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Holladay • A Mormon chapel here was awash in Hawaiian leis and abuzz with anecdotes and remembrances Wednesday as friends and family members gathered to mark the passing of Chieko Okazaki.
A Japanese-American convert to the LDS Church and the first non-Caucasian woman to serve in one of the Utah-based faith's auxiliary presidencies, Okazaki died Aug. 1 in Salt Lake City at age 84. She was a powerful speaker, teacher and writer who connected personally and spiritually to women across the spectrum of religious belief and behavior.
Current LDS Relief Society President Julie Beck and her counselors, Deseret Book CEO Sheri Dew, Mormon intellectuals and feminists, excommunicated members, Brigham Young University professors, extended family and neighbors filled the LDS stake center. A choir of former Okinawa missionaries, to whom Okazaki was "mission mother," serenaded the congregation in English and Japanese.
"Women of the world were Chieko's friends, as well as every student she ever taught and every missionary she ever led," said Elaine Jack, the then-LDS Relief Society president who tapped Okazaki as her first counselor in 1990. "English and Japanese were what she spoke verbally ... but spiritually she could speak in any language because she spoke heart-to-heart."
LDS general authority W. Craig Zwick remembers being mesmerized as a 7-year-old in Okazaki's second-grade class by the petite Hawaiian teacher with a flower in her hair and beauty in her persona.
"When she walked into class, her gaze penetrated the eye and heart of every student in the room," said Zwick, one of only two male speakers (the other being her 10-year-old grandson, Kenzo Okazaki). "We all felt her goodness immediately."
As he grew up, Zwick, a member of the church's First Quorum of the Seventy, became more aware that her life and sermons provided "a powerful witness of the Savior."
He said Okazaki, whose speeches were being replayed on video screens outside the chapel, "understood, taught and applied [Christ's] atonement in her life."
Ninety-eight-year-old Florence Jacobsen, former Young Women's president for the LDS Church, got a big laugh by announcing that when she arose to speak, the friend helping her stepped on her skirt, pulling it down.
"Chieko would have loved this story," Jacobsen quipped.
In the service's conclusion, a Hawaiian male duo performed the "Aloha" song with acoustic guitars as a fitting farewell, then the organ played "God Be With You 'Til We Meet Again" as mourners quietly filed out.
Hanks funeral Saturday
A funeral is scheduled Aug. 13 at 11 a.m. for former LDS general authority Marion D. Hanks at the LDS Holladay South Stake Center, 4917 S. Viewmont St. (2200 East). He died Friday at age 89.