Remembering Dr. Yoneo Sagawa


Dr. Ingelia White gave a eulogy in memory of the late Dr. Yoneo Sagawa at the Honolulu Orchid Society Installation Banquet held on Sunday, January 19, 2014 at the Hale Ikena Restaurant at Fort Shafter.  For many years Dr. Sagawa attended the HOS installation banquet to install the new officers.  This time, a lei adorned the chair where he would have been.  Here is the eulogy presented by Dr. White:

“Dr. Yoneo Sagawa was born in Olaa, Hawaii Island on Oct. 11, 1926 and passed away on Dec. 10, 2013. He received a B.A. in Zoology and M.S in Botany from Washington University, St. Louis in 1950 and 1952 respectively, and a Ph.D. in Cytogenetics from the University of Connecticut in 1956.

“He did Post-Doctoral Research in Upton, L.I., NY for a year before receiving a teaching/research position as an Assistant Professor of Botany at the University of Florida, Gainesville in 1957, and was promoted to full Professor within 7 years.  In 1964, he took a position as Professor of Horticulture at the University of Hawaii, Manoa until his retirement in 2009.

“Dr. Sagawa served as Director of Lyon Arboretum on Oahu from 1976 – 1991, and Director of the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden in Hilo from 1985 – 1995.  He also served as a consultant in orchid propagation, culture and breeding for USAID – ASAP in Davao, Philippines (1993); VOCA in Negros Occidental (1993), Cebu (1994), and Baguio (1994), Philippines; UNDP – UNISTAR in Jakarta, Indonesia (1993); UNFAO in Singapore; Fiji – N.Z. Business Council in Fiji; IRETA in Western Samoa and 5 other Pacific countries.

“He was a Research Associate for the Botanical Research Institute of Texas in 1993, the University of California, Berkeley from 1970 – 1971, and the Bishop Museum of Honolulu in 1992.  He mentored students (13 Ph.Ds, 7 undergraduates) and trainees (23 trainees, 14 visiting researchers, and 22 visiting scientists) from the United States, Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, Mexico, Fiji, Western Samoa, the Philippines, Japan, Singapore, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, Thailand, and Korea.  He also served as an External Examiner for advanced degree students at the following universities: a Ph.D. candidate at the Agriculture University in Malaysia in 1987, a M.Sc candidate at the Sains University, Malaysia in 1988, and a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Delhi, India in 1989.

“Dr. Sagawa published over 100 articles in national and international scientific and popular journals.  Research topics focused on plant organ, tissue and cell culture, as well as compatibilities in orchid breeding.  The 1950s to 1990s was the golden era of plant/orchid tissue culture, and he was one of the leading authorities on that subject.  Today, tissue culture plays an integral part in advanced DNA technology – genetic engineering practices.

“He was the Editor of the Bulletin of the Pacific Orchid Society of Hawaii from 1966 to 1971, and the Editor of Na Okika O Hawaii (Hawaii Orchid Journal) from 1972 to 2000.

“Special recognitions he received include a Gold Medal of the American Orchid Society, a Fellow of the American Orchid Society, a Gold Award of the Hawaii Orchid Growers’ Association, a Distinguished Service Award of the South Florida Orchid Society, a Certificate of Achievement of the Garden Club of America, an Honorary Scientist from the RDA, Republic of Korea, and a Fellow of the Agricultural University and ITAL, the Netherlands.  He was a life member of the American Orchid Society, the Honolulu Orchid Society, the Kaimuki Orchid Society, the American Anthurium Society, and the Garden Club of Honolulu.

“Dr. Yoneo Sagawa, the mentor and friend to many of us, will be missed.  He was a caring and soft-spoken gentleman of high character.  On October 20, my husband and I took him to lunch to celebrate his birthday.  He was in high spirits and said that he was finally enjoying his retirement.  He poured the tea for me and teased “don’t you remember when I first poured tea for you on your first Thanksgiving with me in 1974?  You were surprised because in Indonesia your servant poured that for you, and now I am serving tea for you again”.

“Dr. Sagawa was instrumental in helping his graduates find meaningful jobs in Hawaii.  He maintained contact with his former students and trainees to his last days.  Two of his former students from abroad came to Hawaii to celebrate Thanksgiving with him last November.

“As stern as he sometimes seemed, he was actually very interesting and fun to be with.  We used to lunch once a month, visit museums, art galleries and antique stores and chat for hours on the phone at night.

“Dr. Sagawa’s love for orchids and orchid people never ceased. Some years ago he was no longer able to drive at night to continue joining the HOS membership meetings.  He asked me twice to persuade HOS officers/trustees to change the meetings to Saturday morning, so that he could drive and join in.  I know that his spirit is now with us in this room enjoying our company and the orchids.  On behalf of Dr. Yoneo Sagawa, my dear mentor and friend for 39 years, I thank you all for the blessing of being surrounded by orchid friends.”

Dr. Sagawa was buried at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific (also known as Punchbowl Cemetery) on Tuesday, January 21.  A short but beautiful ceremony preceded the burial.  The ceremony included the sounding of taps and ceremonial folding and presentation of the American flag by a uniformed military detail.  After the burial, family and friends were invited to Dr. Sagawa’s residence in Manoa for refreshments.