At the Japanese American National Museum’s 2012 Gala Dinner, “Transforming a Forgotten Story”, held on May 5 at the J.W. Marriott Hotel, Tracey Doi, Chief Financial Officer of Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc., drew one ticket from over a thousand entries to the Lexus Opportunity Drawing. The winning ticket would get a new 2013 Lexus GS 450h, which Toyota donated to the Museum for this fundraiser.
Tracey dug deep into the barrel and pulled out the lucky ticket. She read the name and paused. Only once in the decade that Toyota has donated Lexus vehicles to the Museum’s annual dinner has the owner of the winning ticket been in the ballroom. No response.
Unlike most of the ticket stubs, there was no phone number on the winning ticket. Just a mailing address sticker people use so they don’t have to handwrite their home address on their mail.
The next day, we looked up the record for the ticket stub and found a home phone number. We called and no one was home (it was Sunday). We left a message and eventually made direct contact with the lucky winner.
For those of you familiar with Japanese American history, see if this profile sounds familiar: the recipient’s grandfather immigrated to the United States before World War II. He eventually moved to the Southwest to work in agriculture. The recipient’s father and his siblings all had to work for the family business. The family business evolved into driving trucks from Texas to Los Angeles to sell produce and vegetables at the produce market.
At first, the family could not find a place in the Los Angeles produce market and sold their goods on the streets outside. When a spot opened up, the grandfather moved the family to Los Angeles and established his business. Eventually, the grandfather retired and the recipient’s father and brother took over. The recipient and his siblings then were brought into the produce business and are the third generation to operate it. The recipient said that there are enough nieces and nephews involved so the business should make it to the fourth generation.
If that profile sounds familiar, it should. It is a common story among Japanese Americans. But, the recipient is not Japanese. His name is Dan Horwath and his grandfather came from Hungary. The business, Royal Produce, deals with sales, shipping, and cold storage.
So, how did Dan happen to buy Lexus Opportunity tickets from the Museum?
The family business once imported crops from Mexico and needed an office in Nogales, Texas. Dan spent 20 years there (met his wife, Rosie, who is from Mexico) and befriended a man named Toru Fujiwara. When Toru’s father Hiroshi passed away about six years ago, Dan wanted to make a donation in his memory. But since there was no Buddhist temple in Nogales, Horwath made a donation to the Museum in Hiroshi’s memory.
Apparently, that put Horwath on a list and he began getting literature and other mailings from the Museum. That included Lexus Opportunity tickets and he began donating money annually.
“I’d been to the Museum,” he explained. “I grew up with Japanese Americans (who worked for his father).”
Over the years, people like Henry Kuwahara, Fred Ota, and Ken Ito worked many years for the Horwath family business. It left an impression on young Daniel, who observed, “They were very important to our industry. It is a hard business and they worked hard.”
Dan remembers taking judo classes at the Pasadena dojo when he was growing up with his brother. They were the only non-JAs.
Dan was quite surprised to be told he had won the Lexus. It was never his intention to actually win, but “to give something back.” Still, his wife will have a new car when Toyota brings out the 2013 line.
Dan still gets up at 3 a.m. each day to get to work at the produce market. His wife works with accounting and food safety, but their two children are off on other careers.
Dan is quick to recall the large influence Japanese Americans had in his business and ticked off several businesses like Morita Produce and Olympic Produce which were run by Nikkei. Things are changing, but he would like their memory to survive.
What is interesting is that Dan originally bought $500 worth of opportunity tickets back in November when they first were available. Then, this last March, he bought another $500. It was out of the second batch that Tracey Doi pulled his winning ticket.
In the end, it was gratifying that someone like the Horwaths get the new Lexus. Their support of the Museum is admirable and their motives are ideal.