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Woman of the Year Margie Furuya Puts Others First and Serves Her Community

Margie Furuya was voted as the Woman of the Year for the Kern River Valley because of her charitable work and selflessness.
Posted at 11:00 AM, Jan 19, 2024

LAKE ISABELLA, Calif. — Kind, giving, thoughtful.

These are words I've heard again and again to describe Margie Furuya.

Speaking with her you feel these qualities. Her charitable work and wholesome nature have made her a fixture of the Kern River Valley community.

That's why they voted for her to be 2023 Woman of the Year.

“There was a person that was struggling with the wheelchair. So I got up and then I opened the front door and then I pushed the patient right out to their car, then collapsed their wheelchair. When I came back, Diana was sitting in the lobby and she says, ‘Did I just see what you did? We could use you at the hospital,’” Furuya said, recalling an experience shortly after she moved to the Kern River Valley in 2009.

Soon after she became a regular volunteer with the hospital.

“Gary Zuber,” Furuya said, “He was talking about that we're going to have an Honor Flight breakfast.”

She felt passionately for veterans, having uncles that fought in WWII

“I said, ‘Well, I think I'll do that.’”

She showed up once a month when the breakfast was held to serve local veterans before she went in to volunteer at the Kern Valley Hospital Auxiliary Thrift Shop.

One of her favorite memories is when she went to D.C. as a guardian for a veteran during Honor Flight and got to see her uncle's names in a memorial.

“I saw Robert Shoji and Ito Shoji.”

In an exhibit in the same museum, another memory was brought up for her.

“When we came around the other side… It had forgotten that it was not an internment camp. It was a concentration camp. I thought, ‘Oh my gosh.’”

At one-and- a-half years old she was sent with her family to be interned at a concentration camp in Topaz, Utah because of their Japanese ancestry.

“You know, all those kids, we couldn't go anywhere. So you know, we played in the barracks and all that.”

Once they were released from the camp, “Everything was all gone.”

With her hometown wiped clean her family was forced to build from the ground up.

“Pietro Gallo started the Gallo Winery.”

For years she helped her father pick grapes at the Gallo vineyard and was introduced to a lifelong passion there from a minister.

“She taught us, you know, Jesus loves me. So even today if I’m driving up the canyon. I just sing ‘Jesus loves me yes I know.’”

Despite the unjust and cruel actions of the U.S Government to Japanese Americans during WWII and the impact it had on her family growing up, she speaks about the experience without bitterness.

She grew up working various agriculture jobs with her family, she recalls learning how to drive a tractor as a teen, and getting a taste for eggplant, eating it with her family as they harvested them.

When she was old enough, she started a family and lived a rich life before coming to the Kern River Valley in 2009 to help her sister.

“She didn't drive, she's a homebody.”

She then got involved with the church, cooking breakfast for hundreds of people every week.

“I got involved in their kitchen and I loved it.”

She participated in the Heart Walk for eleven years, which is a fundraiser for the Kern Valley Hospital, earning a treasured possession.

“That was for last year, I was captain,” Furuya said, showing off her trophy for highest combined team age.

At the dinner for Man and Woman of the year, several people spoke about her contributions to the valley.

“I actually remember the first time I met you, I don't know if you remember,” Assemblymember Vince Fong said, “You are an inspiration and a role model.”

“She's worked alongside me at the Christmas luncheon,” Claire Hartley said, referencing the free Christmas lunch volunteers put on for anyone in need.

The Man of the Year, Gary Zuber, summed up everyone's feelings.

“I just want to thank you. You are just special Margie, and we love you.”

And she loves the community too.

“Everywhere I go, I'm accepted. To me, Everything is great. You know they've always helped me a lot.”

She never expected to receive praise but will always show her own appreciation.

At the end of our interview…

“Thank you, thank you!” Furuya said.

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