Lifelong fan of Helen Keller honored to be festival grand marshal

By  | June 27, 2019 | Filed under: News

TUSCUMBIA-To say Dr. Kenji Hamada is thrilled to be grand marshal of this year’s Helen Keller Festival, would be an understatement.

“I was overwhelmed when they asked me to be grand marshal,” said Hamada, an entrepreneur and retired optometrist from Oregon. “It’s quite an honor to be grand marshal of a festival with such an unbelievable legacy as the Helen Keller Festival.”

This year’s Helen Keller Festival runs through Sunday, June 30 in Tuscumbia.

Hamada is a lifelong fan of Helen Keller, who was born June 27, 1880 in Tuscumbia.

“I’ve known the story of Helen Keller since I was a kindergartener in Japan, when I was 4 or 5 years old,” Hamada said. “Helen Keller is remembered for the work she did as a goodwill ambassador in Japan after World War II. She showed great compassion and encouragement for the Japanese people who had been devastated by the war. Helen Keller is considered to be the equivalent of a saint in Japan.”

Keller, who became deaf and blind as a child, overcame her disabilities as was a noted author, lecturer and advocate of disabled people around the world. She was known as “America’s First Lady of Courage.”

Sue Pilkilton, executive director of Helen Keller Birthplace, said Hamada is perfect for the role of grand marshal.

“It’s truly an honor to have him serve grand marshal,” Pilkilton said. “He is a great friend of Ivy Green and of the Shoals. He helps lots of organizations in our area and never wants to receive any credit for what he a does.”

Pilkilton met Hamada in 2013 after he had an idea to begin a camp at Ivy Green for children who are visually and/or hearing impaired. Hamada had shared his idea for the camp with then state Rep. Johnny Mack Morrow and his wife Dr. Martha Morrow of Red Bay, during an optometry conference in Chicago. The Morrows introduced Hamada to Pilkilton and the first Camp Courage, a Helen Keller Experience was held at Ivy Green in the fall of 2013. The seventh annual camp will be held in September.

Hamada said he has made many close friends in Shoals since 2013. He is a frequent visitor. “I feel welcome here.”





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