A Celebration of Life for Miyoko Peterson will be held Friday, January 10, 2020 from 4:00 until 6:00 p.m. at the Pierschbacher Funeral Home in Chariton.
Miyoko Oki was born on Feb. 4, 1936 in Yahata, Japan. Miyoko Oki Peterson passed on Monday, Dec. 9, 2019 at 83 years old.
Miyoko was one tough woman, a loving mother and grandmother, a passionate and fun-filled friend, and for a few who knew her childhood history, she was a survivor. Much of her life that was witnessed by immediate family and friends occurred after she moved to the United States on a farm near Williamson, Iowa. Prior to that time, her life experiences had to be stitched together through a series of stories shared by Miyoko, as well as inferences made by her family correspondence in Japan, and the known timing and history of the pacific theatre of World War 2 (WW2).
Miyoko’s father was Satoru Oki. Prior to WW2, Saturo owned and operated a large pharmacy. He was enlisted to join the war and is believed to have died fighting as a Japanese soldier on a warship, possibly in the Philippines. Miyoko’s mother was Midori Oki. She was described as very smart and the protector of the family. The story of her departure as told by Miyoko, was that her mother and infant brother Tutoru died in a firebomb explosion while checking outside the bomb shelter the family was hiding in to see if it was safe to come out. Miyoko said that she had to leave her mother and brother behind to escape and save her and her brother Yoshihiro’s lives.
At that point, Miyoko and her brother were split up to increase the chances of one of their family members surviving the war. Miyoko and her first cousins were raised by her aunt. Her brother Yoshihiro was raised by another aunt in a different part of the country. To give perspective of Miyoko’s childhood, the official dates of WW2 were Sept. 1, 1939 to Sept. 2, 1945. Miyoko was three years old when the war started and nine years old when the war ended. Her pre-teen and teen years took place during the rebuilding of post-war Japan. Miyoko survived bombings, two atomic weapons detonated within 150 miles of where she lived, and post war destruction, which is why her family calls her a survivor and the toughest woman they know.
Following high school graduation, Miyoko went to beauty school and graduated at the top of her class. According to her stories, she met Fred Peterson while working at a beauty salon in Japan. She married Fred on Feb. 25, 1964 in Fukuoka, Japan at the age of 28 years old. She then traveled with Fred back to the United States and gave birth to her first son, John Tony Peterson on Sept. 27, 1967 in Duluth, Minn. She then moved to a farmhouse near Williamson, Iowa and gave birth to her second son David Clayton Peterson on Nov. 24, 1969 in Knoxville, Iowa.
She came to the United States only speaking Japanese. She learned to speak English by watching educational television shows like Electric Company and Sesame Street alongside her children. A common question often asked is - why didn’t Miyoko teach her sons to speak Japanese? And the answer was always the same. She knew that life was going to be hard living as the only Japanese family in a small southern rural Iowa town and she did not want to make it harder by sending her kids to school with an accent.
Years later, Miyoko and Fred would divorce. Miyoko then took odd jobs cooking, cleaning, sewing and cutting hair. Her son Dave remembers the days that he would walk with his mom around the Williamson gravel roads to nearby farmhouses to cut hair or drop off sewing jobs. He also distinctly remembers the time that his mom learned to drive and drove the driver’s education car into a ditch in Williamson. In the end, Miyoko would eventually earn her driver’s license. Dave also remembers the days when boxes from Japan would be delivered with amazing exotic Japanese foods. Over a beer, Dave has shared stories of getting his hair cut by a straight razor, sleeping on the carpet in fabric stores while mom picked out materials for creating her own clothes, how mom would break up house wrecking fights between him and his older brother John, and why little chicken sandwiches will always be a topic of conversation.
Anybody who knew Miyoko, knew she was always on the move, never stopped working, and always had a meal prepared for her sons. Anybody who stayed at the farmhouse has a memory of opening the refrigerator and seeing perfectly cooked meals marked “John’s Supper - do not eat” and “Dave’s Supper - do not eat”. Many times, during a late night out, their friends would find out which brother was going home first and then ride home with him to eat the other brother’s supper. Some might recall one memorable night when John and Dave were “hosting” some friends at the farmhouse. Their mom was shocked to see a kitchen full of their friends eating her food and crashing on her couches. For a few of us, the words, “one, two, three, four - you breaka my whole house” will bring a tear to our eyes and a smile to our faces.
Despite her limited skills in speaking, reading and writing in English, she obtained her nurses aid certification and took a job at the Chariton Manor in 1978. She worked the night shift for 27 years until May 2005. Working for close to minimum wage over those years, she managed to wrangle together the sparse funds, student loans, and gritty determination to help send both sons to college and to grant her kids a better life. Both John and Dave went on to have successful careers and raise loving families of their own. Miyoko also loved to pinch the cheeks, cook food, and give love and gifts to her grandchildren Austin, Abbie, and Eleanor.
Miyoko made many friends over her lifetime. Friends that come to mind are Eiko and James Bulman. Eiko was also Japanese and formed a tight bond of friendship as the only Asian families in Lucas County Iowa. Kay Steinbach, Rita Cross, Gloria Sellers, and Linda Braida were also very cherished friends of Miyoko. The entire list of friends that loved Miyoko’s big laugh, expert cooking and non-stop culturally bound gift giving is too long to mention here, with one exception. Suzi James and her family became a guardian, a sister, and a loving and caring member of Miyoko and her sons’ lives. Suzi would support Miyoko’s strong desire to go shopping in Des Moines, eat good food at restaurants, and served as her protector until the very end of Miyoko’s conscious days.
In her final years, Miyoko was diagnosed with a dementia type medical condition, and eventually could not care for herself. Soon after, her mind left her body behind and then her body finally decided to move on, freeing her spirit to return to her family in Japan.
Miyoko was preceded in death by her father Satoru Oki, mother Midori Oki, infant brother Tutoru and brother Yoshihiro Oki. Miyoko is survived by her sons John (Brenda) and David (Anna) along with grandchildren Austin, Abbie, and Eleanor.