Remembering Wallace S. Yagi

Wallace S. Yagi
Public Works/Engineering

Remembrance by Glenda Nuzzi, friend

Wally was born on a sugar plantation in Ocolla on the Big Island of Hawaii. His dad was a plantation foreman and his mom raised eight kids, growing and making everything the family ate as there were no grocery stores except in the big city of Hilo. Their family home sits on a bluff facing east overlooking the Pacific Ocean. I thought it was the most beautiful place to grow up. Wally and his siblings took a bus to school in Lapahouhou.

There were many happy times growing up on the Big Island. However, when Wally was 16. he, his teacher and several of his classmates were standing on the shore before school, when a wave took all the water out, leaving fish flapping on the wet sand. Some of the boys ran out to pick up fish. This happened three times, and Wally saw the next huge wave coming toward the group. Everyone ran. Wally got behind a building waiting for the wave to pass. The wave crashed down on a house, destroying it and pinning Wally between a tree, a boulder and the timber of the house. That day, April 1, 1946, Wally lost his teacher and many friends to the tidal wave. Had the wave landed 15 minutes later, everyone would have been inside the classrooms and safe. But it didn’t. Wally was in the Ocalla hospital with a broken collarbone.

As a kid when he wasn’t playing with friends or working in the sugar cane, he read. The visit of the bookmobile was a great event for this young boy. He had been valedictorian at his high school and his teacher wrote to the University of Hawaii about the new student coming.

While at the university, Wally worked for room and board for the vice president of Hawaiian Airlines. During school breaks he had a job at the airlines as a baggage handler. Wally played poker with his workmates. Wally taught the wives to play the ukulele and they became very good, but they always gave credit to Wally teaching them.

After Wally graduated from college and his father had died, Wally and his family moved to Los Angeles. There he worked in a gas station at night while attending graduate school. One evening, a car drove up and asked Wally if he could park there for a couple of hours as he was playing at one of the clubs. Wally said yes and asked him his name. Wally and Mel Tormé became friends. Wally always let him park for free.

Wally would tell stories how the Army played a cruel joke on him when he was drafted. They sent him to Alaska for two years, where he was assigned to be the company clerk, probably much like the TV character, Radar, in MASH. After the Army, Wally went to work for the City of Los Angeles for the next 30 years. Wally was a very modest man and told lots of jokes to feel comfortable and make people laugh. He had so many jokes in his head, that no matter what folks were talking about, he always had a funny story.

Wally had six nieces who would visit City Hall on occasion. They would tell whoever asked they were there to visit Uncle Wally. Soon everyone at City Hall was calling him Uncle Wally. He was so very proud of his six nieces and three nephews and spoke of them often.
He spent his free time with a group of lunch friends playing fantasy football, enjoyed betting pools of all sorts and outside activities with his work family. He bowled in a City league. Wally was active in March of Dimes and enjoyed organizing office picnics on Saturdays at the beach or a city park.

Everyone I talk to about Wally Yagi who knew him and worked for him has said he was the best boss they ever had. Wally had a strong ethical standard for himself and others. He operated as “do as I do” and led others to do their best. He spent his entire City career with Public Works/Engineering, retiring in 1986.

Although he was retired, he continued his friendship with many people he worked with and kept in touch by meeting occasionally with them.

He loved the Angels baseball team and the Lakers. He followed football and horse racing. When he retired he moved his family to Oceanside and fished the local lakes once or twice a week for the next 30 years. He caught trout, cleaned and boned it and gave it to a group of lady friends who would cook it for their dinner.

Wally heard that the Oceanside Library Reading Program was looking for volunteers. He immediately went to the library to sign up. He would take them under his wing and guide them all through school. He truly enjoyed mentoring his students.

Wally spent three to five days a week playing cards with his friends. He had a scorebook that kept track of the wins and losses. He liked playing Sequence best, boys against the girls. We played Phase 10. Wally amended the rules on occasion to make it more challenging. Pinochle was a game we could play when there were only two of us; we would play single-deck pinochle with another couple and sometimes double pinochle. After cards we would do large print easy crosswords. It was like dessert.

Wally and I were best friends. We traveled to Japan and Lake Tahoe, spent time at timeshares throughout California with friends, drove to Arizona for a weekend trip, took a cruise and played with friends throughout the year, celebrating life and good times.

Wally will forever be in our memories.

Our thoughts and condolences are with the family and friends of the  current and retired City employees who have passed away.