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Saturday, February 23, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Nurse Jane Akita jumped at the chance to help young people

Seattle Times Eastside bureau

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If a community project involved youngsters, Jane Akita of Bellevue volunteered.

She co-founded Natural Helpers, a peer-counseling system; oversaw the Bellevue School District's drug-and-alcohol programs; and quietly directed high schoolers into smoking-cessation classes.

When students came to her nurse's office with problems, she listened. She shared their sadness, their happiness and often their confidences.

Mrs. Akita, 60, died of a brain aneurysm at her home Sunday night (Feb. 17).

She was born Jane Chiseko Kitamoto on June 2, 1941, on Bainbridge Island, the youngest child of Frank and Shigeko Kitamoto.

Before her first birthday, she made the news. When the Japanese-American residents of Bainbridge Island were sent to internment camps, Shigeko Kitamoto carried Jane and led her three other children to the Bainbridge Island ferry. A news photographer snapped a picture of Mrs. Kitamoto holding the baby and surrounded by the other children. Another photo showed the young woman walking on the ferry dock.

Those photos hang inside the Akita family home.

Mrs. Akita's father, Frank Kitamoto, was detained as a suspected enemy alien by the FBI when dynamite was found in his shed. He had used the explosive to blow up stumps in the farm fields, a common practice by farmers. Author David Guterson included the incident in his award-winning novel, "Snow Falling on Cedars."

Mrs. Akita's first childhood memories were of life at Manzanar and Minidoka, internment camps in California and Idaho. The family returned to Bainbridge Island when she was 4.

She graduated from Bainbridge Island High School and earned her nursing degree at the University of Washington. On June 14, 1963, the day after she graduated from college, she married Jerry Akita.

The couple moved to Chicago, where Mrs. Akita was as a public-health nurse. They moved to Bellevue in 1968.

She became the Mercer Island High School nurse in 1974 and joined the Bellevue School District in 1984. She was the nurse at Interlake High School before taking on district responsibilities for the drug-and-alcohol programs. She retired as lead nurse in 2001.

Bellevue Superintendent Mike Riley said she was always concerned about students' lives beyond the classroom: "She had the belief that a lot more kids were suffering than we were aware of or acknowledging."

Mrs. Akita was a founding board member of Rotacare, a health-care program for uninsured families at Hopelink in Bellevue.

Ken Graham, chief executive officer of Overlake Hospital Medical Center, said Mrs. Akita's spirit and energy will be missed.

"She was our liaison with the Bellevue School District and an active volunteer with our clinic; she even worked on Saturdays," he said. "She was always so responsible, energetic and committed to the role this clinic plays in the community."

Survivors include her husband, Jerry; daughter and son-in-law Andrea Akita Chun and Aaron Chun of Seattle; daughter and son-in-law Debra Grindeland and Geoffrey Grindeland of Charlottesville, Va.; grandsons Gareth and Tadashi Grindeland; sister Lilly Kodama and her husband, Joe Kodama, of Bainbridge Island; sister Frances Ikegami and her husband, George Ikegami, of Cocoa Beach, Fla.; and brother Frank Kitamoto and his wife, Sharon Kitamoto, of Bainbridge Island. A memorial service will be at 2 p.m. today at Blaine Memorial United Methodist Church, 3001 24th Ave. S., Seattle. Remembrances may be made to the Jane Akita Youth Link Fund, City of Bellevue, Attn: Sue Dietz, P.O. Box 90012, Bellevue, WA 98009-9012.

Seattle Times Eastside bureau reporter Sherry Grindeland contributed to this report.

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