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Valley Journals

This Utah Jazz ultimate fan has quite a story to tell

Dec 10, 2018 03:44PM ● By Shaun Delliskave

Yeiko Homma holds a picture of her and her sister Keiko, who were renowned as the Utah Jazz super fans Pink Grandmas. (Shaun Delliskave/City Journals)

By Shaun Delliskave | s.delliskave@mycityjournals.com

In her 94 years, Yeiko Homma has seen a lot, but it is what she hopes to see that keeps her going. The Murray resident, best known as one of the Utah Jazz’s super fans, the Pink Grandmas, hopes this is the year that she will see them bring home a championship.

Homma has also seen some things she might rather forget, such as the atomic bomb blast that ended World War II. Homma lived on the most southern Japanese island of Kyushu, in the town of Kumamoto. While she lived on a farm, her prefecture was only 50 miles away from Nagasaki and 140 miles away from Hiroshima. 

“I saw the atomic cloud rising high in the sky,” Homma said. “They excused us from school so that we could go home.”

In fact, the B-29 bomber Bockscar turned just north of her city as it was about to deliver its deadly payload. Homma claims to remember seeing one of the planes. What makes this all the more unique was that Homma was an American in Japan watching this historic moment.

Homma was born in Ely, Nevada. Her mother wanted her children to be educated in Japan in order to learn the language and the culture, so Homma and her three siblings were sent to live with their grandparents. “I don’t understand why my parents wanted me to do that,” she said.

Tragedy followed them; her younger sister and brother both died there. As Japan ramped up to go to war, her older brother, Wataru, saw what was coming and left the country, so he could enlist in the US Army. Had he stayed in Japan, “he would have certainly died,” said Homma.

Living with her grandparents, and with war underway against her home country, Homma was trapped, unable to return to Ely. “I didn’t believe in what Japan was doing then,” said Homma. 

Still, the government pushed her into serving the Empire of Japan. She worked as a secretary at the nearby airbase where many kamikaze pilots were trained. Before setting off on their suicide missions, some of them gave Homma their picture, “so at least someone would remember them.” 

After the war, Homma was able to come home to the USA and meet her four other siblings, some of whom she had met only briefly in Japan. At age 24, her English needed improving, so her mother sent her to school with a sister who was in the third grade; that didn’t last long. Homma enrolled in technical school and got a degree as a seamstress.

Her younger sister, Keiko Mori, who was living in Utah and pregnant, needed help, so Homma moved to Murray in the 1950s to give her a hand. While attending the Japanese Church of Christ in Salt Lake, a fellow parishioner met Homma and decided she was a perfect match for her son and arranged to have them married.

After raising her family on the north side of Murray, and after her husband died, Homma moved in with her daughter, Donna, who just happened to live a few doors down from Keiko. The two sisters found many interests in common to bide their time, but one soon became their passion: the Utah Jazz. 

After being gifted a few Utah Jazz tickets, the sisters were hooked, and nothing could stop them from attending a game. A friend gave them pink Jazz sweatshirts, and with their silver hair and infectious smiles, their faces became regulars featured on the JumboTron.

Nicknamed the Pink Grandmas, they gained fans of their own, just for being fans. A Twitter page was set up for them, the Jazz Bear always paid homage to them, and eventually they were featured in a commercial for the Jazz. Unfortunately, Keiko passed away soon after the end of basketball season last year, and the question soon became whether Yeiko would go to the games without her faithful cheering companion.

Being the die-hard Jazz Fan, and not wanting to disappoint the Pink Grandma fan base, Homma went back. The nonagenarian has even learned a few basketball moves including dribbling a basketball between her legs. Donna and her brother Victor now take Homma to the games, with Victor donning a white wig and pink Jazz shirt to try to fill the void that Keiko left.

Homma has her eye on Donovan Mitchell and Joe Ingles as her favorite players this season. “They are just fun to watch,” she said. “I hope they win the championship this year.”