His admirable work ethic started as a young boy of 4 years, when he worked in the sugar cane fields of Hawai'i for 25 cents a day. As a child, he was always very strong headed and stood his ground against childhood bullies, setting the stage for a "never give up" attitude. His childhood was a happy one with few restrictions, but education was always his top priority. His mother used him as a role model for his younger siblings, saying "Be like Hajime!' His grandmother was a strong believer in education, and she saved all of his earnings for education.
In 1941, Frank graduated high school from Mid-Pacific Institute in Honolulu, where friendships were made and celebrated through the years. As a 17-yearold freshman at the University of Hawaii on December 7th, 1941, the Japanese Navy attacked Pearl Harbor. Frank's studies were put on hold for five years as he bravely served his country in the second World War. At war's end, Frank was honorably discharged as a sergeant and resumed his studies at UH. As President of the UH Commerce Club, he initiated the creation of the UH College of Business Administration. After graduating, Frank attended Harvard Business School. He again had his studies interrupted as he served on the front lines as 2nd Lieutenant during the Korean War. In 1954, Frank (finally) graduated from Harvard with a major in Retailing. He loved the challenges of retail business. While in Boston, he married Dorothy Cummings and together they raised children Steve, Suzanne, Lincoln and Amanda. Sadly, Dorothy passed in 1985 from pancreatic cancer.
In 1967, the lure of another challenge relocated Frank and his family to tropical Honolulu. He was hired as Senior VP of Servco Pacific. He later joined his brother Mark at Mark Construction Company. In 1971, Frank became a realtor with his brother Ken and the family was moved from Hawaii to busy LA. Realizing real estate was not in his blood, he met Phil Holland, who operated three Yum Yum Donut shops. Impressed with Frank's enthusiasm and passion, Phil sold half the company to Frank for $250.00. Together, the two entrepreneurs went on to open over 100 stores and created a bakery mix plant and distribution company, Quality Naturally Foods, Inc. In 1989, Phil sold his shares to Frank, making him the sole owner of the company. In 2004, YumYum purchased Winchell's Donuts, thus becoming the largest chain of donut shops in California today.
Frank believed in giving back to his community. Frank donated time and money to politics and charitable organizations. Frank once said "When you grow up in a Japanese community, certain ideals are embedded, such as the idea of trying to help each other, to make life better." Watase served on the board of the Los Angeles United Way including as Chairman of the Asian Council, the Los Angeles Japanese Community and Cultural Center, the Cultural Center of Hawaii, the UH President's Club and the East-West Center. He was named Mid-Pacific lnstitute's 2003 Alumnus of the Year. In 1999, he was added to UH's College of Business Administration Alumni Hall of Honor and in 1986 he was conferred the Asian Business Association's Asian Business Owner of the Year. He was the Assistant Secretary of the State of California under March Fong Eu, serving three terms as her campaign treasurer. But of all his accomplishments, Watase was most proud of his contribution to the Japanese American National Museum (JANM). With a generous donation in 2003, he looked to the power of film and video to honor and preserve stories of Japanese Americans. Through the Frank H. Watase Media Arts Center, his dream is shared with the rest of the world.
Frank left a legacy of self-determination, education, perseverance, hard work and philanthropy. He is a testament to the idea that if you never give up, you are never defeated.
Frank is survived by Janne, his wife and best friend for the last 20+ years; his four children and their spouses: Steve & Alison Watase, Suzy Roberts & her fiance Tom, Lincoln & Sylvia Watase, and Amanda & Blake O'Dowd; grandchildren: Danny, Coco, Mike, Delaney, Jake, Michael, Sophie, Luke and Mackenzie. He is survived by brothers Mark, Richard and Eddie.
Due to Covid-19, a memorial will take place at a later date.
In lieu of flowers, you may make a gift in his memory to the Japanese American National Museum (janm.com).