by Rick Oldenburg, CAP®
First installment of 2 parts:
Dr. George Tanbara was a humble man who lived through much to become the person he was – he was a 2nd generation Japanese American born in Portland Oregon in 1922. He moved with his mother and sister to Los Angeles, and later enrolled at USC to attain a degree in Pharmacy and starred on the tennis team.
His education was interrupted in 1942 when WWII started. His family was sent to an “Assembly Camp” far from their home. Wanting to finish his degree, George kept applying and was finally accepted at University of Idaho (outside the West Coast military zone) and finished his Pharmacy degree in 1943. With the war raging, and Japanese resentment high, he could not find work so he joined his family, now in Wyoming, where they were interred at the “Heart Mountain Assembly Camp”. There he met his future wife, Kimi Fujimoto who had been relocated from Tacoma.
George was drafted into the army and served as a combat medic and later as a counterintelligence agent in Japan. After his Army service, he entered medical school at the University of Minnesota working part-time in the pharmacy to help make ends meet.
George moved to Tacoma to be near Kimi, and did his Residency at King County Hospital and Children’s Orthopedic Hospital, when finished he married Kimi Fujimoto in 1951. The
anti-Japanese attitude persisted and still unable to find work, he opened a solo pediatric practice at the Tacoma Medical Center on Tacoma’s Hilltop.
Even after his family had been uprooted, lost many of their possessions, and facing the trailing Japanese resentment after the war . . . Dr. Tanbara could have arrived in Tacoma a very embittered man . . . and who would have blamed him? Incredibly, he wasn’t! Quite the opposite!
In 1969, when the Public Health Hospital sold, George worried about what would become of those patients who had few resources – who would provide healthcare to them? He began talking with some community leaders who were also concerned, they would incorporate as the Urban Coalition with Jim Walton (later Tacoma City Manager) as its Executive Director. Dr. Tanbara was the medical lead and together they opened two free clinics. One was on the Hilltop in the basement of the Nurses Quarters at St. Joseph’s Hospital, the other in Lister Elementary School in Salishan on the East side.
Dr. George Tanbara is a medical giant in Pierce County. To honor him, Community Health Care, with the blessing of the family, created the Kimi & George Tanbara, MD Endowment Fund for Patient Care. It is a Permanent Endowment dedicated to making sure no one is denied medical attention due to inability to pay. It is in harmony with Dr. Tanbara’s basic philosophy: Put the Patient First!
Part 2: Dr. Tanbara’s dream of healthcare for all – the evolution of 50 years in Pierce County.