Karin Stanton | Hawaii 24/7
Shizuko ‘Mary’ Teshima, island treasure and restauranteur, died Oct. 22 at home in Honalo. She was 106.
Teshima was recipient of the 2009 Women’s Hall of Fame award, given by the county Committee on the Status of Women. A life-long member of the Kona Hiroshima Kenjin Kai club, Teshima also was honored by the Japanese government for being a centenarian.
Born June 24, 1907 to Goichi and Kiku Hanato, Teshima lived for decades in her home behind the family restaurant and continued to welcome diners well past the age when most people retire.
In 1929, Teshima and her late husband Fumio ‘Harry’ Teshima opened a general store in South Kona, aptly named F. Teshima Store.
In a 1991 interview with Kona Historical Society, Teshima explained how she was drawn to serving up food.
“To begin with I had the store. It was kinda boring, and I wanted to do something to keep me real busy. So, I decided … to run up to the church [when] they had classes in cooking. So, I said, oh, I must like this work. I started with an ice cream parlor at first ‘cause I had general merchandise. People, when they came to buy something, wanted to eat, and that’s how I got into food, too. I had two tables, one dozen ice cream spoons, one bamboo ice cream scoop, and the glasses. We made our own ice cream. Our ice used to come from Hilo. We bought 100 lbs. and we packed it in the coffee skins, in the box, and we made ice cream the night before after we closed the store. In the morning it was ready and we packed it in ice with salt, but there was no electricity anyway, so we did it the hard way.”
The store evolved into a saimin shop, then a hamburger stand, which fed hungry GIs stationed in Hawaii during World War II. Finally, in the late 1950s, the general store / hamburger stand blossomed into Teshima’s Restaurant.
For nearly 70 years, Teshima’s Restaurant has been a ‘must go’ on visitors’ lists and a favorite for generations of Big Island residents.
Mayor Billy Kenoi, who proclaimed June 30, 2009 as “Shizuko Teshima Day,” paid tribute Wednesday to the isle icon.
“We mourn the passing of a true treasure of Hawaii Island. Our aloha goes out to the Teshima ohana,” he said. “I felt honored and privileged to have known such an amazing person who embodied the best of Hawaii – hardworking, kind, humble, generous, and a warm smile to all she came in contact with. We all will miss her deeply.”
Teshima also counted Hollywood stars and state leaders among her many fans and friends.
Sen. Mazie Hirono, who makes Teshima’s Restaurant a regular stop when visiting the Big Island, also said she was privileged to count Teshima as a friend.
“Hawaii has lost a true ambassador of aloha with the passing of my friend, ‘Grandma’ Mary Teshima,” she said.
“In all the years I had known her, Grandma Teshima was always warm, caring and energetic. Stopping by her iconic Teshima’s restaurant in Kona and enjoying comfort food, such as the famous tempura and udon, made me feel right at home,” Hirono said. “Grandma Teshima had been one of my strongest supporters throughout my career; making sure that I was doing OK and always encouraging me to ganbatte – To do my best, never give up! We will all miss Grandma Teshima. I extend my heartfelt condolences to the Teshima ohana.”
Family friend and restaurant regular Margaret Masunaga, who nominated Teshima for the Hall of Fame award, she will cherish her last visit with ‘Grandma.’
“I loved Grandma Teshima. She was one of the most famous women in Kona. The last time I chatted with Grandma was on July 19, 2013, with First Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Dale Ross,” Masunaga said. “I remember our conversation vividly because she said I was so young!! I told Grandma, ‘I am 50 years younger than you, so I guess that makes me young in your eyes. Thank you! You’ve made my day!’
“I told her she looked beautiful, gave her a gardenia, let her smell the fragrance, put it by her ear, and we took pictures,” she said. “That last conversation I had with Grandma is so precious. Her mind was sharp. We talked about her friend Shizuka Matsumoto, who had passed away years before, and recalled the days when their husbands worked together and the wives spent so much time together with their children.”
Masunaga said Teshima also spoke of her daughter, Fumi, who lost her battle with cancer in 2008.
“Grandma would also tell me how much she missed her daughter Fumi,” she said. “Now, Grandma is with Fumi, Shizuka, and at peace. She lived a long, meaningful life.”
Masunaga said she always has been inspired by Teshima’s dedication to her family, friends and business, as well as by her community spirit.
“Despite having only an eighth grade education, Grandma Teshima excelled in customer service at her restaurant, greeting people, sitting down with them and making everyone feel a sense of community in her restaurant,” she said. “She counted the money every night at the restaurant, and was extremely philanthropic. A scholarship in her name was established by the Kona Mauka Rotary Club. My daughter Colette was the recipient of her scholarship in 2009, and she was especially happy that she received the Shizuko Mary Teshima Rotary Scholarship.”
Teshima also counted Hollywood actor Jimmy Stewart as a regular customer during the years he visited the Big Island, as a framed photo on the restaurant wall depicts.
Already a Kona landmark, the restaurant also has played host to more than six decades of regular Mauka Kona Lion’s Club meetings. The upstairs banquet hall walls are covered with pennants from sister clubs around the globe.
Teshima also made sure to regularly contribute to school scholarships and nonprofit organizations including Kona Rotary, Kona Community Hospital and local churches.
Although she had not spent as much time in the restaurant in recent years, Teshima remained the heart and soul of the family business and enjoyed a constant stream of visitors to her home, chatting for hours with friends old and new.
In an interview last year, Teshima said just enjoyed people and being involved in the community.
“I think I was born that way, very soft,” she says. “From when I was a young girl, I always took care of people. I always was a nurturer. I like people.”
Teshima’s legacy burns bright in her five children, 17 grandchildren, 27 great grandchildren and 16 great-great grandchildren.
— For the complete Kona Historical Society interview, visit: www.konahistorical.org/images/…