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Remembering Helen Kawagoe

Longtime Carson City Clerk Helen Kawagoe passed away on April 6 in Gardena. She was 92.

In 1974, Helen became the second City Clerk for Carson and was re-elected for an unprecedented 10 terms. After serving her City in the role for 37 years, Helen retired in 2011 leaving behind a legacy with many in the City calling her the “mother of City Hall.”

Helen Kawagoe was a revered figure not only in Carson but around the U.S. and the world. Some of her many accomplishments include serving as president of the International Institute of Municipal Clerks (IIMC), President of the Asian Pacific American Municipal Officials of the National League of Cities (NLC), two terms as national president of the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL), and being named Master Municipal Clerk.

She also conferred the Kunsho Award of the Sacred Order of the Precious Crown from the emperor of Japan for 20 years of service to further the business, political and cultural ties between the United States and Japan.

Helen served as President of the City Clerks Department of the League of California Cities (LCC) from 1979-1980, and is also the first City Clerk to serve on the LCC Board of Directors.

For her decades of service, the Carson City Council voted unanimously to rename the Council Chambers in her honor in 2013.

A trailblazer, Helen is believed to be the first Japanese American woman elected to local office in the United States. And in 2016, the IIMC named her one of their first Hall of Honor recipients.

Helen grew up in Pasadena, but during World War II she, her mother, and 12 siblings were among the thousands of Japanese Americans to be imprisoned. She was eventually able to return to Pasadena, married and ran Carson Nursery with her husband for almost a decade before becoming a public servant.

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