One-time immigrant now determined U.S. patriot and lifelong learner

Scott Swanson

Unlike many longtime Sweet Home residents, Hiromi Bean didn’t grow up here.

In fact, she started life in Naha, Okinawa, Japan.

But it doesn’t take long in any conversation with Hiromi to recognize that she’s, first and foremost, a die-hard “American citizen” – and a Republican. She appears frequently in the Sportsman’s Holiday Grand Parade, marching with the local party’s float.

She’s passionate about some other things as well: her family, books, the importance of education – and giving blood.

Hiromi declines to divulge her age – although she points out that she’s “a great-grandma.” She was raised in Okinawa, the daughter of a civil servant and an elementary school teacher, who made sure she went to college.

“I’m very thankful to my parents,” she said “They gave me education.”

She graduated in 1964 from what is now Toyo University in Tokyo, currently ranked among the top colleges in the nation, with a degree in English.

“It was small at the time,” she said. “I still have my original diploma, year book and report card.”

Hiromi strongly believes that education is “fundamental” to happiness and success in life.

“If you come from another country, if you study English, in my opinion it will give you self-esteem,” she said.

Following her graduation, she met her husband, Jim Bean, a U.S. Marine from Forest Grove, at the USO in Okinawa. They were married 44 years until his death in 2010.

“Jim told me he knew me when he rode by on a motorcycle. The USO was by my house.

“He saw me many times but I didn’t know him. I doubt if you can make up this kind of stuff.”

They married in 1966 and, after Jim’s tour in Vietnam ended in 1968, moved to Oregon.

Bean became a U.S. citizen and has never returned to Japan, she said. She also became a regular voter – she said she’s never missed an election.

“There are no stamps on my passport. People ask if I get homesick. I say, “No, this is my country.”

After working in a couple of other fields, Jim became a police officer in Cornelius. He moved from there to Drain and then to Sweet Home in 1978, where Jim served until 1986 as a police officer. Over those years Hiromi raised their son, James Jr. and was “a housewife,” she said.

“He was a good husband, good father. I was happy.”

Jim and Hiromi could be seen tooling around the area in their white Subaru with a black luggage box on top. They enjoyed walking the streets in the downtown area and they made regular stops in local restaurants.

After Jim’s death, Hiromi was active in organizing the annual Safety Fairs, which were named for her husband. She’s still involved as the event has been slightly reconstituted as the Sweet Home Safety and Health Fair, to be held this year on Aug. 19 at Sweet Home High School.

A devoted blood donor, she said her current total is 11.1 gallons. She’s also a bone marrow donor, she said.

“I can save other people’s lives.”

Hiromi, a voracious reader, said Jim understood her thirst for knowledge, taking her as far as Portland in her quest for books. She’s also a regular at the Sweet Home Library.

“I was very lucky. Jim understood I needed to buy a book. He took me to Powell’s bookstore.”

Powell’s, which occupies a city block in Portland and bills itself as “the world’s largest independent bookstore,” is one of her favorite haunts, she said.

“I order books there.”

Hiromi is unendingly interested in the world.

“One can be a life-long learner,” she said. “Every day you can learn.”

“This is my hobby. I love to read books and newspapers. A newspaper is cheaper than a candy bar,” she observed. She keeps an extensive collection of articles she’s clipped.

She’s always been a devoted reader of American newspapers and the Internet has made it easier to read news from Japan, which she does, “although sometimes I forget the kanji (Chinese characters). I can learn from the Internet.”

Her interest in education extends to her family. She’s proud of the fact that her son, James Jr., is a high school teacher in Carson City, Nev. and that her granddaughter has done well in college and is now a registered nurse.

American citizenship is precious to her and she is unflinchingly patriotic.

“I’m very proud to be an American, although I’m also proud of where I came from,” Hiromi said. “I’m happy that the United States and Japan are friends. I love Japan too, but America is the greatest country in the world. I know that.”

She’s active in local party activities, particularly the annual Lincoln Day Dinner.

“I’m proud to be a Republican,” she said.

She is an ardent supporter of the local library and of local law enforcement, both city and county, among whom are personal friends.

“They are the best in the state,” she said.

Hiromi takes pains to make it very clear she’s an American, through and through. It comes up frequently in conversations with her, along with the importance of education.

“You can lose your material possessions, but there are two things that stay with you,” she said. “Your citizenship and your education.”

“I’m happy.”