By Ruth Bayang
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
SEATTLE — Mary Matsuda Gruenewald died on Feb. 11 of complications from non-COVID-related pneumonia, her son Ray Gruenewald told the Vashon-Maury Island Beachcomber. She was 96 years old.
A Seattle resident who grew up on Vashon, Gruenewald became a registered nurse after being released from her last Japanese American internment camp, and worked as an R.N. for more than a quarter of a century.
“She was living at [St. Joseph Residence, a long-term care facility of Providence Mount St. Vincent] in West Seattle, across from my mom’s room,” Diane Kukull wrote on Facebook.
“Before COVID, I would stop by to say ‘hi’ and she would talk about her memories on Vashon. I loved hearing her stories and loved seeing her warm smile and that twinkle in her eyes.”
Gruenewald conceived and developed the Consulting Nurse Service within the Group Health Cooperative in 1971—the first of its kind—which is widely used today in this era of telehealth.
The Northwest Asian Weekly honored her in 2003 for this accomplishment.
In 2002, she was part of a delegation to Congress and met with President George W. Bush to advocate for an improved national health system.
In 2003, Gruenewald received an Asian American Living Pioneer Award honoring her contributions.
She was 80 years old when her first book was published in April 2005. In her memoir, “Looking Like the Enemy,” Gruenewald broke her silence as a Nisei (second generation Japanese American) who was imprisoned in Japanese American prison camps during World War II. She spoke regularly to educational, library, and community groups about her incarceration, and traveled to Japan to speak to many different Japanese groups about it. While promoting her book, she also was a strong advocate for Arab and Muslim people who faced similar injustice after the 9/11 attacks.
Julie Sotomura wrote on Facebook, “I’m so sorry to hear of Mary’s passing. She was a wonderful woman, full of delight. I photographed her for a project I did in 2008 on Japanese American incarceration camp survivors. She was an inspiration.”
“The Matsudas were our neighbors and friends, attended church with us, and all of the kids in our large family picked berries for them,” Candace Brown reminisced on Facebook. “I have read her important book. This is another sad passing.”
Gruenewald also consulted with the National Park Service during its establishment of Minidoka Internment Camp as a National Park.
In 2017, at the age of 92, Gruenewald received her Vashon High School (VHS) diploma at the graduation ceremony for VHS Class of 2017—a milestone she would have experienced 75 years earlier if she hadn’t been incarcerated.
Gruenewald is survived by her three children and their families; two grandchildren, one great-grandchild, four nieces and their families, and her sister-in-law.
Donations may be made in her memory to Group Health Community Foundation (grouphealthfoundation.org); Japanese American Citizens League (jacl.org); Wesley Foundation (wesleychoice.org); the Vashon Heritage Museum (vashonheritagemuseum.org); and the Vashon Land Trust (vashonlandtrust.org).
Ruth can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.