At 10:45AM on March 18, 2020, an orchestra of Angels played joyously as Mrs. Yasu Mitchell, after 99 years on earth, waltzed gracefully through the Pearly Gates and into the Heavenly Ballroom of her Lord and Savior. There she was met with open arms by her beloved husband and dance partner of 60 years, Maj. Weldon Mitchell. The Major had waited 13 years for this glorious moment, for this first dance among the stars with his darling, Yasu.
While the Saints and Angels gleefully watch Yasu and Mitch in hold, spinning blissfully through the heavens, we here on earth bask warmly in the afterglow of Yasu’s legacy of kindness, gentleness, acceptance, forgiveness and love. Full of smiles and hugs, she never failed to bring comfort and peace to everyone she met. Yasu never raised her voice in anger, talked only good of others, was generous with her attention to her friends and acquaintances. She was a devoted wife to Mitch and a loving mother to their four children Mark, Britt, Tani, and Cody. But she was also a woman of strength and conviction. Yasu was the power behind the man, the engine within the machine, a true matriarch of the family. She was intelligent, she was courageous, she was hard working, she was influential.
As a child born to immigrant Japanese parents, Jitsuo and Moto Tani, Miss Yasuko Tani was the youngest of her five siblings: Chieko, Shinobu, Nobuye, Masumi and Tadashi. Her hard-working parents insured that little Miss Yasuko grew up with the values and traditions of both her American home as well as that of her ancestral land, Japan. In elementary school Yasu attended public school during the day, and in the evenings, she would take a bus from her home in Oakland, CA across the bay bridge to San Francisco to attend Japanese school. In those days, it was customary for Japanese Americans to adopt a Christian name, and she chose Yasu Mary Tani. Mary Tani immersed herself in the cultures of both America and Japan, learning to read, write and speak Japanese fluently. From the age of six, her passion was the art of singing and dancing. Predictably, the young dynamic Yasu was accepted to the University of California at Berkley pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in the school of Music and Dance. However, in 1941 during her Junior year at Berkley, Yasu’s path in life took a sudden turn.
World War II brought dramatic changes to Yasu Mary Tani’s life. All Japanese were forced to move off the western coast of the states. Her family was relocated to an internment camp in Minidoka, ID. They lost their home, two businesses and all their family possessions. Yasu was forced to abandon her studies at UCB and leave California. But, since she was American born and a university student, Yasu had the bitter-sweet option of going into internment at Minidoka with her family or living somewhere other than California. Twenty-year-old Yasu bravely decided to go it alone to Chicago, IL. This new life path would take her through an exciting world of song and dance, love and romance and eventually to a small ranch in Beeville, TX, with a handsome U.S. Marine fighter pilot husband.
Yasu’s new life was a fairy tale, her dream come true. It would take volumes to tell her story, but the condensed version follows. Yasu enrolls in the Chicago School of Music to continue her education but by 1943 what money she had saved was gone. She auditions with the Dorothy Hild Dancers and was invited to join the popular Chicago dance troupe. Yasu Mary Tani assumes the alias of Mary Tan Hai the new ‘Chinese’ girl (a good idea, WWII was still raging). She soon finds herself at the Edgewater Beach Hotel in Chicago dancing and singing with movie stars and celebrities like Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Bette Davis, Robert Goulet and Nat King Cole. The Edgewater hosted big bands like Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey and Glenn Miller. Mary Tan Hai becomes pen pals with a young Lt. Mitchell, the war ends, they meet, they fall in love, they marry (which is not an easy thing to do in 1947 as it was illegal in most states for a white boy to marry a woman of color and that included the Japanese). Together Yasu and Mitch begin a new life of military bases, constant moving, having babies, long separations as Mitch goes back to war in Korea, more moves across the country, more babies, and finally settling in Beeville. Here a new chapter unfolds. Now she is raising four kids, driving them to school, football games and dances. She is managing a small ranch, singing at weddings, volunteering to choreograph A.C. Jones High School Annual Dance shows and judging the sewing division at the Bee County Junior Livestock Show. All the while working at the Ruth Davis Dress Shop as a salesclerk and seamstress. Throughout it all, music and dance are intertwined with everything in her life.
Her children remember her performing a traditional fan dance in a beautiful kimono or twirling and turning as she stomped out the rhythm of a vibrant flamenco with castanets. They remember her lilting soprano voice floating up to heaven as she sang Ave Maria at the kitchen sink thinking no one was listening. They remember the way she never raised her voice in anger at them, she would calmly say, “Just wait 'til your father gets home,” and that was enough. Her kids remember how she waited up at nights for them to return home from the Youth Center dances. She would always ask if they had fun, and whom they had danced with. Yasu’s children enjoy the same love of music, dance, and art; it’s in their DNA.
Whether she was organizing a school performance or scoring dirt bike races at the Hot Chaparral Motocross track, or playing bridge with her dear friends, Yasu was forever the beautiful, smiling, happy person whom everyone loved. After the kids had grown and gone, Yasu and Mitch began to enjoy more time together. More time with friends and more time to go dancing. Then in 2007, her knight in shining armor, on orders from the Supreme Heavenly Commander, once again left Yasu behind to reconnoiter their next duty station. And now, the time for her to rejoin her husband is here. Mrs. Yasu Mitchell will be lovingly missed by her four children: Mark (Magdalena), Britt (Priscilla), Tani, Cody (Kelly), numerous grandchildren, great-grandchildren, nephews and nieces. She will be remembered fondly by all the thousands of friends and acquaintances whose lives were touched by her.
The family of Mrs. Yasu Mitchell invite you to join them in a private celebration of her life. A private celebration in each of your hearts. Simply take a moment to remember a time in your lives where Yasu made an impression. Perhaps it was a hug, a smile and a friendly conversation. You might recall a special moment with her at a high school dance rehearsal or while being fitted for a prom dress at Ruth Davis. Maybe you had a short chat at a motocross race. Perhaps she sang at your wedding, maybe you shared a dance with her at the Beeville Dance Club. Take the time to make the memories that will last a lifetime. Yasu would prefer it this way.
To plant a tree in memory of Yasu Mitchell, please click here.