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Shizu Lofton: 1914 - 2007

Taught seniors tai chi

Former Roosevelt University assistant dean and student adviser co-founded the White Crane Wellness Center in the mid-1980s,0,4983384.story

By Trevor Jensen | Tribune staff reporter | | Chicago Tribune
August 11, 2007
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Determined to remain active after her retirement from Roosevelt University, Shizu Lofton took up the ancient Chinese art of movement known as tai chi and helped start the White Crane Wellness Center for seniors.

An Uptown resident known since childhood as "Sue," Mrs. Lofton, 93, died of respiratory failure Sunday, Aug. 5, in St. Joseph Village, an assisted living facility in Chicago, said her daughter, Linda Hoffman.

The White Crane Center -- the white crane a symbol of good health and harmony -- was started by Mrs. Lofton and Rob Skeist in the mid-1980s above Ann Sather's Restaurant on Belmont Avenue. The center was started with the help of the Jane Addams Senior Caucus and Illinois Masonic Medical Center.

"Conceptually, she had a vision of a place where health and wellness could be promoted for older adults," said Elizabeth Cagan, executive director of White Crane. "It was important to give seniors the opportunity to understand and control their health."

About 6,000 seniors a year are served by White Crane, both at its Foster Avenue headquarters and through outreach programs. The goal is to allow people to live independently and in their own homes for as long as possible, through exercises like tai chi and other activities, Cagan said.

The daughter of Japanese immigrants, Mrs. Lofton was born Shizu Hirano and grew up in Big Sandy, Mont., where her father worked on the railroad. She attended the University of Washington for one year before money ran out, then married Fred Hideo Uyehara and settled in Los Angeles.

Married with a small child, the family was placed in the Manzanar Relocation Camp in California shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Hoffman said.

As the war dragged on, Fred Uyehara enlisted for service in the Army and wound up in Japan after the war working as a translator. Mrs. Lofton and her daughter moved to Chicago before joining him in Japan for two years. Mrs. Lofton and her daughter returned to Chicago and the couple divorced.

Working as a secretary to the dean of education at Roosevelt University, Mrs. Lofton eventually received a master's degree in education from the school, her daughter said.

In the late 1950s, she took a folk dancing class at her daughter's urging. Mrs. Lofton ended up falling in love with the instructor, a Chicago school principal named Nathan Lofton, whom she subsequently married.

At Roosevelt, Mrs. Lofton worked as an assistant dean in the College of Education and the College of Arts and Sciences, and was an adviser to students. She retired from Roosevelt in 1979.

At White Crane, Mrs. Lofton developed a simplified form of tai chi for older people, although she kept doing the more advanced movements for many years. She stopped teaching when she was 88.

"She became interested in tai chi as a way of maintaining her relationship with the world," Hoffman said.

In addition to her daughter and husband, Mrs. Lofton is survived by a sister, Koo Sakamoto; and a grandchild.

Friends and family will gather from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday, with a service at 1:30 p.m., in the United Methodist Home, 1415 W. Foster Ave., Chicago.