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Founded wellness center for seniors

SHIZU "SUE" LOFTON | 1914-2007 | Veteran of Japanese-American internment camps believed in power of peace, serenity, education


August 9, 2007

BY LARRY FINLEY Staff Reporter -Accordionist has hands full in keeping tradition alive:   - Chicago Sun-Times - 04/30/2004

One of the songs that Shizu "Sue" Lofton asked for at her memorial service Saturday is the "Song of Peace,'' which speaks of love of country, but recognizes that others love their countries, too.

The other songs and poems she requested for her service are about faith, love and serenity, the things she was about.

Shizu "Sue" Lofton, 93, died Sunday at St. Joseph Village, 4021 W. Belmont, while her husband, Nate, and her daughter visited.

"It was lovely," said her daughter, Linda Hoffman. "Nate and I were there and five of her friends. We have been taking turns watching over her. She had perfect timing. We all happened to be there at the end."

A veteran of the Japanese-American internment camps during World War II, Mrs. Lofton had a long career in education, retiring as assistant dean of continuing education at Roosevelt University. She then started a second career as co-founder of the White Crane Senior Wellness Center and an innovator in the peaceful martial art of tai chi.

Mrs. Lofton was born Shizu Hirano on March 31, 1914, in Big Sandy, Mont. By the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, she was married to Fred Uyehara and had an 18-month old daughter, Linda. They soon were caught in the anti-Japanese sweep that put 120,000 West Coast residents in isolated camps.

"My mother and father were both very patriotic," their daughter said. "The Japanese-Americans who were born in the United States were very devoted to the country. They wanted to prove their patriotism."

In the 1980s, a longtime friend returned to Mrs. Lofton the 45 letters Mrs. Lofton had written to her in the early 1940s describing the pain and anger of being evicted from their home, of living in stark camps in California and Idaho, and of trying to hold a family together.

Toward the end of the war, her husband gained their freedom by joining the U.S. Army and serving in the occupation forces in Japan, where he acted as a translator at the war crimes trials. His wife and daughter lived there for two years before returning to the United States. He stayed in Japan and the couple divorced.

"My mother was a strong, independent woman," said her daughter. "She got a job at Roosevelt University as a secretary to the dean of education. She finished her bachelor's degree in 1962 and went on to get her master's. She eventually became the assistant dean of continuing education."

In 1959, Linda Hoffman talked her mother into taking a course in folk dancing at the Old Town School of Folk Music, where she introduced her mother to her instructor, Nate Lofton, a Chicago Public Schools teacher. They were married in 1947.

"We were inseparable," Nate Lofton said. "We had a magnificent love affair. There was no greater love than my beautiful Shizu."

After retiring at the age of 65, Mrs. Lofton was looking for a way to keep fit, according to Lynn Baumhardt, a friend and tai chi instructor at White Crane.

"She studied with me and found it so beneficial that she thought it would be wonderful to share with other people who are aging," Baumhardt said. "She developed a form of tai chi that was simplified and that she thought seniors could pick up more quickly."

Since its founding in 1985, White Crane, at 1355 W. Foster, also offers other disciplines for seniors, such as "easy yoga" and "gentle Olympics," she said. Mrs. Lofton also produced a tai chi videotape which has been studied and copied by centers in other cities. She stopped teaching tai chi at age 88.

Mrs. Lofton was "amazingly willing to talk about the camps she was in," Baumhardt said. "There was no bitterness there. There was a strong feeling of patriotism."

Other survivors include a granddaughter; a sister of Koo Sakamoto, and several nieces and nephews.

The memorial service will be at 1:30 p.m. Saturday, at United Methodist Home, 1415 W. Foster.