Centering a lifetime of love on family
September 23, 2008
By Chantelle Lusebrink
In nearly 52 years of marriage, Ken and Mieko Yeisley have endured two wars, raised five daughters — Gayle, Lillian, Doris, Angela and Jennifer — in Issaquah and witnessed the birth of 12 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
Their life plays out in the 100 or so pictures they have framed on the walls of their Issaquah home, which they’ve had since the early 1970s.
There’s their 1956 wedding photo, taken in Tokyo, Japan, where they met when he was stationed after the Korean War as part of the 1st Calvary; a family photo taken of the couple with their five daughters in the 1970s; the girls’ wedding photos; and rows of recent school photos of their grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
“I have all these pictures,” Mieko said. “I get one from one grandchild and I can’t just put one up. I have to put them all up.”
Strength built on separation
The closeness the couple celebrates now wasn’t always there.
In the early years of their marriage, they endured long periods of separation as Ken completed two tours in Vietnam: once as part of the 101st Airborne and again as part of the 9th Calvary. He was wounded in each.
“Most of the action I saw was in Vietnam,” Ken said. “I think that is the time that I am most proud of, because I was doing rescue reconnaissance. Anytime we could save someone, that made me feel pretty good.”
“He saved a pilot’s life and was wounded himself,” Mieko said. “He was given the Silver Star.”
Unlike his first tour in Vietnam, when Ken was called for a second tour in 1969-70, Mieko found herself leaving him in Germany while she was bound for Japan with their five small daughters.
“She had family there, just in case,” Ken said.
Mieko and the girls remained there until they were reunited after Ken completed his tour and could come home to Issaquah.
Life after war
After completing his second tour, Ken was able to retire from the military shortly after in 1975 and the family was finally able to put down roots.
To mark the occasion, Mieko bought him a set of silver bagpipes, his favorite instrument since childhood.
“That’s all he wanted, the nut,” Mieko said. “But he’s my nut.”
Ken studied landscape design and owned a landscaping business in Issaquah from about 1980-1995. He then began working for Greyhound as a bus driver. He quit working so he could be a full-time grandfather in 2007.
Ken and Mieko spent much of their time giving their children a very different life than they had.
Ken was born in White Center in 1933, but wasn’t raised by his parents; his mother had died while he was young.
“Back then, you were boarded with another family,” he said.
He and his brother stayed with nearby family friends who had known their mother.
“He was a big, deaf-as-a-board, right-out-of-Scotland, Scottish man,” Ken said. “He had this record player he’d stick his ear to that would be playing pipe music. That is where I learned to love it.”
He’s loved the bagpipes since and plays his on occasion.
Mieko was raised in a traditional home in Japan, said Jennifer Stone, the couple’s youngest daughter.
However, her mother was “strong willed and strong headed for her time, but she has this tradition and honor still,” Jennifer said. “But she married my dad, this handsome G.I., to be a little rebellious toward her family, I think.”
Center of the family
There was always love in the house, she said.
But when her parents became grandparents and great-grandparents, they became truly affectionate people and the center of the family, she said.
For that, she said she is thankful that her children and the others have benefited from her parents’ involvement in their lives.
Her father was the one who gave her son his first bagpipe lessons.
“I think he was hoping that one of his grandchildren would take an interest in it,” she said.
About two years ago, while her family was visiting Ken and Mieko’s house, her son, Aaron Stone, 14, played with Ken’s chanter, a bagpipe practice instrument.
“He picked it right up,” Ken said.
They continued lessons together, which turned into a passion they could share. But when Ken ran out of things to teach, Ken found the Northwest Junior Pipe Band, so Aaron could continue learning.
Soon after Aaron took up playing the pipes, his sister Amber Stone, 9, took an interest in playing the drums and they play together in the band.
“Little Amber, she bangs on her drum,” Mieko said. “Everyone else is so big that you can’t see her when they march, because of the 6-foot-tall drummers in front of her, but she bangs on that drum with them.”
Most recently, Amber, Aaron and Jennifer took Ken with them to the world bagpipe competition in Scotland. There, the band competed in three regional competitions and the world competition in Glasgow, Scotland, where they took fifth place in their division.
“He got me started,” Aaron said. “So, it was really nice to have him come along and help me.”
“I’m in seventh heaven with them and am so proud,” Ken said.
“It was a lot of fun,” Amber said.
Though, Ken is very active with the pipe band, both he and Mieko keep their family close. And although the family outgrew Ken and Mieko’s old dining room table long ago, they still eat dinner together every Monday evening at their home.
“I cook a lot of food. American food, Japanese cuisine and a lot of iced tea,” Mieko said. “We never know how many we’ll have.”
On Sept. 24, the couple celebrates their 52nd wedding anniversary.
Reach Reporter Chantelle Lusebrink at 392-6434, ext. 241, or firstname.lastname@example.org.