By Gary Luster
The Gardena Valley Lions Club will honor local real estate professional and business owner Grant J. Nakaoka as part of the organization’s 39th Annual Community Recognition Dinner on Saturday, Jan. 21. The event will begin at 6 p.m. at the Nakaoka Community Center in Gardena.
This year marks the GV Lions 99th year of serving the Gardena community.
“Every year with the exception of one year due to COVID, we select a citizen of the year that we feel is contributing the community in general,” said Gardena Lions Event Chairman Frank Onderka. “It’s not easy to find somebody who has such a long track record of working with the community.”
Nakaoka’s long track record of working with the local Gardena community is well-known.
Currently a Gardena businessman, he began his career working for a large national CPA firm after graduating from UC Berkeley with a BS degree in Business Administration. Since 1980, he has been the owner/operator of Ken Nakaoka Realty Company.
His late father, Ken Nakaoka, established this firm in Gardena in 1955.
In addition to owning and operating Ken Nakaoka Realty for the past 43 years, he is also involved in helping to maintain the decades-long relationship between Gardena and the Japanese city of Ichikawa through Gardena’s Sister City Association. Nakaoka is also a member of the Board of Managers at the Gardena Valley Japanese Cultural Institute.
Although he was born in Los Angeles, Nakaoka’s family moved to Gardena when he was two years old. As he grew up, Nakaoka attended the local Gardena schools including Amestoy Elementary, Peary Junior High School, and Gardena High School and as a result, developed a strong sense of community with the city.
“Gardena is unusual because we’re in the suburbs of L.A. but yet there are so many traits of [Gardena] being its own small community.”
His late father Ken Nakaoka, was a former Gardena councilman and mayor, who served the city in the 1960s. Ken Nakaoka had the community center named in his honor.
One of the things that Grant Nakaoka said helped him feel a sense of community was the amount of local small businesses throughout the city. From restaurants to our own Gardena Valley News, when Nakaoka was growing up, the city was alive with the hustle and bustle of small business, something that he said is a bit lacking in the city today compared to the glory days of yesteryear.
“Back when I was growing up, there was a lot more community involvement,” Nakaoka said. “I think back in the day, people did pay more attention to community and a lot of the community organizations were much more active than they are today.”
Nakaoka said that while there is less community involvement now than there was when he was growing up, that hasn’t changed his view that the city is still deeply steeped in the atmosphere and environment that encourages local businesses and residents to work together to continue making Gardena a community oasis within the larger Los Angeles County area.
“It comes down to the people,” he said. “There are still a lot of people whether it’s the city council who are pretty involved with the community. My general sense is that there are probably fewer small businesses than there were 30 or 40 years ago. That’s because we have the Targets and the Best Buys and all of that but in a different way Gardena has its own character with Giuliano’s as one example and the Gardena Valley News. Those kind of things are just a reminder that we are still a community unto ourselves.”
As a real estate professional (and former Gardena councilman and chair of the Gardena Planning Commission), Nakaoka, over the years, has seen families continue to move into the city, thanks in part to several new housing developments that have been built in the city as well as the city’s central location with its proximity to freeways, grocery stores and quality of the local eateries, which Nakaoka said acts as a strong draw to bring new people into the community.
“My business provides a unique opportunity to help people,” Na- kaoka said. “It’s a job where people are very grateful for my help. They call me for questions. In that way, I feel like I’m helping the community and when I see the community organizations doing what they do, it makes me believe that community involvement on a volunteer level is crucial to our community and makes a lot of difference.”
Grant is a former Director for the South Bay Association of Realtors and served on the Professional Standards Committee from 2006 to 2016. He began serving on the Gardena Valley Japanese Cultural Institute board of directors in 2014 to the present.
The Nakaoka Community Center is located at 1670 W. 162nd Street. Prepaid reservations for the event will be $40 and $45 at the door.
Thus far 90 people have made reservations to attend the Lions’ banquet, including the entire Gardena City Council and the Gardena Police Chief. To give a congratulatory message or more information about the upcoming event, call Gardena Lions Event Chairman Frank Onderka at 310- 753-1891 or 310-532-1829.