‘Living in Paradise’ co-host Yoshida dies at 75

  • George Yoshida, left, and Derek Kurisu present simple, tasty local dishes on “Seniors Living in Paradise” in this undated photo. (Courtesy photo/KTA Super Stores)

HILO — George Yoshida, a retired county Department of Parks and Recreation director who found a second career as co-host of a local cable television program, died Sunday at Hilo Medical Center. He was 75.

Yoshida served the county 32 years before retiring in 1998, spending 17 years as the county’s director of the Elderly Activities Division before becoming Parks and Rec director for eight years under Mayors Bernard Akana and Steve Yamashiro. He also taught and coached at Mountain View Elementary and Konawaena High schools.

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Events and programs initiated by Yoshida at Parks and Rec include: Hawaii International Kupuna Hula Festival; Seniors Health and Fitness Fair; Seniors Karaoke program; seniors bowling and softball leagues, and Christmas celebrations at senior centers.

It was as co-host with Derek Kurisu on “Seniors Living in Paradise,” however, that made the retired public servant a Big Island public figure. Yoshida’s two decades as a local TV personality began in 1999 on the original “Living in Paradise” program, with a regular segment spotlighting senior citizens. The show was created by Kurisu, a KTA Super Stores executive vice president.

“George took the seniors segment to heart. That’s why we put together the ‘Seniors Living in Paradise’ program,” Kurisu said.

Yoshida also was a cookbook author, authoring a book on warabi, or fiddle-head fern, shortly after retirement, and “Hawaii’s Best Cookbook on Fried Rice” in 2000.

“I’m becoming famous,” Yoshida told the Honolulu Star-Bulletin when the fried rice book came out. “For what, I don’t know.”

In 2014, he and Kurisu authored “No-Sweat Cooking,” still available on the KTA website.

“Every man should know how to cook. And that became a thing,” Kurisu said. “I told George, you know, you look down the aisle in the store, and you see all these senior men whose wives are sick or they’ve passed on, and they don’t know how to feed themselves. It became our mission to teach them to make easy, simple dishes … so at least they’re able to feed themselves, and not just go out to eat.”

“His cookbooks were really simple for the young, the old, everybody to follow,” Yoshida’s wife, Cheryl, said. “Everyday kind of cooking.”

Kurisu and Yoshida did live cooking demonstrations at Life Care Center of Hilo, county senior centers and events such as the Hawaii County Fair. Yoshida loved to experiment with “any kine” local dishes — especially for his neighbors, wife and grandchildren.

“He liked to feed the neighborhood. He’d make a big pot of spaghetti and share it with the whole neighborhood,” Cheryl Yoshida said. “The grandchildren would always want him to cook — corned beef and cabbage, Portuguese bean soup, beef stew. He’d cut up meat loaf the day after, fry it and put it in a hamburger bun. The grandkids loved that stuff.”

She added her husband loved sports, especially “anything to do with baseball” — including the Los Angeles Dodgers, University of Hawaii at Hilo Vulcans, AJA League ball and seniors’ softball.

Yoshida’s youngest son, Kendall, said his father enjoyed “Seniors Living in Paradise.”

“It was one of the things that made him really happy — thinking of things to write, people to interview and things to do and show the elderly community. It was really his passion,” Kendall Yoshida said.

“‘Aloha’ would be a really good word to sum up what my dad was. He was a really good teacher, a good friend, a good mentor. All that.”

Visitation is 9-10:30 a.m. May 18, at Dodo Mortuary Chapel. Service is at 10:30 a.m.

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Survivors include wife, Cheryl Yoshida of Hilo; sons, Layne (Cecilia Fong) Yoshida of Honolulu, Ryan (Louanne Ondo) Yoshida of Hilo and Kendall (Susan Chang-Yoshida) Yoshida of Honolulu; brother, Howard (Debbie) Yoshida of Tennessee; sister, Judy (Dennis) Tamanaha of Honolulu; eight grandchildren; nieces and nephews.

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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