By Bianca Durrant
On the morning of Dec. 16, 2009, Tito Kagimoto, 88, finished up a light breakfast with his brother-in-law Hank Mori and then lay back in his bed for some radio listening. Just a little while later, he peacefully drifted across the Great Divide. And so not only the entire community of Hope, but everyone who knew Tito, laments the loss and celebrates the life of a virtuous man.
Tarao “Tito” Kagimoto was born June 14, 1921 in Hilo, Hawaii to Japanese parents. He came from a large family with three brothers and two sisters. Tito worked for the Civilian Conservation Corps in Hawaii during World War II and during his tenure he learned what was to be his trade, carpentry. While working on a government job in the Marshall Islands, Tito chatted with a Merchant Marine who had traveled all around the world. Tito asked him which American place was growing and would be a good place to settle. His new friend mentioned Anchorage, and so the seed was planted.
In 1949, Tito arrived in Alaska. He worked for many years as a carpenter around the state and ended his carpentry career in 1978, after working on the pipeline. With the help of a friend, Dave Kippen, Tito moved to Hope and decided to open a restaurant. They bought the now defunct, 60 foot converted trailer that was to serve as the restaurant for twenty years. The little café filled a void in the town and was a hit from the start. Tito hired Susan Anderson as his cook and the space became the hub of the community.
Diminutive in stature, Tito displayed tremendous alacrity for his job as host and struck up conversations with all who entered his café, his world. People were struck by the philosophy and prescient nature of Tito.
His belief in giving to others and not passing judgment emanated in his everyday actions. Tito also lived the rule that to love what you do was to be happy.
He clearly demonstrated this when he famously declared to an interviewer about his café, “I'd rather be the dishwasher here, than the President!”
One could fill a book with Tito's inspiring actions and words of wisdom. The simple truth is that he was legendary for embodying a dogma that we all aspire to, an ideal of giving without expectation, a delight in being alive and visiting with friends.
Tito chose to be cremated. His remains will be scattered in his birthplace, Hilo, and around the earth surrounding the Discovery Café.
A Celebration of Life to honor Tito took place at the Discovery Café on Jan. 2. Guests were treated to a retrospective slide show and a bursting array of potluck dishes. The day was clear and cold and Jim Skogstad brought enough big pieces of wood to have a bonfire. People ate, laughed, and read various newspaper clippings of articles that had been written about Tito and his beloved Discovery Café over the years.
Great nephew Henry Motoyama warmed up by the bonfire and told stories of being a young boy in Tito's presence.
“He had a magic money bag with a false bottom,” Henry said. “We'd look in it and there would be nothing but when he tied it up and shook it, the coins would appear. We were amazed. All of us kids could then reach in and grab some coins.”
Henry also talked about Tito's penchant for See's candy.
“When Tito would visit us he always made sure to buy a huge amount of See's candy since they weren't available in Alaska,” He recalled. “He once tipped each lady in the See's candy shop $100! They had never been tipped so generously. Tito made their day.”
Susan Anderson, longtime employee and friend of Tito, relayed her first impression of Tito.
“I met him on Jan. 1, 1978 and I knew right away he was a giving soul,” she said. “When I was first hired I was a single mom with two boys and he knew I was short on cash. Tito paid my landlord rent for 3 months. I thought how did I just drift into this man?”
Susan went on to work for Tito for 30 years.
Tito's brother-in-law Hank Mori bustled about inside the café, clearing plates, taking out trash, and making room for the ever expanding amount of dishes that were brought in. He did take a moment to reflect.
“Tito was not in business to make money,” said Hank. “He just wanted to give and have a place for people to come together.”
That being the case, Tito was probably content from on high, seeing the couple of hundred people gathered that day to celebrate his legacy.
To truly tell the story of Tito's later years, one cannot fail to admiringly mention Hank Mori, brother-in-law, friend, and caretaker.
After a series of strokes and diabetes left Tito blind and physically limited, he moved in with Hank and was lovingly watched over. The community has been humbled and amazed at Hank's devotion. He always made sure to get Tito outside on drives when the weather was nice or over to the café to have a meal.
During the summer, Hank would stop by the espresso stand to order up Tito's favorite drink, pumpkin latte, whispering to the barista to go easy on the pumpkin syrup. Hank's disposition stayed sunny throughout his time as caregiver. He would joke around and tell Tito that he was a very strict boss. Hank is a hard working, pragmatic man whom would most likely brush off any praise as unnecessary and yet, we must. Here's to you Uncle, cheers!
Condolences may be sent to P.O. Box 50, Hope, AK, 99605.