Mike Iseri was selected as the 2019 Winter Wonderland Parade grand marshal. (The Enterprise/Joe Siess)

ONTARIO – Mike Iseri likes to support his community quietly – in the background – so his selection as grand marshal for the Winter Wonderland Parade gave him quite a start.

 “I didn’t know I was considered until I found out I was selected. I was a little blindsided,” Iseri said. “My reaction was to start laughing in disbelief.”

Iseri said that he prefers to be invisible at local events.

“I’m not a fan of large groups, if I can find a way to avoid it,” he said. 

But not this Saturday. The longtime businessman and civic volunteer will ride in the place of honor in the Chamber’s annual holiday parade, which is presented by the Malheur Enterprise.

Iseri’s business, Iseri Agency Inc., is a fixture in Ontario, but he is also known as a community leader. 

He also works hard to represent the history and culture of the area’s Japanese community, and he expressed his gratitude for the selection.   

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Iseri possesses a detailed knowledge of his family history, one that reflects triumph over adversity that he recounts with pride and that brought his family to Ontario after World War II.

He volunteers for many events, usually working quietly at tasks such as plating food.

“This way I am there, but I am there to work,” Iseri said. 

He’s humble about his community involvement. 

He participates in a number of cultural events and organizations in the community, such as the America’s Global Village Festival, an annual event put on by the Ontario chamber. 

Iseri is the co-president of the Idaho-Oregon Buddhist Temple in Ontario and is affiliated with the Osakasayama Sister City program, which his father helped found back in the early 1970s. 

When his father became ill, Iseri said, the committee asked him to help and he has been involved ever since. 

Iseri also has been involved in the Japanese American Citizens League for 40 years. 

He was recruited by his uncle to serve on the board of the League in 1980. He was told he’d serve for about two years. It has been 40 years already, Iseri said, laughing. 

Iseri is also involved with the Four Rivers Cultural Center and has been on the board for about 10 years. 

Iseri’s family history is about as dynamic as his community involvement. 

The Iseri family was living in Washington after the outbreak of World War II. 

Out of fear that Japanese Americans, given their ethnic and cultural ties, would aid Japan during the war, President Franklin Roosevelt issued an executive order establishing Japanese internment camps from 1942 to 1945. 

“When World War II broke out, the FBI came and got my grandpa and they took him off to Montana,” Iseri said. “Initially the family didn’t know where he was taken or if he would be back.” 

Iseri said his grandfather was targeted because of his prominence in the community and his ability to communicate in English and Japanese. 

“They arrested him and took him away because he was a community leader,” Iseri said.

The rest of the family was taken to an internment camp in Tule Lake, California.

After the war, the family left the internment camp and went to Weiser, where a family friend had a produce business. 

While in Weiser during the 1940s, Iseri’s father started a radio and appliance store, because he felt he was more business-minded and didn’t see himself farming. He later joined the insurance business. 

Eventually, the family settled in Ontario, where Iseri was born in 1954. 

The insurance business started in Washington in 1930, Iseri said, and then moved from Washington to Ontario after the war. Then the travel business, Iseri Travel Agency, was started in 1952. 

“Ontario was very welcoming for the Japanese because the mayor and some of the prominent businessmen in the community thought it was in the community’s best interest to welcome the Japanese,” Iseri said. “Other communities were not so welcoming.”

Iseri said that while a lot of Japanese families decided to leave, his family chose to stay and make Ontario home. 

“I am very honored to have been selected as the grand marshal for the parade. I don’t see what I’ve done as having been any more significant than what so many others in the community always do,” he said.

Iseri stressed that the things that he is involved in with the community are part of a large team effort.

“I’m just one cog in a very large wheel. But I appreciate the chamber’s acknowledgement,” he added. 

News tip? Contact reporter Joe Siess: news@malheurenterprise.com or 541-473-3377.

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