Obituary for Waka Ugaki |

Obituary for Waka Ugaki

Waka Ugaki

July 20, 1938 – December 19, 2020

Waka (Nakayama) Ugaki passed away peacefully on December 19, 2020, in her home surrounded by loved ones.

She was born on July 20, 1938, in Okayama, Japan, to Hajime and Kimiko (Umemoto) Nakayama. Waka was the second youngest child in her family and had one brother, Shinichi, and four sisters, Fumiko, Kiyoko, Kazuko and Motoko. The first five years of her life were idyllic, but WWII brought tragedy when her mother and brother were killed. Waka and her sisters developed strong bonds with each other in order to survive and flourish.

Waka was gifted academically, and her contribution to her family was to help her siblings with their homework. Since she had been doing five times the normal homework for years, it wasn’t a surprise when she gained admission into one of the country’s most prestigious high schools and graduated at the top of her class.

Even for top graduates, opportunities were limited for women in the early 1960s in Japan. Fortuitously, Waka became pen pals with a family friend living in Idaho. That pen pal, Yuzo Ugaki, travelled to Japan to meet Waka in person after corresponding for a year. They immediately fell in love when they met. Yuzo and Waka were married in Okayama, Japan, on November 26, 1962, and honeymooned for three months in Japan, Hawaii, and California before returning to their new home in Blackfoot, Idaho.

As Waka learned a new language and culture, she and Yuzo started a family and worked tirelessly to build a business which eventually provided them the financial stability to send all three of their children to university and graduate school. While raising her children, Waka also studied hard and became a naturalized U.S. citizen on April 18, 1973. It was the true American Dream actualized.

Waka enjoyed many hobbies focused around supporting and enriching her family. She enjoyed quilting, crocheting, was an accomplished seamstress, amazing cook, and an unbelievable gardener. She was a devoted mother and grandmother and would travel far and wide to support her children and grandchildren in all of their endeavors.

Waka loved to travel and experience new cultures, but she especially loved to visit her family and friends in Japan. Every time she returned to Japan, her friends would organize a school reunion to celebrate their lifelong friendships.

Waka was known endearingly to many as “Grandma Waka” and will always be remembered for her beautiful smile, her warmth and kindness, and her laughter. Waka was at peace before her passing. She felt blessed to be able to call her friends and family in her last days to say her final goodbyes. Waka would often say that she had lived the best life and was ready to join her husband and daughter.

She is survived by her son and daughter, Steven Ugaki and Janice Ugaki; her sons-in-law, Doug Greally and Karl Sandmann; and her four loving grandchildren, Emma Kimiko Greally, Connor Ugaki Greally, Kimberly Mika Sandmann, and Avilyn Keiko Sandmann. She is preceded in death by her husband, Yuzo Ugaki; her daughter, Karen (Ugaki) Sandmann; her parents, and three siblings.

Waka was very grateful to her doctors and nurses at Intermountain Park City Hospital who lovingly cared for her before she returned home under hospice care. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be sent to Intermountain Healthcare’s Caregiver Assistance Fund at:

In light of the current pandemic, the family will not hold a funeral service but will host a Celebration of Life honoring Waka in Park City, Utah, at a later date.

Condolences may be sent to the family at

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