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Janet Tanaka Newcomer tried to make life close to paradise

June 08, 2008|By MARLO BARNHART

Editor's note: Each Sunday, The Herald-Mail publishes "A Life Remembered." This continuing series takes a look back - through the eyes of family, friends, co-workers and others - at a member of the community who died recently. Today's "A Life Remembered" is about Janet Tanaka Newcomer, who died May 26 at the age of 85. Her obituary was published in the June 2 edition of The Herald-Mail.

As a young girl growing up in the territory of Hawaii, Janet Tanaka could pick fruit from the trees as she walked to and from school in the island paradise she called home.

On Dec. 7, 1941, that idyllic life changed forever for the teenager who lived within sight of Pearl Harbor - World War II in the Pacific erupted on her doorstep.

There were more changes in store for Janet when she met Lynwood Newcomer of Hagerstown at a USO dance in Honolulu and soon became his wife.

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"I was born there in 1944," said Janet's only child, Lynnette Passarell. At the tender age of 8 months, Lynnette accompanied her mother on a perilous trip to the United States.

"We were on a ship that was bound for the United States for repairs," Lynnette said. "For a week, the ship zigzagged across the Pacific to avoid the enemy."

When she was older, Lynnette's mother told her that the ship's destination was a secret until the actual landing in San Diego. Then, there was an arduous train trip across the country, where the young mother and daughter disembarked at the train station where the Hagerstown Police Department is today.

"We stayed on Guilford Avenue with my father's grandparents, who had raised him," Lynnette said. "It may have been a tough time for mom, but I never felt unwelcome."

When the war was over, Lynwood came home and the family moved into an apartment on East Washington Street above where The Cookie Jar used to be.

"My mother went to work for an appliance store downtown and dad joined the Hagerstown Police Department," Lynnette said.

Tragically, Lynwood was electrocuted in his cruiser in 1951 while on duty in City Park during a violent thunderstorm.

"Mom took the reins of the family then," Lynnette recalled. She got a job as a bookkeeper-treasurer at the former First Federal Savings and Loan in Hagerstown.

A friend loaned Janet a sewing machine so she could save money by making her daughter's clothes.

"She became my personal fashion designer," Lynnette said.

Mother and daughter returned to Hawaii for several visits through the years. Janet later took her grandsons, Eric and Jason, now in their 30s, to Hawaii.

Janet's last trip home was in 1989.

After she retired from the bank, Janet began to volunteer her time and talents to a variety of agencies, including the Washington County Hospital Auxiliary, American Red Cross and the Washington County Commission on Aging.

Janet's prowess in crocheting, knitting and beading were put to use making afghans, finger puppets and jewelry.

"I used to be so jealous because she was so good at everything," Lynnette said. That included cooking, especially making batch after batch of Christmas cookies every year.

In 2003, Janet was diagnosed with colon cancer, which resulted in surgery and chemotherapy that she tolerated well.

For a time, she even went back to volunteering with the hospital auxiliary, Lynnette said.

"She wouldn't let it get her down," Lynnette said.

Four years ago, Lynnette moved her mother in with her and her husband, Stephen.

"I didn't want her by herself," she said. "It was an experience."

Retired from teaching school for 34 years, Lynnette now works for the Census Bureau.

Since her mother's passing May 26 at the age of 85, Lynnette has been looking through her mother's keepsakes and finding some photos from her early years in Hawaii.

Just a baby when she left Hawaii, Lynnette has only her trips back as an adult to reacquaint her with her homeland.

Janet Tanaka Newcomer embodied the spirit of that island paradise where she spent her youth, met the man of her dreams and gave birth to her only child.

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