calls. It makes a huge difference when you get community leaders involved.” Sand in the city The Yoshidas and Kitzhaber have been close friends for years. Junki and John Kitzhaber worked to create a safety patrol for the Sandy River in the 1990s, after seeing too many people losing their lives to drowning. In the same way, the two believe that prevention is the closest cure for cancer. And, working with a local foundation, rather than donating to large, nationwide cancer research groups, was the chosen path. “This is the quickest way to reach out,” Junki says. “We really want to grow this,” says Linda, who serves on the board for the Providence hospital foundation. “We can give back. (Junki) gets passionate about something and he goes full bore.” Linda, who has a marketing background, authored “Flaherty’s Crossing,” a fictional book about a daughter dealing with her father’s cancer, penned under the pseudonym Kaylin McFarren — all proceeds going to cancer research at Providence. “Linda has played a big part with Providence,” Read says. Read understands the Yoshidas’ passion about beating cancer. “We all get touched by cancer, but sometimes it grabs you,” she says. “My husband (Alan) battled kidney cancer, and from that, I like to think I’m paying back and forward. We have success in that he’s a survivor. As soon as we were finished with (Alan’s cancer), that’s when I decided that I’m giving back. “Now, this is our real big push.” On the same weekend as the “Artful Giving Blanket Concert,” the Yoshida Group’s “Sand in the City” exhibit of sand sculptures will be displayed at Pioneer Courthouse Square. Obviously a much less serious endeavor by Yoshida’s people, but his impact is felt even in something much less intense. Jessica Hauflaire, the event’s coordinator, says Junki’s reputation of being funny, brilliant and kind is well-deserved. “He has created a company of warmth and openness and enriched our community with his presence,” she says.