Toyo Corp. President Iichiro Haga couldn’t hold back tears Friday as he spoke in memory of his brother, former company president Shojiro Haga, who died last October at age 52.
Shojiro, who preceded Iichiro as president of Toyo, also was a past president of its Columbus subsidiary Precision Tools Service (PTS), and well known locally. Many PTS employees joined Iichiro, Columbus Mayor Jim Lienhoop and community, business and civic leaders outside NexusPark for a ceremonial tree planting in Shojiro’s honor.
“Thank you, Mayor Lienhoop, for planting cherry blossom trees in his memory. The cherry blossom tree is the national tree of Japan,” Iichiro said, then stopped momentarily, wiping away welling tears.
“Sorry,” he said, as sympathetic “awws” rippled through the crowd.
“Our family and employees are blessed and humbled by your kindness. I look forward to coming back someday to see the flowers blooming in the spring,” Iichiro said. “… I’m sure Shojiro is watching us from heaven and appreciates the great honor.”
It was a bittersweet dedication that honored the memory of a business leader while also looking forward to the ongoing NexusPark development on which the trees will grow.
“We are here today because Columbus has always welcomed us so warmly,” Iichiro said. “Our company, PTS, has been here since 1988, and we are very proud of being a member of this community. My late brother Shojiro was very fond of Columbus. He spent more time here than in any other city outside of Japan.”
Officials said the memorial also serves to strengthen the bonds between Columbus and Toyo, based in Kariya City, Aichi, as well as several other leading Japanese-based businesses with operations in the community.
“Today is a happy day and a somber day,” Lienhoop said, welcoming Iichiro and Toyo director Miko Ozaki back to Columbus, as well as PTS President and Columbus resident Tom Ehara.
“The passing of the late Shojiro Haga last October came way too soon,” Lienhoop said, adding that the city is pleased to know that Columbus is a special place for the Haga family.
Lienhoop shared that the Haga family had a special place in his memory, too, recalling a visit with Greater Columbus Economic Development Director Jason Hester to the Hagas’ home on a trip to Japan.
“With such special memories and mutual admiration, we hope that Columbus can, in some small way, help the Haga family and their associates at PTS remember the late president Haga and all of us will appreciate the beauty and message about life that these trees will bring,” Lienhoop said.
Those who honored Shojiro Haga did so against the backdrop of ongoing construction of NexusPark, the health and wellness complex and fieldhouse rising on the site of the former FairOaks Mall.
Mary Ferdon, executive director of administration and community development for the city and the Republican nominee in the November mayor’s race to succeed Lienhoop, gave an overview of the NexusPark project, which attendees got to see under construction after the ceremony.
Ferdon said that once NexusPark is completed, likely next year, the memorial to Shojiro — three trees and an inscribed monument — will be transplanted to a grove on the property.
NexusPark, a joint effort between the city and Columbus Regional Health, aims to be a venue that can improve the health and wellness of everyone in the community while offering a venue for sports tourism, retail, restaurants and more, Ferdon said.
Outside, it will include walking trails, pedestrian and bike paths, green space, landscaping, and south of the former JCPenney site, about a 2.5-acre park.
“The trees that we’re planting here today will be part of that larger design within the park,” Ferdon said. “And then once the park is completed, the cherry trees will be transplanted along with others, and we’ll create a cherry tree grove for future enjoyment for citizens and visitors alike.”
Addressing Iichiro, she said, “and we hope that you agree it will be a fitting memorial for our lost friend.”
Hester noted that the importance of Japanese businesses to the Columbus region. “Some 24 Japanese companies employ almost 6,000 people in our community, and so it’s tremendously important to us” he said.
“Also importantly, PTS was one of the very first five Japanese companies to come to Columbus,” Hester said. “… The Haga family and PTS are very special in our hearts.”
According to Greater Columbus Economic Development, “Moved by the city’s remembrance of the late Mr. Haga, PTS later announced a donation of $100,000 would be made to the city (for NexusPark).”
PTS specializes in machine tools and precision measuring tools. Toyo, established in 1955, supplies precision and small tools primarily for Japanese automotive industry.