PORTLAND – In April of 1959, Kazuko Sanford boarded a ship in Yokohama, Japan with her 5- and 3-year-old daughters, while she was pregnant with her son, and set sail for California to be with her husband and create a new life for her family.

As the ship entered San Francisco Bay and she saw the Golden Gate Bridge for the first time, she was overcome with emotion.

“That’s when she realized how far away she was from her family, recalled her daughter Marla Pastrana of South Portland. “She cried, but she was determined to make things work there. She got her strength together to meet her new American family.”

Mrs. Sanford, a loving wife and mother who dedicated herself to creating a beautiful life for her family, died early Monday following a long illness. She was 80.

Some of family gathered at Pastrana’s home on Tuesday to remember a woman whose strength, courage and faith was beyond measure.

Mrs. Sanford was born in Iwakuni, Japan. As a young woman, she was deeply affected by the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Pastrana said her mother lived in a town close by, and that her family was working in a field on the day of the attack.

“My mother said they heard this loud sound and stopped to look at the horizon,” Pastrana recalled. “People from Hiroshima would come to her town and cool their burning bodies in the river. Her father would bring produce into Hiroshima and come back with accounts of what he saw there.”

In 1959, Mrs. Sanford set sail for a new life in the United States. At the time, she spoke very little English. She learned the language from her husband, television shows and the radio.

“She was very strong. Given a task, she took it quite seriously,” Pastrana said. “She had to speak English to my sister and I. My father wanted us to be raised as American girls and to be accepted in the United States. Back then, it wasn’t very diverse. Japanese folks weren’t accepted. My mother accepted the customs and the language and never turned back.”

While her husband was deployed with the Army, she maintained her home and made many sacrifices to keep her family together.

“She did the best she could under the circumstances, and she did what she thought was right,” said her daughter Donna L. Sanford of Newark, Calif.

Mrs. Sanford had a passion for art and sewing, knitting, quilting and Japanese calligraphy. She enjoyed cooking, especially holiday dinners. She also had a passion for gardening.

“She was an exceptional gardener,” Pastrana said. “Everything she touched turned into something beautiful. She was amazing in that way.”

Later in her life, Mrs. Sanford became a U.S. citizen.

She moved to Maine four years ago to live with Pastrana in South Portland.

Her granddaughter Bianca Pastrana of Portland talked about her grandmother’s creative spirit and her passion for life.

“I admired her creative abilities,” she said. “She would try anything. I was always really amazed at how she could bring plants back to life. I’ll miss joking around with her. She really enjoyed laughing and having a good time. We had a lot of fun.”

Mrs. Sanford’s life ended after a long battle with cortical basal degenerative syndrome, a progressive neurological disorder.

Pastrana said she and her brother were with her at the time of her passing.

“I didn’t want her to be alone when she passed away. To honor my mother that way was an absolute necessity,” Pastrana said. “She never let us alone when we were ill. It was me giving back what little I could to show my appreciation. My brother felt the same way. We are so thankful that we had the opportunity to be with her.”


Staff Writer Melanie Creamer can be contacted at 791-6361 or at:

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