Story by Ann Butenas | Photography by Matt Kocourek
Pam Baker is exactly where she should be in life. Her passion, enthusiasm, success, and expertise can all be tied to one common denominator: family. No matter what she pursues in life, whether professionally or personally, it all starts from the foundation of family. The Director of Expansion & Relations with Weichert Realtors/Welch & Co., Pam understands that a home is not just a place, but that it is also a feeling. When working with clients, she endeavors to learn their story and their interests in order to guide them in the right direction for each and every transaction.
However, Pam also has an incredibly interesting story of her own, the basis of which has helped shape who she is as a person and as a professional. Pam’s father, Edward Kanemasu, was just two years old when the unthinkable happened to him. After Japan bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, three months later President Franklin Delano Roosevelt issued Executive Order #9066. This order allowed the military to either deport or incarcerate anyone of Japanese ancestry living in the restricted areas on the West Coast of the United States.
Edward was born in Hood River, Oregon in 1940 to Japanese parents. This order would change his life and that of his family forever. His family was taken to a deportation camp in a remote area. The camps – of which there were 10 total in the U.S. – were enveloped by high fences and guard towers. Housing was barrack-style. Some families even lived in converted horse barns. A family unit consisted of just beds and one single light bulb in a 20’ x 20’ space. All shared common laundry, eating, and bathroom areas. The military only provided $0.45 per day per person for food. Sadly, the daily diet was not particularly a healthy one. This living situation was enough to completely demoralize a person. But the Kanemasu family had strong roots when it came to grit, determination, and resourcefulness. They soon obtained a sponsor who had the family relocated to Montana where they worked on many farms in a sharecropping capacity, raising the crops and sharing the profits with the landowner.
Edward and his siblings went to school in a small schoolhouse about a mile away from where they lived. It was not unusual for the kids and their parents to be targets of racial discrimination. Edward’s dad simply rose above and often reminded his children that if one gets an education, that can never be taken away from them.
As a result, Edward eventually earned a college degree, which was then followed by the completion of a master’s degree. He voraciously continued his graduate education at the University of Wisconsin, where he earned his PhD. His first position subsequent to that accomplishment was that of assistant professor at Kansas State University, where he remained for 20 years until transitioning to the University of Georgia to become the Department Head and then was appointed as Director of International Agriculture and Assistant Dean.
While this is a page-turning story condensed for these purposes, Edward, who has written a book about his life, proved he had ample resourcefulness and resiliency whenever stumbling blocks fell upon his path. Giving up or losing faith in himself has never been an option.
That same philosophy has trickled down to his daughter, Pam, who appreciates not only her Japanese heritage but also how her family before her met adversity with only the hope, faith, and confidence that they would overcome. Even though her father’s family lost everything, they never resorted to anger. That would only be counterproductive. Instead, they focused on what they could do. In a sense, that is how Pam operates today. Doing what she can to make things happen and result in a productive and positive outcome for the people she serves as she helps them buy and/or sell a home.
Also unique to Pam’s story is that her husband, Mark Sumada, whom she met on a flight many years ago, had a father who was in the same camp as Edward was as a child. This serendipitous meeting was fate at work. The two subsequently married and have successfully blended their life stories to create deep family connections and a business that just makes sense. Mark, an award-winning contemporary home builder and owner of Suma Design and Construction, works in partnership with Pam as they design, build, and sell some of the most beautiful homes in the metro area.
“I believe there are many Asian influences in my own home, as well as in the homes we design,” Pam noted. “We are attracting a certain sort of consumer today by virtue of how we design through our modern, simple, and uncluttered approach.”