MADISON - Olivia Brandhorst Ishikawa, age 89, died on April 27, 2017, in Madison. She lived a long and complete life and was sharp and vigorous until a fall several days before her death.
Olivia grew up in small German-speaking communities in Kansas and Nebraska during the Great Depression. During the Dust Bowl, she saw the sky turn black at noon, and the family garden devoured in a few hours by a plague of locusts. She recalled the 1930s less as a time of deprivation than as a time in which people pulled together to help the least among them.
Olivia was strong-willed and independent. She defied her parents to marry Joseph Ishikawa in 1951. They wed in Colorado because Nebraska banned interracial marriage. She served on the negotiating team of the Beloit teachers' union in 1973, when it staged the last successful teachers' strike in Wisconsin. She empathized with the underdog. "Mishikawa's" favorite students were those whom other teachers had rejected as losers. She exposed them to museums, books, and the world of ideas. She later worked as a social security disabilities examiner in Lansing, Mich., where she was known as the office "softie" for her unacceptably high rate of claim approvals.
Olivia was a lifelong Christian but had little use for dogma and doctrine, believing God was too great to be put into a box.
Olivia and Joe retired to Verona, Italy in 1989. They lived there until relocating to Madison in 2009. They celebrated their 65th anniversary last June, and were together until Joe's death on April 14 of this year. Olivia loved travel, children, reading, and Rachel Maddow.
She will be remembered with love by her children, Bruce (Maria), Jesse (Nancy), Chiyo (Mark), Kimi (Chip) and Ross (Edith); by her grandchildren, Mike, Simone, Beth (Jared), Barry, Jack, Lucy, Tad, Alan, Zoltan and Tomo; by her sisters, Adeline Costello, Ellen Wiesehan, and Charlotte Rohren; by her and Joe's "Italian daughter," Marina Menego; and by numerous nieces and nephews. She was predeceased by her parents; two sisters; three brothers; her infant daughter, Toki; and her grandson, Nap.
A celebration of Olivia's life will be held May 27, 2017, at the Waldensensian Church in Verona, Italy.